Longhorn UI Meets Social Computing

Microsoft is concentrating social-computing experts from Microsoft Research onto the Windows user interface team, Microsoft Watch has reported. This happening has led some Longhorn insiders to speculate that the "Aero" user interface will assimilate interactive elements including blogs, RSS feeds and wikis.

In late April, Microsoft tapped social-computing group research project manager Lili Cheng to join the Windows Shell interface team, said Microsoft Watch. Cheng has been employed by Microsoft since 1995, and, prior to that, worked with Apple Computer's human interface research group.

As part of the reorganization, Cheng is shifting approximately 10 of her coworkers to the Windows team where she will serve as the "director of Windows user experience and research."

Cheng is credited as being the driving force behind Wallop, a social-networking Web site that puts each of the aforementioned technologies into practice to explore how users "share media and build conversations in the context of social network."

Other projects developed by Microsoft Research focus on how to utilize metadata to clusters information and include the "Stacks" project for sorting digital images. MS Connect, meanwhile, displays graphical representations of the relationships between groups and individuals.

"I commend Microsoft for trying to improve the Windows user interface, but I question the timing. The UI appears to be a major work in progress, in what I consider to be fairly late along in the development process. My advice to Microsoft: Closely watch the social engineering effort MSN is engaging around Messenger and Spaces," commented Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox.

Microsoft is expected to unveil Aero in September at the Professional Developers Conference (PDC). Aero was not presented during last month's WinHEC 2005 developer conference where Microsoft demonstrated Longhorn build 5048.

In the meantime, Microsoft is remaining mum on interface changes to come. The company did, however, acknowledge it has scrapped Longhorn's Sidebar, which played a central role in early Longhorn alpha builds.

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