SkyDrive Axes Email Publishing Functionality

“Email publishing” — a feature which allows you to publish photos directly to SkyDrive via email — will be discontinued after April 2012 according to an email sent out by Microsoft. The feature, which made its way into SkyDrive from the long-deceased service Windows Live Spaces (rest its soul) allows you to directly publish photos to SkyDrive via email.

Basically, you authorize up to three email addresses to send the photos from, and each SkyDrive album would be assigned an email address (in the [email protected] format.)

I don’t think that this feature would be too missed; until today, I had no idea about its existence at all. In lieu of the demise of email publishing, however, we can all look forward to the massive SkyDrive update which is set to roll out sometime soon. This update is set to introduce desktop clients for both Windows (on Windows 8, an awesome Metro SkyDrive app is available) and OS X, an increased upload size limit, paid storage capacity upgrades, offline functionality, and SkyDrive browsing of remote files, among other things. With Google Drive on the horizon, along with other existing cloud platforms (i.e Dropbox), it’s good to see SkyDrive keeping things competitive. And with the introduction of desktop functionality, it seems like the service may be a worthy competitor to iCloud in terms of an ecosystem cloud utility (let’s just hope for some awesome Windows Phone 8 integration.)

Microsoft Launches Two New Azure Datacenters

In order to meet the growing demand for Microsoft’s Azure cloud service, the company has announced the immediate availability of two additional US datacenters, both offering “compute” and “storage” resources. Aptly dubbed “East US” and “West US”, the specific locations and sizes of the datacenters were not revealed. However, ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley thinks that the east coast location may be in Southern Virginia — an already announced datacenter location — and the west coast location may be in West Des Moines, Iowa; which was previously picked as a datacenter location by Microsoft.

What about SQL Azure availability? The blog post mentioned that it’s set to be available on these datacenters sometime within the coming months. “These new options add to our worldwide presence and significantly expand our US footprint”, writes Cameron Rogers, who penned the announcement post on the Azure Team Blog. “As some eager customers have already discovered (and deployed!), these new datacenters are now visible in the Windows Azure Management Portal.”

Definitely cool to see that demand is there for Azure, at least in the US to justify two additional datacenters on top of the existing two (the other US datacenter locations are in Chicago and San Antonio.) Microsoft also has datacenters in Amsterdam, Dublin, Hong Kong, and Singapore. All Azure datacenters contain around 1800-2500 servers on average.

Microsoft Confirms That Existing Apps Will Work On Windows Phone 8

Windows Phone 8 is expected to be a pretty colossal update — so colossal, in fact, that some phone manufacturers are waiting until its release later this year before making serious flagship devices — however, there were two big questions surrounding its release. Will it work on older hardware, and will existing apps continue to work on the platform? While we still don’t know the answer to the first question, the latter was addressed by Microsoft in a blog post on Thursday. Yes, the rumors are true; existing apps will continue to work on Windows Phone 8.

On top of announcing this, the blog post also hinted at the demise of Silverlight as a development technology on Windows Phone. Microsoft’s Larry Lieberman, who penned the post, addressed the topic of Silverlight concerns by suggesting other great technologies to use when developing for Windows Phone:

We’ve also heard some developers express concern about the long term future of Silverlight for Windows Phone. Please don’t panic; XAML and C#/VB.NET development in Windows 8 can be viewed as a direct evolution from today’s Silverlight. All of your managed programming skills are transferable to building applications for Windows 8, and in many cases, much of your code will be transferable as well.

Definitely good news.

Windows Phone 7 Designer Shares His Thoughts On Design & Microsoft’s Future

Albert Shum is the guy at Microsoft who has been playing an integral role in expanding Metro to the phone. Metro is in Windows 8, headed to the tablets and Windows 8 Servers. Those that have been following Microsoft for a while are aware about the Metro design book and Shum’s popular session on how they approached design in Windows Phone 7 Series.

At the Interaction Design Association’s Austin conference, Albert Shum gave a talk on design. He touched on Windows Phone & some other design principles. Having followed the conference updates on Twitter here are some quotes from those present.

The future of design and systems:

On post-PC:

On interface and experiences:

Icons and interactions:

It seems like Shum talked about Apple’s approach to design and an attendee did not like it:

It appears that within Microsoft there is talk about interaction design that offers seamless hardware and software interaction. Albert Shum talked about this

This is probably the most intriguing takeaway from Shum’s talk, in my opinion. “Oneness” as a principle for devices and a more seamless experience suggests more focus on how devices are used and for what purpose devices/software is used. This is a different approach to development, one that does not place feature first but how the feature will be used. Exciting.

PS: The New York Times has an excellent profile on the brains behind the Windows Phone 7 design. It’s a good read.

