Silverlight 5 Brings Hardware Decoding of H.264 Videos and Improved 3D Support

Microsoft has recently announced Silverlight version 5. Silverlight has come a long way since 2007, when it was released for the first time and was presented yet another layer on top of the web, like Flash. Flash has always attracted negative sentiments, and in competing with Flash, Silverlight too has shared some of that negativity. However, Silverlight has never been aggressive about promoting itself, this might be the last version of Silverlight.

Silverlight 5 was announced on the  MSDN Silverlight blog.

Today, we’re happy to announce the release of Silverlight 5. Silverlight is part of a rich offering of technologies from Microsoft helping developers deliver applications for the web, desktop and mobile devices.  Download Silverlight 5, a free plug-in less than 7 MB in size that can be installed in less than 10 seconds.

Silverlight 5 will allow hardware H.264 decoding, adapting it better for video content. It also sports an improved graphics stack with 3D support, using the  XNA API.  This makes Silverlight 5 a more mature and capable platform for developing rich internet application.

However, the big changes in Silverlight 5 are probably the P/Invoke (platform invocation) support for native code, (allowing developers to call dll files) and a “Trusted Applicationfeature, which allows the application to move out of the Silverlight plugin sandbox.

Silverlight 5 will make more sense for development on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 7 apps, and Microsoft already has that in mind. You can  download Silverlight 5  at this page.

You might also be interested in Moonlight, an open-source alternative to Silverlight.

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An Outlook Add-In that Prevents ‘Reply All’

Gavin Smyth at Microsoft Research, Cambridge, UK, has created a neat utility for Microsoft Outlook that prevents people from replying to all the recipients of a message or forwarding it. The add-in uses a facility built into Outlook and Exchange that is more lightweight than information-rights management but is not exposed as a feature in the existing UI.

Interestingly, the email recipient does not need to have this add-in installed to have Reply All disabled. The application uses the flags that are handled by Outlook and Exchange, as long as the sender and recipient are on the same Exchange Server. This lightweight utility is designed for accidental replies or forwarding, and is not a robust security solution. The recipient could of course, use the add-in to re-enable Reply All. If you are looking for security, you’ll have to go with IRM.

The add-in also includes a couple of other features to check for common email errors. It warns you if you send an email with a blank subject line. Although this feature is built into Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007 users would like it. It also includes a detector for missing attachments when you send an email. Apart from looking for keywords like attached’ or attachment’ in the body of the email, the add-in has another list intended to be contexts in which the keywords should be ignored (such as legalese in an email signature). The add-in also attempts to distinguish between embedded images and other attachments so an email signature with an image shouldn’t trick the tool into thinking an attachment is already present.

The setup is just 0.63 MB in size and the application works well with Outlook 2007 and 2010. When you launch setup.exe to install, the following components are also installed, if they are not already present, before the  NoReplyAll add-in is installed:

  • Windows Installer 3.1
  • Microsoft.NET Framework 3.5 SP1
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Tools for Office Runtime

Download

How to Setup and Run Windows Defender Offline Version

Windows_Defender_iconMicrosoft has added another weapon to its arsenal in its fight against malware: an offline version of the Windows Defender software. The software, which is in beta at the moment, scans and removes various forms of malware like its desktop counterpart. But the advantage of the Offline version is that it can be run from an external media such as a CD or USB drive, even when the OS is not running. This makes it easier to remove certain rootkits and advanced malware which otherwise is difficult to remove when the OS is running. Like the version found in Windows 8, Windows Defender comes with both anti-spyware as well as anti-virus solutions.

Here’s a step by step guide on how to setup and run Windows Defender Offline beta.

1) First, download the 32-bit or 64-bit installer of Windows Defender from here, depending on the version of Windows you have.

2) Once the download is finished, open the installer. Click Yeson the UAC window if prompted. Next, you will see the window  below  . Click Next.

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3) Now select the media, in which you want to install the tool and click Next.

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I recommend installing on a USB drive because, if you install it on a USB drive, you will be able to update the definitions later. If you use a CD/DVD, it will become obsolete pretty soon when new updates are released.

4) You will have to reformat the USB now. Make sure that you don’t have any important data in it before proceeding.

