Category Archives: Microsoft

Bing Bar Gets An Update; Adds Facebook Chat, Better Entertainment and News

After the neat refresh of Bing Bar 7.0 with useful app buttons, the Bing team has released Bing Bar 7.1 with a slew of new features that provides richer access to your social network, more entertainment options, and updates to the popular Bing Bar apps.

Bing Bar

Apart from several improvement under the hood regarding notifications, configurability, and performance, following are the benefits that the latest update offers you:

  • Facebook Chat: Bing Bar now allows you to chat with your Facebook friends without having Facebook opened in your browser.
  • Slacker Radio: The latest update brings Slacker Radio to the bar. It allows you to listen to music, sports, news, comedy and more without interrupting your web browsing.
  • Updated News App: The existing Bing Bar news app has been updated to be more visual now and includes more sources. While you can focus on the topics that interest you, the app notifies you in case of a breaking news within the Bing Bar.
  • Search Suggestions: The Bing Bar provides suggested search terms as you browse. The Bing team has been working on expanding the sites and the methods to suggest searches making it more effective and easier for you.

Download and install manually, or if you’re already a user of Bing Bar 7.0, you’ll get the upgrade automatically delivered to you over the next few months. While the Bing Bar is available in different languages and for different geographies, some of the features of the latest version are not yet available in all markets. The Bing Bar is available for Internet Explorer 7 or later on Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

Microsoft Responds To Google Drive News With Minor SkyDrive Update

Google is expected to unveil Google Drive sometime this week. The upcoming cloud storage, file sharing and sync service will be competing with Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Dropbox. Google Drive might end up being an integral component of Android and affect Dropbox that has so far been the best option.

Microsoft’s SkyDrive, while ignored by pundits, has been winning users and supporters quietly by steadily. The service is a key part of Microsoft’s tablet centric OS—Windows 8. As announced earlier by the team, SkyDrive will be morphing into a service more on the lines of Dropbox, this has many early adopters and power users, like me, miffed. In becoming more like Dropbox, SkyDrive will give up some much loved features like P2P sync and individual folder sync. However, the service is competitive and if Microsoft lets users who know about Live Mesh continue using Mesh, life will be good.

Anyhow, back to the recently announced SkyDrive update. The service powers the photo experience on Microsoft’s Windows Phone devices and the quick ‘share pictures to Twitter’ feature uses SkyDrive. The picture is uploaded to a SkyDrive folder and the link is shared on Twitter. Unfortunately till a few hours ago, the pictures shared had an ugly URL. It was long with too many characters. While on some clients Twitter’s t.co service displayed a short URL, Twitter’s web interface showed the ugly URL. Starting today, the URL shared on Twitter will be Microsoft’s own short URL starting with sdrv.ms. (skdrv.ms shows nothing but accompanied with some other characters it will point you to an image shared. For example.) That’s my biggest pet peeve fixed.

The other update announced today is support for ODF documents and sharing to Twitter. Here’s a screenshot:

The third and probably a handy one since Mesh is on its way out. SkyDrive now allows uploading individual files of up to 300MB in size.

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.

 

Live@Edu for 7.5 Million Users–Microsoft’s Biggest Cloud Deployment Ever!

All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the governing body for technical education in India as part of India’s Ministry of Human Resource Development, has adopted Microsoft Live@edu as one solution amongst many such initiatives with IT majors and Industries. The cloud adoption with an aim to improve technical education and prepare students for the workforce of tomorrow would see deployment over the next three months to more than 10,000 technical colleges and institutes throughout India.

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Live@edu is a hosted communication and collaboration service that offers email, Microsoft Office Web Apps, instant messaging and storage to AICTE’s more than 7 million students and nearly 500,000 faculty members, for a total reach of 7.5 million users. The numbers clearly make AICTE Microsoft’s largest cloud customer ever. The implementation is managed by Microsoft and a set of Live@edu partners. Full deployment is expected to be complete by summer 2012. In 2010, Microsoft rolled out Live@edu to some 700,000 students in Kentucky, United States which was considered the largest cloud deployment in the US at that time.

“India is seeing rapid economic activity and growth. Developing India’s youth and their skills is going to play an important role in the country’s inclusive growth. The PPP model (public-private partnership) is most essential in running and managing training institutions to address the skill gap most efficiently. I congratulate both AICTE and Microsoft on this significant milestone.”

