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.

Windows 8 Release Preview Set For Early June

At Japan’s Windows 8 Dev Days, Windows boss Steven Sinofsky dropped the news that the next preview release of Windows 8 — dubbed the Release Preview — will touch down a little more than a month from now in the first month of June.

We currently know little about what the RP will bring to the table, but having spent a few additional months in the oven compared to the Consumer Preview, which was released in February, here’s hoping that various stability and UI bugs have been ironed out in this release. One thing we do know however is that Microsoft will be adding 33 more countries to the Windows Store, hopefully diminishing the amount of people exiled to the “Rest of World” part of the Windows Store.

This news suggests that Windows 8 development is well on-track for an RTM by October, as rumors have suggested. Which is a great thing, as Windows RT tablets will then be able to get their foot right in the door of the holiday market.

Just last week, Microsoft revealed that it had simplified the SKUs of Windows 8 to just two which regular consumers can purchase, and three if you count the WOA SKU, Windows RT. The other two SKUs are for developing markets and the enterprise space.

White Nokia Lumia 900s Hit The Shelves

Today, the white Nokia Lumia 900 flagship Windows Phone has officially gone on sale at AT&T stores.

Some stores did sell the device a day early, according to reports. AT&T stores were allegedly allowed to begin selling the phone a bit earlier than expected at their own discretion, and clearly some stores did just that. If you didn’t go to one of the early bird AT&T stores, however, then now is your chance.

When it comes to phones, people seem to be mesmerized by white. This was most clearly demonstrated in the case of the iPhone 4, when many held out waiting for the white version of the device which didn’t ship for quite some time. Some have other reasons behind their choices to purchase white phones, such as Rafael Rivera, who bought his so that he could use the green bumper.

The Nokia Lumia 900 is pretty much the flagship Windows Phone devices. It’s being heavily promoted by AT&T as a flagship device, as they greatly covet a third ecosystem. Even Verizon expressed a desire for a third ecosystem, claiming that they wish to throw as much support behind Windows Phone as they did for Android.

Skype for Windows Phone 1.0 Released, No Longer In Beta

Following a particularly long wait — leading up to a private beta in February of this year, during which the product version was 0.2 — Microsoft has finally released Skype for Windows Phone 1.0 to the Marketplace.

The new release packs some optimizations and improvements, according to WPCentral, including the ability to search for and add contacts and call landlines. However, the unfortunate limitation that prevents you from leaving a call running in the background while “out” of the app, performing other tasks on your phone persists.

We can only hope that this issue will be rectified come Windows Phone 8, perhaps with deeper OS integration of Skype to boot. Microsoft explained the limitation to The Verge, saying that it is due to “a combination of how Skype works and how the Windows Phone OS works.” This is quite unfortunate, really, as those on iOS and Android will be able to enjoy Skype calls running in the background on their devices. Considering Microsoft acquired the company, it isn’t exactly thrilling to see such an important feature working on every platform but their own.

Nevertheless, it’s still good to hear that Skype for Windows Phone has now been released. Let’s just hope that they aspire to resolve this issue with — or maybe even before — Apollo.

Is Verizon Feeling A Bit More Enthusiastic About Windows Phone?

Out of all the U.S mobile carriers, Verizon is probably the one to demonstrate the least amount of enthusiasm for the Windows Phone platform. While AT&T and T-Mobile have began to embrace the platform — particularly with the addition and heavy promotion of Nokia devices, especially from the former carrier — the old, pre-Mango HTC Trophy is the only Windows Phone available on Verizon.

However, it appears that the company may be interested in changing this attitude towards the platform. During its Q1 2012 earnings call on Thursday, the company stated that it is looking to do the “same thing” that it does with Android with Windows Phone, going on to stress the importance of a third ecosystem:

“It is important that there is a third ecosystem brought into the mix here,” said Verizon CFO Fran Shammo. “We are fully supportive of that with Microsoft. … We helped create the Android platform from the beginning and it is an incredible platform today, and we are looking to do the same thing with a third ecosystem.”

Considering the fact that the company still sells only one — first-generation at that — Windows Phone device, surely they intend to add newer Windows Phones to their portfolio. But which device(s)? Surely they will go the route of a Nokia Lumia. But when? I wonder if they’re going to wait until Apollo before beginning to heavily back the Windows Phone platform.

Still, it’s nice to see that the company is at least slightly interested in Windows Phone. I just hope that their actions soon begin to back the bold statement issued at the earnings call.

Will Apollo Allow For Additional OEM and Carrier Customization?

Thus far, Microsoft hasn’t really opened up Windows Phone for OEM customization. Apart from some apps which may come pre-installed with a device from a carrier — which can be easily uninstalled should you not want them — Windows Phone is pretty much stock. This may change, however, as the company may be opening up the platform for additional “customization and differentiation”.

Netbook News obtained the agenda of an Apollo summit that the company is hosting in Reading, UK, and one of the primary topics that will be discussed is “customization and differentiation opportunities”. While the report doesn’t reveal anything beyond the topic titles themselves, this topic in particular is highly suggestive of more carrier/OEM customization to come.

Tom Warren thinks that the integration will be seamless and executed well enough to not be interpreted as bloatware by the user. One implementation he notes is the integration of Rich Communication Suite-enhanced services within Windows Phone 8. He reported that Microsoft will allow operators to integrate their own (or third party) voice and messaging solutions seamlessly into the OS within the People hub. VOIP may even be integrated, with VOIP calls looking like normal voice calls when received over Windows Phone 8.

