Get the Most Out of Your Microsoft Hardware on Windows 8

If you’ve been trying the recently released Windows 8 Release Preview (If not, check out my getting ready and installation guide), your Microsoft keyboard and mouse are just as ready as you are.

If you use an Explorer Touch Mouse or Touch Mouse on Windows 7, the mouse will work great with Windows 8 too. And to top that, you’ll get the choice of a whole new set of gestures optimized for Windows 8 navigation. Since Windows 8 utilizes vertical and horizontal scrolling, the four-way scrolling on the Touch Mouse will provide a smooth and effortlessly natural horizontal scrolling experience. The Explorer Touch Mouse gives you a smooth and fluid scrolling of the new Start Screen.

For the two mice, and all other mice and keyboards from Microsoft Hardware, Microsoft has made available a new beta application to make the most out of these devices. The Microsoft Device Center allows you to customize devices from an easy-to-learn Windows 8 interface and create new shortcuts for everyday tasks and tailor your mouse and keyboard to meet your needs and work style. Once installed, you can launch the Device Center from the Windows 8 Start screen. The application allows you to configure basic and application-specific settings for all connected devices in one place. You can also explore features and access the online support and healthy computing knowledge base.

The beta application is currently available only in English in both 32-bit as well as a 64-bit version.

A Complete Guide to Windows 8 Release Preview – Requirements, Installation, Screenshots

Well, yes, Windows 8 Release Preview has been released. As Microsoft reimagines Windows, here is your chance to take it for a spin on a variety of form factors, including the new generation of touch devices. Let’s dive into the details, and get started.

Requirements

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster                 
  • RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB  (64-bit)                
  • Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)                
  • Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver                

Of course, you will need a tablet or a monitor that supports multi-touch for the touch experience on Windows 8. The OS requires a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768 to access the Windows Store and at least 1366 x 768 to snap apps.

Availability

Windows 8 Release Preview is available in 14 languages – Arabic, English, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese (Brazil), Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. The Windows 8 Release Preview Setup program will automatically detect your current language selection. If you don’t have one of these languages selected, you can choose the language you want to download.

Microsoft has surprisingly allowed for upgrades to Windows 8 Release Preview from all Windows versions going back to as far as Windows XP. If you are upgrading from an earlier preview version of Windows 8, while your files will be saved in a Windows.old folder, it would be otherwise a clean installation with nothing else preserved.  In the most seamless upgrade experience of all, while upgrading from Windows 7, all programs, Windows settings, and User accounts and files are retained. From Windows Vista, you lose the installed programs and from Windows XP, you lose everything except the User accounts and files.

Microsoft Launches a Startup Incubator in India – Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure

Microsoft India has announced the launch of Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure in India. In a first for any technology company in India, the incubator will host 10 early-stage startups and help them build businesses in Cloud, Internet, and Mobile that can take the advantage of the Cloud such as e-commerce, mobile, media, social applications, gaming, education & healthcare, or even enterprise products.

The four-month incubation program will provide the selected startups with all the support and mentorship as part of a deep immersion program with the elite technical and business leaders in the industry, as well as at Microsoft, and investors with diverse experiences. The selected startups will also have access to all the resources of Microsoft’s BizSpark program and $60,000 in Azure credit through the Microsoft BizSpark Plus program. The program is part of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN), and hence the inducted startups will have access to the global resources of GAN.

Microsoft Accelerator for Windows Azure is hosted in Microsoft’s state-of-the-art facility in the heart of Bangalore, and you would have to be full-time on the site for the four months. The facility offers everything from work areas, meeting rooms, communications, video conferencing to even a usability lab for filming product demos. The incubator is not open for only Indian citizens/residents, but anyone from anywhere can apply. Of course, you would have to be in India during the program.

At the end of the four month program, Microsoft will organize an Investor Demo Day where Microsoft executives as well as angel investors and venture capitalists will check out your technology and listen to your pitch. Microsoft will also organize informal dinners each week and invite key industry leaders, influencers, and thought leaders to speak on relevant topics.

In a conversation over Skype, Amit Chatterjee(Managing Director, Microsoft India (R&D) Pvt Ltd) mentioned that success of this program will be measured by the success of these startups. Microsoft would not retain any equity or IP from the companies and is not a stakeholder in any way. Although, there are no definite plans, he was optimistic that if successful the program can scale up to include more startups in next phases or extend to other cities with a similar thriving startup ecosystem. A similar program has been announced in Seattle few weeks ago and one has been kicked off in Israel.

Starting today till July 1, 2012, you can apply for the program. Ten applicants, selected through a rigorous process of screening, will be invited to join the program in starting September 3, 2012. Details: http://www.microsoft.com/india/accelerator.

