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Between innovations such as the Apple iPhone and Microsoft’s newly announced surface computer, it appears the future of computing will be rather tactile.

Both devices employ touch-screens for all functions, and if they meet with success in the market, they will change the way we use computers. That is, if these devices perform precisely as we have been told they will.

I for one would love to see these machines succeed because, let’s face it, using computers right now is a pain. Switching back and forth between a mouse and a keyboard, wading through a multitude of folders to access applications and files on your computer, or simply trying to get your laptop and printer to play nice together, is often a frustrating experience.

But at least for some functions, the iPhone and Microsoft’s Milan, which has been described as a “coffee table computer,” should remove much of the frustration, if not eliminate it altogether.

After all, what could be simpler than running a finger over a piece of space-age glass to get your computer to do something for you? Even better, Milan employs cameras to recognize objects placed on the screen. For instance, a user would place a camera on the tabletop screen to transfer data. Restaurant patrons would place their credit cards on it to pay their bills.

It all sounds too good to be true, and time will tell if it is. While I believe the iPhone is likely to succeed, so long as price points drop and Apple makes it available to users outside the AT&T network, I have some reservations about the surface computer.

For solution providers, surface computing would likely open paths into markets that are new to them. For instance, should the coffee table computer make it into the home, providers that have yet to break into the home automation market might find a way in through Milan.

On the surface—pun intended—Milan is a cool enough idea to be sure. But when you stop and think about it a second or two, it starts to pose some inopportune questions about practicality and security.

One question of course has to do with the size of the screen. Something that big might give you quite a workout, but according to Microsoft, the cameras scan the information no matter where you place it on the screen, so even the more sedentary among us should be satisfied.

The security question is stickier. In a restaurant using Milan, you would have no need to snap your fingers, roll your eyes and sigh in exasperation over a slow waiter at check-paying time. You’d just pull out that other marvelous invention—plastic money—and place the credit card on the table, which would scan the information and process the payment. Neat, huh?

Well, no, not quite. Microsoft’s notorious security track record should make any consumer want to return to the days of wampum. Just as I’ve resisted banking over the Internet, I’m not about to trust Microsoft’s Swiss-cheese approach to security. When my favorite restaurant starts using a Milan table, I’ll be paying cash, thank you.

For now Microsoft is marketing Milan to large hospitality customers, but presumably the device eventually would flow downstream to small businesses and consumers.

I wouldn’t bet on Milan’s success just yet because of the lingering questions about security and practicality. Solution providers, while they should get acquainted with the product, would do well to take the same approach with Milan as their customers are taking with Vista: Wait and see.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and a contributing editor for The Channel Insider. He can be reached at