Amazon Starts Live Streaming Events, YouTube Live Watch-out

Amazon is one of those companies that silently enters a market and then beats odds to command a significant market share and position. The company has become a formidable force in cloud computing with EC2 and AWS. The company’s infrastructure is being used by competitor Netflix to host content as Amazon offers multimedia streaming services.

The company also entered the tablet market with its Kindle Fire and is now considered to be the leading Android tablet OEM. Going forward it seems that Amazon plans to compete with YouTube Live by offering live streaming of select events. Earlier today there were lengthy stories about how Amazon is looking to strengthen its luxury clothing lineup and this push needs Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to travel to fashion events in New York City. It turns out, Amazon is live streaming an event and its a first.

For Kindle Fire owners this might turn out to be an very interesting development. The company offers books, consumer cloud (walk through coming up soon), movies, songs, and possibly soon live streaming of events directly on the tablet devices. This positions Amazon has a major player in the entertainment industry. If Amazon does in fact bring Live Streams directly to Kindle Fire, the tablet becomes a powerful content consumption device and surprisingly, Amazon is the one offering the content. While I continue to fantasize about what might happen, you can head over to to view the Met Gala Red Carpet live.

Met Gala is some fashion event that has something to do with museums.

Subsidized $99 Xbox 360 & Kinect Bundle Official

Last month we covered a story that Microsoft is expected to introduce a $99 Xbox 360 and Kinect on a 2 year contract. The details back then were that this will be an addition to Microsoft’s Xbox line up. Today, Microsoft confirmed that they are indeed bringing a bundle at the price but as of now it is just a Microsoft Store promotion.

The bundle comes with a 2 year Xbox LIVE Gold subscription at $15 a month contract and can only be purchased from a brick & mortar Microsoft Store. While this does seem like a lucrative deal at $15 a month and just $99 as upfront cost, the math suggests in the long run, you end up paying a little more. The current deal is in all likelihood a test run for a cheaper version of the next Xbox. It is quite clear that Microsoft wants everyone to own an Xbox 360 irrespective of them owning an iPad, iPhone, PC or Mac. The technology battle has moved to living room entertainment and compared to both Google and Apple, Microsoft has a huge lead. The details of the $99 Xbox & Kinect bundle are:

What a deal

How to redeem this offer

  • Sign up for 2 year subscription to Xbox Live Gold Membership* at $14.99 per month and receive a 4GB Xbox 360 with Kinect for $99.
  • Promotional offer (Microsoft may terminate this Offer at any time).
In case you wish to opt out of the contract, you can by paying an Early Termination Fee depending on when you decide to terminate the contract.

Subsidized Xbox Bundle vs. Outright Purchase, The Math

Earlier today news broke that Microsoft is planning to come up with a subsidized model for the Xbox 360. If Tom Warren reporting for The Verge is right, you will be able to pick up a 4GB Xbox 360 and Kinect just for priced it at $99 in a 2 year contract. A genius strategy since It’s the price of a Roku box and of an Apple TV.

The Xbox 360 is the leading gaming console in the market. It has been consistently selling more units than Sony’s PlayStation 3. There is no reason for anyone to buy an Apple TV. The device from Apple has failed miserably for the company despite being in the business for a while. Xbox 360 on the other hand has lined up several services including a deal with Comcast. Here’s what Microsoft’s plans are:

  • $99 Xbox 360 & Kinect
  • 2 year contract for $15 a month
  • Xbox LIVE Gold subscription & some other services included in the $15

It is the last part that will turn out to be the factor why this deal will be worth it and why this model will succeed. However here’s some Math:

The subsidized Xbox 360 bundle: 99+(15*24)=$450

Standalone: 199+149+(59*2)=$466 (Xbox 360, Kinect, Xbox LIVE Gold for 2 years)

4GB Xbox 360 & Kinect bundle: 300+(59*2)=$418

On Amazon: 280+(49*2)=$378 (bundle for $280 & Xbox LIVE Gold 1 year subscription for $48)

So the Math says buying the bundle with Xbox LIVE subscription on Amazon you get a better value. However, as @karelj and @theromit point out, the subsidized model with a small monthly payment will attract a lot of people, the $99 upfront cost will be very enticing to many. A while back I suggested that Microsoft’s motto of a desktop on every desk has now evolved into an Xbox in every living room. At $99, it’ll happen.

With 500 Million Active Users, Windows Live Being Morphed For Windows 8

As of today, Windows Live is a suite of software that complement Windows Vista and Windows 7. The suite includes a mailing client, a messenger, a cloud file sync tool, a photo gallery tool and a video editing too. All the products have so far been known as Windows Live <product name>; with Windows 8 this will change. In an update on the Windows Team Blog, Chris Jones from Microsoft talks at length about the future of the Windows Live brand and products.

Long story short, the Windows Live brand will be on its way out once Windows 8 comes out. To replace the existing Windows Live utilities on the desktop, Windows 8 have Metro based replacements. Here’s a chart from the team blog explaining the transition:

(I’m not sure why have a Photos app and a Photo Gallery app in Windows 8.)

I believe, the suite will continue to exist for some time since there are a handful of Windows 7 users out there, somewhere. The other interesting part of Chris Jones’s blog post was numbers. According to Jones:

  • There are 500 Million active Windows Live users
  • Active user means they either send an email using Hotmail, or an IM via Windows Live Messenger, or upload a file to SkyDrive, at least once in a month
  • Hotmail has 350 Million active users, with 105 Petabytes of storage
  • Messenger has 300 Million active users
  • SkyDrive has 130 Million users (17 Million upload files every month. Part of these will definitely be Windows Phone users who use the service to share photos.)

SkyDrive TV Commercials Soon; No Official Android App Anytime Soon

Microsoft recently updated their SkyDrive service to include a bunch of new features. They introduced apps for Windows and OS X, updated their iOS apps, made the service more like Dropbox and introduced support for more Office file formats. Microsoft engineer Dharmesh Mehta says with all these features it is time the company went “loud” about the service, I agree.

In an interview with Pocket-Lint’s Chris Hall, Dharmesh Mehta outlined some future plans regarding SkyDrive. Two key plans that were mentioned are:

  • Microsoft doesn’t plan an official SkyDrive app for Android
  • SkyDrive TV commercials in 6-9 months

Mehta explains that Android users can use the web version of SkyDrive on their phones and that the company has APIs for developers to build SkyDrive functionality in their apps or develop third party clients. I am not sure if I agree with the approach; if the company has the pieces to build an app, they might as well do it. Google Drive and Dropbox are options for Android users as of now, going forward, Google Drive will be deeply integrated. Having presence on both the two largest mobile platforms can only benefit Microsoft; they have a Hotmail app for Android, as such, it would be great if the company had a SkyDrive app to complement it.

Close watchers of Microsoft and SkyDrive will know that Microsoft has been placing SkyDrive in TV shows, adding TV commercials to the mix will definitely be going “loud” regarding SkyDrive.

Dharmesh Mehta assures Hall that the team isn’t done and they have a lot more to talk about in coming months.

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 (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:

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.