Here’s How Microsoft Is Simplifying The Windows Brand

Microsoft has often been mocked for their naming convention. The company’s brands have a reputation for being confusing. While the jokes might have merit, Microsoft having multiple SKUs for their software make business sense. As the launch of Windows 8 nears, information of how Microsoft plans to simplify their products and have a better marketing campaign is surfacing.

The Windows Versions

Microsoft’s audience isn’t limited to those who crack the jokes, there’s a wider and more complex market to cater to, add to that different geographic locations and their laws–for Microsoft, it’s a complicated mess that requires a lot of thought.

Windows 7 and Windows Vista had 6 versions main SKUs:

  • Starter
  • Home Basic
  • Home Premium
  • Business (Vista) aka Professional (Windows 7)
  • Enterprise
  • Ultimate

If my information is correct, Windows Vista Starter was limited to emerging markets, while the rest were sold in the US. This was slightly changed for Windows 7; Starter was only available as pre-bundled on OEM machines whereas Home Basic was specifically for emerging markets.

According to documents accessed by Stephen Chapman at ZDNet, Microsoft will be simplifying the available Windows 8 SKUs. Chapman links to HP documentation where he only 3 Windows 8 SKUs were listed:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows 8 Professional
  • Windows 8 Enterprise

We know that Windows 8 will have an ARM version but that, like Windows 7 Starter, will be available pre-bundled on OEM tablet devices. Microsoft has no plans to sell Windows 8 ARM (WOA) as an off the shelf product. The three SKUs will be available in 32 and 64 bit versions.

The 3 versions make a lot of sense. Having just 1 version for the consumer and two for the enterprise is a solution Microsoft should’ve tried with Windows 7. For those who remember, there was an uproar on the Internet when Microsoft’s intended to restrict number of apps that can run at the same time on Windows 7 starter, was 3. This was however changed. There was no need of a Windows 7 Starter edition since there was little different compared to Windows 7 Home Basic.

For what it’s worth, it’s an excellent decision to completely remove any possible confusion for the end consumer by having a single SKU. That said, I won’t be surprised to see some variants to meet the legal requirements, like in Europe.

The Windows Live and Zune brand

One of Microsoft’s best and most subtle moves of late has been their slow and steady death of the Zune brand. Windows Phone 7 was called as the next Zune music player, the devices were slowly killed, and then company officials stopped using the name Zune. It was obvious, Zune’s on its way out. The problem however was that Zune is Microsoft’s music and entertainment brand as well as the sync client for Windows Phone 7. According to leaked information, Windows Phone 8 won’t require Zune for syncing. Tom Warren writing for The Verge reiterated that the Zune offering will be rolled into Xbox LIVE. According to Tom Warren, with Windows 8, Microsoft will be killing the Windows Live brand. Tom says the following products will take over:

  1. Microsoft Account (Windows Live ID)
  2. Mail (Windows Live Mail)
  3. Calendar (Windows Live Calendar)
  4. People (Windows Live Contacts)
  5. Photos (Windows Live Photo Gallery)
  6. Music (Zune Music Player)
  7. Video (Zune Video Player)
Except the first, the other six are the feature-names for Windows Phone 7. (Consistency, finally!)

CNET ran an exclusive story by Greg Sandoval that Microsoft is discussing a new Spotify-like subscription service with the labels. (As of now, Microsoft has Zune Pass.) Going by the adage that there’s no smoke without fire, Zune Pass is probably on its way out too. This is a good thing.

[Screenshots] Bing Wants You To Link Your Web Pages & Facebook Account

Earlier today Bing announced a new feature that offers deeper Facebook integration. The feature known as Linked Pages lets you tag webpages just like you tag photos. The feature seems similar to Google’s Author search where authors can get their information shown next to articles written by them. Bing is letting everyone do it. When I searched for my name Bing showed me a little notification about Linked Page:

On the page, Bing shows several of my Internet profiles and search results. I can then link pages with my Facebook profile, and even link the pages to my Facebook friends. (The direct link to the feature is Bing.com/LinkedPages.)

 

Once you’ve linked the pages, Bing results will list the linked pages on top. Screenshot:

Bing also sends an update on Facebook telling my friends that I’ve linked my Facebook profile and my search results:

I decided to run a search for my Facebook friends. The first search was for fellow ZDNet Microsoft columnist–Mary Jo Foley. She did not have pages linked to her but since she is my contact on Facebook I could link the pages directly to her (Link to Mary-Jo Foley). Screenshot:

The second search was for GeekWire co-founder Todd Bishop. I haven’t added Todd as my friend but I am subscribed to his updates, as a result Bing doesn’t show me a “Link to Todd Bishop” option. Screenshot:

The ability to tag your Facebook friends and Bing listing all “linked” profiles under the top result, which in most cases is a Facebook profile, is nicely done.

 

For China, Microsoft To Replace Twitter, Facebook, Xbox LIVE With Local Services

Back in December, Michael Kan wrote at Computer World that  Microsoft’s Windows Phone launch in China was delayed to the first half in 2012. According to news surfacing, Windows Phone 7’s handsets in China will launch with Tango.

