Microsoft’s UK headquarters compromising of 5 buildings connected together is based in Reading on Thames Valley Park, a high-tech business park adjacent to the River Thames. A perfect location and one that really stands out with a mix of fantastically modern buildings and beautiful scenery. Dubbed  the Silicon valley of the UK, Thames Valley Park supports over 8000 jobs and hosts companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and BG group.

     

The campus itself is mightily impressive, boasting its own CO OP, gym, coffee shop, library, cash machine and restaurants. We got to take a look in each building and sampled the different departments  and experience how Microsoft promotes a positive employee well being. This is obvious in many ways, from discounted gym memberships, daily free fruit provided in offices to free refrigerated drinks for employees. Happy and healthy employees, equal a happy and healthy company.


After the tour we got to grips with some hardware and some of the interesting things they are doing with it. Starting with the HTC Vive and Microsoft’s HoloLens.

The HTC Vive is a virtual reality headset which is designed to utilize “room scale” technology to turn a room into 3D space via sensors, with the virtual world allowing the user to navigate naturally, with the ability to walk around and use motion tracked handheld controllers to manipulate objects, interact with precision, communicate and experience immersive environments.

     

     

After having some fun with the HTC vive not just only playing some games but we also saw how this could be used in a teaching environment, transporting pupils back in history as though they had a time machine. Imagine instead of learning about the Titanic in a book but actually seeing it sink in VR while hearing real life reports of the disaster? The class room potential is amazing.

After a short while we were lucky enough to play with HoloLens. HoloLens is a Augmented Reality device, a see through display worn over your eyes. Unlike HTC Vive and VR Devices, the eye-piece component of HoloLens is transparent and the headset requires neither PC nor smartphone. It is able to project high-definition virtual content or holograms over real world objects.
Microsoft HoloLens runs a self-contained Windows 10 computer. It features HD 3D optical head-mounted display, spatial sound projection and advanced sensors to allow its users to interact its AR applications through head movements, gestures and voices.

     

HoloLens is an AMAZING experience! Fantastic build quality, attention to detail and the software potential seems limitless. This is a piece of tech that once you have tried you will want. The Developer edition currently costs close to £3000, once the tech has matured and the price reduces this is something you will see being used in a lot of environments.


The next bit of tech that seriously impressed us was the Surface Hub. The Surface Hub is a wall or roller stand mounted device with either an 84 inch 120 Hz 4K or a 55 inch 1080p touchscreen. It has 100 point multi-touch and multi-pen capabilities and runs the Windows 10 operating system. The devices are targeted for businesses to use while collaborating and videoconferencing.

The device was mesmerizing and we could immediately see the potential to help businesses collaborate and work together in building projects / meetings. The device was very responsive, clean and had a very sharp screen. At the end of a meeting, data can be emailed / shared and upon logging out the data is securely deleted for data protection purposes and its immediately ready for the next meeting.

    

 


 

Also a highlight of the day was to quiz some top Microsoft staff with any questions we wanted to ask, we were lucky to have a great selection and had a chance to speak to the following :

 

Carla Humphries – Senior Training Manager Harvey Eagle – Xbox UK Category Director Mike Watson – Senior Traning Manager Mark Rowland –  Lead Hardware accessories Nick Hedderman – Windows Director

This was a great chance for us at bear IT to ask some questions directly to Microsoft and get some great answers and feedback on past, present and future direction of Microsoft.

We were able to discuss the future of the Office suite and how there could be confusion within the market with consumers becoming puzzled with a boxed product and subscription based model. It was interesting that they also saw the potential shift to just a subscription model entirely likely.

Another query raised was a shift of company direction over the past few years. Previously it was our perception that Microsoft reacted poorly to feedback and criticism on there own products / devices. We also felt since 2015 that there has been a change in focus from Microsoft in listening to what the consumer wants and reacting to it, this was partially attributed to Satya Nadella being appointed CEO and encouraging all departments working closer together and being a lot more receptive to feedback.

Windows 10 was also a point of discussion on how successful we believe it has been. Microsoft also agreed that this was partially due to the change in direction we described earlier, but also the launch of the insider preview program. Windows 8 was previously tested in house by thousands, Windows 10 with the insider preview program is tested by millions, this has provided valuable feedback to Microsoft who can shape the way users want to use the operating system.

All in all it was a fantastic day, i cant thank the Microsoft Expertzone staff enough for a great time. Liam, Richard, Dale and Monika all ensured we were well looked after and got to experience something quite rare.

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