Microsoft Preparing Kinect for Windows 1.5 Update

According to a blog post earlier this week, Microsoft are readying the Kinect for Windows 1.5 update for release by late May. What’s new? Here’s what they touched on in the post:

Kinect Studio, which is an application that lets developers record, playback, and debug clips of users engaging with their applications. Interesting, yet oddly creepy at the same time. However, it could add an element of entertainment for developing with the Xbox; watching people use stuff like the Kinect is always hilarious, after all.

Skeletal tracking, referred to by Microsoft as “seated” or “10-joint” tracking, which allows you to track the head, neck and arms of either a seated or standing users. This will work in both default and near mode.

French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese are now available for speech recognition. New language packs will also be released to “enable speech recognition for the way a language is spoken in different regions”. A pack will be released for the following regions: English/Great Britain, English/Ireland, English/Australia, English/New Zealand, English/Canada, French/France, French/Canada, Italian/Italy, Japanese/Japan, Spanish/Spain and Spanish/Mexico.

In conclusion, the team also announced that Kinect for Windows will be available in nineteen additional countries shortly. It will hit Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan in late May, and in late June, Kinect for Windows will also hit Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

Bing Exec Fired For Misappropriation Of Assets Would Return To Company If Afforded The Opportunity

Last week, two Bing marketing executives were fired from the company following an internal investigation which revealed that they misappropriated company assets. Earlier this week, Eric Hadley, one of the executives fired, issued a comment stating that, if offered, he would have no quarrels to return to the company. He also described working for Microsoft as “the best experience of my life.” However, he offered no comment on the exact events that led to his termination at Microsoft.

So, what exactly went down? AdAge reports that the violations pertained to a three-story Bing Bar in Park City, Utah, established during the Sundance Film Festival. The Bing marketing team apparently paid over $1 million to Co Collective, which is apparently not a Microsoft-approved vendor. Sean Carver, the other executive fired also took a first-class flight from New York to Seattle despite not having the authorization to do so. And finally, there were issues with line items and dates on purchase orders (with the Bing Bar that was set up.)

Nothing too earth-shattering, but it’s likely that Microsoft won’t be bringing these guys back to the company any time soon. Hadley stated that the Bing marketing team will “bounce back”, also expressing his support and confidence in the new marketing chief Mike Nichols.

In a way, it seems like his termination is a loss for the company. He, along with Carver did, after all, work with many celebrities such as Jay-Z and Lebron James to get the word about the brand out there.

VoodooPC Founder Rahul Sood Thinks Razer Will Disrupt The PC Space

Last year, Razer announced their entry into the PC space: The Razer Blade, a laptop which the company touts as “the world’s first gaming laptop.” Priced at the low cost of $2800, it packs a 17.3″ LED backlit display with a full HD resolution, a 2.8GHz i7 2640M processor, an Nvidia GeForce GT555M GPU, and — now, this is unique — an LCD panel near the keyboard area, along with dynamic, programmable keys above it. Cool, right?

The founder of VoodooPC, Rahul Sood definitely thinks so. After taking the Blade for a spin, he professed some pretty strong positive feelings for the device, stating that the company “takes over where Voodoo left off”, going on to praise the device’s hardware build quality and design. He also noted that Razer will be able to create an “Apple-esque movement” in the PC space, and here’s why:

Besides the amazing craftsmanship, the quality of materials, unique ID, beautiful packaging, and the fit and finish, the Razer brand is something else. Razer built their brand on a thriving community, they have evangelists all over the world who live and breathe their products very similar to Apple in their early days. People overlook this important ingredient too often, the small community Apple once fostered became a movement that helped make them who they are today.
Beyond his comments on the company’s potential in the PC market, he also did like the actual device:
So overall is it worth the ~$2800? – *@#! yes it is.
Anyone who compares this to your average “thick-brick-super-hot-loud-laptop-with-faster-hardware” doesn’t have a clue what they’re missing.
What are your thoughts on Razer? I have no opinions on the Blade as I have not had any hands-on time with the device, however, I do want to say something about his comments on the company itself. If by “Apple-esque” he means not in the PC space in general, but rather in the gaming enthusiast niche of the PC space, then yes, they do have the culture and community surrounding the company to pull it off. However, as a premium PC manufacturer altogether, outside the world of gaming? It’s hard to see that happening.

