Better Open Office Support and Skydrive Android App Shown

Yesterday Microsoft pushed a major UI upgrade for SkyDrive. Among some improvements and a Metro modern interface, the SkyDrive team showed screenshots of the SkyDrive Android app. The app isn’t available just yet but the cross-platform support for SkyDrive makes the service a stronger competitor to popular Dropbox, and Google Drive.

The screenshots shared by the SkyDrive team show that Microsoft has brought Metro modern SkyDrive interface while conforming to Android’s design elements, like they did with iOS. Here are the screenshots shared by Microsoft:

According to Gartner, Android makes up for 64% of the smartphone market with Samsung being the most popular vendor. Given the scale of iOS and Android, SkyDrive being available on both platforms is probably one of Microsoft’s smarter decision for SkyDrive’s future.

In addition to the Android app, the modern SkyDrive has an option that should make several open source enthusiasts happy. Under SkyDrive settings, Microsoft allows users to toggle the default Office file format. The options available are:

  • Microsoft Office’s .docx, .pptx, .xlsx
  • Open Document’s .odt, .odp, .ods

When looked along with cross-platform support, making this option prominent is a bold step for Microsoft. Not only does this expose users to an alternative, it also lets a lot of users escape Microsoft’s ecosystem. The Office suite has helped Microsoft’s bottom line and giving users the option to switch is a dicy situation. Nonetheless, the option makes SkyDrive a very interesting option for all users given the new & improved Office Web Apps.

Modern SkyDrive Available, Complements Modern Outlook, and it’s Awesome

The SkyDrive has been very busy lately. The company recently announced new features and unveiled a new logo. Yesterday morning, the SkyDrive team discussed at length changes and improvements coming in the Metro Modern SkyDrive; hours later, it has gone live. The new SkyDrive blurs the line between a Metro Modern Windows 8 app and a Metro Modern UI website. The behavior and functionality available in the Metro Modern SkyDrive is the next step in personal cloud storage. The service is no longer a dump of files from various desktops that syncs and is available on the web but the service is based on file types.

Three major improvements in the Metro Modern SkyDrive:

  • Synced desktop browsing

We first saw synced desktop browsing back in October; during BUILD, Microsoft showed what then seemed like a huge feature for SkyDrive. Last night, it went live for everyone. You can now browse a Windows machine that has SkyDrive installed and synced in your browser. This isn’t a Citrix/Team Viewer like control but the Windows file structure can be browsed as it is on the machine, this means your drives and folders as shown in My Computer on that machine.

Unfortunately, you cannot stream music files from your machine within the browser just yet. And neither do the Office files open in Office Web Apps—they have to be downloaded.

  • Contextual menus & file drag

This is a feature that makes SkyDrive feel more like an app. The menus within SkyDrive will now change based on whether you’re performing a function on a folder or a file.

The Modern SkyDrive will behave much like a desktop app with multi-file selection and drag to arrange. While this doesn’t seem like a big deal when you read but as we are now programmed to drag files around on the desktop, this implementation on the web will only feel natural.

  • The Modern UI

Big tiles for touch and mouse, clean interface designed based on the Metro Modern principles, SkyDrive now feels like an extension of the new Outlook’s web interface. It departs from the Windows XP/Vista/7 interface that SkyDrive sported and shows why the Metro Modern interface is beautiful.

Here’s a video from the SkyDrive team introducing the Modern SkyDrive:

Bing Fund Announces First Two Companies

On Thursday, the Bing Fund proudly announced that they have enrolled the first two startups into the program: Buddy, a service for mobile and web developers based in Kirland, Washington and Pinion, an advertising company that targets the gaming ecosystem based in Bellevue but originally from Australia.

Buddy was founded by David McLauchlan and Jeff MacDuff, who met when they both worked at Microsoft. Buddy sets out to reduce the time that developers spend working with server-side code, essentially providing a fully hosted and managed toolset of web services for application development, along with analytics for developers to monitor their apps.

Pinion, on the other hand, is working to help gaming communities generate revenue from their endeavors by taking advantage of the relatively untapped world of in-game advertising. Over 450 gaming communities are already a part of Pinion, and advertisers include Sony, Xbox, McDonald’s, Chevrolet, Budweiser, Warner Brothers, and Adidas.

The Bing Fund was originally announced on July 12, earlier this year. So, what other companies will the Bing Fund bring on board? There’s no word on that yet, but Rahul Sood of the Bing Fund said that they have their eyes on a few companies in San Francisco and Boulder.

Is Square Planning On Making A Windows Phone App?

Square, the company that plans to bring the way we pay for goods and services to the 21st century had a pretty big announcement yesterday. Starbucks will be rolling out Square throughout their stores over the fall, allowing customers to use their smartphones to pay for coffee and other products at many Starbucks stores. On top of this, Starbucks also made a $25 million investment in Square.

