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Microsoft looks to youth for future of Office

Microsoft will host 15 university students from around the world at its headquarters this week to pick their brains about what the Office productivity suite should look like 10 years from now.

The students, from 14 countries and all aged between 19 and 24, will form the "Microsoft Office Information Worker Board of the Future" for one week. The agenda includes group work and brainstorming sessions on the Microsoft campus, as well as a visit to a local elementary school.

At the end of the week, the students will present their findings to Microsoft executives, including Jeff Raikes who, as group
vice-president of productivity and business services, is responsible for the Office products.

By asking the students about the workplace and the role technology plays in their countries today and is likely to play in the future, Microsoft thinks it can better prepare for Office releases in 2010 and 2014, when these young people will be part of the workforce, said Dan Rasmus, director of information work vision at Microsoft.

"We really want to understand how they think about information, about technology adoption and technology in general," Rasmus said.

Microsoft calls today's students the "internet generation", because they have never known a world without the web, e-mail and computers.

"My own computing experience coming out of high school and going in to college was sending a message to a mainframe using a teletype machine," said Rasmus, who is 42.

In today's world, businesses have to worry about justifying new technology and persuading workers to use it, Rasmus said. "I don't think that is going to be an issue with the next generation. It will be a natural thing that they use new technology," he said.

The Information Worker Board of the Future initiative is part of a larger research effort at Microsoft for the future of its Office products. The software maker uses several methods to gather data, including building close relationships with universities and running a "Most Valuable Professional" programme.

The students visiting Microsoft this week come from Argentina, Australia, Canada, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Turkey, the UK and the US. They were selected in partnership with Taking IT Global, an organisation dedicated to connecting youth around the world.

Joris Evers writes for IDG News Service


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