All posts by Manan Kakkar

Manan is a technology enthusiast keenly following the consumer products from Microsoft, Google & Apple.

Entrepreneur Talks About Silicon Valley’s Disdain & Bias Against Microsoft

Every time Robert Scoble and TechCrunch talk about a new revolutionary iPhone app coming out of Silicon Valley, many wonder why is iPhone the first choice. In Microsoft’s second attempt at mobile phones, I’ve been questioning the lack of support from the startup world. Microsoft has had to use its own money to several apps onto the marketplace but the new developers still stick with iOS.

In an interview with Wired, startup entrepreneur Jeremy Howard explains the primary reason. Coming from someone within the Valley, Howard’s comments cannot be disputed. Howard is very categorical in his interview about what fellow entrepreneurs feel about Microsoft and the company’s development tools. In short—they’re not cool. In the age of gazillion development languages, it’s a tough to choose one, usually one opts for what they feel is slightly better than the other and as a developer know a little about. If I know C#, I’d feel comfortable using the language over Ruby on Rails and vice versa. Howard’s comments come with a back story, his startup Kaggle runs on Microsoft’s Windows Azure—a cloud computing platform. And according to his fellow Valley entrepreneurs, Howard doesn’t know what he’s doing since he’s using Microsoft’s products. Some select quotes from Cade Metz’s article on Wired:

In this echo chamber which is the [San Francisco] Bay Area, unless you follow what everyone else does, then there’s an assumption that you don’t know what you’re doing.

Silicon Valley types think that Jeremy Howard doesn’t know what he’s doing because he runs Kaggle on Windows Azure, […]. Kaggle once ran on Amazon EC2 — the most popular cloud in the Valley […]

they [developers in the Valley] look at him funny when he says that Kaggle uses Azure. “People say, ‘Oh, I’ll have to teach you about Java sometime, so then you’ll know the bright side.

Judging from interviews with myriad coders over the past several months, Azure isn’t just off the Silicon Valley radar. It’s misunderstood […] by the younger generation of coders who grew up on open source software and such languages as Ruby and Python.

The Wired article explain a bigger problem for Microsoft. Not only is the company’s mobile platform getting traction, their next-generation cloud platform is having a similar perception problem. Howard explains that he knows 18 different languages and feels C# is as good as it can get. For Kaggle and Howard, Azure works well with .Net languages—a reason why he moved from Amazon’s infrastructure cloud to Microsoft’s cloud platform.

Microsoft To Replace Zune With Cross Platform Music Service

For a while we’ve all known that Zune as a brand is on its way out. Top officials stopped using the name in the presentations and interviews trying not to remind people of it. Yesterday on the Windows Team Blog Microsoft put another nail in Zune’s coffin—Windows Phone Marketplace won’t be available via Zune. The software is still the tool to update Windows Phone devices on Windows but that’ll change too.

Anyway, Zune’s rite of passage will mark the introduction of a new subscription based entertainment service. The new service codenamed Woodstock will be a part of the Xbox brand. According to exclusive information obtained by Tom Warren here’s what we know about Woodstock:

  1. Woodstock is a Spotify-like service
  2. Browser-based player that requires no plugins (IE10 Metro in Windows 8 won’t support plugins so it makes sense)
  3. Deep Facebook integration—group playlists etc., the timeline integration
  4. Cross-platform service available on Android, iOS and Windows

The last point will be the key in Microsoft’s possible success. With Zune and Xbox, Microsoft has been working with labels and production houses, it’s not a new domain for Microsoft. As a cross-platform service, Microsoft will have a better sell to both end-consumers and labels/producers.

Microsoft is expected to announce this service at the upcoming E3 conference.

Google Drive, Another Privacy Disaster

Google France accidentally shared all the details about Google Drive before the product’s official announcement. The product is integral to Google’s Android ecosystem like SkyDrive is to Windows and iCloud is to iOS/OSX and has a some useful features like wider file format support and better search.

