All posts by Paul Paliath

I founded and regularly wrote blog posts on GeekSmack from 2008 until 2011, when I failed at running a blog. I now write about Microsoft for Techie-Buzz. When not writing blog posts, I'm usually found designing websites and learning how to code. You should follow me on Twitter here.

Bing Revamps Pushpin, Popup, And Transit Designs

The Bing team has been hard at work lately rolling out improvements to its service, such as their recent collaboration with the Nokia Maps team to produce a unified map design, their recent lovemaking with Twitter, or the release of the Bing Maps SDK for Metro-style apps. And earlier this morning, Bing announced a set of design and usability improvements made to two of the most common map elements — pushpins and popups — along with an improved transit experience.

As you can see in the photo above, pushpins have been redesigned. The orange pushpins of the past have been replaced with a cleaner, blue design. What’s the reason behind the change? Bing Senior Program Manager Dan Polivy elaborated: “our goals were simple: enable you to find the information you want, more quickly and efficiently, while at the same time minimizing obstruction of the map”. Pushpins that are generated as a result of a search query will be blue, while pins representing user-generated content will be orange (with the new design, of course.)

A small popup was also added when you hover over a pin, which provides an “at-a-glance” name of the place. This allows you to easily skim through pins throughout the map. And by clicking, this popup can be expanded into a “full” popup, that shows all of the data and interactions you can perform with that place.

Speaking of popups, as you can see above, they too have received quite a substantial redesign. They now have a cleaner, Metro-inspired look that displays the content in a much cleaner fashion than the former design.

A nice touch that was implemented is that the pushpin and popup designs will adjust, should the map call for it so that data isn’t hard to read against the map background.

Moving on to the transit improvements, the colors and signage of the transit lines have been largely refined to better represent their respective real-life counterparts for both US and UK public transport systems. You can also now send transit directions to your mobile phone through SMS. A link to m.bing.com will be sent to you, which will load the transit directions on all platforms that would allow you to navigate to that website (shockingly, Windows Phone is exempt here; it currently does not support transit.)

You will also now be able to easily modify directions routes by clicking and dragging on start, end, or on waypoints.

Pretty exciting changes.

Windows Phone Tango To Touch Down In China March 21

Microsoft is holding a special Windows Phone 7.5 Tango launch event in China to celebrate the introduction of Windows Phone to the country, according to some invites the company sent out throughout the press. Seeing that Tango has paved the way for entry-level devices such as the Lumia 610 — which will likely play a huge role in emerging markets such as China — to exist by lowering the hardware requirements and making some software-side compromises, it is only right that an event be set aside for it.

As we had just reported on earlier today, there’s going to be another event taking place exactly a week from this one; Nokia are hosting a special launch event to celebrate its entry into the Chinese market, during which the Finnish phone manufacturer is expected to announce the specific devices, carriers, and availability dates of its products in the region.

They won’t be the first company to introduce a Windows Phone to China, however; as we know, HTC launched the Triumph — essentially a rebranded Titan — in China earlier this month, beating Nokia, LG, and ZTE to the punch.

Nokia Hosting Lumia Launch Event On March 28

While HTC was the first company to launch a Windows Phone in China, it would appear that Nokia is acting fast to get a device launched in that market as well. Engadget China reports that Nokia is hosting a Lumia launch event in China on the 28th, during which they are expected to announce the devices, carriers, and availability dates; the phones won’t be available immediately. The Verge has received confirmation from a Nokia spokesperson that the company plans to actually launch the devices beginning in April, post-event.

So, which devices can we expect to go on sale in China? We know that Nokia will definitely be launching the Lumia 610, a Tango-era Windows Phone that’s tailored towards emerging markets. Thanks to diminished hardware requirements — along with some software-side limitations as well, which we covered here — Nokia were able to aptly price the 610 for emerging markets like China. Nokia may also launch the Lumia 800 in China as its high-end, flagship device in the region.

