Microsoft Just Showed Off the Insanely Weird Future of Computing

Apr 29, 2015

Microsoft offered a glimpse of what Windows will look like within the HoloLens, an augmented reality headset that brings familiar Windows apps like Word and Outlook into the physical space around users in a way never before possible.

Project lead Alex Kipman, who unveiled the HoloLens in January, took the stage at Microsoft's BUILD conference Wednesday to offer a preview of Windows 10 running on the new device. In a mock-up of a living room, a developer wearing the headset pulled up three holographic windows that hung like framed pictures on the wall.

"Instead of digging through menus, everything is right where he wants it," Kipman said as the developer walked around the space and the windows appeared to adjust to his viewing angle. The developer pulled up new apps by air-tapping a floating start menu.

The demonstration showed off how easily HoloLens wearers can move Windows apps around a physical space. A media player, for instance, could be detached from the wall with one tap. The voice command, "follow me," made the floating app glide behind the user, ready to be pinned and scaled on another wall.

"Every single universal Windows app has the same capabilities," said Kipman to the Windows developers gathered in the crowd, an audience that's crucial to Microsoft's attempt at re-thinking how computing might work in three dimensions. The HoloLens' real test will come once the "wow" factor of a floating operating system wears thin and developers begin cooking up new ways to use the device.

At Wednesday's event, Microsoft revealed two groups of test users, one made up of students and one of architects, are working with the HoloLens team to come up with new uses for the device. The architects have been able to build and share blueprints in three dimensions, scaling up the models to take walking tours through their designs. Case Western Reserve University's Dr. Mark Griswold, meanwhile, was invited on stage to show how medical students could use the HoloLens in lieu of cadavers. A holographic body could be separated into bones, muscles and arteries, and animations could give students their first look at the inside of a beating heart without using a scalpel.

"This could change how everyone learns," Griswold said. "Chemistry and genetics, art, engineering, and paleontology."

See The Incredibly Goofy Evolution of Virtual Reality Headsets

Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover was meant to explore the surface of Mars and send back information.
"Reality +" at the Virtual Reality Systems 93 show was described as a next generation, multi-player virtual reality entertainment system that gave a high sense of movement in a computer-generated world revealed in a head-mounted display.
The 3-player Budweiser virtual reality mask at the Food Marketing Institute's International Supermarket Industry Convention and Educational Expostion in Chicago.
A Virtual Reality contraption at the Sci Fi Channel booth at The National Cable Television Association annual convention, in San Francisco.
Soldier training using a virtual reality-simulated 3-D shootout at an Army facility.
A visitor checking out a virtual reality head-set at the G7 Information Society Showcase taking place at the European Parliament. The head-set was linked to a camera elsewhere in the building which the visitor could control through head movements.
A researcher at Tokyo University's Intelligent Modeling Laboratory wearing 3-D glasses, extending his hands to touch carbon atoms in the microscopic world at the laboratory's virtual reality room.
Visitors enjoy virtual reality driving with 3-D goggles and driving simulators for the presentation of Japan's automaker Nissan at the Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo.
A visitor to the " Ars Electronica in a dish installation " Humphrey II" , which allowed virtual free flight through a 3D reconstruction of the city of Linz.
A girl wore a full color head mounted display with a built-in camera as Japan's machinery maker Hitachi Zosen and Shimadzu unveiled a wearable computer, consisting of the HMD and a palm sized Windows XP PC with a pointing device at a virtual reality exhibition in Tokyo.
Lt. David Shipley of the Adams County Sheriff's Department watched an interactive video that replicated the experiences of a schizophrenic patient having auditory and visual hallucinations while attempting to refill a prescription at a pharmacy.
Valeria Petkova, right, and student Andrew Ketterer, left, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, tested the 'body-swap' illusion, a method whereby people can experience the illusion that either a mannequin or another person's body is their own body.
Raphael Pirker from Switzerland, founder of Team BlackSheep used virtual reality goggles to simulate the sensation of flight in the real world during a demonstration, flying from the perspective of a model aircraft, during a session of LeWeb'12 in Saint-Denis, near Paris.
A man seeking a job was equipped with 3D spectacles with sensors as he trained in Clermont-Ferrand, central France with avatars (background) in a virtual reality cube, at business incubator Pascalis.
Peter Kenny Jan Torpus, director of Lifeclipper project, tested the immersive augmented reality equipment in St Johanns Park in Basel, Switzerland.
Professor Karl Oldhafer, chief physician of general and visceral surgery at the Asklepios Hospital Hamburg-Barmbek, before liver surgery. Oldhafer used augmented reality, which allowed the liver to be filmed with an iPad and overlaid during the operation with virtual 3D models reconstructed from the real organ. This procedure helped locate critical structures such as tumors and vessels and was expected to improve the quality of transferring pre-operational resection plans into actual surgery.
British television presenter Rachel Riley showed a virtual-reality headset called Gear VR during a Samsung event ahead of the consumer electronic fair IFA in Berlin.
Tim Draper, Founder and Managing partner of 'Draper Fisher Jurvetson', tried out the latest in virtual reality technology the 2014 Kairos Global Summit at Ritz-Carlton Laguna Nigel in Dana Point, California.
A man played a game with the virtual reality head-mounted display 'Oculus Rift' at International Games Week in Berlin. The display transfers the eye movements to the game in real time.
Microsoft's Lorraine Bardeen demonstrates HoloLens headset during an event at the company's headquarters in Redmond, Wash. on Jan. 21, 2015.
1988 Andrew Mishkin wearing a 3-D virtual display helmet that is connected to a six-wheeled roving vehicle. The rover w
... VIEW MORE

Roger Ressmeyer—Corbis
1 of 20
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.