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Thursday, March 24, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 a.m.

Microsoft's story on display

Seattle Times technology reporter


Brandon Camerer, 16, a high-school sophomore from Renton, visits the Microsoft Visitor Center yesterday in Redmond. The center expects more than 80,000 visitors a year, and already it's booked for a series of school tours.

Paul Allen gave Seattle the Experience Music Project. Now, Bill Gates has given Redmond the Experience Microsoft Project.

But don't look for rock-star guitars and stage outfits at the new Microsoft Visitor Center. Instead there's a collection of hands-on software exhibits and a company timeline displaying old computers, early software packages and a variety of promotional materials such as company T-shirts.

The center also displays Microsoft artifacts, including the document registering the company name with the New Mexico Secretary of State, Gates' first Microsoft business card and tapes with Microsoft programs for the Altair, an early personal computer.

The exhibits try to explain to visitors what Microsoft is and does.

"We can't take you to a place and show you airplanes being built or coffee being roasted," said manager John Cirone, explaining that it takes a more elaborate exhibit to demonstrate software development.

Microsoft opened the center to employees in January and this week announced that it's open to the public.

Photographs of Bill Gates and Paul Allen from the 1970s are part of a display at the Microsoft Visitor Center.

Cirone expects more than 80,000 visitors a year and already it's booked for a series of school tours, including a group of 2,000 Australian students this summer.

"We have from CIOs to Cub Scouts to grandmothers," he said.

The center gives people a glimpse inside the world's largest software factory, but Cirone downplayed comparisons with EMP and other tourist attractions.

He said it's primarily for company use: Microsoft takes new and prospective employees for tours, shows it to customers and hosts receptions there in the evenings.

"The goal was to really create a space that would better enable employees to tell the company story going forward," he said.

But it's open to anyone visiting the company's Redmond campus.

The center also gives the public a taste of the elaborate technology showcases that Microsoft creates on campus and at trade shows to pitch its wares to corporate and government customers.

Tours are also tailored to schools and youth organizations, and the company provides a "treasure map" quiz and gives computer games to the winners.

Microsoft has operated a semiofficial visitor center called the Microsoft Museum for a decade. Over the past 18 months that facility was renovated and turned into the visitor center.

Highlights include exhibits of current and future Microsoft technology:

• Making Movies, which lets visitors direct and star in movies created with Microsoft's Movie Maker software.


A T-shirt celebrated the move of corporate headquarters in 1986 from Bellevue to Redmond. It is one of a variety of promotional materials on display.

• Gamers' Paradise, a futuristic showcase of the company's Xbox and PC games.

• Microsoft Home, a demonstration of Microsoft-developed Media Center PCs with entertainment features such a TV and movie recording and playback.

• Future Office, a display of what Microsoft says offices will be like. It's based on products and concepts from Microsoft's research group.

• Cafe Mobilite, a mock cafe where visitors can try mobile devices such as handheld computers, media players and cellphones.

Don't look for a flashy architectural statement like Allen's EMP. The center is in a warehouselike concrete building west of its main campus, at 4420 148th Ave. N.E.

The center is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, but Cirone said it's best to call ahead and make appointments because the center is often closed for special events and prearranged tours.

For more information, the center can be reached at 425-703-6214 or

Information is also available at the center's Web site,

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company



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