Maybe I’m late to the party – nods to John Blyberg and Rob Styles – but damn(!), does Microsoft have some exciting visualization projects or what?

John and Rob wrote about Microsoft Surface, a hardware/software combination that allows for tactile manipulation of data. In Microsoft’s own words:

Microsoft Surface represents a fundamental change in the way we interact with digital content. With Surface, we can actually grab data with our hands, and move information between objects with natural gestures and touch. Surface features a 30-inch tabletop display whose unique abilities allow for several people to work independently or simultaneously. All with out using a mouse or a keyboard.

Don’t take my word for it; go watch a demonstration video and be amazed.

But wait, open the video in another window, and keep reading before you lose interest in my uninteresting prose.

I noticed among the recently released TED talks a brilliant short presentation by Microsoft’s Blaise Aguera y Arcas on their Photosynth project. My first impression was just the visual joy of the photo browse / pan / zoom interface. It’s impressive in its own right. But what really tickles me about Photosynth is that it “takes a large collection of photos of a place or an object, analyzes them for similarities, and displays them in a reconstructed three-dimensional space.”

For example, throw it at http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/seattlepubliclibrary/ and it will construct a collage-like view of the Seattle Public Library. Zoom in and you’ll see images at that level of zoom. Pan in three dimensions and (assuming there are enough photos to support the various views) you can virtually be in front of SPL. See for yourself:

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Imagine browsing the stacks with this thing. Imagine finding a book on the stacks and being able to hook directly into its full-text. Super cool!

Microsoft Surface is tentatively planned for a November release, which will be targeted for “retail and entertainment settings”. It could be available to the public in a few years’ time though it will likely cost a few times more than an average PC. [Gleaned from a Seattle PI article.] Photosynth is also not available yet, but you can track its progress on the Photosynth team blog. (Yes, there’s a feed.)

[Disclosure: I lived in the shadow of Redmond not long ago, though I was not employed by Microsoft. I probably invest in Microsoft indirectly, but I haven’t scoured my portfolio distributions in a while.]