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5) Finally, the installer will download the necessary files (about 215MB in size) and setup the USB drive. Click Finishonce the setup is complete.

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6) To scan your computer, restart your computer with the USB drive connected. Make sure that USB booting is enabled in your BIOS. Once that is set, you can boot from your USB drive. If you have a dual boot setup, you will have to choose the OS to be scanned. Select the desired Operating System and click OK.

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7) Next, you will be taken to the Windows Defender interface. As you can see from the  screenshot  below , it is pretty similar to the Microsoft Security Essentials UI. You can select to do either a Quick Scan, a Complete Scan or even scan specific areas. Just select the desired option and click Scan now.

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To update Windows Defender Offline Tool,

just click the installer you used earlier and it will automatically download and install all available updates.

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Microsoft Releases Xbox LIVE app for iOS

Oh boy, what do we have here? Good news for iOS devices owners who also own a Xbox. First it was OneNote for iOS, now they have released an official Xbox LIVE app (free) in Apple’s App Store. This release comes just a day after the launch of a new Dashboard update to Microsoft’s Xbox 360 gaming console.

Xbox Live iOS

The new app brings a Windows 8 feel to it, which is nice, but it just doesn’t feel like an iOS app in my opinion. Xbox LIVE for iOS brings some of the functionality found on the Xbox 360 consoles besides gameplay. The app allows users to access friends lists, game data, and messages through three main menus: “Home,” “Social” and “Games.”  In addition, the user interface is a blend of iOS swipe functionality with the tiled UI from Windows Phone 7. Icons and UI animations fade in and out like Windows Phone and is smooth with transitions.

Read and send messages to friends
Manage your friends list, invite new friends
Read and Edit your full LIVE profile (name, bio, motto)
Change your avatar features/items with the avatar closet
View and compare your achievement progress with friends

Microsoft’s new app is also optimized for the iPad, and uses a similar layout. The iPad app shows more content and detail. While Google releases crappy WebView apps for iOS, Microsoft releases polished apps for iOS. Just sayin’…

Microsoft India Indulges in a Bollywood Chase

Yes, Techie-Buzz is still a technology blog. We still couldn’t help having Shahrukh Khan feature twice here in the last couple of months. In October, I wrote about Shahrukh Khan’s aggressive digital marketing for his film RA.One. Now, for his upcoming release, Don 2, Microsoft India in partnership with Excel Entertainment, the producers of the film, has launched a unique contest which gives winners a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet SRK and travel to Berlin.

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To enter the Meet the Don2: Mission Berlin contest, you need to buy one of the Microsoft products Windows 7 PC, Windows Phone, Microsoft Office 2010, or Xbox 360 from a retail store in the contest period and then answer five simple questions and write a catchy slogan at www.MissionBerlin.in. The contest runs from November 25th to December 20th, 2011. If your entry is shortlisted, you will be asked to send a copy of the invoice as a proof of purchase.

The first 1000 correct and complete entries will win 4 tickets to the first day first show of Don 2 to watch it with family and friends. Top five winning families with best slogan will get a chance to meet Shahrukh Khan in person. And one of the luckiest family amongst these will win an all-expenses-paid trip to the beautiful, historic city of Berlin. Don 2 is shot in Berlin and the sightseeing arrangements include trips to shooting spots!

Well, Microsoft India just made the futile chase to Don possible!

Verizon Wireless, Windows Phone, LTE and Microsoft’s Mobile Strategy Problem

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Verizon Wireless Chief Marketing Officer, Marni Walden,  while speaking to CNET, said that Windows Phone needs to support LTE in order to compete. She said that they have communicated to Microsoft that LTE is critical for Verizon Wireless and that they need to see a timeline, if Microsoft expects them to continue to represent Windows Phone.

Ouch! This is the first time Verizon Wireless has come out and pointed at a specific problem they have in carrying more Windows Phone devices. Currently, the only Windows Phone they carry is the HTC Trophy, which is a first generation device, released a few months after the OS supported CDMA. There have been no announcements about a Mango device coming to Verizon Wireless.

