The Samsung SUR40 with Surface 2.0 shown here is only 4 inches (10.2 centimeters) deep. Its 1.0 ancestor, which housed cameras and projectors under the tabletop, sat on a full box unit full of component parts.

Image courtesy of Microsoft

Microsoft Surface History

The earliest ideas that led to Surface originated at Microsoft back in 2001. At that time, researchers envisioned an "interactive table" that could sense the presence and movement of any objects on its surface. Microsoft founder Bill Gates encouraged the project in early 2003. After 85 prototypes, the project team came up with a design that would eventually become Surface 1.0.

Microsoft first demonstrated Surface at the 2007 All Things Digital (D) conference in Carlsbad, California. During that D conference, known as D5, Surface was far from the first platform making use of touch-screens. Tablet PCs, for example, could already detect a finger or stylus writing directly to the screen. Microsoft's vision, though, has been to expand on that touch-screen approach to change the way people interact across the table from each other. The Surface device demonstrated at D5 was a black tabletop with a 30-inch (76.2-centimeter) touch-screen mounted beneath its clear acrylic surface [sources: Mintz, Fost, Microsoft, All Things Digital].

Microsoft's first commercial deployment for Surface came nearly a year after this debut. In April 2008, select AT&T retail stores in the U.S. began using Surface computers as a sales tool for showcasing information about its mobile devices. Other corporate partners were in the works throughout 2008, primarily those who could enhance their businesses by using Surface devices and, in turn, show off the wondrous things that Surface could do. At an estimated price of more than $12,000, Microsoft was not targeting the average home consumer during its first Surface release [sources: Microsoft, Microsoft, Foley].

During the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January 2011, Microsoft launched its marketing campaign for Surface 2.0. It also promoted its partnership with Samsung to produce the SUR40: a 4-inch (10.2-centimeter) thick tabletop computer with a 40-inch (1-meter) display running the Surface 2.0 platform. Scheduled to hit the market later in 2011, Microsoft reported that the SUR40 would cost about $7,600 in the United States. The price point, combined with the available software for Surface 2.0, seemed to indicate that Microsoft was still targeting the business owner rather than the home consumer [source: Foley].

That's the brief history of Surface, though there will likely be many more chapters to come for this innovative new tool. Now, let's look under the hood and see what makes Surface more than just a big touch-screen display.