Yup, Microsoft's new Instant Viewer definitely bears more than a passing resemblance to Expose on Mac OS X. But apart from that transgression, there's some dead smart stuff in these new mice.
It's a veritable rodent-fest on Day 1 of Microsoft's Hardware 2006 Launch in Seattle.
The Redmond-based 'rat pack' has been turning out mice since the first blockish two-button Mouse for Word in 1982. The team now comprises "200 gadget junkies, technologists, usability expects, industrial designers, ergonomists and a lot of very smart business people" boasts Matt Barlow, Director of Worldwide Marketing for Microsoft Hardware.
Barlow has practised his sound bites. His team's devices are "magic wands for software", which unlock the potential of the OS and applications.
The new multifunction Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse is an "all-in-wonderful device" which takes you from "gadget geek to notebook chic".
And everything, absolutely everything, is all about the "experience" -- so much so that we're served cans of lemon-lime water badged with a Windows Vista logo which is less a drink than a "revitalising refreshment experience" (okay, Barlow didn't say that, but we know he was thinking it) (and yes, this does sorta mean that we drank the Microsoft Kool-Aid).
Of the five new mice scuttling around the corridors at Hardware HQ, the two 'productivity' mice will touch down in Australia in mid-November.
The Wireless Laser Mouse 8000 will sell on its own for $149 and is also bundled with the new cordless desktop keyboard/mouse combo sets. Pressing down on the now-mandatory scroll wheel to activate the middle button launches the Instant Viewer mode that's enabled through the revised IntelliPoint software (the feature can be remapped to other mice buttons).
On both XP and Vista, the screen displays reduced views of all open application windows and documents aligned to an invisible grid. Unlike Apple's Expose in Mac OS X, which shows each window in relative sizes, the Instant Viewer assigns each window an equal amount of space. For example, the tall thin pane of Windows Messenger is surrounded by empty space in its allotted square, while a Word or Outlook screen takes up most of its square.
From there, everything works as you'd expect -- moving the mouse over each window thumbnail shifts focus to highlight and slightly enlarge the window, then clicking it brings that window full-sized to the foreground.
Instant Viewer will be available on all new mice running the latest IntelliPoint software -- I'm checking with Microsoft to see if this utility will be made available for free public download, as has been done in the past, which could make Instant Viewer available using almost any Microsoft mouse (and more than a few compatible competitors).
The WLM8000 mega-mouse also ships with a drop-in recharge station and a quick charge capability which Microsoft says delivers a full charge in 30 minutes and lasts for about a week of 'average use'.
All the new Bluetooth mice and keyboards announced today have been paired at the factory with their supplied USB Bluetooth dongle so that users don't need to bother with matching up the digital keys of each device.
Microsoft also engaged a third-party company to supply device firmware which lets the host system use inbuilt USB drivers instead of requiring the installation of special Bluetooth drivers.
The notion isn't just to simplify setup, it's to enable Bluetooth keyboard and mice during the OS' 'pre-driver' mode so that you don't need to hunt around for a conventional corded keyboard to navigate through the earliest stages of system setup.
Also arriving mid-November and sharing a $149 sticker is the Wireless Notebook Presenter Mouse 8000, which Barlow attests is "one is for the road warrior".
It's a Bluetooth mouse with a second set of buttons on its underbelly. Flick a switch, flip the mouse upside down and it can drive a presentation from the other end of the room (we tested it at 10 metres without fail) while you highlight the most impressive parts of each slide with a laser pointer or draw squiggles using digital ink. The controls also run most media players (such as WMP and iTunes) when it's time for some downtime.
On the presentation front, Microsoft also sprung on us their new Presenter 3000 remote controller, which is a more conventional 2.4GHz RF slideshow stick with a mouse pointer and countdown timer. The Presenter 3000 is due late November for $89.
David Flynn is
attending experiencing Microsoft's 2006 Hardware Launch in Seattle as a guest of Microsoft.