The stakes are high for Microsoft (and related, for Nokia especially, in its return to the US market). Verizon Wireless is the largest mobile network in the US at 107.7 million subscribers. At the same time, due to AT&T’s initial exclusivity on the iPhone in the US, Verizon ended up becoming an Android champion. They started a huge marketing campaign around their trademark Droidand became a close partner of Google. Meanwhile, iPhone is now also available on Verizon network and as a result they now have arguably the best portfolio of smartphones in the US. Windows Phone clearly has an uphill battle to get the carrier’s attention. Getting cut out of Verizon Wireless will take half the addressable US market away from Microsoft.

In a lot of ways, what Verizon Wireless is asking makes sense. On one hand, they carry the juggernaut that is the iPhone, and on the other hand, they have a slew of Android devices which come in various form factors, with a variety of hardware differentiators and at all kinds of price points. Their marketing message for some time and definitely for the holiday season is their network which is the only one with real4G (LTE). For the typical (high-end) smartphone price of $200 with a 2-year contract, they cannot offer a 3G Windows Phone when most Android devices are 4G-enabled. Also of course, 4G data plans do offer additional revenue to Verizon Wireless.

Like it or not, Microsoft is going to have to compete with Android from a sales and marketing strategy perspective, rather than the iPhone. There is no single Windows Phonelike the iPhone or even the Nexus line of Android phones. Windows Phone is a licensed OS and as a result, there are going to be multiple OEMs making similar phones and multiple carriers carrying them. In order to differentiate, and in this case in order to even participate, Microsoft and its partners will be forced to play the speeds-and-feeds game and keep bumping up the phone features. This is somewhat the opposite of how Microsoft has set up Windows Phone with its strict chassis specification and also how they have set their update schedule to be one big update a year interspersed with smaller updates in between.

Instead of having customers focus on the elegance of the OS and its ability to run well even on previous generation hardware, Microsoft is being forced by Verizon Wireless to play the Android game and keep focusing on specification numbers. Something will have to give because Microsoft simply cannot afford to get left out of the Verizon Wireless footprint. Perhaps more chassis specifications? More aggressive updates to the OS? Maybe we will see a more aggressive schedule after the first round of Nokia devices come into the market and the platform gains a reasonable installed base? Any/all of this better happen because Verizon Wireless customers deserve the choice of Windows Phone Smile

Windows Phone Apps of the Week

Every week (and sometimes I skip!) I pick three of my favorite Windows Phone apps. I include both paid and free apps as well as games. If you are an app developer and want me to feature your app here, drop me a line.

News360

News360

News360 is an intuitive app that delivers news headlines and stories from more than 300+ English newspapers. The stories are personalized to your location and global news sources are collected by sophisticated linguistic algorithms.

You can share your feeds with friends via Facebook or Twitter. You can also add the people or companies you want to track to your Favorites. News360 is a comprehensive app for news junkies, and at the price of nothing, it should be a favorite of many.

News + Weather | Free | <1MB | Download

Perfect Scan

Perfect Scan

Perfect Scan turns your Windows Phone device into a portable scanner for documents, receipts, business cards, whiteboards, etc. You can email your scanned documents or upload to Dropbox and Google Docs.

Perfect Scan features automatic perspective correction and allows image enhancement like cropping, rotation, and color adjustments. The ability to add text to your documents is useful to fill out forms or sign documents. Perfect Scan is an easy app with a seamless interface and allows both PDF and JPEG formats. Although, there are several similar apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace, Perfect Scan is better in terms of processing and output scans. However, most users would miss support for SkyDrive.

Tools + Productivity | $2.99 | 1MB | Download

Kinectimals

Kinectimals

Cuteness has arrived on Windows Phone! Visit the island of Lemuria and spend time with your very own cub. While you play with and care for your cub, you might just fall in love. Kinectimals features delightful animations and is a visual delight.

If you already play Kinectimals on Kinect for Xbox 360, Kinectimals on Windows Phone would allow you to unlock five new cubs on your console.   The mobile game though allows newer ways to play with your cub than the console version.

Games | $2.99 | 85 MB | Download

Chrome Overtakes Firefox Globally

Ever since its launch, Google Chrome has been gaining market share at a steady rate. Now, StatsCounter is reporting that Google Chrome has finally managed to surpass Firefox globally. Chrome’s worldwide market share rose to 25.69%, while Firefox slipped to 25.23%. Microsoft Internet Explorer also continued its slide and fell to 40.63% at the end of November.