With HTC having already launched its Triumph mobile phone, along with LG and ZTE also wanting in on the Chinese mobile market, Nokia will have a fair bit of competition. It should be interesting to see how they — and the Windows Phone platform overall — perform in the region.

Is The Nokia Lumia 900 Launching On April 8?

Thus far, neither AT&T or Nokia have commented on the availability date of the Lumia 900 in the US, but rumors have stated that the phone was initially going to launch on March 18th, but it was delayed until the 22nd. Now, a new rumor has surfaced suggesting that the phone will be available to order online on April 8th (Easter), and will hit store shelves on the 9th. WPCentral spotted a comment on The Verge from someone who claims to be an assistant manager at an AT&T store in California who is stating that they are “gearing up” for the Lumia launch, and “its tentative for April 8″.

He also mentioned in his comment that AT&T will only initially be receiving black and cyan units, with the white one being sold if and when the device performs well. On top of this, a second commentor on the WPCentral post itself who also claimed to be from AT&T mentioned that he’s been told the phone is launching on the 8th as well. Now of course, this rumor, as with the others, should be taken with a grain of salt. I will attempt to ask around and see if I can get more information backing (or smashing) this rumor.

In a related note, WPCentral are hearing from a credible source that the finalized software for the AT&T Lumia 900 will be going out today, meaning that AT&T will have to reflash all of its devices.

Is Microsoft Testing Windows Phone Apps On Windows 8?

With the major Windows Phone 8 ‘Apollo’ update on the horizon, speculation has been abound that its most major software-side change is with a kernel switch from CE to NT. With that in mind, WMPowerUser stumbled upon something interesting: I’m a WP7, an app which lists all of the build numbers of the OSes that users install the app on, has reported that 1% of people who use the app are running it on Windows 8 build 6.2.8283.0; essentially, this shows that someone is running this Windows Phone app on a desktop Windows 8 machine.

WMPowerUser speculate that Microsoft are going to allow Windows Phone apps to run on Windows 8, essentially giving the tablet marketplace a 70,000 (likely unpleasant to use) app boost, and the information we see reported by the I’m a WP7 app is of them doing internal testing of this functionality. Something worth noting is the mention of “Jupiter” in the I’m a WP7 app, which, as we know is essentially the codename for the Metro, “Immersive”-style app ecosystem in Windows 8.

This of course backs the credible rumors we’ve seen that suggest Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 will share many of the same components, allowing for easy app ports across the two platforms (and apparently the ability to seamlessly run Windows Phone apps on Windows 8 itself.)

With both Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 slated to launch later this year, it will be interesting to see how consumers and developers alike react to Sinofsky’s new “one Windows” vision when it hits the shelves.

Patch Tuesday Rolls Around With Six Bulletins

It’s that time of the month again: Today is Patch Tuesday, the one Tuesday of the month where Microsoft releases a set of updates to fix nasty — or mild — security issues with its products, and The Next Web has blogged about the riveting, earth-shattering updates that this month has to offer, along with some shiny charts that Microsoft released to spice up this otherwise boring blog post.

Of the updates — six in all — one is rated as ‘moderate’, four ‘important’, and one ‘critical’. In order of least important to most, at a glance the updates address security issues with DirectWrite, DNS, the Kernel, Visual Studio, Expression Design, and RDP. What’s ‘critical’ about the RDP bug? The Microsoft Security Response Center blog elaborates:

MS12-020 (Windows): This bulletin addresses one Critical-class issue and one Moderate-class issue in Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP). Both issues were cooperatively disclosed to Microsoft and we know of no active exploitation in the wild. The Critical-class issue applies to a fairly specific subset of systems – those running RDP – and is less problematic for those systems with Network Level Authentication (NLA) enabled. That said, we strongly recommend that customers examine and prepare to apply this bulletin as soon as possible. The Critical-class issue could allow a would-be attacker to achieve remote code execution on a machine running RDP (a non-default configuration); if the machine does not have NLA enabled, the attacker would not require authentication for RCE access.

