Microsoft HoloLens puts the 'real' in virtual reality

Enterprise benefits of Microsoft's mixed-reality headset may not be apparent, but there are plenty

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Let's be honest: We all want a real-life holodeck in our lifetime. In "Star Trek: The Next Generation," the holdeck was always openly mocked by fans but also secretly coveted. In the real world, the work of virtual-reality headset maker Oculus has drawn a lot of attention from those who'd like to see a VR breakthrough.

But nobody would have thought Microsoft would come in and drop a mind-blowing idea like the new HoloLens on us a couple of weeks ago.

Keep in mind that Microsoft isn't claiming the HoloLens headset to be a VR headset, nor is it a set of images and text layered into your field of vision through glasses, like the now-discontinued Google Glass experiment. Instead, it's a bit of a fusion.

Rather than waiting for us to have all sorts of new equipment built into our existing world (desks, countertops, walls, and refrigerators), the HoloLens headset overlays its VR display over existing walls, furniture, and so on; thus, we can interact with our environments (real environments, not virtual ones) using virtual elements. It's a mixed reality, a blending of your digital world with your real world using 3D objects that show up as floating images.

The gaming usage for the headset are obvious. It seems a natural next step from the Xbox and the hands-free Kinect. The consumer usage is obvious as well, because you can use the headset to watch TV (on walls without a TV hanging on them) or to play games with 3D building blocks.

From an educational perspective, the usage is clear because students can step into scenes in history and see lifelike characters -- they almost literally could see themselves at the Alamo.

The enterprise use for such a device isn't so obvious. But here are some to consider:

  • The ability to move about untethered while communicating and collaborating with remote team members through Skype
  • The ability to visualize items that have yet to be created, such as to prototype items in a 3D space
  • The ability to turn any blank space into a collaborative environment where others can see and interact
  • The ability to draw diagrams and have them appear to the headset wearer (great for doctors and pilots, for example)

Used tastefully, the HoloLens could transform our world into a Second Life-like virtual space that, although it may have a cartoonish feel at first, would over time develop into a more sophisticated blend of real and virtual life.

Whether this takes off will depend on developers, and early reactions were positive. Microsoft's plan is to release HoloLens around the same time as Windows 10.

I for one cannot wait to write Enterprise Windows columns that relate to holographic work environments and tools. In fact, I might be first in line for one of these HoloLens headsets!

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.