– Mr. Kapil Sibbal, Union Minister for HRD

Live@edu is the first step in cloud computing for AICTE, as it further plans to deploy Microsoft Office 365 for education when it becomes available later this year. AICTE believes that the cloud deployment will expand students’ access to high-quality technical education and collaboration and is a step in supporting broader educational reforms. In India, both the higher education and IT industry are becoming increasingly vital to the economy.

“Microsoft’s cloud platform will make for a truly progressive ecosystem and contribute to the country’s technical education by providing a better communication and collaboration platform for institutes and students.”

– Dr. S. S. Mantha, Chairman, AICTE

Live@edu is the leading cloud suite for education, with more than 22 million people using the service worldwide (Google’s similar offering has around 14 million users) in more than 10,000 schools in over 130 countries. Live@edu is a no-cost hosted platform for student communication and collaboration. It provides students with the professional tools to prepare them for college or work and is easy to set up, administer, and manage.

Nokia Q1 Financial Earnings Disappointing Despite 2M Lumias Sold

In a press release today, Nokia announced that it has sold over 2 million Nokia Lumia handsets in Q1 2012, but despite this, the company is still falling short when it comes to financials:

“Our disappointing Devices & Services first quarter 2012 financial results and outlook for the second quarter 2012 illustrates that our Devices & Services business continues to be in the midst of transition,” said Stephen Elop, President and CEO of Nokia. “Within our Smart Devices business unit, we have established early momentum with Lumia, and we are increasing our investments in Lumia to achieve market success. Our operator and distributor partners are providing solid support for Windows Phone as a third ecosystem, as evidenced most recently by the launch of the Lumia 900 by AT&T in the United States.”

Nokia also updated its outlook for Devices and Services in Q1 2012, going from expecting a breakeven non-IFRS Devices & Services operating margin to expecting one of approximately negative 3%. The company’s outlook on Q2 2012 is also bleak; Nokia expects that its non-IFRS Devices & Services operating margin will be similar or below that of Q1.

The Lumia 900 — which was launched on April 9th — is pegged to be a flagship Windows Phone device that will hopefully drive more sales to the platform. Many buyers of the device have reported a strange data connectivity issue, which was quickly identified as a problem with the software. A fix will be pushed out shortly, and AT&T is offering a $100 credit to Lumia 900 owners affected by the problem.

 

Windows Phone 8 ‘Apollo’ Build Shows Up In ‘I’m a WP7′ App

Last month, strangely, a build of Windows 8 desktop — dubbed Jupiter, which is the codename for “Immersive” Metro apps — cropped up in the ‘I’m a WP7′ Windows Phone app which lists out the build numbers of the OSes that users install the app on. Considering the rumored switch to the NT kernel in Windows Phone 8, it was speculated that, assuming that the build number wasn’t spoofed at all to begin with, Microsoft was simply performing some internal testing of Apollo.

On Tuesday, WPCentral reported that yet another prospective future Windows Phone build was spotted in the app. Build 8.0.9662.0, sporting the Apollo codename and ‘Windows Phone 8.0′ version was spotted by users of the app in the device statistics area. But could it be fake? The developer of the I’m a WP7 app weighed in, stating:

“It’s running from an Emulator, doesn’t appear to be spoofed, is using the default Emulator location, and the Time Zone Offset lines up with Pacific Coast…”

WPCentral also report that Windows Phone 8 began internal dogfooding within Microsoft on March 30. So, with the information we have, it seems legit. And it’s likely that someone internally decided to have some fun and do a little teasing of the blogosphere by using this app in their test scenario.

Nokia One-Ups Windows Phone OEMs With NFC & LTE 4G

It’s a day of mixed feelings for Nokia. On one hand the company announced poor outlook for 2012, on the other, they’re all set to be the first Windows Phone OEM to introduce NFC in their handsets.

