Category Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft’s HoloDesk Lets You Play and Interact with Virtual Balls

Who said Microsoft cannot invent? The Microsoft Research team is making use of most interactive and favorite interactivity solution, Kinect, in a research project that will definitely “wow” you. The project is named “HoloDesk“, which allows users to play or manipulate with virtual 3D objects, in an aim to bridge the gap between the real and the virtual world.

The project (system), built by Microsoft Research in Cambridge, is made up of an overhead screen, which has a cabinet like structure, and projects a 2D image through a beam splitter to measure the depth. It uses a combination of projectors, Kinect technology and webcams to read the user’s hands and face. Several custom algorithms are used to calculate the object size, color, distance, and so on, in order to bring everything together in real time.

HoloDesk

With HoloDesk you can pick virtual 3D objects, place them on top of the other or even shoot them. For instance, a virtual 3D ball can be picked and placed in a real cup, whose existence, position, size, and other details are recognized by the system.

The Microsoft Research team gave a more scientific explanation –

“A virtual image of a 3D scene is rendered through a half silvered mirror and spatially aligned with the real-world for the viewer. Users easily reach into an interaction volume displaying the virtual image. This allows the user to literally get their hands into the virtual display. A novel real-time algorithm for representing hands and other physical objects, which are sensed by the Kinect inside this volume, allows physically realistic interaction between real and virtual 3D objects.”

The user looks through a transparent display, which is the cabinet like structure, in which holographic objects can be picked up andMicrosoft manipulated with. At present, one can do all these interactions with virtual and real objects within the small cabinet only. However, as technology advances, this limitation could possibly be removed in future.

The HoloDesk project comes from the brains of the folks at the Sensors and Devices team at Microsoft Research Cambridge. However, the technology for sensing motion and displaying images like this isn’t new. An Israeli company called Lumio demonstrated a similar working for virtual keyboards almost a decade ago. But what sets this virtual 3D experience apart from others out there? Here’s what the research team had to say

“For the record, the HoloDesk isn’t the only 3-D interaction experiment out there. But what sets it apart from the rest is the use of beam-splitters and a graphic processing algorithm, which work together to provide a more life-like experience.”

Here’s a video of a user demonstrating the HoloDesk project –

From the video you can see that the interface has some glitches and turn jerky, and the system is far away from being perfectly functional. Nevertheless, it still is something really cool!

Recently, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and Microsoft Research developed an interesting proof-of-concept called OmniTouch, which is a wearable projecting and sensing device that turns virtually everything into  an interactive touch surfaces. For instance, you can dial a number by projecting a keypad onto your hand or on the wall or on your table. Looks like Microsoft is behind some serious innovations.

Windows 8 Developer Preview and Me

Based on the jungle news and the Windows 8 Developer Preview by Microsoft, we can expect Windows 8 to be released by Q3 in 2012. Start getting used to terms like “Live Tiles”, “Socialite”, “Tweeny”, and “Metro Interface”, to name a few. As it is with all things from Microsoft, this new vocabulary will most probably be assimilated into our lingo soon enough.

This post does not cover a lot of these new terms, but we will have a post on that soon.

Download the Windows 8 Developer Preview

At the Microsoft Build developer conference about a month ago, a demo and deck with the new OS in its current state was presented. Though the Windows 8 Developer Preview is targeted at developers, anyone can download it.

Out with the Old

Windows Vista support ends on April 10, 2012.  Windows XP, the most popular Microsoft OS, will no longer be supported after April 2014.

Use the same Hardware

Microsoft announced that it will maintain the same hardware-requirement level as Windows 7, but  jungle news suggests that Microsoft  may even  try to lower hardware requirements  for Windows 8.

Green is the new Blue

The first thing that struck me was the change in the primary color used in the Windows 8 Developer Preview from blue to a very soothing, hospital-curtain green. It does not scream inspiration at all.

Check the Slide Show  below for a look at this feature.

Faster Boot-Up Time

The Windows 8 Developers Preview boots up in just a couple a seconds. It is a definite improvement from Windows 7.

Microsoft has been quoted saying the following about the Boot-up time.

