This is pretty darn cool, I have to say. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies, you probably remember a scene or two involving a magical orb or sphere (known as a “palantir“) with which magicians like Saruman can see across vast distances. Well, Microsoft seems to have something pretty much like that, at least in prototype form. Todd Bishop of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer got a close look at one, and watched as a researcher moved photos around, created a virtual 3D globe and even moved through a 360-degree webcam projection of a city street. Of course, palantirs could be used by Sauron to see whoever was looking into them too — hopefully Microsoft isn’t working on that angle.