New tools for video conferencing, sharing information with fellow students or co-workers, discovering distant planets online, and even getting kids interested in computer programming were on display March 6 at TechFest, the annual gathering of Microsoft Corp.'s international research department.

For an event designed to show off cutting-edge software inventions, there were a lot of familiar tools on display: sticky notes, whiteboards, video-game consoles. That's intentional, said Rico Malvar, the managing director of Microsoft Research's Redmond, Wash., lab.

Combining new technologies with familiar tools "makes the transition easier" for regular people, he said, as opposed to the very

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