When it comes to talking about “fundamentals”. We want to start with boot time no feature gets talked about and measured more. We designed Windows 8 so that you shouldn’t have to boot all that often (and we are always going to work on reducing the number of required restarts due to patching running code). But when you do boot we want it to be as fast as possible.

No Start Menu

There is a Start button in the Windows 8 Developer Preview, which takes you to the “Metro Shell”. The Metro UI is believed to be in for a major upheaval. The good news is that if this new UI proves to be unstable or uncomfortable, you can always go back to the Classic Menu option.

Tiles are used very prominently. Personally, I think that Microsoft is trying to bring the tablet and desktop visual experience closer together.

Check the  Slide Show  below for a look at this feature.

Power-Saving for your Device

You can use your device for approximately an additional  hour with the Windows 8 Developer Preview. This may sound unbelievable, but it is completely real. This may be due to the decreased number of memory Read/Writes.  Also, when you are not viewing an application, the application suspends itself automatically. This saves your computing resources, which in turn makes your device consume less power. There is quite an extensive menu for power options too.

Lock Screen is inspired by Bing

A Ctrl + L will no longer be a show for your screen saver alone. Microsoft introduced the concept of a   Lock Screen for the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Why do we need one now? Because the new OS is touch-based.

There is a clear inspiration, from the visual perspective, between Bing and Windows 8 Developer Preview. A look at the Locked Screen can confirm that. Notice the icons for unread e-mail and chat notifications. You can add more widgets to the Lock Screen too.

Check the  Slide Show  for a look at this feature.

Task Manager has a New Look

The Task Manager in Windows 8 Developer Preview has changed, but not too much. It should not be too hard to get around it.

Check the  Slide Show  for a look at this feature.

 Windows Explorer has a New Look too

The new look for Windows Explorer uses the Microsoft Office ribbon. I am not complaining, because I believe that the ribbon is one of Microsoft’s better innovations. However, this look does not match with the green-Metro theme; this is a disconnect.

 Same Old Media Center

The new Media Center is not included in the Windows 8 Developer Preview. The Metro Shell already seems to be a media platform, so it will be interesting to see what the new Media Center brings to the plate.

New BSOD

The  legendary and  feared BSOD (Blue Screen Of Death) has a new look. The use of the emoticon does soften the emotions I might have felt otherwise.

Skype and Lync Integration

There is some indication that Skype may be integrated with Microsoft’s Lync communication software.

Ballmer has been quoted saying,

“With the combination of the power of Lync and Skype under the same umbrella, we think we’re going to be able to do even more fantastic things together”

Here is a Slide Show that provides a peek at the Windows 8 Developer Preview.

Images used are from Microsoft-registered Web sites.

Looks Like YouTube Infringes Microsoft’s Patent

Earlier today there was news that Android phones now violate Apple’s iPhone patent. The USTPO granted Apple a patent on the “slide to unlock” feature in iOS. Unlike Windows Phone, Android phones have the same slide to unlock feature. In a patent that I came across, it looks like YouTube and pretty much all video streaming websites now in some way violate Microsoft’s intellectual property. The patent application titled  Presenting video content within a web page  filed back in 2006, Microsoft engineers have talked about a video embedded on a webpage and, well, displaying the video.

Let’s consider the number of websites that now violate the patent—YouTube, Vimeo, Hulu and gazillion other video streaming websites. Not long back, I reported about Microsoft being granted a patent on adaptive video streaming. The two patents combined together give Microsoft intellectual property rights over what is effectively all that’s in online video streaming. Here are two images from patent application:

This sets up some pretty interesting dynamics as far as Microsoft and Google are. Microsoft has licensing deals with most major Android manufacturers and now YouTube infringing Microsoft’s patent.

 

Microsoft Working On Self-Cleaning Touch Screens

Ultra Violet (UV) rays have magical powers. At the right wavelength they can be used to disinfect surfaces. During a startup event in Syracuse, I saw a demo of the concept being used to cleanse door handles. It seemed cool and somehow I forgot about it till I came across a patent application filed by Microsoft.