Internet Explorer 9 Is The Fastest Browser On Windows

According to a study conducted by New Relic which measures browser speeds on both mobile and desktop platforms, Internet Explorer 9 takes the cake for the fastest browsing experience on Windows with load times of around 3 seconds, while Firefox 14.0 and Chrome 17 tied at 3.5. Safari for Windows 5.1 took 4 seconds to load the same page.

On the Mac side, Chrome is the winner with Chrome 13 reporting load times of 2.4. Chrome 19 on the other time has load times of around 2.7, tying it with Safari 5.1. In the survey, a total of 7 Chrome versions were tested. Firefox 11 for Mac took 2.8 seconds.

The mobile browser speed results are quite interesting. Apparently, Blackberries are in fact good for one thing; BlackBerry Opera Mini 6.5 took around 2.6 seconds to load pages, compared to Safari (iPad) 5.1’s load time of 5 seconds, and Safari (iPhone) 5.0’s load time of 6.2 seconds. The load time for Safari (iPhone) 5.1 was around 6.6 seconds. Opera Mobile 12 for Android’s load time was around 7.3 seconds.

The study was conducted in March 2012 over the course of one week, in which New Relic surveyed and measured the speed of 5 billion global page loads across PC and mobile browsers.

In conclusion, here’s a statistical tidbit: This year’s average page load is 5.5 seconds, compared to last year’s time of 6 seconds.

Microsoft Flight (With Paid DLCs) Hits Steam

At the end of February — buried under all of the Windows 8 and Mobile World Congress news — Microsoft released free PC flight simulator Microsoft Flight. And now, Neowin reports that it has hit the popular Steam digital game marketplace with all of its paid DLC content.

You can grab the game for no charge, of course, but the three DLC packs — the first being a P-51 Mustang for $7.99, the second being a Maule M-7-260C for $14.99, and the third a new Hawaiian-based campaign for $19.99 — do cost money. While Microsoft Flight is free-to-play, you will have to pay for planes and other stuff that keeps the game fresh and fun. If you want to purchase it all, then there’s also a Steam bundle for $29.99 which includes all three packs.

So, diehard Flight Simulator fans, is this worth checking out? Definitely, but don’t get ready to shelve your current copy of Flight Simulator X just yet. While it’s a fun, free-to-play game, it doesn’t come anywhere close to the realistic experience offered by the FS titles. Also, on top of the lacking realism, it has more of an arcade-y feel to the entire game to appeal to the casual masses (over those who prefer more hard core flight simulators.)

But still, it’s good fun.

Microsoft Releases Windows Phone 7 Connector For Mac Update

On Tuesday, Microsoft pushed out an update for the Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac. Allowing users to sync music, movies, TV shows, and podcasts from iTunes to Windows Phone, sync photos and videos to and from iPhoto, browse media items stored on your device, and update your device, the connector is pretty much a must-have for Mac-owning Windows Phone users.

The changelog, as follows is exactly the same as it was for the 2.01 release. That being said, WPCentral notes that reliability and performance improvements were made under-the-hood:

Features:

  • Full sync and import support for Apple Aperture software
  • Drag and drop import of files from Browse Device
  • Ringtone transfer support (for phones running Windows Phone 7.5 or later)
  • Improved video conversion process with user configuration options
  • Support for Windows Phone Marketplace (for phones running Windows Phone 7.5 or later)
  • Localization support for 13 additional languages
  • Improvements to backup and restore operations
  • Improved configuration for podcast sync and photo import
  • Improved iTunes import support in certain languages
  • Improved metadata support for videos

Fixes:

  • Added additional error codes and help references for device update
  • Resolved connectivity issues with certain devices
  • Resolved album art display issues for certain devices
Head on over to the Mac App Store to grab the update. You can also find out more about the Windows Phone 7 Connector for Mac here.

Skype Ad Campaign Bashes Twitter, Facebook

On Monday, Skype kicked off a new $12 million dollar ad campaign in the United States and United Kingdom which knocks Twitter and Facebook as methods of communication, touting Skype as a far better alternative. “140 characters doesn’t equal staying in touch” is one of the lines that the campaign will use to outline the differences between Skype and the two major social networks.

And, starting April 19th, a less provocative digital ad campaign will launch across 17 sites including CNN, BBC, Facebook, Lonely Planet, AOL, Yahoo, Wired, MSN, Mailonline, iVillage, CBS, and Hulu.

“A lot of people have great stories to tell about using Skype with friends and family, but they often see us as a one-dimensional product,” said Francie Strong, a Skype marketing director. “We’re proud of our video calls, but we also want them to know about our other products: screen-sharing, group video, file transfer, instant messaging, calls to mobile and landlines. The combination of features allows a more natural conversation.”