How to Use the sdrv.ms Shortener for SkyDrive

Microsoft’s cloud storage service, SkyDrive, has received several updates in past few weeks, and the progressive updates continue to integrate it well across Windows Phone and Windows. While you can share files on SkyDrive via email, and use your friends’ addresses across Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn using the connected address book, you can also get a link to any file or folder on SkyDrive and send that link to friends. You can choose to let friends edit or add files, or choose to make the link read-only.

Although these SkyDrive links have been shortened by about 40%, recently, SkyDrive enabled shortened URLs for these links using the new http://sdrv.ms domain. The sdrv.ms links are furnished via Microsoft’s partnership with bit.ly. Since, it is bit.ly at the backend, the shortened URLs include additional features like adding a ‘+’ to the end of any short URL to see statistics or generating a QR code for that URL by appending ’.qrcode’.

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  1. Select any file or folder on SkyDrive Web, and click on the Share link in the sidebar.
  2. In the Share dialog, click Get a link, and then click the Create button according to the required permissions.
  3. Click the Shorten button next to the generated link to obtain the shortened URL.

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SkyDrive URLs also include OpenGraph support so that you get a neat thumbnail preview when you share the links on sites like Facebook. image

Microsoft Starts Ad Placements In WP7 Local Scout Results

One of my favorite or frequently used feature on Windows Phone is Bing Local Scout. The app inside Bing Search or stand-alone lets you search for nearby events or places that you can visit. You can search for Art Galleries, exhibitions or restaurants. The app’s usefulness is that not only does it show relevant results but it populates information such as link to the website, contact number, address, and also lets you launch Bing Maps for directions from your current location to the address. It is a handy function that is not highlighted by many.

Anyway, yesterday I forgot my debit card at Olive Garden and to call them I used Local Scout for the number. I clicked the first result looking at the address meta and I landed up on a webpage. That was odd. I hit the back button and saw the A next to the listing and realized that this was an ad placement. The second result was the right one. A very clever placement and use of Local Scout. Nicely done Microsoft.

Here’s a screenshot:

PS: This is the first I’ve noticed the ads.

Tweets Published From Windows Phone Now Say ‘via Microsoft’

It seems like Microsoft are already working to dissolve the Windows Live branding in even the littlest details: Moving forward, when tweeting from your Windows Phone, the client used will display as “via Microsoft” instead of “via WindowsLive” as it had in the past. Now, on the basis of the lack of spacing between “Windows” and “Live”, this is already a welcome change. However, in the process of eliminating the Windows Live branding from here, they have proceeded to choose yet another inappropriate label.

I mean what, are they going to phase out the @live.com email address in favor of @microsoft.com email addresses now? When I stumbled upon this in my Twitter stream yesterday, I initially thought that this was some sort of secret ‘Softie client, or some internal beta client that they were using. But nope; as Metro Powered pointed out, they simply changed the client name. I think that ‘via Windows Phone’ would make far more sense here.

This is downright confusing. However, it will give Windows Phone owners the fuzzy, warm illusion that they are actually tweeting from Microsoft’s Redmond mothership.

Intel CEO Knocks Windows RT’s Legacy Limitations

While the general sentiment amongst most sane people is that the legacy desktop doesn’t belong in Windows RT, there is one man who unsurprisingly holds a different view. Intel CEO Paul Otellini thinks that the limitation of the legacy desktop — where non-sanctioned third-party apps are not allowed to run — is actually a vulnerability of the ARM platform:

“With one button you can get to legacy mode…this is critically important for CIOs who want to preserve all of their investments in software,” he said, referring to “tens of millions” of programs built around Intel’s x86 design.

“We have the advantage of the incumbency, advantage of the legacy support. Not just in terms of applications but devices.”

As you can see, he feels that the support of legacy applications that Intel-based x86 tablets can offer users far outweigh the limitations of ARM. I largely disagree. Obviously, tablet users don’t want the Classic Windows UI or applications; they want something that’s far more suited for touch. However, a part of me does think that Intel has a sales advantage.

Microsoft’s choice to retain the classic legacy desktop in ARM to begin with was a completely idiotic decision, and I’m going to only focus on one reason — reason #5219874, to be exact — as to why that is. Average consumers will be so confused when they find that they can’t download normal software on their ARM tablet. It looks just like their desktop OS, but why doesn’t it work? So, perhaps this problem could be avoided through educated and informative salespeople, right? Well, if they tell consumers that something “doesn’t work”, while it will on another tablet, it may sway some people towards purchasing an x86 tablet, even if it’s more expensive.

