UPDATE: You can also hear more from the MultiPoint team on Channel9.
Microsoft announced a technology today that is designed to make computers scale to students better in developing countries. It's called Windows MultiPoint, and it's a solution that allows specially-designed software programs to accept input from more than one mouse. So instead of classrooms buying more computers, they can purchase USB hubs and mice, and enable better group-learning experiences.
Students in India learning with MultiPoint
This year's Imagine Cup is going to have a separate award for the best MultiPoint app, which is the main reason Microsoft is making this announcement today, even though bits won't be available until later.
The official press release gives a great overview, but it doesn't tell the whole story. So I had a chance to sit down with Jed Rose, Product Manager on the Emerging Markets team, to get the low-down on this revolutionary new system.
RM: How does MultiPoint work?
JR: Well, there are two parts. The first part is the runtime, which was written in managed code. The second part is the SDK, which allows developers to leverage the runtime in their .NET 3.0 applications.
RM: So MultiPoint requires .NET 3.0?
JR: Yes, any app that wants to take advantage of MultiPoint must be written in .NET 3.0. We are building this on .NET 3.0 because it makes it much easier for developers to work with multiple input devices.
RM: So that means at launch it will only be available for new applications that are built especially for MultiPoint?
JR: That's correct.
RM: Are there any plans to extend MultiPoint to multi-input-enable existing applications as well?
JR: This is something that’s definitely feasible with the MultiPoint technology that we’re building. We are releasing the SDK in January to developers and are excited to see what they will do with it- This is a great example of something that could potentially be done with the SDK. We don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding developing this in-house.
JR: Yeah, we will be releasing the MultiPoint Alpha in January and then regularly update it until we RTM in May.
RM: Are there any software companies committing to launch products built with this SDK?
JR: We are in discussions with many interested developers, but there is nothing we are ready to announce at this time.
RM: Can developers expect that this SDK will be merged into the next version of the .NET Framework (3.5)?
JR: Developers can expect this to be a technology that will be available for all Genuine Windows XP SP2 and Windows Vista users. Upon RTM, MultiPoint will be available on the Microsoft Download Center, but we don’t have anything to announce at this time regarding inclusion with the .NET framework.
RM: Your focus is on emerging markets, but clearly this technology is useful here in the US too. How do you see this affecting education in saturated markets like the US and Japan?
JR: There are many classrooms in mature markets that could also make use for this technology. I have heard from professors that there are schools even here in Seattle that would really benefit from extending the reach of their current PCs and create new collaborative learning methods using MultiPoint. This technology has many potential benefits, but its the classroom is where you’ll find it can make the biggest impact. We’re really excited about seeing what the education developer community will create with this MultiPoint SDK.
RM: But this isn't just for education, is it? Do you see other uses for this outside education?
JR: Definitely- Imagine power user scenarios where users could DJ and mix two tracks simultaneously or tweak a couple features of a photo at the same time. Also, the long-term plan for this technology is to enable additional input devices other than the mouse to be connected to the PC simultaneously- think joysticks, keyboards, or even touch-screen monitors. This technology has many potential benefits, but it’s the classroom is where you’ll find it can make the biggest impact.
RM: Can you briefly describe one of your most memorable experiences working on this projects in the emerging markets you’ve been to?
JR: MultiPoint was created by MSR India and they have already trialed it in their home country. We found instances there of more than 10 students crammed around a single classroom PC. Some couldn’t see the screen and others were frustrated about not being able to control the experience because of only one mouse. With MultiPoint, the students became instantly engaged and were learning from each other by using the PC at the same time. It’s very exciting to be working on a technology that was envisioned in an emerging market for emerging markets.
RM: Fantastic. Will you come back in the new year and let us know how the project is going?
JR: You bet! We have a pilot in Thailand schools coming up and I’m looking forward to keeping you posted.