Nokia is the first OEM to have LTE based 4G Windows Phones as well. (The current HSPA+ implementation by AT&T and T-Mobile is NOT technically 4G, so they’re HSPA+ phones don’t count.) And in a second, Nokia is the first to implement NFC in their Windows Phone handsets. Passed by the FCC and announced by Nokia, meet the Nokia Lumia 610. The phone’s numbering is absurd. Nokia has a Lumia 710 and 610 which has NFC, in other terms a newer phone with more features has backward numbering. (The company went from Lumia 800 to 900 and not 700.) I’m sure Nokia has a plausible reasoning for the numbers but that explanation would only make sense to the people within Nokia. Not to the buyer, unless explained. Anyway, back to the Lumia 610, here’s what we know:

  • Phone is being targeted as an “affordable phone,” no frills feature rich phone
  • Certified for contactless payments with MasterCard
  • Compatible with Nokia’s other NFC accessories

In the blog post on Conversations by Nokia,  Heidi Lemmetyinen mentions Nokia’s NFC bluetooth headset and not the Nokia Play 360—their NFC capable speakers, which are far more cooler and part of Nokia’s super-expensive Lumia 800 bundle in the US. That aside, Nokia said they have sold 2 Million Windows Phone devices that is a decent number for starters. The Lumia 610 looks a lot like the 710:

AT&T And Nokia Offer $100 Credit, Fix For Lumia 900 Data Issue

Yesterday, users flooded the Nokia and WPCentral forums with reports of an annoying data connectivity bug plaguing the Nokia Lumia 900. Basically, the device would lose 3G/4G connectivity randomly, mostly with no cause. Some users stated that it occurred when they did something which obstructed connectivity — such as enable airplane mode — and were then unable to reconnect to the data network.

On Tuesday, AT&T and Nokia acknowledged the bug, and, much to the relief of users has confirmed that it’s a software issue and nothing hardware-related. That being said, phones with updated software that will hopefully remedy the issue are en route to stores as we speak, and should arrive within a few days. Nokia is offering users affected by the issue the ability to either exchange their device for a newer unit or update your existing device using the Zune client around Monday, April 16th.

On top of this, people who purchase the Lumia 900 from launch day through to midnight on April 21st will be eligible for a $100 credit on their AT&T bill. This was handled beautifully, so props to Nokia and AT&T for that. They are of course lucky that it isn’t some sort of hardware defect that requires new devices; this could have been worse. Let’s just hope that the reports of this issue don’t care prospective consumers away from what otherwise is a pretty awesome phone.

Gartner Predicts Windows Will Command 4% Of The Tablet Market In 2012

With Windows 8 set to hit the shelves sometime this October, it should come as no surprise that tech analysts are already making predictions about how well the highly tablet-optimized OS will sell. Gartner Group made a bleak prediction, stating that they predict that Microsoft will only command four percent of the tablet market in 2012.

“Despite PC vendors and phone manufacturers wanting a piece of the pie and launching themselves into the media tablet market, so far, we have seen very limited success outside of Apple with its iPad,” Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said.

The slow growth estimated by Gartner Group in 2012 doesn’t just have to do with the fact that Windows 8 is touching down towards the end of the year, however. They note that by 2016, Microsoft will only have 11.8% of the consumer tablet market as they feel that Windows 8 lacks consumer appeal. They do, however, feel that Windows 8 will be aided by enterprise interest in the product.

“Many vendors will wait for Windows 8 to be ready and will try to enter the market with a dual-platform approach, hoping that the Microsoft brand could help them in both the business and consumer markets,” Milanesi said.

Gartner released a slightly brighter forecast for Android and iOS tablets, however, expecting that 31.9% of tablet sales in 2012 will comprise of Android, with that number rising to 37% by 2016. The iPad will maintain the lead, with a share of 45% forecasted for 2016.

Microsoft Building $112 Million Datacenter In Wyoming

Wyoming: There’s a place that we don’t hear about much. Nevertheless, the state with the smallest population of any U.S. state is making headlines in the tech blogosphere today as, according to Datacenterknowledge, Microsoft will be erecting a $112 million data center in the area. The blog received comment from the state’s governor, who is quite enthusiastic about the tech giant’s project in the region:

“Microsoft’s decision recognizes that Wyoming is a hand and glove fit as a leading site for data centers and technology-related companies,” said Gov. Matt Mead. “Wyoming is a perfect fit for data centers. We have abundant, affordable energy. Our naturally cool climate decreases costs for data centers and we have redundant fiber optics.”

However, Microsoft didn’t just choose Wyoming for nothing. $10.75 million in incentives offered by the state — which includes $5 million in funds approved by the Wyoming legislature to boost data center recruitment, interestingly enough — may have certainly swayed them to use the cowboy state as their location. “Microsoft said we would not be having this conversation without the data center incentives,” said Mead.