Tang Dynasty at WPDang is says Windows Phone 7 Tango handsets will be available starting march 2012. The more interesting information in Dynasty’s article is, Microsoft replacing key features in Windows Phone with local services widely used in China. Microsoft has talked a lot about the Xbox LIVE integration in Windows Phone; the phone is being seen as an extension of the console–as a remote and a portable gaming device. Damaster at Liveside says, in China, there will be no Xbox LIVE.

Windows Phone 7’s social integration–Facebook and Twitter–will be replaced with local social networks. Unlike in the West, Weibo is the micro-blogging platform used in China. Twitter Co-founder Jack Dorsey, tweeted last month about Twitter being blocked in China; given this having Twitter integration made little sense for Microsoft. It is probably an intelligence move on Microsoft’s part that they’ve partnered with Weibo to integrate the service in Windows Phone, as confirmed by Damaster at Liveside.

Same is the case with Facebook. In China, Microsoft will be replacing Facebook with RenRen.

More SkyDrive Features Leak, Major Update Ahead of Google Drive Planned

With Google’s cloud storage service—Google Drive—expected to debut sometime soon, the SkyDrive team at Redmond is gearing up for  an update of their own. yesterday Paul Paliath wrote about some features spotted by Rodrigo Ghedin at GEMIND, these included:

  • Paid expansion for SkyDrive
  • Desktop clients for SkyDrive

Paul expects a discontinuation of Windows Live Mesh but I believe Mesh will now be superseded as a product by SkyDrive. Mesh won’t be discontinued but the Windows Live Mesh client (for Windows & OS X) will now offer support for SkyDrive folders and be known as the SkyDrive client.

Today, Damaster writing at LiveSide has shared with us some more features quite likely to be a part of SkyDrive’s next update. Here’s what Damaster shared:

  • Option to share SkyDrive albums on Twitter
  • Short URL for SkyDrive (http://sdrv.ms)
  • Support for ODF formats (.odt, ods,odp) in addition to Office formats (.pptx, .docx, .xlsx)
  • BitLocker recovery key management
  • Remote access to files on your desktop from within SkyDrive (Mesh offers this but let’s just say it doesn’t work)

These are some major updates to SkyDrive as a service and clearly indicative of Windows Live Mesh not being known as a consumer product anymore. The SkyDrive team has been hard at work with the service getting consistent updates.

Some Windows Phone ‘Tango’ Features Leak, Scaling & Fragmentation Begins Early

Earlier today Russia-based Windows Phone enthusiast site—WP7Forum.Ru—shared some features from the upcoming Windows Phone 7 update called Tango.

Tango is the major upgrade between Windows Phone 7.5 (aka Mango) and Windows Phone 8 (aka Apollo). Tango will introduce some interesting features which, I believe, are going to be the first signs of the dreadful hardware fragmentation. According to Svetloyar, Microsoft will:

  • introduce 256MB memory as the minimum requirements, instead of 512MB
  • not automatically sync the camera roll with SkyDrive, images will be sycned when the phone is connected to a PC
  • video streaming will be at 4Mbps (H.264), MSDN document (updated January 13th) says currently WP7 supports a max of 2Mbps
  • allow cameras only up to 3MP, currently, OEMs don’t have to add a camera
  • let carriers & OEMs install 40 apps on the phone, the initial limit was 4. 40 just seems outrageous enough to question

Two interesting features updates in Tango are:

Roaming

Till Mango, data connection on roaming can either be turned ON or OFF; with Tango, users will have the following options:

  1. Don’t Roam
  2. Domestic only
  3. Domestic + International

MMS Updates: Svetloyar at WP7Forum.Ru says the MMS capabilities in WP7 will see huge improvements.

For scale, there will be wider language support. Low specs and more languages—Windows Phones for developing nations. Yay!

A few weeks back, I explained that Microsoft wants to offer better hardware while keeping the main OS experience consistent; it seems that Tango will let us know if that is possible.

 

[Update] Hotmail Suffering Outage

Since yesterday, the Me tile on my Windows Phone was not updating messages from Twitter so today I decided to delete the account and re-add it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t. I keep getting an error.

While I wait for the Twitter integration to come back to normal, it seems that Hotmail is facing problems. I haven’t been able to access hotmail.com for more than 40 minutes. Turning to Twitter, there are several users reporting problems with Hotmail. The funny thing is, I can receive emails sent to my Hotmail address on my Windows Phone.

Here’s what I am seeing when I visit hotmail.com:

PS: SkyDrive seems to be working.

Update: Hotmail seems to be coming back to life.

 

[Screenshots] New Facebook App For Windows Phone 7 A Major Overhaul

One of Windows Phone 7’s biggest USP is the social integration—Facebook & Twitter. Microsoft developed their own Facebook app for Windows Phone too. And it sucked. It was very basic and other than delayed push notifications, the app was of very little use. Today Microsoft has updated the app and it is an impressive update.