I’ve always been curious about how normal people use Skype. I think that describing it as a one-dimensional product is quite fitting; Skype is often used just for talking to family and friends who are far away occasionally, and this is what it’s notorious for. So, in that sense, spreading the word about some of Skype’s other features definitely sounds like a good idea. But is this the right way to go about it?

The campaign is admittedly provocative, with Strong stating that “The focus is on big, bold statements to grab people’s attention and get them to think about how they communicate.” Justin Cox of Pereira & O’Dell — the agency which has developed this campaign for Skype — did note that this is more than just a provocative, attention-grabbing campaign:

“It was depressing and inspiring. It’s rare that a campaign gives you the opportunity to address very relevant, timely cultural issues. Skype isn’t solving the world’s problems, but it has a point of view. This is more than just a marketing message with provocative headlines — our message is to help people truly connect in a genuine way.”

Recently, I’ve been mulling over how most people use Skype. I consider myself a heavy user of everything but video calls; I use Skype very heavily for voice calls,, and, consequently, its instant messaging and file transfer functionality (to share links and other content with the entire group in the call). I also occasionally use screen-sharing and mobile/landline calling (I have a subscription). Most of the group voice calls are several hours long (and yes, they’re largely productive.)

So, as someone who uses Skype like that, it’s hard to imagine that some only use the service very lightly. As for the campaign? In terms of pointing out the communication benefits of making a Skype call over text communication via Facebook and Twitter, then sure, it’s a great campaign. But it shouldn’t come off as an attack; Skype is fundamentally different from Facebook and Twitter, and the marketing team needs to portray this without coming off as suggesting that Skype should be used instead of other services.

Of course, this isn’t the intended message from the marketing department, but some may wrongly infer this from the provocative taglines.

Vague Windows Live Essentials Update Detailed

Late last month, Microsoft pushed out an important update to the Windows Live Essentials software suite which contained “critical fixes”. As I expressed in my blog post covering the topic, I was giddy with curiosity about what exactly the update would bring. And now, the truth is finally revealed; Neowin spotted a post on Microsoft Answers which contained a few details of what’s inside the critical update. Described as “improving performance” in WLE 2011, here are the changes:

  1. Setup:  During installation, the splash screen loads faster after user accepts UAC prompt.
  2. Windows Live Mail:  When users click on photos within Windows Live Mail that are hosted on SkyDrive or Facebook, instead of using the Client Album Viewer to view the photos, a browser opens the web album viewer for that application.
  3. Windows Live Messenger:   Fixes the Messenger sign-in error “0x84cb000c” and the Messenger crash or hang when accepting/declining a pending invitation. When users click on photos are hosted on SkyDrive or Facebook, instead of using the Client Album Viewer to view the photos, a browser opens the web album viewer for that application.
  4. Windows Live Movie Maker:  Fixes error “80004003” where Windows Live Movie Maker can’t open project files.  Fixes setup failure error “80040705” and error “87260103” or when Movie Maker becomes unresponsive, hangs when adding WMV video files.
  5. Windows Photo gallery:  Microsoft updated authorization method required to publish to Flickr and Facebook.  Microsoft updated authorization method to communicate with Bing Maps services for geo tagging.
The update will be optional for a little while, but, in time, it will be required to continue to use the Windows Live Essentials applications. The update impacts Vista SP2 and Windows 7 users.

Microsoft To Expand WinRT Programming Language Support

WinRT — Windows 8’s programming model which allows developers to create new Metro-style apps — already supports a decent breadth of languages. You can develop WinRT apps using JavaScript/HTML5, Visual C#, XAML, Visual Basic, and C++. However, according to a report from ZDNet, Microsoft is expressing interest in adding more languages into the WinRT support mix.

WinRT team Development Manager Martyn Lovell said while speaking at Lang.Next (in reference to WinRT) that Microsoft “wants developers to create languages for the new developer platform.” This was in response to a rhetorical question which asked whether or not WinRT would be “at home” in each programming language. So, what other languages should be fully supported by WinRT? I’m thinking that the three languages which would be commonly requested are Ruby, Delphi, and Python.

WinRT is certainly an interesting programming model. Thus far, I’ve only dipped the tip of my big toe in the WinRT waters when I created a Windows 8 HTML5/JavaScript app which pulled images from a rather unsavory subreddit (hint: space) just to mess around with it. I think that even if support for other languages isn’t added anytime soon, the ability to create Windows 8 apps with HTML5 and JavaScript will be sufficient in allowing people who haven’t done much development with Microsoft technologies to “join the dark side” and create some awesome Windows 8 apps.