Xfinity, HBO GO And MLB.TV Hit The Xbox

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that three major sources of entertainment content — Xfinity, HBO GO, and MLB.TV — have all been made available on the Xbox 360 to Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers, with Kinect integration to boot. In the Xfinity TV app, you will be able to control it with either your voice or by waving your hands around, in the HBO GO app, you can voice search the HBO catalogue for shows, and in the MLB.TV app, you will be able to pause and rewind live games using your voice and arms.

Microsoft also revealed that gamers in the US spend more time using Xbox LIVE entertainment apps than they do playing games through the service, so this is great news for the many folks out there who use their Xboxes for entertainment purposes beyond gaming. The average Xbox 360 Gold user also uses the service for 84 hours each month, since we’re dishing out stats.

However, hold off on calling the time of death for cable, though. You will still need proper cable subscriptions to access these services, however. And, bizarrely, subscribers to either Comcast or Time Warner Cable will not be able to access HBO GO on the Xbox. If I owned one, this would be a huge bummer; I would have loved to use it to watch Boardwalk Empire episodes.

But still, if you do have a Comcast subscription, or an appropriate subscription to enjoy the other two services, then you can now indulge in a far wider variety of content on your Xbox.

Did Microsoft Stop Blocking Links To The Pirate Bay In Windows Live Messenger?

Over the weekend, a report surfaced claiming that Microsoft has begun to block links to The Pirate Bay in its Windows Live Messenger chat client, alerting the message sender that the link is unsafe upon sending it to the recipient. At the time, they had tested sending links even through third-party clients, only to receive the same warning message.

Soon after the original news broke, Microsoft did comment and acknowledge that they’re doing this. On Monday, the following comment was issued from a company spokesperson to The Verge:

“Windows Live Messenger is set up to help ensure customers receive IMs only from people whose IMs are welcome and has long had the capability to block certain content from being transmitted in an effort to protect our customers. Before anyone can send customers an IM, those customers must first agree to add the sender to their Contact list; this helps protect customers from unwanted IMs from strangers and from annoyances such as spam and spim (spam via IM). In addition, we use SmartScreen® technology to protect our customers from malicious and unwanted content including phishing, malware and spam. We block instant messages if they contain malicious or spam URLs based on intelligence algorithms, third-party sources, and/or user complaints. Pirate Bay URLs were flagged by one or more of these and were consequently blocked.”

This blog post was originally supposed to be about how Microsoft is censoring links to The Pirate Bay. However, when I wanted to test this out for myself, something interesting happened; I easily exchanged various TPB links over WLM with no issue. I was using Adium — a third-party Mac IM client — while the other contact was using the actual WLM client on Windows. We sent each other test links, and received them all with no issue.

Perhaps out of fear of yet another Reddit PR nightmare — this time about the company trying to censor the Internet, when in actuality an annoying algorithm (SmartScreen) was being overprotective — they silently removed the site from any blacklist manually.

Weird. I’ve reached out to Microsoft PR for comment and am awaiting a response.

UPDATE: I’ve received the following comment from a Microsoft Spokesperson regarding the possible removal of Pirate Bay links from any blacklists/filters:

“We update our filters regularly, and if we observe changes in the patterns of messages or URLs being sent, the block may be lifted automatically.”

Microsoft Release Windows Phone SDK 7.1.1

Microsoft has released the accompanying Windows Phone SDK for the Tango update that was recently released. Like the Tango update itself, it doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of features; rather, it packs some minute improvements which will allow developers to create apps for lower-end devices with 256MB of RAM, as well as test performance through the emulator. You will also be able to develop on machines that run Windows 8.

As a quick refresher, it is through these lower-end devices with 256MB of RAM that Microsoft hopes to gain share in emerging markets. They expect those devices to do well in China and the Middle East, which are both markets that Microsoft has only recently entered. To quote the blog post, here’s a full — and short — list of the improvements in the 7.1.1 SDK:

  • The Visual Studio IDE is patched to enable selection from a list of emulators, and launching it (note that the WPSDK can only support connecting to one at a time, though)
  • The Windows Phone [512 MB device] emulator image is updated to use build 8773
  • A second, new emulator device image is included, allowing you to emulate running your app on a 256 MB device
  • The Microsoft Advertising SDK is updated to the latest version (previously only available as a separate install), which fixes some issues devs were encountering at runtime
  • IntelliSense now supports specifying the 512 MB device requirement in your manifest file, should you choose to opt your app out from running on the new 256 MB devices
  • Language support is again consistent both in the IDE (the 7.1.1 Update supports all 10 of the WPSDK 7.1 languages) and in the emulator OS (Malay and Indonesian have been added)
If you already installed the CTP build, you will be able to upgrade to this RTW build without uninstalling.

