How Microsoft Surface Tabletop Works

Surface Computing Technology

With Surface, Microsoft has established a new branch of computer technology known as surface computing. The goal of surface computing is to recognize touch and objects on the screen's surface and to interact with those objects seamlessly [source: Riley]. If you're using a surface computer, you shouldn't need a mouse, keyboard or even a USB port connected to the device.

You're probably already familiar with the concept of a graphical user interface (GUI). A GUI, like the windows and menus on your computer, presents information to you on a screen and prompts you to use an attached keyboard, mouse, touchpad or other input device to enter information. Surface computing implements a Natural User Interface (NUI), which lets you interact in ways that what comes naturally to you. A NUI is driven by the direct touch of the user or object it's interacting with rather than separate input devices connected to the computer.

The Surface has implemented its NUI with a combination of hardware and software all packed inside a single device. The Surface 1.0 hardware features a series of cameras that sense a user's touch or other objects placed on the tabletop. The Surface software processes the data from those cameras and then responds as appropriate for the application you're currently using. Surface shows the resulting interaction on its display, which is actually a projection of the screen from underneath the tabletop [source: Microsoft].

As part of its NUI, Surface also includes multi-touch technology. This means that Surface can detect and process several touch points simultaneously. Therefore, if you have several people browsing through pictures at one time, they can each drag, zoom and turn photos at the same time without waiting for each other. Multi-touch technology has been in existence for decades, and Apple made it famous by using it in its iPhone and iPod Touch devices. Surface computing brings that technology into a large, collaborative environment that can fully realize the multi-touch potential [source: Buxton].

  • 40-inch (1-meter) LCD screen
  • 4-inch (10.2-centimeter) unit depth/thickness for easier horizontal mounting
  • 2.9 GHz 64-bit AMD Athlon X2 dual core processor
  • 1 GB AMD Radeon HD graphics processor
  • 4 GB DDR3 RAM
  • 320 GB hard drive
  • Wired (1 GB Ethernet) and wireless (802.11 and Bluetooth) network hardware
  • Physical connectors include HDMI, stereo RCA, USB and SD card
  • Embedded 64-bit Windows 7 Professional operating system
  • Corning Gorilla Glass to protect the surface
  • Recognition for more than 50 simultaneous touch points

We've just looked at the Surface hardware and how Microsoft is leading the way for surface computing. As Microsoft is primarily a software company, you might expect that the software part of the Surface platform is also quite innovative. Let's take a look at that on the next page.