If you thought finger smudges were the only issue when it came to touch screen computers, there is the cleanliness aspect as well. Knowing people who would spend 20 minutes wiping the keyboard and mouse in my school’s computer lab, I believe there are people who would love to have self-cleaning touch screen devices. Then there are hospitals and public systems like the automated teller machines. Microsoft’s patent application uses UV rays to sterilize the touch screens.

UV rays at a particular frequency can kill germs and the concept is known as Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation  (UVGI). Quoting parts of the Wikipedia article on the topic:

 UVGI is a highly effective method of destroying microorganisms.  It is used in a variety of applications, such as food, air and water purification.  UVGI utilises the short wavelength of UV that is harmful to microorganisms. It is effective in destroying the  nucleic acids  in these organisms so that their  DNA  is disrupted by the UV radiation. This removes their reproductive capabilities and kills them.

According to the patent  application, the concept is fairly simple. In addition to the backlight LEDs, the devices will now have UV LEDs too. The system will make use of proximity sensors to determine if a user is close to the system and deactivate the sterilization process. If not, the UV rays would be activated. The idea is simple and from the demo I saw on the concept, public touch screen based computing systems should use it. Image from the patent:

If Microsoft plans to let its OEM partners leverage Microsoft’s IP to make such self-cleaning tablet devices for hospitals, it’d be a great USP over the iPad and get Windows 8 based tablets through the door in enterprise.

Patent Application

Microsoft Says WP7.5 Update Ahead of Schedule, Unveils AT&T’s New WP7 Phones

Windows Phone 7.5 (or Mango) was quite a turn around for Microsoft. Not only was the company able to plug in several holes in the platform with new features, they were able to do what Google and Android OEMs have so far failed at—delivering updates for all devices on all carriers seamlessly. The company learnt its lesson from the previous WP7 update rollout and fixed the update process bringing the OEM and carrier partners together.

Microsoft’s Eric Hautala has been  consistently  keeping us updated about the status of the update on the Windows Phone blog and in his latest  update  said they were ahead of schedule. The Windows Phone 7 update status page lists all carriers and handsets (except Venue Pro) in the US are being  delivered  the updates. Worldwide, other than Spain, updates are being  pushed  to all phones. Platform enthusiasts were delighted to have updates  delivered  the day they were released and Microsoft not requiring developer handsets to roll back to stable releases.

Windows Phone 7 Mango has received positive reviews only to be beaten and copied by the recently released Android Ice Cream Sandwich. Ben Rudolf over the Windows Team Blog, shared images of AT&T’s WP7 Mango lineup that includes:

 

At All Thing D’s AsiaD conference, Microsoft’s Andy Lees (president of Windows Phone division) talked about their new line of handsets and Mango. According to This Is My Next,  Lees also said that he expects NFC and 4G capable Windows Phone handsets in 2012. At the Web 2.0 Summit, Microsoft  Steve Ballmer said Nokia’s Windows Phone handsets should be coming out in a week during Nokia’s World event.

Here’s How Microsoft Should Do Windows Phone Giveaways

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 devices haven’t done as well as expected, something Steve Ballmer accepted. The first generation of devices lacked hardware features like dual cameras and gyroscopes offered in iPhone and some Android handsets. (The soon-to-be-released WP7 Mango handsets will have these features.) Microsoft US has an offer running on their web store where for every purchase over $500 you can get a free WP7 handset. The handsets available are the first generation ones which leads me to believe that it is a stock clearance offer. My first thought when I learned about the offer was Microsoft can do better. Instead of $500, it should be $300 which is the price of the basic Xbox 360+Kinect bundle.

Xbox 360 and Kinect integration with Windows Phone 7 has been talked about on multiple  occasions. The Xbox LIVE integration, ability to use  the phone as an Xbox remote to control media  and even a controller  while playing games  make a compelling case for owning the three devices. Mobile operator 3 in Sweden understands the ecosystem and  they have by far the best Windows Phone 7 offer. With every purchase of a Windows Phone 7 device, you get a free Xbox. It can’t get better than this. I recently got an Xbox 360 with Kinect and am amazed at how intuitive everything is. All one has to do is plug the Kinect and setting it up can’t get any simpler! (Although using the Xbox controller for the keyboard is excruciating.)

