Lumia 530 Announced with a Dual SIM Variant

The budget segment has been the biggest area of strength for Windows Phone devices, with handsets like the Lumia 520 and the 620 doing brisk business. The Lumia 520 alone managed to capture over a third of the Windows Phone market. Now, this crucial low-end Windows Phone handset is receiving a refresh in the form of the Lumia 530. The Lumia 530 promises to deliver more for less. However, the competition has gotten a lot tougher over the past few months with the launch of well-built Android devices like the Moto E. Does the Lumia 530 have enough to put up a good fight?

Nokua Lumia 530 1

The Lumia 530 is identical to its predecessor in terms of size and weight. The display still measures in at 4 inches, but the pixel density has been marginally improved to 245 ppi with the change in resolution to 480 x 854 pixels. The bright and vibrant colors that we associate with Nokia’s Lumia series are still there, but the Lumia 530 eschews the sharp, rectangular design in favour of a more conventional curved appearance.

Nokua Lumia 530 2

Nokua Lumia 530 3

The Lumia 530 features a Qualcomm Snapgradon 200 with a quad-core 1.2 GHz CPU that Microsoft will undoubtedly pitch as an improvement over its predecessor. However, in reality, the new processor will deliver roughly similar performance since it is a Cortex A-7, while the older one was a Cortex A-9 (Krait). Even the GPU is marginally inferior (Adreno 302 in 530 vs Adreno 305 in 520). The amount of RAM has remained unchanged at a measly 512 MB, but internal storage has been halved to 4 GB. Thankfully, the new Lumia is runs on Windows Phone 8.1, which allows the installation of apps on micro SD cards. Windows Phone is also less memory hungry than Android. So, even a device with only half a gigabyte of RAM should still be responsive and usable.

Nokua Lumia 530 4

Another piece of hardware that has been downgraded is the camera. Both the 520 and the 530 feature a 5 megapixel camera, but the latter is fixed focus and can’t capture HD (720p) videos. Front camera for video calling is still missing. The battery unit, which is unchanged, is rated at 1430 mAh.

Nokua Lumia 530 5

The Lumia 530 will be available in two variants – Single SIM and Dual SIM, and is expected to be priced at around €85 (a little over $110). Nokia also announced a companion Bang mini speaker by Coloud, which will retail for €19.

Somewhat surprisingly, the new Lumia appears to be a weaker phone than its predecessor. Everything including the chipset, camera, and storage have been downgraded. However, it might still end up being a big seller due to its newly earned quad-core status and the reduced price tag.

Office 365 Subscriber? Your Terabyte of OneDrive Storage Awaits!

OneDrive 1TB with Office
OneDrive 1TB with Office

On July 16, Microsoft announced via their OneDrive Blog, that the increase in storage that they promised last month are now rolling out.

So, what changed? First of all, if you have OneDrive, your base storage goes up from 7GB to 15GB. You have OneDrive (formerly, SkyDrive) if you have a Microsoft account which you would have if you ever had a hotmail account or an Outlook.com account, a Zune subscription, an Xbox Live account, or if you have a Windows 8 PC and chose to sign in with a Microsoft account. So, Microsoft has effectively more than doubled the free storage that you get with your Microsoft account.

The bigger jump is for Office 365 subscribers. For Office 365 Personal, Home and University subscribers, the alloted storage (in addition to the 7GB free storage) was 20GB. This storage is now bumped up to 1TB. In addition, if you are an Office 365 Home subscriber, each user on the subscription (it could be up to 5 users) will get their storage bumped from 20GB to 1TB. That’s a pretty sweet upgrade.

Finally, if you want to purchase additional storage (regardless of whether you have the free OneDrive account or through Office 365 subscription), the plans are now more inexpensive than earlier. For example, a 100GB plan is now $1.99 per month instead of the earlier $7.49 per month.

So, what do you do with so much inexpensive or free/included storage? How about moving all your music there? I did that, and am pretty happy with it so far. OneDrive has excellent sync clients for Windows 7, Windows 8.x (where it is included in the base installation), Mac OS, iOS, Windows Phone, Android. These apps will allow you to access your files from virtually anywhere, and best of all, keep the dirty work of backing up your critical data out of your plate. Everything is in the cloud and synced to your devices so you don’t have to worry about losing your data. For your digital memories like photos, videos, music and documents, especially if you have Office 365, you won’t have to worry about backup at all. Not only will OneDrive provide you access to your files anywhere and anytime, it will also be a safe offsite copy of your data in case you lose your local disk for whatever reason.