They’ve also included some shiny charts to visually present the fixes in a sleek, attractive manner. Here they are:

Microsoft Hires Former Sony Exec Phil Harrison

Microsoft announced earlier today that it has hired Phil Harrison to be the corporate vice president of its Interactive Entertainment Business team, specifically its European business.

Harrison is no stranger to the gaming industry; beginning his career as the head of development for Mindscape International in 1989, he then went on to join Sony in 1992. Throughout his time at the company from 1992 through 2008, he held various executive positions in both Europe and North America. After departing Sony in 2008, he went on to work for Infogrames Entertainment SA as their “Directeur Général Délégué”. He had also joined the Atari Board of Directors (going on to step down in 2010.) On top of his new job at Microsoft, he is continuing to serve as a special advisor to a venture capital firm that he co-founded, London Venture Partners, LLP.

“I am excited to be joining the senior team at Microsoft at a pivotal time for our industry,” said Harrison. “I am really impressed with the company’s long-term vision for growing the market for interactive entertainment globally and also with the incredible wealth of talent, technology and resources the company has available to succeed.”

With 25 years of experience in the industry under his belt, Harrison certainly is a great addition to Microsoft’s already highly successful IEB division. What will he be doing at the company? He has quite a fair bit of responsibility; the announcement notes that he will be in charge of the Microsoft Studios European organization, along with growing the IEB European business through “strategic partnerships” and by “bringing culturally relevant entertainment experiences to Microsoft platforms, now and in the future.”

Bing Maps SDK For Metro Style Apps Released

So, now that the shiny new Windows 8 Consumer Preview has been out for some time now, surely you’re eager to develop for it. If any of your preliminary, tinker-with-WinRT apps involves mapping, here’s something to take a look at: On Tuesday, Microsoft released the Bing Maps SDK for Metro-style apps, which packs a set of controls that will let you integrate mapping into your Windows 8 apps quite easily.

For those of you who wish to code your WinRT Metro app using Javascript, you may have run into some issues pertaining to “sandboxing of the web context” when embedding the current AJAX Bing control (during my recent Metro app hackathon with Rafael Rivera and David Golden, I ran into this issue with my app that pulls data down from Reddit.) Not to worry however, the new SDK offers a Javascript control that you can use in your JavaScript WinRT apps without issue. The control is heavily based on the existing AJAX v7 control, but it’s tailored for the “app context” instead of the “web context”. It would be interesting to see what the differences between these controls are.

Unfortunately, some other modules such as directions, traffic, and overlays are currently unavailable, but data can still be rendered through their REST APIs. Head on over here to learn more about developing with the new JavaScript control.

If JavaScript doesn’t tickle your fancy, a control written in C++ was also released for those of you who would prefer to use C#, C++, and Visual Basic along with some XAML. This control offers client vector rendering and full hardware acceleration. And head on over here to learn more about developing with this control.

Microsoft Announce New Lineup Of Artist Edition Mice

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it will be introducing five new designs into its “Artist Edition” lineup of mice, produced by a diverse array of artists from around the world, including Kenzo Minami, Stina Persson, Oh Joy!, Tchmo, and Sally Zou.

The patterns produced by these artists will make their way onto the surface of the Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 and Arc Touch Mouse. On top of this, Microsoft also lifted the curtain on new special edition colors for the Microsoft Explorer Touch and Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500. The former is available in Dahlia Pink and White, and the latter will be available in Aqua Blue, Citron Green, Cobalt Blue, Dahlia Pink, Flame Red, White and Black.

No specific date was given for when these mice are set to hit the shelves, but Microsoft did note that they’re “coming soon”.

Nokia Has Home Court Advantage With Nokia World 2012

On Tuesday, Nokia announced that it will be holding its annual Nokia World conference on home turf for the first time since the conception of the event in 2006. Set to take place in Helsinki, Finland, the conference will be happening in a city that was just dubbed the World Design Capital of 2012 by the International Council of Societies Of Industrial Design.

