Crowd-curated Social Data with CompanyCrowd

Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs announced the release of CompanyCrowd yesterday. CompanyCrowd automatically collects stories, media, and social content to create a living newspaper about the companies that are most important to you and your business.

CompanyCrowd provides a fast and easy way to leverage the wisdom of the crowd. It provides crowd-curated social data into one search index around specific topics, experts, and personalities for the company or product chosen.

company-crowd

Once you sign-in using your Windows Live ID or Twitter/Facebook credentials, you will get a page that lists all of the company pages you’ve created. You can click your page to view it, unpublish it to hide it from the gallery, or delete it to remove from CompanyCrowd entirely. To see other pages, you need to go back to the gallery. To create a new page (for a company and search keywords), you need to enter a few pieces of information to help locate content to populate your page. You need to specify four or more keywords that you use when searching for stories about your company or topic as well as the layout in which content will be displayed on the page. Remember to add the company or topic as one of the keywords. Once your page has been created, you can change your keywords at any time. On the page, you can use the Edit panel to help improve the content on the page or see the changes you and others have made via the History panel.

FUSE Labs work in partnership with several product and research teams at Microsoft to ideate, develop, and deliver new social, real-time, and media-rich experiences for consumers and businesses. These experiences give users new ways to create, connect, and collaborate with the people and information.

Windows and Desktop Software Aren’t Dead

The debacle’ of Windows Vista and the proliferation of quality Web applications had Microsoft on a sticky wicket couple of years back. Critics, and even a section of fans, wondered if Microsoft could pull off a winner in Windows 7 against the negative sentiments and the overt Apple hype and if Microsoft was doing a wise thing investing in desktop applications in the age of online productivity suites.Windows 7

Well the obituary writers were clearly wrong if the numbers are any testimony. Great reviews by both consumers and businesses followed the launch of Windows 7 in October 2009, and today at the annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles, Steve Ballmer announced that more than 400 million Windows 7 licenses have been sold in less than two years. During the keynote, Ballmer also announced that Office 2010, shipped in June 2010, has sold over 100 million copies.

Microsoft Corp.’s annual Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) is a four-day event that celebrates the accomplishments of the company’s global partners. Steve Ballmer delivered the keynote on the first day of the event today before nearly 15,000 partners from around the globe. You can find the recording of the keynote here.

Windows is arguably the heart of the Redmond company and   Windows and Office together have traditionally been major revenue-grossers for Microsoft in the consumer as well as enterprise market. A dent in this space would’ve hurt Microsoft’s overall ecosystem. In a rough sense, an enterprise not on Windows is most likely not a customer of any of the Microsoft’s slew of server and enterprise products.

The latest numbers reveal that Microsoft is still going strong with the old workhorses – in sales, if not in the mindshare. Windows 7 is the fastest-selling operating system in history and according to a previous statement by Microsoft, 7 copies of Windows 7 sold every second. According to Net Applications, Windows 7 is now running on 27.13% of all PCs worldwide as of June 2011. Office 2010 is also the fastest-selling version of Office in history.

Bing Introduces Lasso Feature in iPad app

While one division at Microsoft aspires to rival Apple iPad in more ways than one, another division has always adopted the iOS platform progressively. The pragmatism of Bing team has had them release a slick Bing for iPhone app in the past, and a Bing for iPad app in April 2011 as the first official iPad app from Microsoft. The app has been very well received and in the first three months, it has had more than 5,000 ratings in the App Store and an average score of 4.7 stars (out of five stars).

bing

The Bing for iPad app goes beyond the traditional search experience and offers a unique and visually rich way to search the Web. It allows you to quickly browse news, movies, Bing homepage images, local business listings and much more. The v1.1 of the app introduces a new feature called Lasso. Designed for the touch-friendly iPad, Lasso is a new way to search and copy/paste with the touch of a finger. You can simply press the Lasso icon in the upper right of the app and circle any word or phrase. Lasso will then create a Bing search and return search results based on the word or phrase selected.

Bing for iPad

Lasso moves Bing beyond the search box and streamlines the process of conducting online searches on the touch-screen device. It simplifies the painful process of copying and pasting pieces of text from a webpage while reading something to a search box to search the Web for that text string. Although this feature is only available in Bing for iPad at the moment, the Bing team could take it further to different devices or platforms.

Also, apart from several quality and performance improvements, the latest release also includes an improved movie experience that lets you view multiple showtime days and theatres, and gives you  the ability to swipe through the last six Bing homepage images.

You can view a video showing the Lasso tool in action and download the updated app in the App Store.

A Definitive Look into 15 Years of Hotmail

Hotmail, world’s largest free email service with 360 million unique users per month, completed 15 years on July 4, 2011. It was one of the first web-based email services on the internet.