One other note, Office 365’s business and enterprise editions have OneDrive for Business included and those plans’ subscribers also get 1TB storage. Although the two services OneDrive and OneDrive for Business are named similarly, they are not the same on the back end, although Microsoft has made 1TB available to all OneDrive customers, consumer or business. The OneDrive for Business storage upgrade has also started rolling out.

How do you plan to take advantage of the extra storage? My next move, given that I have an Office 365 Home subscription, is to move my photos and videos to OneDrive. It is a much bigger effort so it may take some time for me to plan it out and do it. Plus of course, I have to keep an eye on the bandwidth consumption since my ISP has a cap on how much I use every month. However, with my cloud storage being 1TB, I can now say that I have more storage in the cloud than on any of my PCs!

 

TheRomit tweet OneDrive
TheRomit tweet OneDrive

Official Rollout of Windows Phone 8.1 Begins. Lumia Cyan Also Released.

 windows-phones

Microsoft announced on July 15 over on the Nokia Conversations Blog that Windows Phone 8.1 is beginning to roll out to general public starting today. In addition, for Lumia devices, Nokia is also making their firmware named Cyan available in tandem.

Windows Phone 8.1: Action Center
Windows Phone 8.1: Action Center

 

As you know, Windows Phone 8.1 is a major update to Windows Phone 8 (despite the .1 name, which is mostly to be in line with Windows 8.1) which includes many features that bring it up to par with iOS and Android, and in some cases, catapult it ahead of those two. For example, Windows Phone finally gets a notification center in the form of Action Center to bring it up to par with iOS and Android. There are many other new and updated features, including:

Cortana

A digital personal assistant with a personality of her own. Many think  of it as a good blend of Siri from iPhone and Google Now. It takes the personal nature of Siri and combines it with the ambient and context-aware nature of Google Now, and throws in a privacy-focused “notebook” which stores all the information that one would want the assistant to track. I have used Cortana quite a lot since the developer preview was released and am really happy with how she works, including the recent sports predictions.

Third column of tiles

Previously this feature was only available on the larger, 1080P screen devices but now it is a setting on all Windows Phones. The added density of tiles makes it possible to see even more information on the go, and thereby makes it possible to have more wide tiles which surface more information on the live tiles.

WiFi Sense

 

Windows Phone 8.1: More tiles
Windows Phone 8.1: More tiles

This feature allows one to automatically log in to wireless hotspots, including optionally filling out browser-based login screens which are common at many wifi hotspots. The settings are saved so that the information does not have to be entered over and over again. WiFi Sense also allows one to optionally share wifi username and password with connected contacts (who obviously should be using Windows Phone), so there is no awkward password sharing involved when friends and family visit each other.

Word Flow goes to the next level

The Windows Phone keyboard is one of the best among its competition, especially given the accuracy of its predictions of the next word, but with Windows Phone 8.1, Microsoft added a gesture-based keyboard. This keyboard is similar to the ones found on Android (and coming soon to iOS 8) but combine that gestures with the predictions and you get a fast, fantastic typing experience.

Windows Phone 8.1: Wordflow with gestures
Windows Phone 8.1: Wordflow with gestures

 

Internet Explorer 11

Besides an updated browser engine, Internet Explorer now lets you share favorites, open tabs and most importantly, passwords among Windows devices (as long as they are Windows 8 and above :-)).

New Calendar view

Not only is the Calendar app now a standalone app (as evidenced by updates to the app delivered recently to those who are on the developer preview of Windows Phone 8.1), but it also adds a much-requested week view. The view is very smartly designed because when you tap on the date icon in the app bar below, it keeps the weekly view but simply expands that day of the week. Similarly, if you tap on any other day of the week, it simply expands that day. Tapping it again will switch the view to the daily view.

The Cyan firmware update is applicable to Lumia devices, and as suggested by it being firmware, the update provides lower-level improvements to the device in general. These improvements help Nokia’s great photo applications like Nokia Camera, Creative Studio and Storyteller.

Cyan also delivers a new Device Hub, which is meant to identify devices near you which you can connect to, as well as suggest apps which will be able to take advantage of the connection to the said devices. For example, if it finds a Windows 8 PC nearby, it may suggest Remote Desktop as an app, if it detects a media streaming device like a DirecTV receiver, it may suggest a media streaming app.