Sundar Pichai’s blog post that detailed Google Drive talked about how Google will offer better search capabilities. Here’s what he has to say:

Search All. Search by keyword and filter by document type, owner, activity, etc.. Drive can even recognize the text content of a document scanned by technology OCR. For example, if you download the scanned image of an old newspaper clipping, you can search using one of the words quoted in the article. We have even begun to tap the image recognition: if you upload a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Drive, the next time you search the term [Eiffel Tower], the image will appear in the results

*Emphasis mine.

While the search feature sounds all kinds of exciting, Google scanning all the documents I upload seems a little scary. The company is notorious for using such information to target ads and I see no reason why they won’t go through my documents to know more about me. OCR or Optical Character Recognition will enable Google to store the contents of documents somewhere with them. I am not sure the ability to search for my document should come at the price of corporation knowing the contents of my documents.

This is not about proprietary information but simply about keeping them out of my business and only offering me services.

Google Drive Details Unveiled

We all know Google’s cloud storage service is expected to be officially announced any time soon. As it turns out, Google France got their time zones wrong or jumped the gun. In a post published on the Google France blog, Google’s VP Sundar Pichai shares features and details their yet-to-be-announced product. (The post has been removed.)

According to the blog post, here’s what Google Drive is all about:

  • Accessible at drive.google.com (not at the point of writing)
  • 5GB free storage space
  • PC, Mac and Android applications will be available (iOS not launch but soon; WP7, I doubt it)
  • It has paid expansion plans just like SkyDrive—25GB for $2.49/month, 100GB for $4.99/month & 1TB for $49.99/month; expensive when compared to SkyDrive’s 20GB for $10 a year!
  • Google Drive will support 30 file formats including ability to open Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop files in the browser in addition to HD video streaming, PDFs etc. (this is probably their best feature!)
  • Google Docs integration
  • Searching for content uploaded is going to be a focus for Google

Frederic Lardinois writing for TechCrunch reproduced the entire Google France post. Quoting some of the details about Google Drive:

Google Drive, a centralized space where you can create, share, collaborate and store all your documents.

Next step in the evolution of Google Docs and functionality of downloading any material, Drive will allow you to live, work and play in the Cloud.

Keep your documents securely and access anywhere and any device connected to the Internet. All your documents are just … there. Whatever happens.

Encryption of data transfer between your browser and our servers, and check option 2 in time to prevent non-authorized access to an account by requiring users to log on returning secure code generated from their mobile phone

Drive is designed to work harmoniously with all the products you use – whether Google products or third party service. You can share your photos on Google Drive + and will soon be able to attach documents directly into your emails Drive Gmail.

Microsoft Introduces New SkyDrive For Common Man; Paid Storage, Sync & More

Microsoft is all hands on deck to compete with Google’s upcoming Google Drive. In a massive SkyDrive upgrade that launched today, SkyDrive now behaves like Dropbox while integrating well with iOS, OS X, Windows and WP7. Here’s the important stuff first:

  • Desktop app for Windows & Mac (in addition to Windows Phone & iOS app)
  • 7GB free storage and sync
  • Updated mobile apps (Windows Phone 7 & iOS)
  • Retina display compatible iPad app
  • Remote browsing into your desktop from the browser

Let’s take a closer look at the pivotal feature—the desktop app:

The app is aimed at Windows desktop & OS X allowing users to have one folder, the contents of which are available on all desktops, within the SkyDrive folder. As a Live Mesh user I don’t like feature but Microsoft this was clearly an engineering challenge. Maintaining the folder paths on different machines was a challenge that Microsoft could do without. And since everyone understood how Dropbox works, it made sense.

So here’s how the OS X app looks like:

The app is simple and like Dropbox, there’s a SkyDrive folder in my favorites list. However, the part I don’t like is, SkyDrive downloading everything I have on SkyDrive to my desktop. I use cloud storage to free space on my desktop and still have access to my content.

Unfortunately on Windows, the app needs UAC access (unlike Dropbox) that limits me from installing it on campus PCs but then I have web access so who cares.

