Microsoft Demos ‘Mobile Surface’ And On-The-Fly Phone Call Translation

Microsoft is having their annual TechFest at Redmond and some rather interesting prototypes are being demonstrated by Microsoft. While you must’ve all seen videos of the Microsoft Surface tabletop PC, Microsoft Research has been working on perfecting a similar concept in a much smaller form factor. ZDNet writer, Mary Jo Foley, came across the project on the Microsoft Research website (the original page has been taken down but Google knows all.) The project is an implementation wherein Microsoft plans to allow you to use any tabletop surface as an interacting device with the help of a mobile projector and camera setup. The demo shows: Continue reading Microsoft Demos ‘Mobile Surface’ And On-The-Fly Phone Call Translation

Microsoft India’s Online Store Redesigned, Gets A New Home

With Windows 7, Microsoft unveiled a newly designed online store to complement their brick and mortar stores. The website design is simple, elegant and offers a wide range of products. For quite some time Microsoft India has had an online store at BuyOriginalMS.com, the URL indicated Microsoft’s intentions behind the website — help consumers buy original Microsoft products. Recently, Microsoft India released an updated store at MicrosoftStore.co.in which now sports  the same design as the global website. If one was to visit BuyOriginalMS now, they would be redirected to the new website. My first visit to the new website made me cringe. There were three reasons for this:

  • the logo placeholder has wrong dimensions. And this in my opinion is a horrendous blunder on the web designer’s part.
  • the website has no favicon.
  • some pages don’t have proper titles.

The range of products offered is limited and some products haven’t been added yet eg: Xbox 360. The website seems to be a work-in-progress which makes me wonder as to why would they decide to redirect their visitors to an incomplete website. Having said that, I am pleased and excited that Microsoft has localized the global store website for India and is even offering books for purchase. The website lists ‘Computers’ indicating that Microsoft plans to offer crap-ware free OEM PCs in India as well as Windows phones via the website.

One can shop using Mastercard or Visa card. The prices mentioned on the website are exclusive of taxes and delivery charges, products have varying Delivery charges and taxes.

Not Only Is Bing’s Crawler (MSNBot) Slow, But Also Stupid

microsoft-bingLast week, a Program Manager at Bing Webmaster Center had admitted that MSNBot is fairly slow at indexing. However, that is not the only problem that plagues the bot utilized by Bing to index the web. It also happens to be quite stupid.

MSNBot was single handedly responsible for knocking out the CPAN Testers server. In a weird demonstration of incompetence, Microsoft Bing unleashed 20-30 bots every few seconds, which pretty much amounted to a denial of service (DOS) attack. In order to avoid this kind of unwanted problems, most other search engines (including Google) have a policy of allowing only one bot to access a site at a time.

The webmaster also alleges that MSNBot ignored the rules specified in robots.txt. If true, it is a particularly troubling issue, since robots.txt was created in the first place to control various automated bots. Recently, GitHub also experienced similar problems with the MSNBot.

MSNBot seems to be in a desperate need for an upgrade. If Microsoft is serious about challenging Google’s dominance, they should begin paying more attention to their crawler. It’s not a good practice to allow your bot to crash webservers.

XviD, Smart DJ Coming To Zune HD

Looks like Microsoft hasn’t given up on Zune HD just yet. CNET is reporting that the next firmware update to Microsoft’s iPod challenger will bring XviD codec support to the media player.   According to the article, DivX support might not be coming.

The Zune HD is definitely one of the better alternatives to the iPod and if it weren’t for Microsoft’s decision to sell it in the US only, chances are, it might give the iPod some competition. The firmware is also set to bring Smart DJ to the media player. Smart DJ is a Zune 4.0 PC software feature that automatically plays songs similar to the one you choose. The feature on Zune HD would mean that one can stream Zune Pass content and media between devices on the same network.

The firmware update is expected around May. iPod’s lack of format support has always been a bone of contention, since XviD is a widely used format for videos, Microsoft’s decision will be welcomed by enthusiasts as it makes it easier to enjoy videos on the Zune HD’s 3.3″ OLED screen.