For the low-end Lumias like Lumia 520, 525, etc., the HERE Drive app gets bumped up to HERE Drive+. For the high-end Lumias like Lumia 1520 and Lumia Icon, Cyan enables Rich Recording and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 sound. The high-end Lumias also get improvements in photos with improved colors and even better low-light photos along with RAW images and a new Living Images feature which adds a tiny bit of animation before the shot is taken, to add “life” to the image.

Now, for the not-so-great news. Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan are available but they have only been delivered to the carriers. The update rolls out based on the carriers’ testing. The good thing is that Nokia is documenting the updates on their page as usual. The page is here.

I have been running the developer preview and I feel it is now up to the developers to bring their apps to the performance level that Windows Phone 8.1 provides, especially on the higher-end devices. I had almost given up on Windows Phone but Cortana and Action Center kept me interested. Along with many new apps coming to the platform, it has become a truly legitimate contender from a features perspective. The market, especially US and China, will of course speak with their wallets, but at this point Windows Phone 8.1 on a recent Lumia is not a bad choice to go for.

Here’s Nokia’s official video walking us through Windows Phone 8.1 and Cyan:

 

All images from Nokia and Windows Phone sites

Put That OneDrive Space To Use: Move Music Collection to the Cloud and Stream It

Do you have a ton of space in your OneDrive account and don’t know what you want to do with it? How about taking the bold step of moving your music collection to OneDrive?

Wait a second, you may say. OneDrive does not “support” music files, you may say. Well, maybe not openly and definitely not as a streaming music service could. However, as I coincidentally found out over the weekend, as long as you have the OneDrive app (I tested on Windows Phone, iPhone and Windows 8), you may at least be able to play your music, one song at a time.

Through a variety of promotions and tie-ins, I have almost 240GB of space on my OneDrive, and very soon, it is going to be 1TB because I have an Office 365 Home subscription.

To The Cloud

First though, moving the collection. If you are like me, and have many ways to listen to your collection, and have multiple forms of backup running, you may be wary of moving things around. I took a deep breath and took the plunge, although I knew what I wanted to achieve: move the music to the cloud but not lose the local files, and still continue to back up to my cloud backup service, Crashplan.

So, on my Windows 8 “home server”, I took the music off the data drive and moved it to my OneDrive’s sync location under a convenient location like OneDrive\Music. It took a while to move my 120GB to the cloud, but once I copied it to the location, I let it do its thing uploading the music to OneDrive. This step should be identical if you have Windows 7 (or even a Mac) with the OneDrive sync client installed.

The advantage with this approach as opposed to leaving the music on the home server is that I now have the ability to access my music from virtually any device connected to the internet. At the same time, since the music is still on my home server, I did not lose the ability to play the music from devices on the home network like my Apple TV.

Backup vs Sync

One common confusion is mistaking backup for sync, or vice versa. I think of it this way: I want my important data to be backed up without any manual effort, and I want some of the digital memories synced so that I can access them from anywhere, at anytime. The nuance here being, the backup is a one-way data transfer from my home server to the cloud whereas syncing enables me to add to my music collection from anywhere. So the next time I see a great deal on Amazon Music for a $5 album, I can not only purchase it but also download it and make it available to my other devices.

OneDrive Website Album Listing
OneDrive Website Album Listing
OneDrive Website Download Prompt
OneDrive Website Download Prompt

 

Use the OneDrive apps

Speaking of being able to access from anywhere, what happens when you try to open one of your (DRM-free, of course) audio files? Well, it depends. If you open from a browser, it simply opens the dialog to download the file. This is because the OneDrive web app is not set up for streaming music. It is only meant to interpret documents (Office formats, text and PDF), pictures and video. In the mobile OneDrive apps on the other hand, you can navigate to the folder with the songs, and tap on the actual song and it will start playing the song.

OneDrive iOS App Artists
OneDrive iOS App Artists
OneDrive iOS App Albums
OneDrive iOS App Albums
OneDrive iOS App Songs In Album
OneDrive iOS App Songs In Album
OneDrive iOS App Song Display
OneDrive iOS App Song Display
OneDrive iOS App Streaming Song
OneDrive iOS App Streaming Song
OneDrive iOS App AirPlay Option
OneDrive iOS App AirPlay Option

I hadn’t noticed this earlier, and while this is good, it by no means makes the OneDrive app a music player like Amazon Music app or Google Play Music app. For example, the app does not play an entire folder. It does not understand playlists. When you skip a song, it simply returns you to the folder instead of playing the next song.

