WHAT IT IS: Microsoft gave tours of its "home of the future" at last week's Advance '08 event. The mock home, set up on the company's corporate campus in Redmond, Wash., represents Microsoft's vision of the future and the ways in which technology might change the American household at least five years out. The home has been around for more than 15 years; very early iterations talked up how important technologies such as cable TV would be. More-recent iterations have displayed now-available technologies such as tablet PCs and Microsoft Surface.
WHAT IT INCLUDES: Everything in the home of the future runs on a central network, with devices such as cellphones and even the home's doorbell residing as nodes on that network. When family members arrive home, the home recognizes them because of their mobile devices. The mailbox may even be smart enough to notify them what mail is waiting to be collected. (That means, yes, there will still be paper letters in five years.)
THE RFID FACTOR: Virtually everything in the home of the future was embedded with radio-frequency-identification technology -- smart tagging, it is called -- and was able to react without much effort on the part of the user. Want the kids to put their toys away? How about programming certain toys to go in certain bins? The system will automatically check whether everything gets back where it belongs. Or in the kitchen, if family members pull out particular appliances and ingredients, the "smart kitchen" will know what they are looking to make, and the countertop will display the recipe.
WHAT IT DOESN'T HAVE: Lots of PCs and screens everywhere. The idea is that technology will be oriented around natural user interfaces, such as voice recognition. "It assumes there will be more-intuitive ways to interact with information," said Stephen Kim, global marketing director at Microsoft. He said consumer adoption of some of these tactics, such as voice recognition, has actually been faster than many assumed and cited Sync, the in-vehicle technology partnership between Microsoft and Ford.