Paid Storage:

In simple terms here’s what has happened:

Till yesterday every SkyDrive had 25GB free storage with 5GB of sync. From today, the default free is 7GB and here are the paid tiers:

The good folks at Microsoft are offering a limited-time free upgrade to 25GB for existing users. So go get it here: sdrv.ms/skyloyalty

Updated mobile apps:

Yesterday Microsoft announced an update to their SkyDrive mobile app for Windows Phone 7. The update brought some nifty feature additions:

  • Batch selection
  • Manage sharing permissions
  • People Hub integration

Today, there’s an update to the iOS SkyDrive update bringing these features to Apple’s ecosystem and supporting the iOS Retina display resolution for the iPad.

Remote browsing:

This will soon become my favorite feature. Announced and demonstrated a while back, SkyDrive on the web now sports a Metro meets Explorer interface. You can now see your Computers that have SkyDrive installed within the browser and remotely access your content, even stream media. Here’s what the interface looks like:

I still love Live Mesh as the desktop client and would prefer it continued to live for those who know about it.

 

Microsoft Simplifies Windows 8 Versions To Two Primary SKUs

Microsoft has now officially confirmed the versions of Windows 8 that will be available to consumers, OEMs and enterprise customers. In a huge attempt to simplify things, Microsoft will now be offering just two flavors of Windows 8 for end users in the US. As opposed to the several versions with Windows Vista and Windows 7, the versions available for Windows 8.

For the end customer in the US and generally across the world there are two versions of Windows 8:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Pro

There is no Home Basic, Home Premium, Business, Ultimate as of now. These editions will be available for off-the-shelf buying and for OEMs to bundle. The other version available to OEMs will be Windows RT; this is the Windows on ARM specifically for tablets. Windows RT will NOT be sold at shops and end-users CANNOT upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8 RT.

The difference between Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro is essentially that of business features such as BitLocker, VHD Boot, Hyper-V, Group Policy. Windows RT won’t have the business features either, in addition to no Windows Media Player and no support for legacy x86/x64 apps. Microsoft has a very simple and useful chart explaining the differences.

The same blog post does however mention that there will be another SKU for markets like China and some emerging economies. This version will be a local language version unlike Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro that will let users switch languages.

Coming to enterprise, Microsoft will offer Windows 8 Enterprise that will have all features of Windows 8 Pro and some IT administration specific additions. In a follow-up blog post on the Windows Team Blog, Erwin Visser detailed what Windows 8 Enterprise will offer. The SKU will be available only for Microsoft’s Software Assurance customers. The IT administration specific features that Software Assurance customers get with Windows 8 Enterprise are:

  •  Windows To-Go
  • Companion Device
  • Windows RT Virtual Desktop Access
  • MDOP (Desktop Optimization Pack)
  • Windows InTune

Companion Device and Windows RT VDA are very interesting. The blog post explains the features as:

Windows RT Virtual Desktop Access (VDA) Rights: When used as a companion of a Windows Software Assurance licensed PC, Windows RT will automatically receive extended VDA rights. These rights will provide access to a full VDI image running in the datacenter which will make Windows RT a great complementary tablet option for business customers.

Companion Device License: For customers who want to provide full flexibility for how employees access their corporate desktop across devices, we are introducing a new Companion Device License for Windows SA customers. For users of Windows Software Assurance licensed PCs this optional add-on will provide rights to access a corporate desktop either through VDI or Windows To Go on up to four personally owned devices.

So, while technically Microsoft will have 5 SKUs of Windows 8:

  1. Windows 8
  2. Windows 8 Pro
  3. Windows RT
  4. Local language version of Windows 8 for emerging markets and China
  5. Windows 8 Enterprise

…there are just 2 for most users.

Microsoft Responds To Google Drive News With Minor SkyDrive Update

Google is expected to unveil Google Drive sometime this week. The upcoming cloud storage, file sharing and sync service will be competing with Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Dropbox. Google Drive might end up being an integral component of Android and affect Dropbox that has so far been the best option.

Microsoft’s SkyDrive, while ignored by pundits, has been winning users and supporters quietly by steadily. The service is a key part of Microsoft’s tablet centric OS—Windows 8. As announced earlier by the team, SkyDrive will be morphing into a service more on the lines of Dropbox, this has many early adopters and power users, like me, miffed. In becoming more like Dropbox, SkyDrive will give up some much loved features like P2P sync and individual folder sync. However, the service is competitive and if Microsoft lets users who know about Live Mesh continue using Mesh, life will be good.

