Surface Workstation SDK Made Broadly Available at PDC09

Microsoft announced the public availability of the Workstation Edition of the Surface Software Development Kit at the Professional Developers Conference this week.

The free SDK enables developers to use a PC, multiple mice, and PC-based simulator tools to build and test apps for Microsoft Surface, which is still sold only for commercial use.

"It allows you to simulate multi-user and it allows you to simulate multiple-touches," said Brad Carpenter, general manager of software development for Microsoft Surface. "But ultimately it would be desirable to test it on a unit because that experience is very different than being on a PC, because you have no keyboard or mouse or anything like that."

Surface v1, which first shipped in April 2008, features a 30-inch display on a table-like form factor. It is a combination of hardware and software with a natural use interface (NUI) that supports multiusers, multitouch and object recognition. At launch, commercial and developer units were more than $10,000.

The interface is built on XNA and Windows Presentation Foundation, which is part of the .NET Framework. "If you know WPF, then learning to write a Surface app is very easy," said Carpenter.

The Surface team announced on Thursday that Surface controls will be released along with .NET 4/WPF 4 so that developers can use them in touch apps on Windows 7. This initiative is part of an effort to provide universal and consistent touch tools and APIs across Microsoft's platforms and products.

"The reason that we think this is important is because we spent a lot of time making sure that those controls are optimized for touch," said Carpenter, "and so enabling developers to focus on what is core to their apps, and easily integrate controls, we think makes their job easier."

The Surface platform is gaining traction, according to the company. At PDC08, the Surface SDK had a limited release. Microsoft has increased its availability over the last year and reports more than 5,000 downloads, compared to 300 downloads in the PDC08 timeframe.

"[This] has really helped drive the number of development partners," said Carpenter. "We had 50 development partners a year ago and now have 250 and extended our market from just being U.S. and Canada last year to adding 16 more markets in EMEA."

Vodafone Europe represents the largest deployment in EMEA with units deployed in 62 stores across seven markets. Surface supports the Vodafone 360 suite of services, including online data storage, and enables 360 mobile customers to spill out their phone's contents and interact with the information using the Microsoft platform. Other recent customers include Barclays Bank in the U.K., Hard Rock International and Harris Corporation.

At PDC09, the Surface team also announced the winner of the Touch First contest, which was launched in July. Out of 40 submissions from 6 countries, the winner was User Interface Design GmbH in Ludwigsberg, Germany. The company designed UID Portfolio for navigating services and personnel. With the Portfolio app, potential customers use tagged business cards to bring up information about employees and work done on previous projects. The app also incorporates unique gestures such as spinning a finger on the screen to clean it up and put the information in logical order, and gestures to retrieve and to empty shopping carts. As the winner of the programming contest, UID will receive a Surface unit.

The Surface team also continued its "Conference Connection Stations", first rolled out at Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference in July. The Surface units streamed live twitter feeds from the event and provided access to Flickr photos. Attendees could also use their PDC badge to get a Surface tag and exchange business contact information.

Carpenter said the team is working on Surface v2, which will support Windows 7. "The loose ends that we have not closed up have to do with price and form factor," he said. The SDK will support VS2010, although he couldn't specify a timeframe.

"Touch is something that is going to become ubiquitous for a variety of reasons," said Carpenter. "Over the long term, we are saying to ourselves, 'okay, what's after touch?'"

The ability to recognize objects is part of that answer, asserts Carpenter, who says that the vision system in Surface is able to distinguish different shapes of objects. "We've got five cameras taking pictures at 60 frames per second so we actually recognize that a finger was put down versus how an IR bezel or a capacitor would work.

"If you look at other work going on around natural use interface, you see some of the stuff going on like Project Natal or you see some of the other work with Web cameras," said Carpenter. "Clearly that is also about recognizing objects, but that is more about input gestures than actually using touch and placing objects on the screen. We think that that's the direction that the industry is going."

Project Natal is the codename for an add-in for the Xbox 360 that supports controller-free gaming. It was announced in June at E3.

Download the Microsoft Surface SDK 1.0 SP1 Workstation Editionhere.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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