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Google Chrome gained 21% over the past two years, while Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Opera lost 15.94%, 6.98, and 0.2% each. Safari also managed to gain 2.255 market share since November 2009. In India the figure are slightly different as Indian users have typically been more reactive to market changes than Americans. Only 26.9% Indians surf using Internet Explorer, while 34.29% and 34.75% rely on Firefox and Chrome respectively. Opera controls a shade above 2.5% of the market share in India.

Browser statistics tend to be wildly inaccurate and inconsistent. However, they are still good enough to gauge the market trend, and in this case the trend is clear. Google Chrome’s rise in popularity has been nothing short of spectacular. Introduced in late 2008, it has won the hearts of millions of web users with its focus on speed, security, and simplicity. Although Chrome is undoubtedly benefiting from Google’s deep pocket and wide reach, the Chrome team needs to be applauded for getting their priorities right. Within a short span of time Chrome has made its presence felt with its innovative drive and commitment to web standards.

Firefox on the other hand struggled to ship the ambitious Firefox 4 update, lost out in the browser speed wars, and seems to perennially lag behind Chrome. Many fans believe that Mozilla’s lack of vision is hurting Firefox, which was once the darling of the alternate browser crowd.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and AOL Team Up to Combat Phishing

In spite of spirited efforts from email providers, browser developers, and security firms, phishing continues to be a major nuisance. There are already repositories like Phishtank that rely on crowdsourcing to identify phishing campaigns. However, crowdsourcing is not nearly nimble enough to tackle phishing scams that often require just a few hours to cause the intended damage.

Now, a new Cisco spinoff called Agari is trying to tackle the problem by combining multiple sophisticated approaches including authentication of the sender, message analysis, and end-to-end email channel visibility. Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL, who are amongst the biggest email providers, have joined hands to provide metadata about emails passing through their networks to Agari, which uses its cloud infrastructure to analyze more than 1.5 billion messages every day. It doesn’t receive the actual messages, but might receive suspicious links contained in the message along with miscellaneous metadata. Agari, which is launching today, has Facebook and some of the largest financial institutions, social networks, and ecommerce companies as its customers. Besides the aforementioned four email giants, file sharing website YouSendIt, social network LinkedIn, and Cisco are also part of its trust fabric network.

Agari

“Facebook can go into the Agari console and see charts and graphs of all the activity going on in their e-mail channel (on their domains and third-party solutions) and see when an attack is going on in a bar chart of spam hitting Yahoo,” for instance, Daniel Raskin, vice president of marketing for Agari, explained to CNET. “They receive a real-time alert and they can construct a policy to push out to carriers (that says) when you see this thing happening don’t deliver it, reject it.”

Agari, which had been operating in stealth mode for the past couple of years, protects 50 percent of U.S. consumer e-mail traffic and more than one billion individual mailboxes. During its stealth phase, it rejected more than one billion messages across its email partners. Agari believes that by having end-to-end visibility over most messages it can rapidly react and stop phishing campaigns in their tracks.

Microsoft Security Essentials Beta Opens for Public

Microsoft has made the beta for the new version of Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) available for public widely. Earlier, the beta was only available for a limited number of beta testers.

MSE Beta

The download isn’t straightforward though. You need to click the Download Now link on the Microsoft Security Essentials homepage that would take you the MSE beta page on Microsoft Connect (Windows Live ID required). The current beta build is version 4.0.1111.0. The beta is available both as 32-bit edition (8.87 MB) and 64-bit edition (11.04 MB). The software supports Windows XP with Service Pack 3, Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 or 2, and Windows 7 with Service Pack 1.

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This latest version includes the following new features and enhancements to better help protect your PC:

  • Cleans highly impacting malware infections automatically, with no required user interaction
  • Enhanced performance
  • Simplified UI
  • New and improved protection engine

While, Microsoft Connect is used to engage with beta testers by encouraging participation in surveys to report results or submitting bugs, the MSE Beta page doesn’t have those available at this moment though.