Microsoft is preparing for the holiday season  that begins in a few weeks and a lot of people will be spending a lot of money. Google’s ICS phones and Apple’s iPhone 4S will be on everyone’s lists, Microsoft needs to get WP7 devices in there and a shortcut is giving the phones for free. XBox 360 and Kinect, in my opinion, will be gadgets that families will consider. Games like Forza 4, Kinect Sesame Street, video content through Xbox LIVE make it the perfect living room television companion.

It is obvious that Microsoft is willing to give away phones for free, they might as well do it with a product that is expected to do well during the holiday season.

PS: The post title is inspired by Business Insider.

Microsoft and Partners Launch New Ad Campaigns For Holiday Season

With the iPhone 4S set to shatter sales records the competition better have something up their sleeves to compete. For Microsoft the upcoming holiday season is going to be tricky. As Todd Bishop at GeekWire points out, the company has a new range of Windows Phone 7 Mango handsets coming out but besides that they don’t have any other new product for users.

Many enthusiasts have been wondering why Microsoft does not talk about the consumer ecosystem it has created. In the coming days, Microsoft will be changing that. The core premise is Windows enabling families stay connected and have a great time with technology. Microsoft shared two advertisements talking about the concept:

The second ad Dog.ppt is a pretty cool ad but I have my doubts about the first one. (I am not the only one.)

Microsoft is rumored to  be investing several Million Dollars for OEM partners for advertising their Windows Phone 7 handsets and it looks like HTC is making good use of it. Spotted by WinRumors’ Tom Warren, the HTC WP7 ad aired in the UK is nicely done. Wrapping features around what the phone enables you to do is always a better message than telling us specs and features. Here’s the ad:

Microsoft UK has another HTC WP7 ad that is eye catching. Both ads show promise and in fact as Tom Warren says, Microsoft should have more ads done by the creative agency behind the HTC WP7 ads.

Microsoft Australia had probably one of the coolest launch show for a developer software. Long Zheng wrote about Microsoft Australia putting up a light show using office lights of two building to launch LightSwitch for Visual Studio. Here’s the video of a very un-Microsoft launch:

Patent Shows Kinect Based Interactive Shopping Experience For You & Your Home

Last week before the sad news of Steve Jobs death, Microsoft announced their partnership with various living room content providers. Under the deal, Comcast, HBO and Verizon will start streaming content on the Xbox. With this news, I think it safe to call Xbox as the Windows of the living room. Unlike Google TV and Apple TV, the Xbox (with Kinect and Windows Phone) is a more complete platform for living room entertainment. Fun family games, hardcore gaming, music & movie streaming and cable—that’s the 360 degrees of multimedia and entertainment.

Kinect’s voice and gesture control along with the soon-to-be-released Windows Phone app to control the TV via Xbox brings the much needed interaction overhaul from the button remotes we’ve all be using for the past two decades. In a patent filing I came across, Microsoft plans to give shopping the Kinect treatment. A while back Microsoft showed avatars of a group of friends sitting together and streaming a video, the friends were all their houses. The patent application titled Motion-based interactive shopping experience brings these elements together and a user controlled avatar will be able to interact with objects in the virtual world, much like how playing a game on Kinect is.

The patent appliction as some very interesting possibilities:

You shopping for yourself by trying out the clothes and seeing how you’d:

If you like to shop with a friend, two users can shop together:

If you want to buy furniture, Kinect will re-create a 3D model of your room and show you how the furniture will look like in your room!

Patent application

Microsoft Research Launch their First Game Project on Facebook

Microsoft Research has launched a Facebook game application, Project Waterloo, that allows users to play the two-player turn-based Blotto game with other Facebook users. Project Waterloo has been developed at the Microsoft Research lab in Cambridge.

project-waterloo

This engaging and addictive game is played by two players; each has 100 troops at their disposal and needs to allocate those troops among five battle fields. Once both players have allocated their troops, the winner is determined by finding which of the two players has won more battles. A battle is won by having allocated more troops than the opponent. The game is complex from a game-theoretic perspective, and is a great test case for studying actual strategic behavior of Facebook users.