Anyhow, back to the recently announced SkyDrive update. The service powers the photo experience on Microsoft’s Windows Phone devices and the quick ‘share pictures to Twitter’ feature uses SkyDrive. The picture is uploaded to a SkyDrive folder and the link is shared on Twitter. Unfortunately till a few hours ago, the pictures shared had an ugly URL. It was long with too many characters. While on some clients Twitter’s t.co service displayed a short URL, Twitter’s web interface showed the ugly URL. Starting today, the URL shared on Twitter will be Microsoft’s own short URL starting with sdrv.ms. (skdrv.ms shows nothing but accompanied with some other characters it will point you to an image shared. For example.) That’s my biggest pet peeve fixed.

The other update announced today is support for ODF documents and sharing to Twitter. Here’s a screenshot:

The third and probably a handy one since Mesh is on its way out. SkyDrive now allows uploading individual files of up to 300MB in size.

Nokia One-Ups Windows Phone OEMs With NFC & LTE 4G

It’s a day of mixed feelings for Nokia. On one hand the company announced poor outlook for 2012, on the other, they’re all set to be the first Windows Phone OEM to introduce NFC in their handsets.

Nokia is the first OEM to have LTE based 4G Windows Phones as well. (The current HSPA+ implementation by AT&T and T-Mobile is NOT technically 4G, so they’re HSPA+ phones don’t count.) And in a second, Nokia is the first to implement NFC in their Windows Phone handsets. Passed by the FCC and announced by Nokia, meet the Nokia Lumia 610. The phone’s numbering is absurd. Nokia has a Lumia 710 and 610 which has NFC, in other terms a newer phone with more features has backward numbering. (The company went from Lumia 800 to 900 and not 700.) I’m sure Nokia has a plausible reasoning for the numbers but that explanation would only make sense to the people within Nokia. Not to the buyer, unless explained. Anyway, back to the Lumia 610, here’s what we know:

  • Phone is being targeted as an “affordable phone,” no frills feature rich phone
  • Certified for contactless payments with MasterCard
  • Compatible with Nokia’s other NFC accessories

In the blog post on Conversations by Nokia,  Heidi Lemmetyinen mentions Nokia’s NFC bluetooth headset and not the Nokia Play 360—their NFC capable speakers, which are far more cooler and part of Nokia’s super-expensive Lumia 800 bundle in the US. That aside, Nokia said they have sold 2 Million Windows Phone devices that is a decent number for starters. The Lumia 610 looks a lot like the 710:

Windows Phone 7 Designer Shares His Thoughts On Design & Microsoft’s Future

Albert Shum is the guy at Microsoft who has been playing an integral role in expanding Metro to the phone. Metro is in Windows 8, headed to the tablets and Windows 8 Servers. Those that have been following Microsoft for a while are aware about the Metro design book and Shum’s popular session on how they approached design in Windows Phone 7 Series.

At the Interaction Design Association’s Austin conference, Albert Shum gave a talk on design. He touched on Windows Phone & some other design principles. Having followed the conference updates on Twitter here are some quotes from those present.

The future of design and systems:

On post-PC:

On interface and experiences:

Icons and interactions:

It seems like Shum talked about Apple’s approach to design and an attendee did not like it:

It appears that within Microsoft there is talk about interaction design that offers seamless hardware and software interaction. Albert Shum talked about this

This is probably the most intriguing takeaway from Shum’s talk, in my opinion. “Oneness” as a principle for devices and a more seamless experience suggests more focus on how devices are used and for what purpose devices/software is used. This is a different approach to development, one that does not place feature first but how the feature will be used. Exciting.

PS: The New York Times has an excellent profile on the brains behind the Windows Phone 7 design. It’s a good read.