I wouldn’t mind seamless integration of that nature. However, if this allows for even more bloatware, or perhaps customization that makes Windows Phone look like an OS developed by AT&T, that would be terrible. Here’s the complete list of topics that Microsoft will reportedly be touching on during the summit:

  • Apollo Review
  • Windows Phone Schedules and release plans/processes
  • Customization & Differentiation opportunities
  • New Windows Phone 8 application development capabilities
  • What’s new feature review of Apollo
  • Connectivity and APN management
  • Better together with Windows 8

Windows Store Coming To New Markets

When Microsoft dropped the Windows 8 Consumer Preview, it included of course a preview version of the new Windows Store as well. However, users residing anywhere but France, Germany, India, Japan, and the United States were greeted with the somewhat condescending “Rest of World” catalog. Microsoft has announced that they will be expanding the global coverage of the Windows Store come the next significant preview release of the store (in the next pre-release version of Windows).

33 additional app submission locales for developers will be added — Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Columbia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and United Kingdom — bumping the total number of those up to 38. The number of market-specific app catalogues will also be raised from 5 to 26.

Microsoft proudly notes that this expansion is all being done within the pre-release timeframe of Windows. It’s about time that the company focus on launching a service (mostly) worldwide come the final launch of a product. It is 2012, after all.

Microsoft Seeking Skype For Xbox Software Engineer

Ever since Microsoft acquired Skype last year, there has been speculation that the company was going to bring Skype to the Xbox. And a new job posting on Microsoft Careers that Enconnected spotted pretty much confirms that this is the case. The listing is seeking a Software Engineer to join a dedicated Skype Xbox Engineering team in London, particularly one who has a great startup mentality:

Skype is seeking a motivated Software Engineer with an unrelenting drive for working on and solving customer-based issues. As a member of the Skype Xbox Engineering Team in London, you will have a strong technical background developing client and/or embedded software. Success in this role will likely be driven by your technical understanding, passion for shipping product, a user focus and an Agile approach to software development. The ideal candidate loves software and has a passion for writing code that addresses real customer issues and needs.

We didn’t exactly need confirmation that Skype was headed to the Xbox; ever since the acquisition, it was kind of a given that Microsoft would try to bring Skype to all of its products for the most part. Microsoft has already brought Skype to the Windows Phone in the form of a beta, but it could use quite a fair bit of work. For example, you cannot leave a call running in the background while performing actions on the device.

Amazon Users Love The Lumia 900

Recently, a certain noteworthy technology blog published a controversial review on the Lumia 900. While Topolsky praised the phone’s hardware, he brought up some of his existing gripes with the Windows Phone platform as a whole which seemed to hit a nerve amongst the community. However, disregarding the opinions of pundits for a second, it would appear that normal users have taken quite a liking to the device, at least if Amazon is any credible metric.

For one, the most helpful review is titled “Almost Perfect”, and proceeds to describe the device like so:

Seriously, you cannot buy a better smartphone at this price. I purchased mine at my local corporate AT&T store for $99 during the pre-sale. I received the phone on Friday the 6th and as someone who has had Blackberry’s, Windows Mobile (old versions), several Android devices and even tried an iPhone for a while, this is the best phone I have ever used.

Pretty much all of the following reviews march to the beat of this same drum, with a few exceptions (like one “Conspiracy Keanu” commenter who believes that Microsoft is astroturfing the comments, as surely a Windows Phone cannot be that good… right?)

The phone has a nearly 5-star rating on Amazon. And, out of the 201 reviews (at time of writing), 178 are five star reviews. While I cannot weigh in with my thoughts on whether the Lumia 900 is deserving of such a rating as I am yet to thoroughly spend time with the device, all that I can say is that it’s certainly a good phone for the price.

I think that Microsoft is well aware that they need to step up the Windows Phone platform before it can truly face off against Android and iOS, so in that sense, the device’s pricing is brilliant.

ChevronWP7 Windows Phone Homebrew Project Discontinued

The infamous developer unlock tool for Windows Phone, ChevronWP7 has come to an end following a mutual decision between the Chevron team and Microsoft. From the start, ChevronWP7 was an experiment with two goals: To attempt to stir up the Windows Phone beginner/hobbyist community by eliminating the cost to enter App Hub, and to convert those developers who played with Windows Phone development into published developers.

While they succeeded with the first goal, the second goal did not work out too well. And on top of this, the volume of support requests was much higher than expected. That being said, purchased tokens will cease to work. To recompense those who bought tokens for this inconvenience, Microsoft will be reimbursing them with a free one year subscription to App Hub.

Back in late 2010, Windows Phone developers Rafael Rivera, Chris Walsh, and Long Zheng embarked on a quest to develop ChevronWP7, which allows anyone to unlock their devices for the purpose of sideloading experimental homebrew applications. Following this, they met with Microsoft to collaborate on a sanctioned unlock tool, and they succeeded. They were granted 10,000 unlock tokens from Microsoft, which they sold for the low cost of $9.

Xbox Continues Sales Reign Despite Fledging Console Sales

Even though video game hardware sales figures have been diminishing quite considerably as of late– sales of video game hardware hit $323.5 million this month, a staggering 35% drop from March 2011 — the Xbox is continuing to maintain the top console sales spot for a 15th consecutive month. Last month, 371,000 Xboxes were sold, making the console account for 42% of console sales. Spending on Xbox hardware AND software also hot $430 million, which is greater than both PS3 and Wii sales put together.

“Hardware really slowed down this month and all systems saw a unit sales decline versus last March, and on an average sales per week basis, versus February 2012,” NPD analyst Anita Frazier said in a statement. “That said, the high definition console systems fared better than many other hardware platforms.”

It’s interesting how gaming sales are slowing down; are the casual gamers out there — the bulk of the population — getting their gaming fix from a new breed of device? Are mobile phones and tablets beginning to take a bite out of the console pie? While I still don’t think that gaming on iOS and Android has evolved to a point where it can serve as a replacement for console gaming just yet, it is nevertheless an interesting thing to keep an eye on.