The game is the first release under Microsoft Research’s Research Games‘ project. The project aims to discover the behavior of real people in game theoretic interactions on social networks. While a user tests his mental and perception abilities against his friends, researchers try to understand these behaviors that help develop better models of social and economic activities.

Are Mobile Devices Microsoft’s New Billion Dollar Business?

Microsoft has been struggling to get marketshare in mobile devices. Android and iOS based phone/tablets are crushing Windows. Then there is the consistent Microsoft stock price and revenues. Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division (EDD) posted staggering results courtesy the Xbox 360 and Kinect (2011 fiscal reports). SeattlePi’s Nick Eaton observed that the rest of EDD revenue is approximately $600 Million. This number includes sales from Zune, Surface, Mediaroom and hardware.

Yesterday, before Amazon joined the cool consumer tech companies, the top news was Samsung and Microsoft signing a patent deal for Samsung’s Android devices. Goldman Sachs estimates that Microsoft is set to make $444 Million from the various Android patent deals with several OEMs.  Now, realizing that Windows Phone isn’t the one making $600 Million but making a considerable contribution to the number and $444 Million from Android devices, Microsoft’s investments in mobile devices are bringing them close to a Billion Dollars.

Steve Ballmer did say that Microsoft hasn’t been able to sell as many Windows Phone devices as they hoped to. However, Microsoft’s strategic partnership with Nokia is yet to come to market. Nokia CEO Steven Elop showed Sea-Ray which will be their WP7 device, is expected to launch this holiday season. During the deal with Nokia, cheaper Windows Phone handsets were being talked about. This led to doubts around fragmentation and how apps will function on lower specs. As it turn out, Microsoft’s tier II chasis specs can run existing apps. WMPowerUser points out, the compromise is on camera and storage. (Microsoft shared the official specs as ZTE’s Tania was launched.)

HTC recently launched their Windows Phone Mango handsets—HTC Radar and Titan. The company  says Windows Phone constitutes to 30% of their handsets which is a considerable share.

MG Siegler puts it quite right, the strategy is genius for Microsoft. As partners pay Microsoft for something Google says is free, they might as well pay Microsoft for their platform which is nothing short of Google’s Android and in many cases is better. (Zune Marketplace for content and a coherent update roll out process.)

PS:  Asymco estimates Windows Phone 7 current revenues to be $30 Million (2 Million licenses at $15/license).

[Video] Web-based Windows Phone Marketplace Goes Live As Mango Rollout Begins

The build-up to Windows Phone’s major update—Mango—has been exciting. With developers having early access to beta builds, Microsoft warned enthusiasts that they will have to roll back to stable NoDo installs before updating to the final Mango release. Surprisingly, the brilliant engineers at Microsoft realized how problematic that will be for them as users. They decided to figure out ways to avoid this and anyone with Mango developer builds will be able to roll forward to the final version of Mango.

Mango introduces several new features and fills most of the holes in the platform. Microsoft had a tough time when their previous update (NoDo) was being pushed to users. For Microsoft, the upgrade involves several hardware manufacturers, carriers and Microsoft which obviously leads to complications. Microsoft promised that they learnt from the experience and it looks like they did. What seemed like eternity for AT&T Samsung Focus users (and others), all carriers except Sprint will be pushing Windows Phone 7.5 soon.

Android and iOS have web versions of their marketplaces for some time. And they are handy. With Mango coming, Microsoft has unveiled their web version of the marketplace. Part of the Windows Phone website, the interface is clean and simple. The apps can be bought and are instantly sent to the phone if it is connected to the Internet. Else, a download link is emailed for you to get the app via the Zune desktop software. Here’s a quick demo of how real-time the marketplace is:

Lastly, the holiday season will see new Windows Phone 7.5 handsets from Samsung, Nokia, HTC, ZTE and other partners. The marketplace is seeing a flood of apps updated for Mango.  Samsung released handy apps for their users (video calling, diary) and Nokia is making their presence felt in the marketplace too.

Microsoft Trademarks Windows 8 Feature ‘Charm’

A few days ago, Microsoft unveiled Windows 8. A user interface with new elements and jargon has been introduced. In what seems to be the first Windows 8 trademark, I spotted a filing for Charm.