Yahoo! Is Restructuring And Here’s What They Will Focus On

Earlier today news broke that Yahoo will be firing 2,000 employees as part of a restructuring plan. The number is huge. However, the lay-off was expected. Kara Swisher over at AllThingsD wrote about Yahoo’s restructuring plans. According to Swisher’s story, Yahoo hired the Boston Consulting Group to help Yahoo with the restructuring. The company has been through some seriously bad times. THe top management has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Yahoo’s current CEO Scott Thompson sent out an email confirming the lay-offs and explaining what Yahoo will focus on in the future.

Search is clearly no longer Yahoo’s game. Microsoft’s Bing powers Yahoo’s search and Yahoo pays 12% of its search revenue to Microsoft. The company has spread itself into areas it couldn’t generate any money from. Thompson hopes to fix this and has outlined three key areas for Yahoo to focus on:

Core Media and Communications

For a while Yahoo is being considered as a media company. Back in 2006, Om Malik wrote about Yahoo’s ability to aggregate content and monetize it. Yahoo has a few interesting content apps for the iPad too, if the company can leverage new content consumption devices to their advantage, they can regain some of their lost brand identity.

Platforms

While Yahoo is being considered as a media company, they use technology for their operations. The company’s engineers have been working on newer web platform that can be used by independent web developers to tape together rich interactive web services. Mojito, Manhattan and Yahoo Pipes are some examples. Empowering developers to come up with their own web services using Yahoo’s platforms and Yahoo’s data is a pretty good way of getting the company back on track.

Data

Thompson hopes to use data mining to understand Yahoo’s users and find ways to create value out of their massive data repository collated over the years.

In his email to employees, Thompson stressed on his strategy to regroup and concentrate resources towards these areas.

We are intensifying our efforts on our core businesses and redeploying resources to our most urgent priorities. Our goal is to get back to our core purpose – putting our users and advertisers first – and we are moving aggressively to achieve that goal.

The layoffs and restructuring is expected to save Yahoo $325 Million.

Mozilla Shows Firefox For Windows 8 Tablets But Don’t Look Now

Mozilla announcing plans to do a Metro version of Firefox for Windows 8 tablets was received with optimism. The browser has a steady community despite Google’s Chrome replacing it in the hearts of most techies. Yesterday, Ed Bott at ZDNet shared Mozilla’s progress on Firefox Metro. As it turns out, what Mozilla showed wasn’t the final design so I’m being told not to judge them. In his status update blog post, Mozilla engineer Brian Bondy elaborates on where Firefox Metro is:

  • Integration with Share Charm to share a page with any application (What are Charms?)
  • Support for Metro Snap
  • Search Charm integration: if Firefox Metro is your default browser and you enter a URL in the Search Charm, the page will be loaded

Bondy says work on the UI and experience has not started. For Mozilla, supporting Metro in Windows 8 is important since:

If a browser is default on Metro, it will also be default on the Desktop.

If a browser does not support Metro, it is seriously at risk of losing the default browser status, and therefore significant market share.

Here’s what was shown:

When I saw the screenshots I was reminded of Windows 3.0. Here’s why:

Metro is a design language and there are only two ways a company can differentiate their browser from Intern Explorer 10:

  1. Features
  2. Design
It will be interesting to see how Mozilla achieves differentiation.

http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/taouu/html/ch02s08.html

[Video] A Look Inside Microsoft’s Mustang

Back in September 2011 at Microsoft’s BUILD conference, Ryan Friedlinghaus of West Coast Customs joined Microsoft’s Jeff Sandquist to talk about a collaboration. Not a lot was said and many had forgotten about it till a few days ago. The secret project Microsoft and West Coast Customs were working on was packing Microsoft’s consumer products into a Ford Mustang.

