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TECHNOLOGY

Home of future happening now

By Julie Clothier for CNN

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Microsoft aims to raise awareness about new technology that "makes life easier."

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Simon Darby has the kind of house that makes the fathers of his kids' classmates green with envy.

As Microsoft's Windows client marketing manger, the self-confessed "technology geek" has all sorts of gadgets installed that make it seem like something out of a futuristic movie.

In fact, all of the devices in Darby's home -- from the biometric mouse that has his computer reading fingerprints instead of asking for passwords to the media center in his lounge -- are available for ordinary consumers to buy in shops.

Having impressed guests to his Oxford home, Darby decided to let his clients see the technology in action by recreating his front room in London.

The result is Life Squared (Life2) -- a mock business, mock home and mock cafe, all fitted with new technologies to show visitors the types of innovations that Microsoft believes will make their lives easier.

Marsh Marine, for example, is not a real company. But for the purposes of Life2, it is a very successful boating business, using the latest wireless technology to run a seamless operation.

From the moment you step in the door, you are greeted by a receptionist, who jots your name down on an electronic tablet and sends your drink preference to the nearest cafe.

Inside the offices, workers make notes on electronic tablets which recognize their handwriting as well as anything typed.

The idea is improve people's work-life balance by making their lives more efficient, Darby said.

Everyone at Marsh Marine has access to an online database, a type of Intranet that everyone can view and update.

"There is no more 'month end' -- previously, you would do this stock take of data once a month but you can upload it in real time," Darby told CNN.

They can also share data in real time, including technical drawings and diagrams.

"And instead of having a conversation on the phone. You can visually see it and make sure you're both talking about the same document."

Also on show is iMate, a 3G phone that is also a speaking GPS device that can give you directions. It'll also tell you points of interest according to your preferences, which could include the nearest McDonald's restaurant, Hilton Hotel or even a speed camera.

On display at "number 42" -- a recreation of Darby's home -- is Media Center.

It looks like a TV but acts as more like a computer, playing CDs, slide shows of digital photos, and video on demand.

All of this helps with the "immersiveness" of the experience, according to Darby.

In the children's room next door, Microsoft shows off Internet Protocol television, or IPTV -- currently being developed in conjunction with Alcatel.

It has a function on it that enables users to chat, much as they would over instant messaging (IM), but via television. Individual TV channels, complete with personalized slide shows of digital photos, can be created and access can be given to others, even if they aren't in the same house, similar to an IM buddy list.

No launch date has been set for Microsoft's IPTV.

The computer in the children's room has a biometric mouse, which enables computer log-ins to happen via fingerprints, instead of needing a password.

Darby said the point of the Life2 project was to show what technology was available now.

The expo, which runs until February, is not open to the public. Instead Microsoft is showing media and key clients around, hoping they will spread the message that the technology on show will make people's lives easier.

"It's all about technology fitting in with our lives -- not the other way around," said Darby.

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