OneDrive Windows Phone App Albums
OneDrive Windows Phone App Albums
OneDrive Windows Phone App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows Phone App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows Phone App Streaming Audio
OneDrive Windows Phone App Streaming Audio

 

But the fact that it can now stream (not download and then play) is a good sign that perhaps the OneDrive app may unbundle the photos/videos, documents and music features into their own apps just like Google and Amazon have done. I can see a OneDrive app like it is today, for general storage features, an Office app to only surface the files that Office mobile can open, OneDrive Photo app for pictures and videos, and OneDrive Music or Xbox Music app to surface audio files.

OneDrive Windows 8 App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows 8 App Album Listing
OneDrive Windows 8 App Streaming Music
OneDrive Windows 8 App Streaming Music

 

Owning music vs renting

I say all of the above but I am one of those who has slowly learned to give up trying to deeply control the music collection. I mostly rent music via one or more of the streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, iHeart, etc. I am also a paying subscriber for Xbox Music Pass which lets me play any song from their catalog on-demand. As a result, the real need to listen to music I “own” (because you know, this collection goes way back to the Napster and Kazaa days), has gone down tremendously. There are still some comedians whose performances I have in my collection which are not available on iTunes or Xbox Music catalog. There are also some Bollywood songs which did not match when I tried iTunes Match and also Xbox Music matching, but those are general the exception rather than the rule.

And then there’s services like Apple’s iTunes Match. It allows one to “match” their local collection with iTunes’ catalog and whenever there is a match, iTunes allows you to listen to the songs from any authorized device. The service is not free, but at $25/year it is a small price to pay for hassle-free management of your music collection. It also allows customers to upload the songs which do not match, although the uploaded songs would count against the iCloud storage quota. Once Apple’s newly announced storage plans go in effect, it would be a good idea to let iTunes completely manage the collection, which is taking one more step towards freeing up your collection. Xbox Music advertised long ago that this feature was coming to the service but so far it only does matching but does not allow you to upload unmatched music to the cloud.

Use the cloud, any cloud

To conclude, I recommend that you start thinking about simplifying your data management. Why leave stuff on your hard drive when you can use the cloud? For digital stuff like music and photos, it is better to make the cloud your primary “drive” and sync it to the devices you use. I used OneDrive as an example in this article but feel free to explore the cloud of your choice. It won’t harm going instead with Google, Amazon, or coming soon, Apple because all of the big ecosystem providers understand that providing a reliable storage solution is key to keeping customers “sticky”. Start planning the move to the cloud, as long as your bandwidth permits.

What’s your personal cloud situation? What about owning vs renting music, do you use any of the streaming services? Which ones? Why? Let us know!

New Office 365 Plans Coming For Small Businesses

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As part of the evolution of Office 365, the service is going to see three new plans this October, per a post on the Office Blogs on July 9.

The three new plans, catered towards small businesses (from 1 user to 300 users), will eventually replace the existing Small Business, Small Business Premium and Midsize Business plans.

 

Office 365 Small Business Plans
Office 365 Small Business Plans

The new plan details are as follows:

Office 365 Business

This plan is more in line with the Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home in that it is essentially the desktop Office suite available on a subscription basis. Compared to the consumer edition of OneDrive that comes with Office 365 Personal and Home, Office 365 Business will come with the 1TB of OneDrive for Business. The applications included in the desktop suite are Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and Publisher. Curiously, no mention of Access.

This plan will cost $8.25 user per month.

Office 365 Business Essentials

This plan includes Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Lync Online and Yammer, but there is no desktop software subscription included. It will also have the 1TB of OneDrive for Business.

This plan will cost $5 per user per month.

Office 365 Business Premium

This is somewhat of a combination of the above two, so it comes with the desktop suite as well as online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync along with the 1TB of OneDrive for Business.

This plan will cost $12.50 per user per month.

