Microsoft readies PC-sharing tool in India

Microsoft Corp. plans to commercialize technology developed at its India lab that allows several computer mice to be used with a PC simultaneously. The technology, developed last year by Microsoft Research Lab India Pvt. Ltd. in Bangalore, enables several mice to be connected to a PC’s USB (universal serial bus) port, helping to make up for the shortage of computers at schools in India and other emerging economies.

Two groups at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, are working to commercialize the technology, called MultiPoint, said Kentaro Toyama, assistant managing director of Microsoft Research India, on Thursday. The Emerging Markets Education Group is interested in using the technology in educational institutions around the world, while the Education Technologies Group is working on a software development kit (SDK) for MultiPoint, said Toyama, who heads a research group on technologies for emerging markets at the India lab.

The SDK is designed to encourage developers to develop content that can take advantage of MultiPoint. In field tests of 240 school students in India’s Karnataka state, Microsoft found that students who learned using MultiPoint fared as well on certain tests as students who had a PC to themselves, said Udai Singh Pawar, assistant researcher at Microsoft Research India. The lab is now working on test scenarios that promote collaboration and competition among students using MultiPoint, which is expected to increase scores on tests, he added.

The SDK will be released in January to participants of Microsoft’s annual Imagine Cup, a contest that promotes innovation among technology students worldwide. Some participants will be encouraged to work with Microsoft Research India on new applications as well as new input devices for the product, Toyama said.

Microsoft is already working on new input devices besides the mouse for Multipoint, including multiple keyboards, styli on Tablet PCs, and point-and-click devices that plug into the USB port. “One of the reasons why we have rechristened it as MultiPoint, instead of the earlier MultiMouse, is because we anticipate using other input devices,” Toyama said.

MultiPoint is likely to ship as part of a Microsoft product rather than as a separate product, according to Toyama. The product groups in Microsoft would decide exactly how the software will be commercialized. The first release is likely to be free for developers, he said. A key part of Microsoft’s strategy is to get people to build applications around MultiPoint, he added.

Microsoft’s research lab in India is also working on non-educational uses for MultiPoint, such as in small offices where a number of staff could share a PC, he said.

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