ETech provides peek inside Microsoft labs

Mobile browser, game that challenges kids to program are among the new technologies that Redmond researchers unveiled at the ETech conference.

SAN DIEGO--Previewing its lab technology this week, Microsoft researchers trotted out a new browser for the cell phone and an Xbox game that asks kids to be programmers.

Microsoft researchers showed off several new technologies that the company has been incubating in its Microsoft Research and Live Labs divisions Wednesday and Thursday at the ETech conference, a four-day event on emerging technology.

One piece of software demonstrated was called Boku, a virtual world Xbox 360 game that challenges kids to program a character's actions to win.

Matt MacLaurin, a software engineer in the creative systems group at Microsoft Research who showed off Boku, said he modeled it after work from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Seymour Papert. Papert developed a simple scripting language to work with schoolkids and get them into programming.

The premise of the game is that Boku lives on a virtual island, and he has various challenges living in the world, like eating for survival. He can't solve these challenges unless the child helps him with the code. For example, kids can program Boku to use its vision sensors to detect a red apple on the screen, and then set other rules to eat the apple.

In another project, Alex Daly, senior product manager for Microsoft Live Labs, demonstrated Deepfish, which is software that preserves the layout of Web pages for use on the mobile phone.

Daley said that the software is available in limited beta, but people can download it at Microsoft's Web site for use on up to a dozen smart phones or Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 5. The software lets mobile phone users see full layouts of Web pages, zoom into particular information and view graphics.

Microsoft's labs recently licensed out another mobile Web browsing technology, originally called Launch Time, to the start-up ZenZui. That software basically divides content partners into tiles and then caches the information on the phone.

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