Microsoft Admits that Bing is Fairly Slow at Indexing

Microsoft-Bing In this day and age where search engines are competing to provide real-time results, the admission by Program Manager at Bing Webmaster Center would come as an embarrassment to Microsoft. He commented that “It is well known in the industry that MSNbot is fairly slow. I suggest reading our FAQs stickied at the top of the indexing forum to get some ideas of what to do.

This comment was made in response to a user query. The user in question had submitted a sitemap to Bing about 6 weeks back. While Google and Yahoo had indexed hundreds of pages on his site, Bing had indexed only one the homepage.

Considering that the site has genuine backlinks (14 of them according to Bing’s own calculations), it is pretty shabby on Bing’s part to index only one page in 6 weeks. But wait, things get better. Brett Yount, the aforementioned Program Manager suggested the user to check the FAQs. So, let us take a look at what the FAQ suggests.

if your site is not in the index, please do the following:

1. verify in our tools that your site is not blocked
2. run a site: query to verify there are no pages in the index
3. Copy the URL of the site query and post on this thread.

I will work with you to at least get your home page indexed. Deeper indexing will require good content and backlinks as described in the FAQ.

This may be 2010, but Bing is still stuck in the 90s. According to #3 the forum thread will serve as a URL submission thread and someone would add the URLs manually to Bing’s database. Microsoft has big expectations from Bing, but it is silly to expect Bing to return relevant results if it can’t even index pages within an acceptable time frame.

Microsoft Introduces Wireless Arc Keyboard

The Microsoft Arc mouse is definitely one of the better designed mice available in the market, Microsoft has now unveiled an Arc keyboard to complement the Arc mouse. Like the mouse that is all about sleek design with basic functionality, the Arc keyboard is good looking with basic keyboard features and functionality. The wireless transceiver is smaller in size compared to that of the Arc mouse and can be placed at the back of keyboard. The Arc keyboard comes with a built-in battery life indicator and is expected to retail at a price of around $60 starting February. Some images of the keyboard:

arc-keyboard-01

arc-keyboard-02

arc-keyboard-03

Microsoft Arc keyboard Product page

Xbox Arcade Game Room – Specifications & Prices

Among the several announcements regarding the Xbox platform made during Microsoft’s CES 2010 keynote, a feature called Game Room was introduced. Game Room is a new option available on Xbox Live & Games for Windows Live that enables you to play old arcade classics on your Windows PC or the Xbox 360. Following are the prices & in-game specifications for Game Room:

Game Room content will be available in the Xbox Live Games Marketplace for Xbox 360 users & in the Games for Windows Live desktop client for Windows users.

Pricing Details:

Once you have the Game Room client free download you can obtain the games in exchange for Microsoft Points:

  • 400 Microsoft Points: buy once and play on both   platforms – Xbox 360 and a Windows PC.
  • 240 Microsoft Points: buy to play on anyone platform either the Xbox 360 or a Windows PC.
  • 40 Microsoft Points: play a single game only once.

$1 = 80 Microsoft Points or $0.01 = 1 Microsoft Point. Points can be purchased from the Xbox or Zune Marketplace.  Microsoft also gives you the option to visit a friend’s Game Room, try out the games your friend is playing for free and then buy them if you wish to.

Gaming specifications:

  • One or two players
  • HDTV 1080p
  • In-game Dolby Digital
  • Voice chat
  • Avatar support
  • Online multiplayer (for Xbox LIVE Gold members only)
  • Cross-platform leader boards
  • Cross-platform Achievements

Xbox 360 At CES 2010 – Project Natal Coming Holiday 2010

Back in June 2009, Microsoft took the whole technology world by a storm with a flawless & unexpected demo of Project Natal at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, what was not known was the availability & price. Today at CES 2010, Microsoft’s Robbie Bach confirmed that Xbox Natal will be available starting, 2010 holiday season (end of 2010). While there was no demo or any announcement of games exclusively for Natal, there were quite a few interesting announcements regarding games for the Xbox 360. A new genre of games called Psychological Action Thrillers was mentioned with a demo of Alan Wake. Following games will be exclusively available first on the Xbox 360 platform:

  • Mass Effect 2
  • Splinter Cell Conviction
  • Content packs for Modern Warfare 2

Robbie Bach showed a Halo Reach video and announced that the multiplayer beta will begin in Spring 2010 on Xbox Live. A new segment on Xbox Live called Game Room will be introduced, Game Room will feature classic arcade games that can be bought and played on the Xbox or Windows PC. Talking of Xbox Live, some interesting numbers regarding Xbox Live that were mentioned:

  • 20 million active users on Xbox Live.
  • 2.2 million concurrent members online during Christmas and New Year.
  • Around 10 million people have used non-gaming applications like Facebook, Twitter, Last.FM & Zune.
  • 100 million songs have been downloaded.
  • 4000 songs were downloaded during the hour and a half long keynote.

Regarding Xbox 360, an estimated 39 million plus consoles and more than 500 million games have been sold so far. Microsoft is serious about the Xbox platform and the numbers are staggering. Microsoft will not be introducing a new console any time soon and Xbox 360 is now a mature gaming platform perfect time to buy it, I say. As Robbie Bach puts it:

When I said 2010 was going to be a big year for Xbox 360, I was lying. 2010 is going to be the biggest year of Xbox history.

Injunction On Sale of Microsoft Office 2007 & Word 2007 In The US Post Jan 11, 2010 Upheld

Just when you thought that the year & decade would end on a good note for Microsoft after they settled their long standing browser dispute with the European Union & a successful Windows 7 launch, news has come in that Microsoft’s appeal against an injunction that barred them from selling Microsoft Office 2007 & Word 2007 in its current form in the United States has been withheld.

A case of patent infringement was filed against Microsoft by a Canadian company – i4i. The company said that Microsoft’s implementation of Custom XML in Office 2007 & Word 2007 infringed patents held by them. The courts found Microsoft guilty granting i4i $290 million in damages and directed Microsoft to either stop selling Word 2007 & Office 2007 or remove the feature. Microsoft had appealed against this ruling which they lost today.

It should be kept in mind that the verdict does not affect existing Office 2007 users and only applies to copies sold on or after 11th January, 2010. Microsoft on their part has responded to this and said that they are working on a version of Word 2007 without the contentious Custom XML feature which should be available by 11th January, 2010.

Microsoft also stated that the disputed feature is not part of Office 2010 Beta.

To summarize:

  1. The verdict only affects copies sold in the US.
  2. The verdict applies to copies sold on or after January 11, 2010.
  3. Office 2007 will continue to sell.
  4. Office 2010 does not have the disputed feature.

Is Microsoft Still Paying People To Say Good Things?

With the advent of social media and internet in general, one would expect large organizations like Microsoft to be fully transparent and not engage in I-will-pay-you-if-you-say-good-things-about-me kind of marketing! But does it actually happen?

The reason this question popped up was this job listing for an Associate position. The job is posted by a marketing/branding firm Mr. Youth on behalf of Microsoft. Basically, Microsoft is looking for a student who can blog about Microsoft’s new software. The associate would need to write about at least 15 topics per year and the topics would be selected by Microsoft. Here are some other things that don’t smell too fair:

You will use your existing blog to discuss various tips, tricks and advantages with Microsoft.

Acting as a peer influencer to introduce people to the benefits of Microsoft’s products.

Even if they hadn’t explicitly mentioned that you would need to influence people positively, one would expect the associate to do so after getting all those fully paid trips to tech conferences and additional incentives.

I have two simple questions:

1. Should Microsoft do this? It would be another thing if the requirement was to simply write about the software but it is a completely different thing to require associates to positively influence people.

2. Does Microsoft really need to do this? As soon as a new Microsoft software comes out, thousands of bloggers write about it anyway. Then why pay somebody to say good things about it?

It all becomes even more interesting in the light of a recent incident when Steve Ballmer reportedly fired an employee who did not show enough enthusiasm for Bing.

Do you think Microsoft should do this? Do other companies like Google and Yahoo! also employ such tactics?