Microsoft seems to be really taking the cloud seriously lately. The company just announced a few days ago that it has launched two additional U.S. Azure data centers, one in the west coast and one in the east coast. Specific locations weren’t announced, but MJF did speculate that the east coast location is in Virginia, and the west coast location is in Iowa.

To the cloud!

Microsoft Office Apps Released On Symbian

One of the key features in Windows Phone that Microsoft often brags about are the Office apps — or rather, the Office hub — which provides a pretty solid mobile Office experience. There has been much discussion (and rumor) lately about how Microsoft needs to bring the Office suite to iOS, and while they are yet to do so, they are introducing it to a slightly less major player in the mobile ecosystem: Symbian.

Yes, Nokia’s mobile OS which really should be retired in lieu of Windows Phone will be receiving the full Office Mobile app. Starting today, the Nokia 701, Nokia 700, Nokia 603, Nokia E7, Nokia X7, Nokia C7, Nokia Oro, and Nokia C6-01 will receive the Office suite, which can be obtained via the Nokia Software Update tool on your phone, or the Nokia Suite on the PC.

While you probably won’t be typing up entire essays, or creating complete presentations from scratch on your Symbian device, it’s always good to have Office in your pocket for quick adjustments on the go. And, Microsoft touts that, as they developed the apps, the experience and functionality is as close as it can be to the PC. For example, in Word, you can save or send documents while preserving tables, SmartArt and charts, and you can use pinch/zoom to easily navigate through your document.

And in PowerPoint, you can edit presentation text and speaker notes, and use the Outline view to browse slides. Finally, in Excel, you can create charts, insert formulas, and view charts on your device. Through Office Mobile, you’ll also get a single view to documents, whether stored locally, as email attachments, or on a SharePoint server.

So, if you are still using Symbian, this is pretty good news for you.

AT&T Might Not Have Spent $150 Million On The Lumia 900

I had just penned a post covering a report from AdAge which stated that AT&T will be spending around $150 million over the next few months to promote the Lumia 900, which, according to a few sources, is AT&T’s next “hero” flagship device which it will heavily promote. However, The Verge reports that the $150 million number is a bit off the mark, and that the carrier is actually spending less on the Lumia 900 (and by less, they mean the amount that AT&T would normally spend for a major flagship device release anyway.)

The Verge is also reporting that the internal attitude towards the Lumia 900 is a bit different than initially reported; they’re claiming that it isn’t being heavily promoted due to the threat of the loss of iPhone exclusivity to rival carriers Verizon and Sprint. Alex Wilhelm suggests something that could possibly be true: The $150 million may be the collective amount being invested in Lumia 900 advertising by Nokia, Microsoft, and AT&T. If I remember correctly, there was some speculation that all three companies are investing a total of 150 to 200 million in promoting the device.

Nevertheless, both this and the initial AdAge report should be taken with a grain of salt. No advertising costs have been released by AT&T — or Microsoft and Nokia — on the record. However, we do have two conflicting reports from two very credible publications. Neat.

Windows Vista Leaves Mainstream Support Period

As of today, Windows Vista has left the mainstream support phase and entered the extended support phase of its lifecycle. Office 2007 is also in the extended support phase, entering this stage of its life on Monday.

The support lifecycle for Microsoft products is essentially categorized into two periods: Mainstream support, during which software receives the works — bug patches, security updates, etc. — and extended support, during which only security updates are available, and you will need to be a company with a paid contract with Microsoft to receive security updates.

Windows XP and Office 2003 will be in extended support until 2014, after which users will no longer receive any new support updates, bug fixes, or anything of that nature. Long overdue, considering that the OS launched back in 2001. Incredibly, its marketshare peaked at 76.1% back in January of 2007, and is at 30% as of February of 2012 according to w3schools. Astounding numbers for a nearly 11 year old operating system.

So, for those of you who are still on Vista, or worse, XP, should you upgrade? Microsoft certainly thinks so. To quote Stella Chernyak, who blogged about the lifecycle milestones:

 We don’t recommend waiting. Not only is it important for companies to complete deployment before support runs out, but they should also be aware that by upgrading to Windows 7 and Office 2010 today they can gain substantial results today while laying the foundation for future versions of these products. And with over 525 million Windows 7 licenses sold since its release, many customers are already taking advantage of everything Windows 7 has to offer.

This message is tailored towards business and enterprise of users, but the principle applies to the average consumer. For the best (and most secure) Windows experience, you’re better off updating to Windows 7 (or 8, when it is released.)