In Windows 8, the traditional start menu is no more. On a tablet device, swiping from the right side of the screen brings up what is called as Charms. This  is an implementation of the start bar. On a non-touch regular PC, Charms can be accessed by dragging the mouse to the bottom-left corner of the screen (where the start button used to be all along). Here are screenshots of what Charms look like:

Touch enabled (tablet) devices:

(Image courtesy LaptopMag)

Regular (non-touch) PC:

The sidebar has five options and selecting any one of them shows what is similar to the start menu. It is a bit like Apple top bar—application specific options with some system controls like Network, Volume, Brightness, Power, Language and Notifications. The five options are:

  1. Search
  2. Share: Social network sharing applications will appear under the list
  3. Start: Goes back to the tiled home screen
  4. Devices: Shows connected devices
  5. Settings: Brings up the sidebar with application specific options

Microsoft has applied to trademark Charm, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these popping up over the next few weeks.

More screenshots of Charms:

Update: Looks like TechCrunch wrote about this before I did.

Windows To Go Hands-On: Running Windows 8 From A USB Drive On MacBook Air

Microsoft recently demonstrated their Windows To Go feature in Windows 8 and shared some technical details about it. After the demo I got an opportunity to try Windows To Go on my Mac. The video is a bit long since this is the first time I’ve run this copy of Windows 8. As informed by the team during the demo, the first run will take time to set up the drive, subsequent boots are much quicker.

Here’s my hands-on video of Windows 8 via Windows To Go on my MacBook Air:

No installation required. Plug and play, literally and figuratively.

[Videos] Microsoft Demonstrates Windows To Go (Run Windows 8 From USB On Any PC)

Microsoft’s Windows 8 has several new features that we’ve covered over the past few months. One of the cooler features that hasn’t been talked about a lot is the ability to take your entire Windows 8 installation with you on a USB drive and use it on any machine. And this isn’t a half-baked solution, with Windows To Go, a user can take his Windows install with files and data on any USB drive and plug it to any other PC and continue working.

The feature according to Microsoft is meant for Enterprises. Scenarios Microsoft sees this feature for are:

  • Contractors and vendors now won’t have to spend time setting up computers
  • Work from home or remote locations
Microsoft says this feature works with both USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 and according to the demo, USB 2.0 seems to be usable by itself. Some technical details shared by Microsoft:
  • Windows 8 will default boot to a Windows To Go drive if one is present
  • Several drivers will be bundled and in case some aren’t there Windows Update will download them
  • It will support USB 2.0 and 3.0
  • There is no Hibernate possible for a Windows To Go instance
  • Windows To Go will work on legacy BIOS and UEFI firmware (the deployment will have support for both enabled, it can be toggled.)
  • Crash and Dump will be available for Windows To Go instances.

Here’s a demo of Windows To Go in action:

The first question that comes to mind what happens if the USB drive is unplugged. According to Microsoft, this is similar to yanking your HDD when Windows is running. However, in Windows To Go, Microsoft has a very clever implementation. Windows To Go will freeze the OS instance for 60 seconds if the pen drive is removed. Plugging it back within 60 seconds, Windows will resume where it was, if not inserted within 60 seconds, Windows will shut down.
Microsoft suggests a 32GB USB drive for Windows To Go.

Update Here’s a demo of what happens if you remove a Windows To Go USB drive:

[Video] Microsoft Demonstrates The Windows App Store

Yesterday I shared screenshots of how Metro-based and older Win32 applications will be available on Microsoft’s upcoming Windows App Store. The post also detailed some of the steps developers will have to go through to submit and get their applications approved.

In a session today, Microsoft elaborated more on their strategies for the app store and gave a quick demo of the app store. One of the key points mentioned during the presentation was that Microsoft plans to make their Windows App Store the only place to get the Metro-styled apps for Windows. For the developers Microsoft says this will let them get telemetry data about their app’s usage, have them promoted and get feedback from users. A quick demo shows the Marketplace interface and how users will be able to buy their apps:

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An interesting fact mentioned during the presentation was that Microsoft will index all the apps submitted to the app store and have them searchable through Internet search engines.