They’ll justify the cost just because they want everything to work. And the people who buy an ARM tablet uninformed will be rather pissed at Microsoft when they cannot download MSN games like Belle’s Beauty Boutique to their device.

Kinect-Enabled Internet Explorer Coming To Xbox 360

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 stopped being just a gaming console some time back. Ever since, the console has been Microsoft’s ticket into the living room. Earlier today, Peter Kafka writing for AllThingsD covered a report that says Xbox 360 is the most used device other than a PC for viewing videos. (Xbox 28%, iPad comes a close second with 27%.) Cable companies like Comcast are now working with Microsoft on offering cable content through the console.

When news about a $99 Xbox/Kinect bundled came out, I categorically stated that Apple TV and Google TV are a long way from stealing any marketshare from Microsoft in the living room. Going further, Tom Warren at the Verge is reporting that Microsoft is expected to bring feature-full Internet browsing on the Xbox 360 using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. Google has Chrome powering the Internet browsing experience on their Google TV platform. According to Tom’s sources, Microsoft is currently testing a version of IE9. It is highly likely that the Metro based Internet Explorer 10 available in Windows 8 will be available on the Xbox 360.

The other interesting tidbit Tom got was that this version of Internet Explorer for Xbox will support Kinect gestures. Thinking about browsing the web with arms and hands does scare me a little, I’ll end up tiring myself going through Facebook, but then again, I will be able to say that I am doing upper-body workout while browsing the Internet. Rumors suggested that Apple will be bringing Siri integration to an Apple branded TV set, if this were to happen, Microsoft isn’t far behind. The company already has voice commands through the Kinect. Turning this into a personal assistant is missing from Microsoft’s implementation of voice commands, but for the company it isn’t rocket science.

Meanwhile, I still believe, an Xbox 360 with Kinect is the best living room entertainment device.

New Bing To Be More Social, Search With Facebook Friends

Recently, Bing rolled out an update that de-cluttered the search results page. The designers got rid of the left navigation bar and cleaned the header. The result is a nice search result page with white space. As it turns out, Microsoft will be adding a social bar on the right side of the screen. The new social integration will be powered by Facebook. Announced on their Bing blog, the team has done a demo of the upcoming update. Here’s a video that you should watch before reading ahead:


The social sidebar, isn’t just a running feed but the integration is contextual. The blog post says:

  1. You will be able to ask specific friends for what you’re searching for
  2. Bing will use “likes” by your friends to determine if they know about a particular topic and you can ask for their inputs from the social sidebar
  3. Bing’s integration will also leverage the larger Facebook userbase and in case you don’t have or want to ask your friends, Facebook will suggest people you can ask

Google has been trying to do social & search for a while and Google+ is integral in this. However, Facebook is more popular than Google+ and for Microsoft, this is a good thing. The new social search will let you interact and ask friends for recommendations though the sidebar. Jay Greene for CNet reports that the integration came as a result of hackathons where Facebook and Microsoft’s teams came together at Microsoft’s California office. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg took interest in these hackathons and talked to the engineers working on this product.

In addition to the sidebar, the Bing team talked about “Snapshot” which lies between the upcoming sidebar and the search results. Snapshot will have actionable information.

You can sign up for the new Bing.

ZTE Hopes To Introduce Windows Phone Devices To The US By The End Of 2012

ZTE has once again stated that it plans to introduce a Windows Phone device to the United States market, saying that they plan to do so by the end of the year. It’s a fairly tough quest, however, as not only is Windows Phone an underdog platform that’s working hard to get ahead, but ZTE itself is a very unknown brand in the United States (as of now, ZTE handsets largely run the Android operating system, and are sold in the U.K. and China.). They’d have to escape the shadow that is casted over them by HTC, Samsung, and Nokia, all within what is already a considerably niche OS.

Nevertheless, they do want to do it, especially now that the Windows Phone platform is more accommodating of their goals. See, ZTE wished to make low-cost, inexpensive phones, and before Tango, Microsoft’s minimum required hardware specifications only for the most part allowed pricy, high-end devices to exist. But now of course, things have changed. ZTE has already developed a low-cost device for emerging markets called the Orbit.

Given the late 2012 projected release date of their Windows Phone device, it should be interesting to see whether it will be based on Windows Phone 7.5, or the major Apollo update which is set to be available by then. Also, will it be well-endowed on a hardware and functionality level with NFC support, and other Apollo bells and whistles? We’ll see, but that would be nice. It would be unfortunate if they’re trying to sell outdated (and low-end, for that matter) hardware during a time when such a major update to the OS is coming. We also still don’t know about what the hardware requirements will be for a lower-end Apollo device.

We’ll see, but I think that their biggest challenge is building a brand in a place where they’re practically unheard of.