Battling Graymail With Hotmail (And My Quest To Tame My Inbox)

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post that I was approached to write by Microsoft and Technorati Media, and I am receiving compensation for authoring it.

While Hotmail generally has a pretty bad reputation amongst the tech-savvy crowd, I’ve happily used a Hotmail account over the past three years without issue (on top of several Gmail accounts and my iCloud account.) And, throughout my time with email, I’ve never been one to bother with any organization whatsoever. I never took advantage of the labels, features, and stars that tickles the fancy of Gmail users, nor did I use some of the new features and improvements that have been added to Hotmail over the last year of two, some of which I’ve blogged about in the past.

As part of penning this sponsored post, I had to immerse myself in learning about these features in Hotmail, particularly those which help people control what they refer to as graymail. Basically, graymail occupies that “gray” area that lies between spam and legitimate emails; it’s stuff like newsletters, daily deals, social updates, notifications, and other things that you’ve signed up for, but lost control of over the past few years. As part of Hotmail’s campaign against graymail, they estimate that the average inbox in 2012 will receive around 14,600 emails, and, thanks to graymail, this figure will rise to 15,330 by 2015.

My own email inbox can also attest to this; with around 6,500 unread emails at the time of writing, and likely far more read emails, I’ve noticed that the bulk of it is what would be considered graymail. While spam rarely makes its way into my inbox, I’ve been the cause of its demise with the barrage of emails from Groupon, Gilt Group,, Twitter, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ZDNet, and other miscellaneous newsletters that I don’t remember signing up for. With that in mind, I’m going to walk you through the numerous features that Hotmail put in place to solve this problem while I regain control of my own Hotmail inbox in the process.

Before I begin, here’s a list of the features that I will be using for this mission:

  • Sweep: Allows you to delete or move all the emails you’ve received from a specific sender – past, present and future.
  • Categories: Hotmail automatically categorizes newsletters, social updates and photos to within 95% accuracy. You can also create your own custom categories to tag your mail with.
  • Alias: Allows you to create full, disposable email addresses to use for signing up to sites and notifications. Email sent to these addresses will arrive in your inbox, but senders will never know your actual email address.
  • Schedule Cleanup: Just like Sweep, but with the added factor of automatically running rules like based on time intervals. So you can keep only the latest mail from a sender, or have Hotmail delete or move files that are older than 3, 10, 30, or 60 days.

First, I began automating content that I may like to scan over (such as certain daily deals).

Next, I went about trimming my entire inbox using the Sweep > Delete All function. Pretty much every newsletter subscription I ever had was exiled, and configured to never set foot in my inbox again. Interestingly enough, the automatic “newsletter” Hotmail category only discovered and appropriately categorized some of the newsletters I had, so I had to randomly go looking about for them. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it would be nice if it could have gathered a more significant portion so I could axe them all more easily.

I took a break from exiling newsletters to get a grip on my social updates. As I did with the content I wanted, I automated what happens to them through Schedule Cleanup.

There isn’t much to write about here because the process was quite quick. Above is a photo of the end result of 20 minutes of work; I think there are a few stray emails that may have survived the pruning, so I’ll go ahead and seek them out now. But I’m quite happy! As you can tell by the trash can, quite a lot of emails were deleted. Now, one annoyance is when newsletter providers use different email addresses and alternate between them, but there isn’t really much Hotmail can do about that.

I’m just glad that I won’t be receiving even more emails from the addresses that I did manage to exile today. Also happy that the content which is either important to somewhat important will be purged when it is no longer relevant.

If you want to take back your Hotmail inbox, you can as well (and easily, too.) Click here to learn about smart tools from Hotmail to manage your inbox automatically and conquer graymail.

Microsoft Issue Apology, Laptop To Controversial ‘Smoked by Windows Phone’ Participant

Yesterday, we reported on the ‘Smoked by Windows Phone’ controversy which rapidly found its way throughout the entire Internet. Now, Microsoft has finally issued a proper response and apology, likely due to the colossal PR catastrophe that transpired as a result of Sahas Katta blogging about the incident.

Microsoft Evangelist Ben Rudolph tweeted, stating that he had a laptop, phone, and apology to offer to Katta. “Hey @sahaskatta , @Microsoftstore & I want to make things right. So I’ve got a laptop & phone (& apology) for you. Email me!”

