Posey's Tips & Tricks

HoloLens 2 Borrows Its Killer Feature from Windows

Turns out the secret to the HoloLens 2's success has nothing to do with holograms.

A few months ago, I talked about some of my experiences using Microsoft's HoloLens 2. More recently, someone asked if I thought the HoloLens 2 was a significant enough improvement over the original device to justify the cost of an upgrade.

When I answered, "Yes," the person then asked me to tell them the one feature that makes HoloLens 2 really stand out from its predecessor.

First, the Easy Answer
I answered by explaining that HoloLens 2 has vastly improved hand-mapping. The original HoloLens device required you to use a collection of obscure and non-intuitive hand gestures when interacting with holograms. Maybe it's just me, but I've never had great luck getting those gestures to work correctly.

In contrast, HoloLens 2 lets you interact with holograms the same way that you would interact with a physical object. You can push virtual buttons, pick holograms up and do all sorts of other cool things. There is even a demo video in which someone plays a holographic piano to show how HoloLens 2 is able to track the movement of each of your fingers individually.

So, simply put, when asked to name HoloLens 2's killer feature, my answer was finer tracking and intuitive hologram interaction. It was a good answer, but it wasn't the right answer.

As I thought about my response later on, I began to realize that HoloLens 2 has a capability that almost nobody has mentioned, but that might be its most significant capability. Before I tell you what this feature is, I need to give you a bit of a history lesson. It's an odd path, for sure, but hopefully this will all make sense in the end.

A Brief History of Windows
HoloLens 2 is a Windows device. As such, it has capabilities that are similar to those of other Windows devices. The Windows operating system has been around for long enough that most people don't really give it a second thought.

The OS provides a GUI-based desktop for running your applications. Computing hasn't always been that way, though. Before Windows, PCs used a text-based operating system called DOS. The first few DOS operating systems required mere kilobytes of space, so you can imagine how limiting they were. Windows provided a way around some of those limitations.

The reason why Windows was so successful was because it overcame many of the limitations of DOS. In fact, there are three main things that I believe directly contributed to Windows' success.

  1. The DOS operating system didn't include hardware drivers (at least not beyond very basic drivers, such as the one required to use the keyboard). When you bought an application back then, you had to read the back of the box to see if it would work with your video card, printer, mouse or whatever. Windows moved device drivers out of the application and into the operating system. It meant that any Windows application could be run on any hardware (within reason). That type of flexibility had not previously existed.
  2. Windows made it possible to run multiple applications at the same time, and to painlessly switch back and forth between applications on an as-needed basis. To be fair, there were third-party products that could be used to multitask in a DOS environment. However, the ones that I remember using were really complicated to set up, buggy and didn't work with every application. The amount of memory installed in your system also played a major role in how many applications you could multitask. In contrast, Windows made multitasking effortless.
  3. The clipboard. Windows made it so that data could be copied from one application and pasted into another. Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) technology even allowed applications to interact with one another.

So why the lesson in ancient history? It's to illustrate the point that Windows' success can be directly attributed to the fact that it made it easy for people to run the applications that they wanted to use. Windows (mostly) took away worries over application compatibility and made it so that we were no longer stuck running one application at a time.

The Gift of Multitasking
In a way, this is exactly where we are today with HoloLens and with Microsoft's mixed-reality headsets.

HoloLens and Microsoft mixed-reality headsets act as application interfaces. If you've never used these devices, you know that they take you into a virtual world where you can launch applications. Unlike the applications running on your desktop, though, holographic and mixed reality applications are designed to be completely immersive. That means that you would typically work within an application, and then step out of the application to launch another application.

With that in mind, I believe that HoloLens 2's killer feature is its ability to run one application inside of another. In other words, you don't necessarily have to exit an application to go do something else. You can multitask within the confines of an application. In the video demo that I linked to above, for example, the person opened a Web browser while working inside of another holographic application.

Microsoft seems to be marketing its mixed reality headsets to gamers, but HoloLens specifically to engineers and business users. Having the ability to multitask without leaving a mission-critical application will no doubt make the headset far more attractive to those who are considering its business use cases.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 19-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.

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