Hotmail was founded by Sabeer Bhatia and Jack Smith, two colleagues at FirePower Systems Inc. in Silicon Valley. The service was commercially launched on July 4,  1996 as HoTMaiL; the selective capitalization referring to HTML. The launch date has a bit of trivia attached to it. July 4 is American Independence Day, and the service symbolized freedom from ISP-based email and the ability to access a user’s inbox from anywhere in the world.

Interestingly, the Hotmail development and operations groups are based in Mountain View, California and not in Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond. When Hotmail Corporation was an independent company, its headquarters were in Sunnyvale, California.

Acquisition

History of Hotmail Logo

An Estonian investor acquired Hotmail from the original creators and continued developing it. In 1997, Microsoft acquired Hotmail for an estimated $400 million to make free email a feature of Microsoft Network (MSN). The Hotmail acquisition by Microsoft turned up the heat on the then online giant America Online, MSN’s main rival.

Shortly after the acquisition, Microsoft rebranded it to MSN Hotmail. Also, Hotmail was integrated with another Microsoft acquisition, Jump, a web-based calendar service.

In 2005, a refresh of Hotmail was announced as Windows Live Hotmail (codename Kahuna), and was rolled out in 2007. Windows Live is a suite of online services and products from Microsoft.

Growth

Original Hotmail Homepage

Hotmail quickly gained in popularity as it was localized for different markets around the globe and became the world’s largest webmail service. In its current version, Windows Live Hotmail is available in 36 different languages. According to last year’s comScore ranking, Windows Live Hotmail is the world’s largest web-based email service with nearly 364 million users. Second and third are Yahoo! Mail at 280 million users and Gmail at 191 million users.

Evolution

Hotmail Homepage in 2007

Hotmail initially ran under Solaris for mail services and Apache on FreeBSD for web services. Although a project was started to migrate Hotmail to Windows 2000,   Microsoft admitted that DNS functions of the Hotmail system were still reliant on FreeBSD. After a while, MSN Hotmail was tied to Microsoft Passport, Microsoft’s web authentication scheme. Microsoft Passport has now been rebranded to Windows Live ID.

Starting in 2004, the Hotmail engineering team completely rewrote the backend system to move it to a system that uses  Windows Server and Windows SQL Server. In 2005, the Hotmail engineering team undertook a similar rewrite of the frontend system, and rebuilt both Hotmail and Calendar from the ground up using C# and ASP.net and leveraged Windows Server and the latest version of IIS.  The old software was written in C++ and Perl.

Although, Hotmail was ahead of its time in offering and progressively adding email features like anti-virus scanning for attachments, integrated calendar service, built-in reading pane, email rules, and spell checking, there was a period of technological stagnation in the first half of 2000s. Leading webmail services like Hotmail and Yahoo worked on gaining more users rather than innovating in the space in this period.

The advent of Gmail in 2004 as a revolutionary webmail service spurred a wave of innovation amongst webmail services. Hotmail too made dramatic changes featuring greater storage, speed, and interface flexibility. Hotmail initially offered 2MB free storage while today it offers ever-growing storage.  The service has since  been growing at an astounding pace both in innovation and engineering as well as in user base.

Easily Pin Your Websites in Internet Explorer 9

If you are on Windows 7, Internet Explorer 9 allows you to pin a website to the Windows taskbar, and access the website pages directly without having to open Internet Explorer first. The unmatched visibility on users’ desktops results in increased traffic for a website. This also gives an app-like feel to the website or web app.

To pin a website, just grab the tab and drag it down to your taskbar. Apart from the one-click access, a pinned site also allows you to right-click on the icon to get a list that directs you to particular content on the site. Some pinned sites can also notify you that content has changed on the site. While pinned Facebook alerts you of the Facebook notifications for your account, pinned Hotmail notifies with a number corresponding to the new email in your inbox.

ie9-pinned-site

Microsoft has now launched a new service Pin My Website to encourage website owners to add the pinned site functionality to their websites. The site provides an online wizard to guide you to few steps that would give you a code snippet that you can use on your website to take advantage of this function. Microsoft claims that pinned sites gain traffic, and these steps take an average of only 36 seconds to complete!

In the first of a total of four steps, all you need to provide is your contact details and basic site information like site’s name and URL. You will also need to provide an icon for your main site.

PinMyWebsite - Basic Site information

Jump List items act as entry points into the website even when the browser is not running. The next step requires you to list the commonly used destinations and tasks that apply to the whole site.

PinMyWebsite - Jump list tasks

A dynamic Jump List can contain items that will automatically change over time, to give access to periodically updated information like news updates. To use this feature, your site must expose an RSS feed with the items that you want to show on the Jump List.

