Microsoft has had their attempts before at creating user-friendly virtual environments, although both suffered from being too obnoxious - first with the infamous Microsoft Bob, then with Clippy and his virtual assistant friends who tortured Microsoft Office users for years. This latest attempt bears some resemblence to both BumpTop and 3DNA, as seen in a recent patent awarded to Microsoft.
The patent, titled "Method and apparatus for providing a three-dimensional task gallery computer interface," offers users a way to group together application windows in a three-dimensional world, instead of the current hide-and-show mechanics behind Windows 7's taskbar and the Command Center in Mac OS X Lion. The researchers behind this patent believe users can take advantage of spatial memory to memorize where they placed a window they were working with, instead of trying to search for where the operating system tucked it away.
In other words, it's an interface intended to help you better manage multiple tasks, which the patent suggests could be done in a 3D environment with a floor, walls and a ceiling. Apparently, you'd be able to group multiple windows at various spots in the "room," which would let you rely on your spatial memory to easily find a given task -- with the room getting deeper and deeper to accommodate more tasks. In the patent's claims, the only means described for navigating around that room is a set of icons that would adjust to suit the 3D environment, although it certainly seems like it could easily be adapted to accommodate gesture controls as well.
Some new hardware will be needed to navigate this interface, such as a 3D mouse. Whatever comes out of this experiment, however, we can be sure it's no Clippy or Bob.