Nokia World 2012 will be taking place on September 25 through the 26th, which is interesting timing given that the Windows Phone 8 ‘Apollo’ update is set to touch down at the end of this year; Nokia will almost certainly be showing off, or at the very least discussing its plans for the new software update during the event. It’s only right that they do, it is a conference centered around the company’s latest products.

The event isn’t open to the general public, but it is to bloggers (among analysts, carriers, developers, partners, and Nokia employees of course), so there definitely will be coverage about what the company discusses during the event. Let’s just hope that there’s less Symbian, and more Windows Phone in Nokia’s future.

Microsoft Details Tango Features, Limitations

Through the announcement of the Lumia 610 and ZTE Orbit at the Mobile World Congress, we discovered that the rumors about Tango lowering its standards, so to speak, for lower-end devices were true. But beyond knowing that the minimum amount of requirement memory was being lowered to 256MB, we knew little about what other changes would be made to accommodate lower-performance devices.

Thankfully, LiveSide stumbled upon some stealthily-made updates to the Windows Phone How-To website, in which some new Tango features and limitations were detailed. They took the trouble of rummaging through the documentation and compiling this list of the limitations that will affect these lower-end devices:

  • Windows Phone Marketplace app restrictions – Some processor-intensive apps have memory requirements, and won’t work on phones with 256 MB of RAM. You can check how much memory you have on your phone by tapping Settings > About.
  • Podcast Subscriptions and Video Podcasts – You won’t be able to manage podcast subscriptions on your phone or watch video podcasts if your phone has 256 MB of RAM.
  • Local Scout – You won’t be able to use Local Scout if your phone has only 256 MB of RAM.
  • Fast app switching – This feature will not work if your phone has 256 MB of RAM.
  • SkyDrive automatic photo upload – You won’t be able to upload pictures automatically to SkyDrive if your phone has only 256 MB of RAM.
  • HD video playback – You won’t be able to play video compressed with some of the listed codecs if your phone has 256 MB of RAM.
  • Background agents – To free up RAM for the foreground on 256MB devices, generic background agents (PeriodicTasks/ResourceIntensiveTasks) are disabled.
Some new features were also spotted within the documentation:
  • Better media messaging. Now you can attach multiple pictures and videos—along with voice notes and ringtones—to text messages. You can include a video, picture, voice note, or ringtone in an instant message, too.
  • Location awareness icon. When an app is accessing your phone’s current location information, an icon will appear next to the battery status indicator
  • Export and manage contacts to SIM card. All Windows Phones allows you to import contacts from a SIM card, but only some phones allows you to export contacts to a SIM card, or create and edit individual contacts on the SIM card. For more information, please contact your mobile operator. (Strangely, this feature is only documented on the Chinese version of the website. The English version states that “you can’t save contacts from a Windows Phone to a SIM card.”)
Now, bear in mind that there may be some additional limitations and features that weren’t mentioned in this documentation; it isn’t a complete and comprehensive list. Still, it’s good to get an idea of some of the limitations that these lower-end devices will face.

Microsoft Mentions New Business Features In Windows 8

In a Windows for your Business blog post yesterday, Microsoft began delving into some of the new improvements in Windows 8 that will benefit business and enterprise users of the new OS. Here’s a run-down of what they began touching on in the blog post:

Microsoft Reminds Us That Windows 8 Does Not Compromise

Emphasizing their “no-compromise” motto once again, Microsoft point out that the inclusion of the legacy desktop in Windows 8 is something that will allow you to use the applications you know and love today (presumably on an x86 device; on ARM, you’ll be restricted to Office and the applications bundled in Windows), along with the new tasty Metro goodness. While we can argue endlessly about this approach, the familiarity of Windows 7 can be considered a pro in the business scene.

Windows To Go

IT departments can configure Windows 8 on a bootable USB flash drive, providing users the ability to securely boot into and use the OS anywhere, on any machine. One trend — at least in the case of mobile devices — that has been increasing in the workplace is BYOD (bring your own device). With more people wanting to ditch those nasty BlackBerries for modern alternatives, this is something that more and more companies have been embracing. With Windows To Go, this can also apply to PCs as well, as users would be able to utilize their USB flash drive to boot into a secure Windows 8 corporate environment.