In the midst of the big news, Square founder Jack Dorsey hinted at the possibility of a Square app for Windows Phone while talking to Engadget. He vaguely said this: “We will definitely build for where the users are, and we’re excited about the Windows Phone interface.” As of now, the Square app is only available on iOS and Android.

It goes without saying that the Windows Phone platform really needs more quality apps. While there’s a considerable quantity of apps in the Marketplace, that means nothing to users if they won’t be able to get their favorite apps on the platform. As of now, when it comes to apps at least, iOS and Android are the safe bets for consumers.

Metro is Irreplaceable

Microsoft is a company that’s notorious for branding disasters. Product names are usually long and confusing, and are frequently renamed and rebranded, only adding to the mess.

However, Metro was an exception. It was the name of a design language that spread rapidly throughout the company, effectively uniting its products in many ways. It represents the company thinking outside of the box, and leaving its comfort zone to create awesome products. It represents the far more consistent and close-knit ecosystem that the company has been working hard to build over the past few years. And finally, it represents the culture of Microsoft in pursuing all of this.

In terms of branding, it did a great thing. While Metro was initially a term to describe Microsoft’s new, fresh, and authentic design language, it organically came to represent much more.

Reportedly, due to legal issues, Microsoft will be ditching the term and expunging it from well, everything. Products, marketing materials, documentation, help files…

Wow.

This is a complete disaster. And to make matters worse, Microsoft has handled this horribly. A Microsoft spokesperson issued a comment to Mary-Jo Foley that dismisses Metro as a mere codename:

“We have used Metro style as a code name during the product development cycle across many of our product lines. As we get closer to launch and transition from industry dialog to a broad consumer dialog we will use our commercial names.”

Officially, we have no idea what the real reasons behind this are. In any case, what they’re doing is wrong. Provided that the legal issues are to blame, they should have seriously fought it. I mean come on, you’re Microsoft. Surely you have the resources to deal with a European partner, even if it became a messy and costly situation.

If the statement from the company is complete fact — that it’s a codename that the company suddenly decided to distance itself from — then I’d like to have whatever they were smoking to make them think this is a good idea.

What’s done is done. But what can be done about this moving forward? After going on the record and dismissing Metro as a lowly codename, it’s hard to just backtrack from that provided that they’re contemplating working towards using it again. If they wanted to stay true to their word, they’re going to have to move forward and choose a replacement for Metro.

But there’s one problem. Metro is irreplaceable. No one term has been through all that Metro has to bear the same significance.

Ditching an important brand is hard for any company. Could you imagine if, right around the time of launch, Apple was forced to ditch “iPhone” due to legal disputes? If this is a bad situation for a company like Apple — that’s highly skilled at branding and marketing — could you imagine the ramifications for Microsoft? It’s unlikely that a company rife with branding nightmares can concoct a sufficient replacement.

If today’s rumors prove to be correct, the replacement terminology for Metro will be cringeworthy.

Mary-Jo Foley is hearing that the “Windows 8″ will be used to replace Metro terminology:

Here’s the official guidance, my sources say: Anything currently/formerly known as a “Metro-Style application” (with or without a hyphen) will now be known officially as a “Windows 8 application.” References to the “Metro user interface” will now be replaced by “Windows 8 user interface.” And instead of saying “Metro design,” the Softies and those adhering to their official guidelines will be using the words “Windows 8 design.”

Putting aside Metro’s irreplaceable factor, this doesn’t even make any sense. Windows 8 is hardly a sufficient replacement. Metro described an entire design philosophy that exists beyond Windows; the term isn’t remotely capable of enveloping the entire definition of Metro. The best part? Instead of referring to the interface on Windows Phone as Metro, you’ll be calling it the “Windows 8 interface on Windows Phone.”

Sigh.

Image Source: istartedsomething

Microsoft Launches New Windows Photo Gallery and Movie Maker Versions, Kills Live Mesh

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced new versions of Windows Movie Maker and Photo Gallery for Windows 7 and Windows 8, which introduced several new features, some of which are explicitly designed to take advantage of new Windows 8-specific functionality. The announcement on the Windows Experience blog skimmed through some of the more featured improvements, but LiveSide spotted a comprehensive list posted on Microsoft Answers that offers a more complete look at what’s new.

Photo Gallery has a rather modest list of improvements:

  • AutoCollage
  • Vimeo Publishing Plugin

Movie Maker on the other hand has a slightly larger list of new things:

  • Audio Narration
  • Audio Waveforms
  • Audio Ducking and Emphasis
  • Music Store download integration
  • Deferred Encode Proxy and Disable Transcoding Options
  • MPEG-4/H.264 Encoding (MP4)
  • Video Stabilization and Rolling Shutter Correction (Windows 8 Only)
  • Outlined Text
  • Videos As Audio
  • Vimeo Publishing Plugin
  • Project Auto-Save

Photo Gallery and Movie Maker aside, this announcement also packed some bad news for fans of Live Mesh. When those colossal SkyDrive announcements were made recently, we pretty much knew that the end of the road was near for Mesh. It’s pretty much official now. If you install the Windows Essentials 2012 suite and have Live Mesh installed, it will automatically be removed and replaced with the desktop SkyDrive client.