Office 365 Small Business Plans ComparedOffice 365 Small Business Plans Compared
Office 365 Small Business Plans Compared

 

Some overall benefits include the ceiling of these plans being raised to 300 seats, as well as being able to upgrade to Enterprise plans if the growth of the company goes beyond that number. Additionally, since the new Business Premium plan replaces a plan that currently costs more ($15 per user per month), current customers on that plan will see the reduced cost applied at the next renewal. All of these plans of course unlock the ability to edit documents on Office apps for iPad.

This announcement comes days before the annual Worldwide Partner Conference, with a clear intent to incentivize partners to sell these plans to small businesses, which should be the most likely candidates to move to the cloud given their limited IT resources.

Are you an existing small business Office 365 customer? Do these plans sound interesting to you? Let us know in the comments.

 

Images courtesy Office Blogs

App Developer Focused On Music? Use Xbox Music API and Make Money!

The folks over at Microsoft’s Xbox Music Developer group announced on July 3 that they were extending the Xbox Music API more generally to all third party developers. This REST-based API, announced at //Build earlier this year, encompasses metadata, deep linking, playback and collection management.

This means, a developer with any interest in pulling up information or content related to music, can now use the Xbox Music catalog and resources and integrate them into their apps. There are various possibilities like a video editor being able to use background music, video game makers allowing custom soundtracks, or something as simple as a band’s fan page pulling up metadata from their catalog on Xbox Music.

 

Xbox Music API Features
Xbox Music API Features

The more interesting news in the blog post comes later, where they announce an affiliate program:

Every user you redirect to the Xbox Music application can earn you money on content purchases and Xbox Music Pass subscriptions. You currently will earn a 5 percent share on purchases and as the Xbox Music pass is at the core of our service, 10 percent on all music pass payments for the lifetime of the subscription.  In the US for example, that’s one dollar, per user, per month!

That’s no small change, if you ask me. The Xbox Music Pass is a pretty good deal as it is, and if a developer can lead someone to that vastly underrated product and their customer is able to sign up, a 10% commission is pretty sweet.

 

Xbox Music Affiliate Program
Xbox Music Affiliate Program

The headwinds are strong for Xbox Music because established players like Spotify have also opened up their catalog to developers in a similar fashion. It remains to be seen if the developers find the API and/or the affiliate terms strong enough of an incentive to build against the Xbox Music API vs the others.

 

Integrate Xbox Music API Everywhere
Integrate Xbox Music API Everywhere

One thing to bear in mind is the new Microsoft is not going to remain uni-platform anymore. They have shown all signs of being completely platform-agnostic to prepare for the new normal where Windows becomes just another platform that Microsoft services support.

Are you a developer building apps which require music? Are you using Spotify or anything else? Would you sign up for Xbox Music Developer program? Let me know below.

 

[All images courtesy Microsoft/Xbox blogs; header image is from the author’s computer]

Powerful and Inexpensive Lumia 635 Available on T-Mobile and MetroPCS in July

Lumia 635
Lumia 635

The extremely affordable Lumia 521 (a variant of the Lumia 520, made for T-Mobile) has a successor. Microsoft announced on July 1, that the first Windows Phone 8.1 device for the US will be arriving on T-Mobile/MetroPCS soon.

The schedule is a bit hairy, so here goes:

  • From July 5, this phone can be purchased via the Home Shopping Network
  • From July 9, it can be ordered online at t-mobile.com
  • From July 16, it will be available at T-Mobile stores
  • From July 18, it will be available at select MetroPCS stores

The pricing is $0 down and $7/month for 24 months or a promotional price of $99 off-contract.

 

Lumia 635
Lumia 635

The phone has a 4.5” screen combined with a quad-core Snapdragon processor, and unlike its predecessor, it works on the fast 4G LTE speeds. The phone will come pre-loaded with Windows Phone 8.1 and its personal digital assistant Cortana.

It is also one of the first phones to include software-based buttons on the front as well as SensorCore, the technology which enables low-power tracking of various sensors in the phone.

Here’s an official hands-on video:

I am a big fan of these low-cost Windows Phone devices, and I love my Lumia 520. Most apps work flawlessly on my 520 (subject to the 512MB RAM limits) and I am sure the same will be true for the Lumia 635. Another improvement in this phone over the 520 is that the microSD card slot can accept cards up to 128GB, and Windows Phone 8.1 allows apps and media to be stored on the expansion slot, so the 8GB default storage is no longer a concern.