PinMyWebsite - Jump List tasks and Notifications

The last optional step enables you to add a pinning notification bar on the  top of your webpages. This bar prompts IE9 users to pin your site.

PinMyWebsite - Drag-and-drop site pinning bar

Once you complete the four steps, you can generate the code to use on your site and allow IE9 users on Windows 7 to pin your site to their taskbar.

Games for Windows Marketplace is now Xbox.com

games-for-windows-live

Microsoft has announced that Games for Windows Marketplace will be fully transitioning to Xbox.com. The announcement was done on the Games for Windows Marketplace website and via the Games for Windows newsletter.

Games for Windows Marketplace is moving to Xbox.com

Games for Windows Marketplace is coming to Xbox.com!

Games for Windows Marketplace will fully transition over to Xbox.com. Now you can get all of your gaming needs in one place. It’s convenient, it’s concentrated, and it’s a whole lot of great games.

Games for Windows Marketplace gave access to the free online gaming service: Games for Windows LIVE, that let users connect and play with friends and millions of Xbox LIVE members. You could shop for your favorite games and also receive automatic game updates and patch downloads for the installed games. However, Games for Windows LIVE brand isn’t as popular as Xbox brand for gaming and consumer entertainment. Microsoft even did a huge overhaul of the Games for Windows website to make it more accessible and attractive for the PC gamers.

Eurogamer has confirmation from a Microsoft spokesperson that the merge will happen on 11th July.

All of the same content from GamesForWindows.com will be available on Xbox.com so members of communities across Xbox 360 and Games for Windows can purchase and get details on their favorite games, all in one place.

All account information will remain the same and community members can still take advantage of their Xbox Live profile in their Windows games and stay connected to friends who are playing on the PC.

This move would be the first step to bring Xbox LIVE on the third screen, PC, after TV and phone. There have been clear indications that Xbox LIVE would be integrated in Windows 8 to provide entertainment and gaming features. Also, Xbox LIVE is already integrated into Windows Phone 7. During previews of the upcoming release of Windows Phone, codenamed Mango, Microsoft announced that the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace for apps and games would also be available on the web. Xbox.com could well be that consolidated gaming and entertainment portal.

Foursquare for Windows Phone 7 Gets a Nice Update

Foursquare has had a rough ride on Windows Phone 7 platform. Microsoft developed a Foursquare app at the launch of Windows Phone 7, but Foursquare didn’t show any interest in taking this forward. Meanwhile, Jeff Wilcox, a Microsoft employee, developed another Foursqure app 4th & Mayor which many claim to be superior than the official app. It indeed is faster and has a slew of extra features than the official app.

Earlier this week, Foursquare’s competitor in the location-based social networking space, Gowalla, launched their Windows Phone 7 app. The initial release looks great and provides all of Gowalla’s features in a nice user interface. It also offers an exclusive feature,  browsing nearby photos on a Bing map.

Foursquare - VenueFoursquare - BadgesFoursquare - MeFoursquare - Photos

Just about when Gowalla was stealing the thunder in the space, Foursquare released v2.0 yesterday. The latest refresh is a vibrant looking complete overhaul of their Windows Phone 7 app. It features a nice UI with exhaustive features to explore places and view check-in history and leaderboard. Foursquare for Windows Phone 7 is available for free. Interestingly, since the app is now published by Foursquare, it installs separately, and does not update the previously installed Foursquare app.

I wrote a comprehensive post on Gowalla and Foursquare and the location-based social networking space on Windows Phone 7 including Facebook Places.

Foursquare got the first dibs in location-based social network (for me, and most of my friends), and I’m sticking with it for some more months. If you’ve been a Gowalla user, the app gives you plenty of reasons to stay with the service. Let’s see how the apps are updated for the Mango release later this year, and this competition will be interesting to watch.

I’m a long-time Foursquare user, and the latest update to Foursquare app for Windows Phone 7 keeps me from changing loyalties.

Gowalla vs. Foursquare on Windows Phone 7

Microsoft Office 2010 Service Pack 1 Now Available

Microsoft is celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of Office 2010 this month. Also, Microsoft has now released Service Pack 1 (SP1) for Office 2010 which provides the latest updates for Office 2010.

Office 2010

This service pack includes:

  • Previously unreleased fixes that were made specifically for this service pack
  • All the public updates that were released through June 2011
  • All the cumulative updates that were released through April 2011

In addition to general product fixes, these fixes include improvements in stability, performance, and in security. There is Office 365 integration all over, and enhanced integration with Windows Live SkyDrive in OneNote. Office 365 was launched globally a couple of days back.

Access 2010 SP1

Access 2010 SP1 adds a new feature to integrate community content in the Application Parts gallery.   It also fixes an issue that occurs when you try to export an Access file to an Excel workbook and improves the performance when publishing client forms that contains embedded images.