Provided that you never update, you can technically continue using Live Mesh. But you’ll be stuck in 2011.

BUILD 2012 Sells Out In Under An Hour

When registration for Microsoft’s BUILD 2012 conference opened up this morning, we warned those interested in attending that it will sell out fast, and it certainly did. In just under an hour, it was completely sold out. The site was then updated with a message instructing those interested to “keep calm and join the wait list.”

Microsoft’s Tim O’ Brien, general manager of developer and platform evangelism issued this comment to The Verge, further confirming that the event is indeed sold out (the official BUILD Windows Twitter account also noted it):

Build 2012 sold out in less than an hour. Build 2012 will be unlike anything we’ve held on our corporate campus in a long time. For those unable to attend, there will be a world class online experience and local developer events throughout the world.

I almost want to compare this to WWDC 2012 — which sold out in just under 2 hours — but it would be unfair to make such a comparision; we don’t know about the volume of people who will be attending BUILD 2012 as of yet. It’s also worth noting that Microsoft will be hosting the conference in Redmond, their home court. This probably means that they have space for less attendees than they would at a proper venue.

Good news for them though; Microsoft definitely needs to get all the developer support it possibly can for Windows 8.

Image Source: quickmeme

Reminder: BUILD 2012 Registration Opens Today

Just a quick reminder: If you’re a developer or enthusiast who plans to attend BUILD 2012, registration opens up today at 8AM PDT (or 11AM EDT.) We expect the event to fill up fast, so if you want to guarantee your attendance we recommend that you register as soon as possible.

While we’re still unsure about what the exact topics of discussion will be at the conference — a session list is yet to be published — it’s safe to say that they will be talking about new technologies such as Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Visual Studio 2012, and Windows Server 2012. What I find funny is that the event takes place just four days after Windows 8 becomes generally available. Microsoft couldn’t wait just four days to launch Windows 8 to the world at BUILD? Despite this, I’m sure that there will still be plenty of celebrating.

Registration will be opening up in roughly 30 minutes from the time of writing, so just head over to the BUILD website and vigorously refresh until you’re able to sign up.

UPDATE: It’s open! Gogogo!

Acer CEO: Microsoft Should Have Thought Twice About The Surface

When Microsoft announced its tablet, the Surface, everyone — including Microsoft itself, obviously — was aware that it would rustle the Jimmies of OEMs, however, they’ve mostly remained tight-lipped about the matter, at least publicly.

Not Acer, though. CEO JT Wang has come out and told the Financial Times that he urged Microsoft to “think twice” about going ahead and making their own hardware. Yes, they’re complaining about this despite the fact that Microsoft’s cooperation and compromise towards partners knows no bounds. He’s the first CEO of a major partner to publicly criticize the company about the Surface. Here’s what he said:

“We have said [to Microsoft] think it over. Think twice. It will create a huge negative impact for the ecosystem and other brands may take a negative reaction. It is not something you are good at so please think twice.

They’ve been exceptionally bitchy about Microsoft’s decision to make their own hardware. This is the second time that someone from Acer has publicly expressed negativity towards the device; back in June, Oliver Ahrens, Acer’s senior VP and president for Europe, Middle East and Africa said that Microsoft could not be a hardware player with just two products, among other things.

In terms of shipments, Acer is the world’s fourth largest manufacturer. However, they are notorious for their exceptionally low-quality, subpar hardware. I’m fairly certain that insecurity and envy are at the root of these comments.

Windows 8 Packaging Revealed, Looks Awesome

Windows 8 — which was released to manufacturing just last week — will be hitting the shelves on October 26, but it looks like we won’t have to wait until then to get a look at what the actual, physical packaging for the OS will look like. The Verge got their hands on PR shots of the packaging for Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro, which are the only two SKUs that will be available in stores (yay!).

Both boxes show off the new Windows 8 logo that the company debuted a few months ago, along with a touch of some pretty nice artwork that appears  to draw inspiration from Adobe’s packaging. The Windows 8 box sports a white background and blue text, while the Windows 8 Pro packaging has a dark grey (or lighter black) background and white text. As you can see, it’s very clean and simple and shows that Microsoft has been paying more and more attention to design and its importance as of late.

Now, I think that many upcoming Windows 8 users won’t even be getting their hands on the actual boxed copy. Most consumers will be upgrading to Windows 8 by more than likely purchasing a new PC that comes with it preinstalled rather than buying the boxed copy and upgrading their existing machine, and most enthusiasts will upgrade by purchasing the OS digitally and downloading it. Nevertheless, the packaging is still pretty awesome.

Just a brief reminder: No matter how you’ll purchase it, Windows 8 will be generally available on October 26.