While it was the appropriate response in terms of PR, due to the nature of this story — primarily its rapid spread throughout practically every technology blog, even finding its way to the front page of Reddit — Microsoft ended up in a lose-lose situation. If they stood by their reported Windows Phone victory, they would have been heavily criticized for hosting a rigged competition. But, in providing Katta the laptop (and a bonus phone), people attribute the company’s apology to the situation being such a PR nightmare (i.e Microsoft would have done nothing if it didn’t become such a news headline.) But, it t was really the best they could’ve done.

The big question is, where does this leave the Smoked by Windows Phone campaign now? Overnight, the enthusiasm surrounding the campaign was essentially crushed. The campaign went from being fun and admirable — as when Rudolph lost, he admitted it and issued the prize money to contestants with no quips — to being thought of as a rigged-from-the-beginning “competition” by much of the Internet, or as a casino, where the house always wins.

So, now that Katta received his goodies, what is he doing with them? He announced in a new blog post on Monday that he plans to auction off both the laptop and phone to charity, donating 100% of the proceeds.

Developer Interview: David Golden Of MetroTwit Fame

As today was a big day for MetroTwit — during which they dropped the major 1.0 release of the Twitter client — I had a nice chat with David Golden, the project’s lead developer and a friend of mine. If you aren’t already, you should follow him on Twitter @GoldenTao; he can be occasionally awesome.

Tell us about yourself. 

A Delphi developer for Business Fitness by day, I work diligently through the night on various projects, mainly MetroTwit.

How did you get into the world of technology and, more specifically, software development?

I’ve been a bit of a geek since my first PC a 286, right from DOS Batch files to Basic to eventually Visual Basic and Delphi 3 at high school.

What programming languages are you proficient in? 

Delphi (Pascal with extensions for the purists) and C#. I’ve also been recently brushing up my HTML5/JS skills.

What other projects do you work on beyond MetroTwit and your day job?

I have a few other start-ups I’m working on in my spare time, but most aren’t quite ready to be shown off just yet.

During downtime, what games do you like to play? I know you like Minecraft, for one.

Mostly Minecraft, I’m sure the other MetroTwit devs would say I’m fairly addicted to Minecraft, but I also play a lot of casual games (Minesweeper being something I play quite a bit of) and when time permits StarCraft 2 and Battlefield 3.

Moving on to MetroTwit. For those unacquainted with the client, can you briefly touch on its beginnings?

2 years ago, Long Zheng came up with a photoshop of what he thought a Metro styled Twitter client would look like.  That day I started screwing around with the UI in WPF (as I’d been wanting to learn WPF) and it took off from there.

What languages/technologies are used to develop MetroTwit?

MetroTwit is a WPF C# application for the .NET Framework 4.0 with some Win32 and Windows Forms extensions.

How has working on MetroTwit bettered your knowledge of certain programming languages? Has it been a worthwhile learning experience?

It’s been a great learning experience, I really only had a basic understand of C# as I was mostly a Visual Basic coder, but I now prefer C# and would struggle to go back to VB. I also learned how to work with WPF through this project.

What are the challenges of developing with Twitter’s APIs?

All 3rd party API’s have their issues of stability, changes and general bugs.  Twitter has definitely had its fair share of all of those but usually problems are fixed quickly and they don’t affect our app too much.

So, MetroTwit has been around for what, two years now? How is it doing in terms of growth?

Today is the 2nd birthday, and it’s been growing pretty quickly, we’ve been really happy with the growth but could always use everyone and their friends checking it out.

I know that many technology enthusiasts use and love MetroTwit. But, do you feel that it has already begun to cross the chasm to a more mainstream, less techie audience?

We’ve done a lot of work to try and help the non-technical people use Twitter and MetroTwit, especially with our new Wizard for new users in 1.0.

Is there a Windows 8 Metro app in the pipeline?

We’re already working on our Windows 8 version of MetroTwit but we don’t have anything to announce just yet on that front.

Any plans to bring MetroTwit to other platforms beyond Windows, more specifically Android and iOS?

At the moment we are super focused on Windows, but you never know what the future might hold.

In 1.0, a fair amount of substantial features have been added. What other big features are in the works for future releases?

We really wanted to have the Nest available in 1.0 but it didn’t quite make the cut, it’ll be out shortly, we’re also working on better keyboard shortcuts as it’s a fairly highly requested feature.

Thanks for taking the time to participate in this interview. Any final thoughts?

Thanks for the interview and thanks to our 400+ beta testers that have been helping us make MetroTwit better almost every night.

