MS Basic was cool for a kid who discovered that the ASCII Star Trek game was actually a computer program that was easy to learn. X-Box is cool. But not much else from Microsoft could be seen as cool because there was always the patina of profit motive over most of their products. Cool companies that Microsoft bought turned into uncool suits on your PC. Apple Computers found their niche in cool.
But today Microsoft surprised me with their World Wide Telescope application. They bring the entire universe to your desktop - at least as much as we've been able to photo-document from our small corner. How cool is that? An article in the New York Times:
“Exploring the virtual universe is incredibly smooth and seamless like a top-of-the-line computer game, but also the science is correct,” said Alexander Szalay, a professor of astronomy and physics at Johns Hopkins. “No sacrifices have been made. It just feels as if you are in it.”I've downloaded the app and will give it a spin. The amateur astronomy community can make great strides in sifting through Terrabytes of data, perhaps more efficiently than universities with multi million dollar grants. They just need an application to unify them in their efforts. While I don't know that this is it, I hope it will generate interest in the general public.
Science needs cool ways to get the word out. And anything that accurately informs the public about the universe, especially in such a cool way, will keep the lords of the dark ages at bay.