Trusted Boot

Trusted Boot is a new security feature in Windows 8 that essentially signs, measures, and validates the integrity of the boot process. “Antimalware” is also in-advance of non-critical Windows components, allowing it to largely assist with malware prevention.

VDI Re-Imagined

Improvements have been made in Windows 8 that will allow virtualized, thin-clients to have a far more enjoyable rich user experience. You will now be able to enjoy responsive touch capabilities, local USB device support, and improved performance.

On top of its many new (and somewhat controversial) consumer offerings, Windows 8 does also have some lucrative new features that will benefit business and enterprise users. Time will tell just how well it fares in that sector, though.

Rumor: Nokia To Launch ‘AC/DC’ And ‘Prodigy’ Apollo Handsets

According to The Verge, Nokia are readying two new Windows Phone 8 ‘Apollo’ handsets that they plan to launch later this year on AT&T. The Prodigy — aptly codenamed — is geared to be a high-end flagship device that runs the new, major Windows Phone release in all its glory. The AC/DC on the other hand will be a mid-range device.

The device names — Prodigy and AC/DC — are believed to be codenames; they will probably be branded as Lumia devices when they officially hit the shelves later on this year. While we now have an idea of what Nokia may be planning as far as Apollo handsets for AT&T, we’re still in the dark when it comes to their plans for other major carriers in the U.S. are.

We know that Verizon is, for the most part, holding off on Windows Phones until Apollo — in fact, they terminated plans to offer a Nokia handset this January/February. And from what we’re hearing, Sprint have the same ‘wait until Apollo’ thinking when it comes to their Windows Phone strategy.

One thing’s for sure: It’s definitely cropping up to be a major update. Even HTC are holding out until Windows Phone 8 before releasing any serious devices to the market.

Verizon Reportedly Scrapped Plans To Sell A Nokia Windows Phone

According to a report published on Monday, Verizon was contemplating launching a Nokia device — called the ‘Om’ — around January, but axed plans to do so primarily due to Windows Phone’s — at the time — lack of support for Verizon LTE (the Nokia Lumia 900 will likely be launching on AT&T’s own LTE network.)

Thus far, Verizon doesn’t seem to be quite enthusiastic about the Windows Phone platform; they currently only offer one Windows Phone  — the HTC Trophy — which is one of the first Windows Phones ever released. While they probably could release a Windows Phone 7.5 device in the interim, The Verge are hearing that Windows Phone won’t have Verizon LTE support until the big ‘Apollo’ update that’s due later this year.

That being said, it’s truly interesting how massive this update is; in fact, many are speculating that it will only run on new Windows Phone hardware. These behaviors of manufacturers and carriers all seem to line up with this rumor as well. HTC are holding off until Apollo before releasing any serious flagship devices, and Sprint are also in the ‘wait for Apollo’ boat.

Microsoft To Fix Windows Phone SDK On Windows 8

One unfortunate consequence of installing Windows 8 that some developers have encountered is the inability to properly use the Windows Phone SDK on the OS. Of course, it is pre-release software after all — expecting everything to work perfectly is insane — but for those of you crazy people out there who are using it in a production environment, no worries; Microsoft are well-aware of the Windows Phone SDK incompatibility issues and will have more to share on a fix in the “coming weeks.”

On the Windows Phone Developer Blog, Larry Lieberman went ahead and elaborated on the three issues that are currently affecting the Windows Phone SDK on Windows 8: XNA Game Studio (an error message when the user attempts to install; components fail to install), the Windows Phone Emulator (doesn’t run at all), and .NET 3.5 (capability.exe and slsvcutil.exe doesn’t run on Windows 8 unless you separately install .NET 3.5).

On top of Windows 8 incompatibilities, the Windows Phone SDK also has issues with the Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview. For those of you who, for whatever reason, actually thought that Visual Studio 11 would not support the Windows Phone SDK when it RTMs, rest assured; Microsoft has confirmed that it will.