Excel 2010 SP1

Excel SP1 improves the overall stability, performance, and backward compatibility with earlier versions of Excel for the Czech, Dutch, Danish, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish languages.

OneNote 2010 SP1

OneNote 2010 SP1 has a tighter integration and improved synchronization with OneNote notebooks on Windows Live SkyDrive. OneNote 2010 SP1 now uses Windows Live Essentials to log on to Windows Live SkyDrive. It also adds several performance improvements when a shared notebook is used by lots of users with section groups or when you create a new page by using a template. OneNote 2010 SP1 now highlights items within the search results.

Outlook 2010 SP1

Outlook 2010 SP1 includes Office 365 support and can be set to always use the default sending account.

PowerPoint 2010 SP1

The default behavior for the Use Presenter View option is changed to display the slide show on the secondary monitor, and display the notes on the primary monitor. Also, PowerPoint Viewer is now included with the Package for CD option.

Word 2010 SP1

Word 2010 SP1 includes a dialog box that warns users that the custom XML will be lost when files that use custom XML markups are saved in XML-based file formats. Now, certain fields are available when you use the APA 6th and MLA 7th edition styles in the Bibliography feature. Word 2010 SP1 now displays the map correctly when you use the Display Map function and paragraph indents are no longer lost when you edit other paragraph properties.

 

You can obtain and install the service pack via Microsoft Update or download the SP1 package from Microsoft Download Center. Download the Microsoft Office 2010 Service Pack 1: 32-bit | 64-bit

Angry Birds Now Available for Windows Phone 7

Hurry! Angry Birds is now available in the Windows Phone Marketplace. After the initial announcement by the game developers, Rovio, in February and Microsoft in May, and later pushing the announced date in June to June 29, Angry Birds has finally landed. The game also ends the Xbox’s Must Have Game series for Windows Phone.

Angry Birds for Windows Phone 7

The best-seller game, inspiring merchandise, popular culture references, and rumors have it that a movie too, offers hours of challenging, physics-based demolition gameplay, and lots of replay value. Angry Birds is one of the most popular iPhone and iPad apps, ported to Google’s Android OS a few months back, and also released as a PC game recently. Last month, Rovio released an Angry Birds version for Google Chrome browser as a featured app on Chrome Web Store.

Instead of 255 levels available for other platforms, Angry Birds for Windows Phone 7 offers only 165 levels. Each of the 165 levels require logic, skill, and brute force to clear. It’s just few games as yet, but I have a feeling that Angry Birds for Windows Phone 7 is a little harder than on other platforms. I’m guessing additional levels will be made available as updates.

The game offers Xbox LIVE integration so killing pigs would add to your Xbox LIVE achievements. Angry Birds is free to try and $2.99 to buy. Get dem pigs!

Microsoft Launches Office 365 Globally

Steve Ballmer, the chief executive officer of Microsoft, announced the worldwide availability of Office 365 today. Office 365 is Microsoft’s next generation productivity service that brings together Office, SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync in an always-up-to-date cloud service. Office 365 was introduced in beta last year and received great reviews with over 200,000 organizations signing up and testing the service.

Microsoft Office 365

Office 365 is one of Microsoft’s newest cloud services and is now available in 40 markets. Office 365 provides anywhere access to email, documents, contacts, and calendars, so that you’re always up-to-date. It brings together familiar Microsoft productivity applications and business-class security and reliability in an affordable pay-as-you-go service that fit an organization’s unique needs. Microsoft Office applications are at the heart of Office 365. Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, OneNote, Outlook and other Office applications connect to Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint and Lync to deliver a world-class solution for communication and collaboration.

Office 365 allows an organization’s employees—whether they’re power users or casual workers—easy and secure access to the same Office tools and information on PCs, phones, and browsers. The globally-redundant architecture provides built-in scalability to ensure meeting seasonal or cyclical demands. The wide range of service plans meets the needs of businesses of all sizes, ranging from the largest to the smallest. All plans come with the advanced IT controls, innovative security technologies, 24/7 IT support, and the reliability that  customers expect from Microsoft. Microsoft provides a financially-backed 99.9% uptime guarantee.

Office 365 offers a range of service plans for a predictable monthly price from $2 to $27 per user per month. Microsoft also announced more than 20 service providers around the world who will package and sell Office 365 with their own services for small and midsize businesses. A  few of these are Bell Canada, Intuit Inc., NTT Communications Corp., Telefonica S.A., Telstra Corp. and Vodafone Group Plc, among others.

Office 365 is segmented as Office 365 for small businesses and Office 365 for enterprises. Businesses can try Office 365 for free for 30 days by signing up at http://www.office365.com or from their local Microsoft partner.