MetroTwit 1.0 Arrives With A Smorgasbord Of New Improvements

MetroTwit 1.0 is finally here. After spending a fair amount of time as a MetroTwit Loop — MetroTwit’s almost nightly beta channel — it has finally been released as a proper, non-beta version by the Pixel Tucker guys. This is quite a major update; on top of various usability improvements and bug fixes, major features that have been requested for some time have finally been implemented, such as multi-account support, filtering, and the ability to add users to lists.

Why has March 27th been designated as the big day for the 1.0 release? Lead developer David Golden recently tweeted that today is the second birthday of the Twitter client. “@GoldenTao: Today is the 2nd Birthday of MetroTwit. It was March 27 2010 when I first went File, New SilverLight Project, then quickly changed to WPF.”

Head on over here to grab the latest version of Windows’ sexiest Twitter client, and stay tuned for an interview with MetroTwit team member David Golden.

Here’s the complete release changelog, which probably should have been released on Kindle, iBooks, and Audible:

  • Added multiple account support
  • Added support for filtering
  • Added new out-of-box-experience for first time users
  • Added ability to preview larger user avatars
  • Added undo tweet functionality
  • Added Twitter events support for user follows, list membership and tweet favorites
  • Added support for adding users to lists
  • Added user full name to username autocomplete
  • Added CTRL+F shortcut to quickly activate search
  • Added remove column confirmation
  • Added faux border for when DWM shadows are not available
  • Added “compact sidebar” functionality
  • Added button to indicate custom column sizing
  • Added CTRL+TAB shortcut to switch between accounts
  • Added left/right arrow shortcut to navigate columns
  • Added add to filter shortcut by right clicking on hashtags and usernames
  • Added double-click column heading shortcut to scroll to top and mark tweets as read
  • Added “duplicate tweet “error message
  • Added ability to mention user from profile options
  • Added inline errors to application and columns
  • Added error prompt about Windows 8 compatibility
  • Added sidebar artwork
  • Changed media preview to NoEmbed (work in progress, stylings incomplete)
  • Changed code signing certificate to Comodo (Will prompt install)
  • Changed “What’s happening” text to include account name
  • Changed settings default to not show “name of Twitter application”
  • Changed empty tweet columns to show “No tweets” message
  • Changed restart button in update screen to be at top of screen (will show on next update)
  • Changed unread marker to be smaller in scrollbar and scrollbar thumb to be larger
  • Changed default URL shortening to native
  • Changed retweeted by tooltip to include username text
  • Updated visual style of buttons in light theme
  • Removed favorite button from tweet on hover
  • Removed “public” column due to Twitter announcing it would discontinue it
  • Fixed direct message permalink not going to useful URL
  • Fixed direct messages displaying weirdly if text included &
  • Fixed potential crash with notifications
  • Fixed international characters when typing hashtags
  • Fixed typing illegal characters in username search
  • Fixed possible crash when user cache was updated while new tweet was received
  • Fixed usernames, hashtags and URLs appearing broken in user profile bios
  • Fixed favorite columns to support infinite scroll
  • Fixed username/hashtag parsing to conform to latest Twitter guidelines
  • Fixed empty search results for random corrupt results from Twitter
  • Fixed changing reply tweet to direct message does not send
  • Fixed large progress bars under Windows 8 Aero Lite
  • Fixed dark theme autocomplete black text under Windows 8 Aero Lite
  • Fixed “favourite tweet” in context menu (for our bureaucratic American buddies)
  • Fixed hashtags and usernames not displaying properly in some search column tweets
  • Fixed blank search columns do not get refreshed
  • Fixed rare cache issue causing 100% CPU load at startup
  • Fixed retweets not showing usernames/full name as per display setting
  • Fixed potential crash caused by AddInProcess
  • Fixed crash when horizontal scrolling with Logitech or Apple mouse drivers
  • Changed MetroTwit server API calls to HTTPS for enhanced privacy
  • Fixed changing themes sometimes wouldn’t show dialog
  • Fixed adding image to tweet ensure URL has prepend space
  • Fixed notification crash if set to monitor which has been disconnected
  • Fixed closing window when maximized overriding the restored window size
  • Fixed minimize and restore resizing bug
  • Fixed MetroTwit not displaying on same-resolution secondary displays if no longer connected
  • Fixed window maximizing issue with multi-monitors
  • Fixed streaming error text
  • Tweaked calendar blackout to use cursor instead of cross
  • Fixed links not opening in browser for notifications of search columns
  • Removed popup column animation to improve performance
  • Fixed twitlonger showing up when character count was less than 140 using native shortening
  • Fixed direct messages not showing both username/full name
  • Fixed rare Aero Snap issues