The car was called Project Detroit and has 10 functions working on Microsoft technologies:

  • Windows Phone locate, unlock and start the car with an app on the phone. Also, watch live streams from the Kinect cameras fitted in the car to view the surroundings
  • Xbox 360 for gaming using the rear wind shield as a screen
  • Kinect to see what’s happening around
  • Windows 8 tablets to be used as a tablet and another to offer customized HUDs
  • Customizable car horns
  • Windows Azure to store real-time telemetry data such as speed

On the MSDN page, Microsoft has an interactive image to explain what’s inside the car. The information so far did not show us a lot about what’s inside the car unless you were able to watch the WWC episode on Discovery. Fortunately for those who couldn’t, Los Angeles Channel 5 (KTLA) caught up with Jeff Sandquist to show them what’s inside the car. Here’s the video showing the MicroStang’s features:

MSFT’s April Fool’s Pranks: A New .NET Lang, Windows Pager & CMD SkyDrive

The tech world is filled with rumors but if there is one day that no one buys into rumors (not even the Apple echo chamber) then it is April 1st. The day has turned into when the techies have some fun. Engineers at Google have come up with a bunch of April Fool’s pranks, my favorite being the 8bit Google Maps. The folks at Microsoft have shown their funny side and here are three that I’ve come across so far.

The Next Language

An alleged new .NET programming language from Microsoft called Db aka Dflat. This was quite an elaborate prank by the folks behind it. Australian Softie Andrew Coatsy seems to be the guy behind it. A top level domain at thenextlanguage.com, a Metro inspired website with most links you’d expect on a dev tool website; including blog posts.

Here’s a screenshot:

The prank in itself is quite nerdy. Db or Dflat (D-Flat) is a musical note that can be “replaced” by C Sharp which is, well, the popular C# language. Well done.

The Fastest Way To Access SkyDrive

Old school? The team at SkyDrive came up with a Command Prompt interface for SkyDrive. Housed at SkyCMD, the website is the familiar Command Prompt window using the good old cd, dir, mkdir commands. Here’s a screenshot:

The prank is real. The “April Fool’s” project SkyCMD is made using SkyDrive’s APIs and is proof of concept application about what can be done using the APIs. Cool indeed.

The Windows Pager

SkyDrive wasn’t the only team that went down memory lane. The Windows Phone group did too. For those who remember calling an operator to push a message to your father about what vegetables to bring, you’re fun. Others, that’s what a Pager was used for. Today, of course, the device is still used in hospitals (or at least House uses it). The Windows Phone team unveiled a Windows Pager with metro inspired interface. The Pager has nothing but the Email hub. Image:

Just a prank but… not a bad concept if Microsoft comes up with a iPod Nano competitor.

LifeCam Director: Microsoft’s Yet-To-Be-Announced Webcam

I haven’t been getting a lot of time to go through Microsoft’s patent applications stash but I am keeping tabs on their trademark filings. My latest finding is Microsoft’s upcoming webcam in their LifeCam range. The new cam is going to be named LifeCam Director and going by the name I believe it has something to do with movie directors. Maybe Microsoft is targeting this webcam for self-published videomakers.

Armed with a webcam and YouTube account, there are several independent “stars”. As part of their recent Skype acquisition, Microsoft Hardware announced a Skype-certified range of LifeCam models. While I could be completely off-base regarding the new camera’s market, I expect it to be a 1080p camera. Microsoft’s current range has just one 1080p camera—LifeCam Studio ($99). The third camera in this movie-making theme is LifeCam Cinema for $79—and that’s 720p.

Here are Microsoft’s current 8 LifeCam models:

The LifeCam Director Trademark

Microsoft Publishes iPad To Windows 8 Tablet App Design Comparison For Developers

Microsoft’s Metro design language comes into its own on Windows 8 tablets more than on the Windows Phone. The new desktop OS has been designed with tablets in mind and since the iPad is the best out there, developers will be replicating/porting their apps from the iPad to Windows 8 (or at least that’s what we all hope). Application design is a significant reason behind an app and platform’s success. And when I say design, I don’t mean the color combination or images but the user experience and user interface.

Earlier today, Michael Gillett retweeted a link to a case study published by Microsoft comparing the interface components in the iPad and Windows 8. The side-by-side comparison is quite helpful in providing developers a quick look at how some of the app functionality provided in iPad can be offered in Windows 8 while sticking to the Metro principles.

The case study takes specific use cases to explain how things are done on the iPad and how Microsoft has in some cases improved them in Windows 8. The case study is quite nicely presented filled with images to assist you understand the text. If you’re into app development or into design, it’s quite a fun look at the two platforms.