Microsoft has announced a new PC technology, called Surface . The large-scale tablet-style machine is not only touch sensitive, but it can recognise 'natural gestures' as well as physical objects placed upon it, such as a mobile phone or photographs. And, what's more, there's no mouse or keyboard.

Surface is a 30-inch display in a 'table-like form factor' that's designed for use by several people at once. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer showed off the new computer at an annual technology conference organised by the Wall Street Journal .

Microsoft says the new machine is the first in "a new category of surface computing products from Microsoft that breaks down traditional barriers between people and technology."

Ballmer also announced that Surface PCs will be installed in hotels and entertainment establishments by the end of the year.

"With Surface, we are creating more intuitive ways for people to interact with technology," Ballmer said. "We see this as a multibillion dollar category, and we envision a time when surface computing technologies will be pervasive, from tabletops and counters to the hallway mirror. Surface is the first step in realizing that vision."

In a sense, Surface appeals to the same basic finger movements that Apple hopes we'll want to use on the iPhone. Microsoft gave the examples of dragging songs to a playlist, emailing off photos or ordering a drink during a meal. Surface can also look up information about objects placed upon it.

Microsoft also suggests that users can 'actually grab' digital information with their hands, interacting with content by touch and gesture, without the use of a mouse or keyboard.

Surface computing is a collaborative effort between the Microsoft Hardware and Microsoft Research teams.

The corporation says the first Surface PCs will ship with basic photo, music and virtual concierge applications to Hurrah's Entertainment's Las Vegas casinos (owners of Ceasar's Palace), Starwood Hotels and Resorts (initially at Sheraton hotels) and T-Mobile in the US, where it will be used in retail stores.