New Header with photo background:

This is a very interesting feature. For one it shows that the header of an app can be dynamic and different across hubs. The new Facebook app will pull photographs from your Facebook albums and use them background:

  

New Status Update UI:

The update box now looks more interesting, shows privacy options and location; even lets you images:

 

New Settings Menu:

  

Groups, Lists and Pages support:

I use Lists a lot. They’re very handy to ignore the noise and keep me updated on news from sources and people that matter. The Facebook app brings filters:

 

New Navigation and Filters:

There is not a lot that has changed regarding the News Feed & photos but the main app navigation has changed a lot. You can now filter the updates that you see.

 

A New Profile:

The Facebook now introduces a new profile that has three hubs. About me, Photos and updates are the three hubs that can be scrolled through:

 

I like this version of the app a lot more than the old one, although, I find it to be a little slow while loading. Todd Bishop over Geek Wire shared the details; here’s the official update log:

  • News feed performance improvements
  • New panorama design.
  • New profile design.
  • Banner Images.
  • Improved navigation.
  • Pages
  • Groups
  • View “likes”
  • Feed filters
  • Posting privacy
  • Bug fixing
The update should be available, if it is not, you can delete the app from the phone and re-download it.

Microsoft: A Better Valentines With Office Web Apps & Windows Phone

For Valentines day Microsoft is showing no love for Google. The company’s Why Microsoft blog has shared a video making fun of Google Docs while promoting Office Web Apps. Microsoft’s mildly funny Office Web Apps Valentines video:

Back in 2011, Tony Tai compared Google Docs and Office Web Apps on the Why Microsoft blog

Microsoft is also using Valentines day to promote their Windows Phone devices. On the Windows Phone blog, Michael Stroh has shared a story of a Windows Phone app developer who used a Windows Phone exclusive app (Wordament) for a marriage proposal. The company wants you to Dump Your Droid for a Windows Phone; for this, Microsoft also announced a Twitter promotion where Microsoft will be handing out two Windows Phone devices. The Twitter campaign is aimed squarely at Android owners. Microsoft wants Android owners to tweet why they dislike their Android phones (#DumpingMyDroid). Existing Windows Phone owners can also participate by sharing why they love their Windows Phone devices.

Metro Inspired Windows Logo In Windows 8 To Replace The ORB

In Windows Vista and 7, Microsoft introduced the Windows ORB in the taskbar. Microsoft is expected to do away with the Start button in their Windows on ARM SKU since, as Paul Thurrott explains, all tablets will have a Start button. While the theory makes sense, it will be a weird Windows desktop. Microsoft is expected to make the bottom left corner into a hotspot to launch whatever is left of the Start Menu aka Charms in Windows 8. The menu as it looks in the Windows 8 Developers Preview:

According to CNBeta, Microsoft will be using a new Windows flag for Windows 8. The new Metro flag is inspired by Microsoft’s Metro design language and here’s what the new Windows flag will look like:

Image credit: CNBeta

The flag faces the left side which seems a little awkward at first (probably because I am right handed?) but if one was to look at the Windows icons since Vista, they face the left too. Back in 2008, Long Zheng asked the question whether the icons faced the wrong way, apparently not according to Microsoft.

CNBeta has also shared a screenshot that shows new icons for Share and Devices.

via: Tom Warren at The Verge

 

 

Microsoft To Fragment Windows Phone Hardware, Not Experience, To Target Low Price Points

As new handsets come with faster processors, better screens and more features, fragmentation of a platform is inevitable. When one talks about fragmentation it is about the experience offered.

Fragmentation affects the iPhone but Apple has an handle on the problem. They sell enough new phones for the developers to cater to that the platform doesn’t feel fragmented, at the same time, Apple caters to the different price points–$0 (iPhone 3Gs), $99 (iPhone 4) and $199 (iPhone 4S). Not all handsets get all the latest software features or apps. The good thing is, Apple still controls the fragmentation, defines it, and offers a consistent experience.

Android on the other hand is a complete mess. Google has no say over which OEM uses what version, whether the OEM pushes an update to the handsets and there are no chassis specs, we still have resistive touch phones out there. Essentially, the experience is broke and is not consistent.

Microsoft plans to find a middle ground once again. Like Apple, Microsoft will define new hardware chassis specs that will let OEMs build phones that have low RAM and processing power or scale to dual core processors with a lot of RAM. Microsoft will also define the user experience while letting OEMs customize features like the camera’s software capabilities. Back in September, Microsoft updated their chassis specs to remove the camera as a necessity and reduced the RAM requirement to 256MB.

Paul Thurrott talks about this in his latest blog post and explains that while some Windows Phones won’t have the same hardware features they will be able to browse through the entire app catalogue, but won’t be allowed to download apps that are incompatible with their phone. The approach makes sense since it gives the OEM and Microsoft a chance to expand and scale, while offering choice to the end-user.

The recently leaked Windows Phone 8 feature-set mentioned 4 new screen resolutions, Thurrott says this will let Microsoft offer devices that will fill in the gaps between the Windows 8 laptop and tablet screens.