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Microsoft Whiteboard is the virtual collaboration tool we’ve been dreaming of

It's Whiteboard collaboration time!
It’s Whiteboard collaboration time!

Image: Lance Ulanoff/Mashable

One of the highlights of Microsoft’s freshly announced Surface Pro tablet is new Surface Pen.

It looks exactly like the old pen, but Microsoft reengineered it to amp up the pressure sensitivity, add tilt awareness, and radically reduce latency so the digital ink looks as if its flowing right out of the real pen tip.

“People wanted to write as accurately and small as on paper,” said Steven Bathiche, distinguished scientist, Microsoft Applied Sciences, who showed me how all the new technology translates to a more effective pen experience.

However, nothing showcases the pen’s new capabilities like Microsoft’s new collaboration tool Whiteboard, which I saw in action at a private demo at Microsoft’s Redmond campus.

“It’s a limitless, real-time collaboration canvas,” said Ian Mikutel, Senior project manager lead, digital ink experiences.

As I watched, Mikutel opened the Whiteboard app, which look like a moistly blank white board, on a Windows 10 Surface Studio. Beside it, Mikutel had another Surface Studio and a Surface Pro. They were also running Whiteboard.

Mikutel started writing on his Whiteboard and then Bathiche did the same on the second Surface Studio and Han-yi Shaw, Group Program Manager, Office Hardware Innovation Team, picked up the Surface Pro.

What Bathiche and Shaw were writing appeared simultaneously on Mikutel’s screen. He told me the instant sharing of ink strokes is part of a new, patented technology called “Live Ink.” In addition, each participant’s lines were accompanied by tiny avatars (small, round picture of their faces). This is called “local ink identity.” 

When I asked Mikutel how many people could collaborate at once he said, “up to a lot of people,” though the typical collaboration group size is between five and seven people.

‘No more taking photos of the whiteboard at the end of the meeting.’

The app is built specifically for Surface devices and the Surface Pen. In developing it, the Microsoft team focused on ink intelligence, speed and inker identity. The system also includes shape recognition. Draw a circle and it will turn into a cleaner and more manipulable one.

“No more taking photos of the whiteboard at the end of the meeting,” smiled Mikutel who added that users can output the Whiteboard image in a variety of formats.

The only issue I saw in Whiteboard is that, because the Whiteboard canvas is truly limitless, collaborators can get a bit lost in it. At one point Shaw was drawing on the same Whiteboard as Mikutel, but we couldn’t see it on the main board because Mikutel was zoomed in while Shaw’s writing was a significant virtual distance away.

I noticed that Mikutel’s drawing color was a rainbow color. It is, apparently, a very popular inking color and one that was suggested by a seventh grader. Mikutel said he was in a classroom asking, if they could have any Ink feature, what would they want. One girl piped up, “I think it would be really cool if Ink looked like a rainbow.”

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