Windows Phone has not picked up any steam in the US market and while in the rest of the world has shown a fondness for the low-cost Windows Phone, it remains to be seen if the Lumia 635 can change any of that. I am considering swapping out my 520 for the 635. Are you thinking about getting one?

Windows Store and Windows Phone Store: Website Apps “Problem”

I have noticed a slightly disturbing trend in Windows (and Windows Phone) apps, and that is “big brand” apps being released as a website wrapped in an app. I am going to refer to three specific examples I stumbled upon recently, but please note these apps are not the only ones with this issue.

Let’s take a look at United Airlines app to start with. Here’s the app’s opening screen:

 

United Airline App Home
United Airline App Home

Even at the first glance you can tell this is the website being rendered inside the app. I don’t have a problem with HTML inside apps, but just throwing the website as is into the app makes for terrible user experience especially on touch. For example, you can see that the links are so dense that they will make it hard to tap:

 

United Airlines Travel Info Page
Travel information page

Even some other “pages” in the “app” where the density is not so high, the layout does not feel native at all:

 

United Airline Products Page
United Airline Products Page

Finally, compare the screenshots above to the United Airlines website:

 

United Airline website
United Airline website

So yes, the Windows Store team can claim we have a genuine and official app for United Airlines, but as a user I’d much rather just go to the website than use the app.

It gets worse in the evite app, whose main screen is shown below:

 

Evite App Home
Evite App Home

When I tapped the header image in the app, I was brought to the details page. So far, so good. The touch targets are big enough, the layout does not look like a website but it is because evite’s website is designed that way.

 

Evite App Section
Evite App Section

However, the issue arises when I tap something in the details page, it launched the evite website! That is terrible, because the app itself is the website, so why should it throw me out of the app and open the website?

 

Evite App Clicks To Website
Evite App Clicks To Website

For comparison, here’s the evite website:

 

Evite website
Evite website

Finally, the Orbitz app, where you will see a link to their mobile apps!

 

Orbitz App Home
Orbitz App Home

See the Orbitz website below, which looks exactly like the app:

 

Orbitz website
Orbitz website

Starting from scratch as a distant third in the mobile ecosystem wars, Microsoft is in a bad situation when it comes to breaking the Catch-22 of users not buying Windows devices because of lack of apps and developers not building apps for Windows because of low volume of Windows devices sold. I have seen other desperate attempts by Microsoft, like encouraging student developers to submit apps without much regard to quality of the apps. We have also seen Microsoft getting caught submitting web wrappers in their own name, for popular products and services like Southwest Airlines. This could very well be another such attempt to get big brands in the Windows and Windows Phone Stores, but I am unclear how it benefits the end users. The fact that several such apps have been released recently points to some level of green lighting by Microsoft, even if they are not the ones making it.

The least Microsoft can do now, is to make sure the layouts are modified to make them touch-friendly. Don’t get me wrong though, there are a lot of good, big brand apps coming to both Windows and Windows Phone lately, and I am really happy about that as a user in that ecosystem. Also, increasingly the apps are being released as “Universal” where you buy/download on Windows and it becomes enabled on other Windows/Windows Phone devices (and vice versa). This trend is also great news for the ecosystem.

Do you agree that these apps are close to “junk”? Are you ok seeing such “apps”? Let me know in the comments!

OneDrive Increases Free Storage and Office 365 Gets 1TB Free

On June 23, Microsoft announced several updates related to its OneDrive consumer-oriented online storage service including bumping up the free storage tier, reducing costs for purchasing storage dramatically, and adding 1TB to Office 365’s non-business plans.

OneDrive 1TB with Office
OneDrive 1TB with Office

Free Storage

While OneDrive (then called SkyDrive) offered 25GB free long time ago, Microsoft changed the free tierto be a then reasonable 7GB around the time of Windows 8 launch. The reasoning then was 7GB was higher than the competition at the time. Of course, as cost of storage has gone down, and as cloud services become more essential for ecosystems, Google and even Apple, have announced very inexpensive plans for their respective online storage services. Now, Microsoft matches some of the recent competitive updates by making the free tier to be 15GB.

Office 365 Personal, Home and University plans join the 1TB party

Microsoft had already announced that Office 365’s business editions would be getting 1TB of included storage (although that would be under OneDrive for Business, which is not the same product as OneDrive). With this announcement, Office 365’s non-business editions, which is Personal, Home and University, also get 1TB of included storage.

