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Microsoft displays its digital dream

Life Squared shows off the company's wares

The idea of Microsoft some day decorating your home or business might be taking the software supertanker’s influence a bit too far. But the company has made a mock-up home, business and cafe as part of a marketing strategy to show its customers exactly how the technology it produces would really work if, say, someone actually used it.

Situated in a brick-walled compound on London's rapidly developing Chelsea Harbour neighbourhood, the Life Squared project is a brisk, 90-minute tour into how Microsoft wants you to work and relax using its products.

"It's really an educational process," said David Weeks, Windows marketing manager, on a recent tour. "We're showing how it [the technology] connects together."

All of the software and products are already on the market, Weeks said. The demonstration, which runs through February, is not open to the general public, but is instead aimed at courting high-level Microsoft customers and at its partners.

The tour begins in the reception area of Marsh Marine, an entirely fictitious business that loves Microsoft.

The owner, 'Rick Marsh', who is played by an actor, explains how he uses a range of products to keep track of how many winches his salespeople sell, where the winches must be sent and how fast his customers can receive their orders. Through a deft network of wireless devices used by salespeople, Rick extols the virtues of three flat-paneled screens that show his sales.

He uses Microsoft's Office Communicator to talk to one of his co-workers about where is a good place to grease a winch. He also uses the company's OneNote program with the same employee to jointly view a diagram in a chalkboard-like setting to mark where the grease should be applied. He later comments that his father, who started Marsh Marine, could not believe the efficiencies that are gained now through technology.

Life Squared is well rehearsed. The actors breathlessly roll through product demonstrations, deftly clicking and manipulating programs with almost unrealistic consumer ease. But the actors are just for show: Life Squared tourists are advised before embarking to ask no questions of the actors, as they are not the experts on the technology and to save queries for Microsoft spokespeople.

So thus continued the very candid and smiling one-way tour. At one point, the candour and surface likeability of the actors almost trick me for a few minutes into believing all of it is real. I nearly ask a question, too.

Moving on from the business, you enter Microsoft's enviable if slightly Orwellian home on tour with Jenny Marsh, Rick's wife. The gargantuan living room has a massive flat screen television running Microsoft's Windows XP Media Center Edition, a muscled-for-multimedia software package integrating music, video, photos and television.

Then on to the kid's room. Want to set limits on your child's access to computers and websites? No better way than to stop mischievous access than through biometric identification, Microsoft's Optical Desktop Elite with Fingerprint Reader for Bluetooth, a solid challenge for the budding fraudster.

Microsoft's house wouldn't be a bad place to live - a perfect plush palace of interconnected devices and unmissed TV programs in which to raise a nuclear family. And Marsh Marine seems like a squared-away business, with not a winch out of place.

But is it safe from burglars? We won't ask Microsoft about home security for now.


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