This makes Office 365 a pretty fantastic deal if you have the need for desktop Office, or if you want to be able to edit Office documents on the iPad. Not only does Office 365 now come with 1TB of storage, it always included 60 minutes of free Skype worldwide calling and of course desktop version of the Office suite, as well as edit rights for iPad version of the Office apps. If you have more than one person who needs Office, then Office 365 Home is a killer deal @ $99 per year for 5 users.

Office 365 Consumer Plans
Office 365 Consumer Plans

Reduced prices for additional storage options

Of course, as storage costs have gone down, each of the online storage providers have kept cutting their prices. OneDrive will no longer have the 50GB option since the $100GB option is now at $1.99 per month, down from $7.49 per month. An additional 200GB will be $3.99 per month, down from $11.49 per month.

These are great updates to an already useful storage service. As a reminder, OneDrive has a presence on all platforms, making it a truly universal online storage service: Windows 7, Windows 8.x, Windows Phone, iPhone, iPad, Android, Mac OS. The price changes were not completely unexpected because it is much easier for a larger company with scale, to keep lowering costs to meet the competition’s prices. I wonder what this means to the likes of Dropbox and Box, especially the former, since it has long been the darling of consumers for being so easy to use, sync and share. With OneDrive (and Google Drive and soon, iCloud) being so front-and-center in those various ecosystems, it will be interesting to see how many consumers will decide to switch away from the smaller companies. We shall see.

Edit: An earlier version of this article stated that OneDrive is perhaps the only service with apps across all platforms. Dropbox and Box also have apps across all platforms. Author meant to say, only one among the big ecosystem providers, but the sentence has been modified to refer to OneDrive by itself.

(Images courtesy OneDrive blog and Office Blogs)

Microsoft launces Internet Explorer Developer Channel

On June 16, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer will now have a Developer Channel release which can run side-by-side with the production/GA version of Internet Explorer on Windows 7 and Windows 8.x. This feature, which has long been available in Google’s Chrome browser and Mozilla’s Firefox, is a pleasant surprise to those who use Internet Explorer.

This release is a continuation of the effort Microsoft, and especially Internet Explorer team has started, to become developer-friendly by being proactive in communication about the roadmap and the features. This release, unlike the previous developer previews Microsoft created, not only runs side-by-side with the existing version of Internet Explorer but also includes changes to the UI as they are made.

Some of the key updates in this release include:

Updates to F12 developer tools

An enhanced debugging experience with event breakpoints that help you get to your event-driven bugs faster.

Richer analysis capabilities throughout the Memory and UI Responsiveness profilers, which support further reduction of noise through multi-dimensional timeline filter, while further increasing the semantic value of the data being reported by lighting up performance.measure() based instrumentation and dominator folding.

An improved navigation experience that provides more keyboard shortcuts (ctrl+[ and ctrl + ]), as well as new header notifications, which allows you to quickly determine whether any of the profiling tools are running or how many errors your page has.

The complete list of updates are on MSDN here.

IE Dev Channel F12 Tools
IE Dev Channel F12 Tools

Support for WebDriver standard

IE Developer Channel also comes with support for the emerging WebDriver standard through which Web developers can write tests to automate Web browsers to test their sites. It’s a programmable remote control for developing complex user scenarios and running them in an automated fashion in your Web site and browser. See how you can setup WebDriver in the IE Developer Channel, and try out this sample WebDriver project.

Support for Gamepad API standard and improved WebGL support

IE Developer Channel comes with support of the emerging Gamepad API standard that lets you use JavaScript to add gamepad support to your Web apps and games.

IE Developer Channel also improves WebGL performance and adds support for instancing extension, 16-bit textures, GLSL builtin variables, and triangle fans. This release improves our Khronos WebGL Conformance Test 1.0.2 score from 89% to 94%.

Status.modern.ie Gamepad Status
Status.modern.ie Gamepad Status

The team is promising frequent updates to the Developer Channel and we shall see how frequent that is. Given the pace and cadence across various other groups at Microsoft, it could be anywhere from two weeks (Xbox Music) to a month (Xbox One, Power BI) or three-four months (Windows, Windows Phone). Whatever it is, for developers this is much better than anything Internet Explorer has done in the past.

You can download the Developer Channel release from here.

Here’s Charles Morris introducing the Developer Channel IE: