Microsoft Ventures in India has announced the launch of JumpStart, a hotline to provide startups and entrepreneurs with a resource to ask business and technical questions. Continue reading JumpStart, a dedicated helpline by Microsoft Ventures to answer startup queries
At its annual developer conference //build/ on April 2, Microsoft announced an update to Windows 8.1 simply called Windows 8.1 Update. This update will arrive via Windows Update on April 8 and is available via msdn from April 2.
As the name suggests, this is an update to the operating system but as you will see, the changes implemented in this update are all made to make it easier for mouse users to navigate and use Windows 8.1. Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 are obviously touch-friendly so tablet usage is not a concern. Also, there are tons of keyboard shortcuts including power user shortcuts like Winkey+X which allow heavy keyboard users to navigate their way around. Mouse users, especially on larger displays, had to move their mice too much in order to get things done. Not anymore. Some key user experience changes:
Adding common controls to Start Screen: A power button and a search icon get added to the top, right next to the user name/photo on the Start Screen, making it easier to shut down the computer and intuitively search the computer. Similarly, a PC Settings tile gets added by default to open up Control Panel. These are small changes but given that these actions are taken quite frequently, it makes a lot of sense that they are bubbled up to the Start Screen rather than having the users try to find them or stumble upon them accidentally.
Title bar in Modern Apps: The action to “close” a Modern App today is to take the mouse to the top of the screen and drag down the app in a single motion from top all the way to the bottom until the app disappears. That action, to say the least, is mouse user-unfriendly. On a small tablet, it would seem ok since taking a finger from the top of the tablet to the bottom is simple enough of a gesture.
In order to simplify this task, Windows 8.1 Update introduces a small (auto-hidden) title bar at the top of all Modern Apps and that title bar includes a minimize and a close button just like today’s Windows desktop applications. This makes a lot of sense, since a mouse user would normally go to look for those actions where they are used to seeing them in pre-Windows 8 operating systems.
Right-click context menu on Modern Apps: Another setting that completely makes sense. In non-Windows 8 environments and even in Windows 8’s desktop realm, anytime a mouse user wants to do something to an item, they would right-click. But in Modern Apps, a right-click does not pop up a menu where the cursor is, but instead it opens up the App Bar which could be at the bottom and/or at the top. By making the same Windows 7-style context menu now pop up where the mouse cursor is, Microsoft is making it easier for Windows XP and Windows 7 users to transition to Windows 8.
Pinning Modern Apps to taskbar: Yet another step towards making it easy for users to transition from Windows XP and Windows 7 is the ability to pin Modern Apps to the taskbar. That way, if someone spends most of their time in the desktop environment, they are not “cut off” from the Start Screen. Also, in a move to increase interest in the Modern Apps, Microsoft also announced that the Windows Store app will be auto-pinned to the taskbar on a default Windows installation. This, they hope, will prompt more visits to the Store because of the nature of being defaulted in Windows, thereby increasing the chances of someone downloading Modern Apps.
As you can see, the trend in the key updates coming as part of Windows 8.1 Update is to make the OS more welcoming to those migrating from Windows XP and Windows 7. If the transition is eased, more users will end up not wanting to avoid or being afraid of Windows 8, and thereby increasing the installed base and the developer opportunity. An introduction to the update in the video embedded below:
Are you looking forward to this update? Anything you had wanted to see that they did not include? Sound off in the comments!
//build, Microsoft’s annual developer conference kicked off on April 2 and the marathon keynote included several announcements that finally bring Microsoft’s “One Windows” vision closer to reality.
Although it may not be an official or formalized mission, “One Windows” seems to be an ever-so-close possibility since the time Windows Phone moved to NT kernel to make it very similar to Windows 8 on PCs. First, the relevant announcements:
Windows Phone 8.1: The version number incremented by .1 would seem to imply an incremental change, but that is absolutely misleading. The number, and magnitude, of changes in Windows Phone 8.1 from Windows Phone 8 is perhaps far greater than the changes Windows Phone 8 itself introduced over Windows Phone 7. Consumer features like lock screen themes and Start Screen background image and enterprise features like VPN support are just a few. The biggest change perhaps, is the presence of digital personal assistant called Cortana, which seems to be a smart mix of Apple’s Siri and Google’s Google now.
Windows Phone 8.1 walkthrough by Joe Belfiore
Universal apps: Even though it is possible to create apps for Windows Phone and Windows 8 where a lot of code is shared between the two, Microsoft announced what they are calling “Universal apps“. These apps are actually built with the intention to be run on the phone as well as on tablet and PC. It is a single binary which potentially could render differently depending on the device on which it runs. In order to make this possible, developers would need to modify their apps and with the appropriate changes applied, have their customers purchase once and (optionally) use it on multiple devices. Until now, even though much of the code could be reused/shared, it was not possible to have a single binary nor was it possible to allow the customer to buy on a phone and use it on a tablet. That has now changed, and is a huge step in the unification of Windows. What’s more, in their “vision” part of the keynote, Microsoft executives also promised that the Universal apps would extend to the Xbox as well, thereby making these apps truly “universal”.
Windows Universal app icons
Windows for “Internet of Things”: Also as part of the vision, Microsoft introduced a new as yet unnamed version of Windows aimed at all other kinds of devices which are proliferating around us, and generically called it “Windows for the Internet of Things“. These devices, until now, have all been using Android or something else, but definitely not Windows, so it was clearly an opportunity Microsoft did not want to miss out on. The operating system will be released in preview form this Spring.
Windows license cost of $0: Along with this announcement, Microsoft also took a bold step towards increasing interest in and adoption of Windows among developers by making all versions of Windows free for devices under 9 inches in size. Essentially, this signals that device makers making devices in this hugely growing category would have no barrier in terms of cost, to sell Windows in those devices. Given that Android indirectly costs money (potentially to use Google Mobile Services on top of Android Open Source Project, but additionally, surely for patent licensing fees), device makers will find themselves looking at Windows as the *cheaper* OS for their devices!
Shared experiences: In addition to announcing keyboard and mouse user-friendly updates to Windows 8.1, Microsoft also demonstrated how experiences will span Windows Phone and Windows on tablets and PCs. With Internet Explorer 11 on Windows Phone 8.1, users will now be able to share IE settings, tabs, passwords, favorites, etc. between the phone and tablets/PCs. Similarly, via their Microsoft account, customers will also be able to have the same theme across phone and tablet/PC along with several other settings that are already possible to be synced between Windows 8.1 devices.
There were several other announcements but the above items show the steps Microsoft has taken, listening to customer feedback as well as executing on their product roadmap, to make it seamless for customers to use Windows regardless of the device they use it on. The developer story therefore becomes even more compelling because it is not just phones or not just tablets that is the addressable market. Suddenly, any device that ships with Windows, will be able to consume the apps and games developers build and not just in theory. This has always been the advantage of the iOS ecosystem and Apple executed it well from the beginning because they were in a much better position to do so, having defined the entire path themselves. Google’s Android followed, although in a slightly different way – Android phone apps stretch out on a larger screen if there is no specific tablet version available. Microsoft’s vision is definitely more like iOS but at the same time, due to the excellent tooling in the form of Visual Studio, it also seems like it may be much easier to build a universal app targeting Windows. The devil of course is in the details and we will see how developers react to this vision by observing how many existing developers convert their apps to Universal apps and how many new developers enter the ecosystem with their creative ideas.
This is a solid move by Microsoft and while some (including yours truly) may say it was long overdue, it is also better late than never. Microsoft is doing its best to court all kinds of developers including many in the Silicon Valley and many with an affinity towards open source projects, and they will have to continue to do even more going forward. Nothing matters more though, than hard numbers. If Windows devices get a decent market share and continue to prove to be higher revenue generators than the competing platforms, developers will automatically flock to the ecosystem.
Until then, Microsoft can only hope that “One Windows” matters to a developer as much as it is necessary for Microsoft.
If you were disconnected from the world for the past several months, you wouldn’t know that Microsoft is going to release the next version of their operating system for personal computers, called Windows 8. Let me rephrase that: Microsoft is going to release an operating system for mobile, highly-connected devices, with touch input at the front-and-center, and along with that operating system, it is also providing an upgrade to their existing Windows 7 operating system.
The look and feel of Windows is very different from earlier versions of Windows, and as a result there has been a lot of uncertainty and (unfair) judgement about it being circulated in the tech press. Instead of writing yet another article about how this whole thing is confusing, my goal here is to make it simple for someone who wants to know more about “The Big Launch” that Microsoft is undertaking at the end of October.
First and foremost, there is Windows 8. It is the operating system that will ship on most PCs and it is also something that you can upgrade from virtually any previous Windows version. This operating system runs the new “Start Screen” with Live Tiles, and will allow you to install apps (yes, there are now Windows Apps) from the Windows Store. Additionally, Windows 8 has a “desktop” environment that may seem familiar to users of Windows, especially Windows 7/Vista. Here, you can install applications outside of the Windows Store, for example CutePDF and Winrar. There is no restriction on what you can install in Windows 8 “desktop” environment. For apps on the other hand, unless you work at a company that supports it, or if you are a developer with the correct settings, you cannot install them from anywhere else except the Windows Store.
Windows RT is the radical new operating sytem that Microsoft is introducing for the first time along with Windows 8. It will not ship as standalone software, and instead, it will only be available as part of devices that ship with this operating system. Think of it as the software that runs your appliances like a DVD player or your car navigation system. Windows RT also has the same “Start Screen” as Windows 8 and you can install apps from the Windows Store just like Windows 8. It also has a “desktop” environment but you cannot install anything there. Yes, you read that right. Microsoft has locked the desktop environment so customers cannot install any software on the device except the apps you can get from the Windows Store.
Microsoft does ship Windows RT with a version of Office 2013 for free. It is called Office Home & Student 2013 RT which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. Think of Windows RT as Windows 8 with only the Windows Store Apps along with Office. (Yes, I know there are more “desktop” applications that come with Windows RT, but at a high level, this should suffice.)
All the apps you purchase from the Windows Store will work on Windows RT devices as well as Windows 8 devices.
Windows Phone 8
Microsoft also makes operating system software for phones, called Windows Phone. The next revision of this software, called Windows Phone 8, is also due to be released at the end of October. Windows Phone 8 is built on the same core as Windows 8 so application developers can reuse their logic between a Windows 8 app and a Windows Phone 8 app.
Although the apps are not the same across Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8, a lot of app developers are using the cloud to power native experiences across multiple platforms and devices. Evernote, for example, will have a Windows 8 app as well as a Windows Phone 8 app (in addition to other platforms), both delivering native experiences for the screen sizes, keeping most of the data and logic in the cloud so it is easily portable.
From a “devices” perspective, it is important to keep Windows Phone 8 in mind, but if the discussion is about “computers”, you only need to consider Windows 8 and Windows RT.
Having discussed the software at a high level, here’s the quick overview of Windows:
- Windows RT is the new mobile operating system built for increasingly popular simpler devices like tablets and slates. It comes bundled with Office and the only way to get more apps is via the Windows Store. It cannot be bought in the store, it comes pre-installed with devices like tablets and hybrids.
- Windows 8 is Windows RT combined with the ability to install any application that you can buy off the shelf today. It is built for more powerful computers, but retains all the advantages of mobility-focused Windows RT. It introduces many upgrades in that “desktop” environment over its predecessor Windows 7 and is generally installable on any PC that runs Windows 7 today.
The second complexity that will come in terms of increased choice is via the increased form factors of devices that are going to hit the market. Windows 8 being a touch-focused operating system, has led OEMs to ship many PCs with touch capabilities. So in addition to the simple desktop, laptop and tablet form factors, we have touch-screen laptop, devices with detachable screens/keyboards, laptops that convert to slate with a flip or a twist, and touchscreen all-in-ones. Additionally, PC makers as well as component makers have promised much better trackpad/touchpad technology in new devices and Windows 8 gesture support.
You don’t need to worry too much about the increased choice – just know that you can take advantage of touch, via direct touch on the screen or via indirect touch on the touchpad on laptops or separate trackpads that will ship with PCs, especially all-in-ones.
What will be tricky to decide and can only be done after trying a few PCs, are the convertible PCs. An Ultrabook-sized laptop, i.e., thin and light, that flips completely to convert to a touch slate, or a similar laptop where the screen detaches and becomes a standalone slate. I happen to prefer the convertible laptop (specifically, the Lenovo IdeaPad YOGA) but those detachables also sound quite interesting. Again, since we have not seen these form factors before, it is best to try them out before making a decision. (Yes, I know these existed in the Tablet PC era, but remember, Windows XP and even Windows 7 were not touch-first like Windows 8 is, and those PCs were thick and heavy. Besides, there was no app ecosystem like the Windows Store to enhance functionality in the PC.)
Of course, if you end up buying a pure slate form factor, Windows 8 and Windows RT both support Bluetooth so you can always slap an external keyboard and a mouse if you don’t see yourself always needing them.
Windows 8 is dramatically different from Windows 7. It also adds the mobile OS Windows RT. It is bound to create snap judgements from tech press used to “old Windows way of doing things” or those enamoured with anything that Apple produces. Having used Windows 8 over the past few months constantly on a very old PC with keyboard and mouse, I can assure you that for most people, it is going to be a significant ugprade over whatever else they have been using. It is fast, it is efficient and with the move towards an app-centric world, its functionality will constantly get enhanced by third-party developers building innovative apps and distributing them through the Windows Store. It will add some learning curve, especially for folks with muscle memory, but as we have seen with touch OS like iPhone/iPad’s iOS, it is much easier to learn navigating via touch than navigating via keyboard and mouse.
Don’t base your opinion on what’s being written by tech writers, especially those who have not really used the operating system. Certainly they have not used it on “Windows 8 hardware” so their opinions are either based on conjecture, or fear of change, or simply with a motive to get more pageviews because that pays the bills. I am sorry I had to create this disclaimer but having read the stuff that has been written about Windows 8, I can’t help but shake my head.
Having said all that, I must say, Microsoft’s efforts to educate what is Windows 8 and how it is different from Windows RT and which form factors are available and how to choose, has been abysmal. They may be able to train Microsoft Store employees in the last week before launch but how about the many other stores that are going to sell Windows 8 PCs and Windows RT devices? How are those employees going to guide the customers in the right direction? It would be a pity if customers see a beautiful ad on the TV showing “Windows 8″, go the store and happen to find a Windows RT tablet to be the cheapest, and go home and find out that they cannot use Quicken or Photoshop on it.
Windows 8 is too good for Microsoft to throw it off the rails like this. Hope they do enough in the “last mile” to guide customers in the right direction. They can’t rely on people like yours truly to keep demystifying and simplifying for them.
Are you sold on Windows 8? Do you plan to get a Windows RT device? Let me know in the comments!
Here’s one less reason for you to be “stuck” on GMail, as Douglas Pearce on the Outlook Blog put it. In the announcement on May 14, Microsoft said they are enabling Outlook.com users to chat with their Google contacts just like they do today with Messenger and Facebook contacts. This, they say, would make it easier for GMail users to switch over to Outlook.com.
As you may know, Outlook.com is in fact a suite of consumer web apps in the form of Outlook.com email, Outlook.com calendar (which was recently updated to be more Metro-styled), SkyDrive personal cloud storage, and People, which is the “universal address book”. The reason I say People is a universal address book is that it allows you to connect various services like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and link identities across these services and your actual address book to create a unified contact. That way, you can see everything about a contact all in one place — Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn updates. In addition, it also allows you to seamlessly chat with your contacts via the messaging pane in Outlook.com email, and when collaborating with someone in SkyDrive via Office Web Apps.
In addition to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others, Outlook.com also supported Google Contacts to be linked to your Microsoft account. What the Outlook.com team has done is that starting today, you can not just see the Google Contacts but actually chat with them in the messenger pane just like you do with your Messenger/Facebook contacts. When Windows Live ID (what then became Microsoft account) enabled linking to Google for contacts, I had speculated that Google Talk/Chat may not be far away. It took a while since then, but it has materialized now.
This is a great move by Microsoft. Not only can they claim “openness” which Google seems to tout all the time, they are actually reducing the friction of switching over from GMail to Outlook.com. In the new form of being a “Devices and Services” company, Microsoft is best served when they have a large user base and taking “market share” away from Google is always a nice thing for Microsoft.
Do you use GMail? Would this make you consider switching? Let me know in the comments.
Image from Office Blogs.
On May 21, Microsoft revealed the next generation of their gaming-cum-entertainment console, Xbox. Dubbed XBOX ONE, officials made it a point to talk up the non-gaming aspects of the new console as much as, if not more than, the gaming aspects. Given that the reveal event was limited to an hour, and that this is a console that has not been updated for years, there were many questions raised than answers provided.
Some of the key questions, at least among the tech media revolve around the gaming aspects of the console, and whether it or the upcoming console from Sony, the Playstation 4 (PS4) would be the better device for gamers. The other aspect that has been questioned a lot is the live TV feature revealed by Microsoft. Eyebrows were raised when everyone realized that the live TV feature would be provided via HDMI input and IR blaster as opposed to TV tuners or cable cards.
This is typical of tech media nowadays. For whatever reason, they make anything that Microsoft does seem silly. Here’s my take on what the Xbox One represents for Microsoft and how some of the things that are in the console may make sense.
First, this was the first of many events where the Xbox team will talk about the various aspects of the console. Naturally, since there is so much information to disseminate, it would be too much to do all at once and in a reasonable amount of time. Remember how the Sony event went on for hours because they went into too much detail at a “launch” event? I think, Microsoft learned the lesson and kept it short and left it simply as a reveal event without going into too much (or any) detail with regard to the developer story, the policy for used games, etc. There are at least two known events in June where they will get a chance to talk about the Xbox One as well as Xbox 360: the E3 expo in early June, and the Microsoft developer conference, BUILD, in late June. The timing of the reveal event absolutely makes sense given that they can follow up on the story within weeks of the reveal.
As for gaming aspects, Microsoft did talk about the specs of the console which are a significant upgrade over the Xbox 360. They also talked about how the three OSes in the console work in a way to make it possible to instantly switch between apps and games without having to wait for the game to reload. Some have rightly pointed out that by pure specs, the Xbox One is inferior to the PS4. However, as we know, there is no point in having a higher spec gadget where the software or content cannot or does not take advantage of the higher spec. For example, the iPad with Retina Display had an issue when it shipped, where many of the popular apps were not Retina-ready and looked worse than they looked on the non-Retina iPads. So, we will have to wait and see how much better the graphics look on the PS4 before concluding that it is “better” than the Xbox One.
As for the games themselves, they showed some of the exclusives that are coming to Xbox One from large development shops like EA. Naturally, E3 is the more appropriate venue to talk more about the games that will be coming to the console when it launches, both from large shops as well as indie developers. Also, BUILD is the best venue to discuss the developer story, especially how Xbox plans to accommodate indie developers especially if the “guts” of the console are based on Windows 8. Can a developer, for example, build an app or a game for Windows 8 tablet and with minor modifications (like maybe Kinect support), publish it to the “Xbox Store”? I am of course making the assumption that there will be an Xbox Store, which has not been confirmed by Microsoft but again, between E3 and BUILD we should know for sure.
Now, regarding live TV and wasted resources (hardware and software) to support it via a combination of HDMI passthrough and IR blaster. The argument made is that these methods are backward and it was tried by Google TV and did not succeed at all. Let me just say that Google TV, among many other flaws, did not support voice like Xbox One is supposed to support. The demo at the reveal event showed how you could simply talk to the Xbox and switch from playing a game to watching a channel or a show just by voice. Google TV had a clunky remote that was really hard to use and perhaps the failure of Google TV was not the IR blaster as maybe the user experience itself.
Coming to the choice they made by not including TV tuners or cable cards, the same pundits complaining about these are also claiming that more and more entertainment is viewed without cable. There is evidence that at least in the US, many households are “cutting the cord” and living without cable. These households have not stopped watching TV, they just use services like Netflix, hulu, etc. to consume their content. If that is the case, and knowing that the Xbox console is built for at least a 7-10 years lifecycle, what is the point in supporting a dying technology? Why should the Xbox have the incremental cost bundled into it now, knowing that in maybe 3 years most of the content won’t be consumed via the cable box? The Xbox One has done the right thing by providing the equivalent of a USB dongle for floppy drives when floppy drives were eliminated from laptops. The HDMI-in and IR blaster will help transition away from the cable box. Even though they have to plan for the future, they still have to support the present and that’s what these ports allow them to do. The only issue I see so far, and we don’t know everything about it in detail yet, is the lack of a DVR in the console itself. That too could be a non-issue if the voice commands could bring up the DVR content from the cable box too.
The Xbox 360 has sold 76 million consoles in its lifetime so far, but I am sure Microsoft wants that to expand dramatically. Why wouldn’t they expect to have one in each household? In order to appeal to “non-gaming households”, Microsoft will have to make the console appealing to the casual gamers and non-gamers via their entertainment story as well as the ecosystem story. There is, after all, a potential to see apps written for Windows Phone that may work on Windows 8 and Xbox One (with code modifications to suit each device appropriately, of course). Pure gaming console market is surely on the decline, so targeting just the gamers by simply making the most powerful console on the market would be a waste of R&D resources. Instead, by making it reasonably competitive with the PS4 for gaming, and dramatically improving the other experiences like live TV, snapping two apps, Skype video conferencing in HD, completely overhauled Kinect with wide-angle 1080P camera that can see in the dark, exclusive partnership with the NFL, etc., Microsoft has a shot at becoming a permanent fixture in the living room.
Personally speaking, I am at best a casual gamer. I liked what I have seen so far. I do want to know how they are going to fit the developer pieces together and what are the chances of seeing a spurt in apps as well as the integration within the Windows ecosystem. By the end of June, I will know enough to decide if I am going to buy the console right away or not.
Are you excited about Xbox One? Sound off in the comments!
On May 13, Omar Shahine announced a collection of updates to SkyDrive on the Inside SkyDrive blog.
The most visible update is of course a new view of your SkyDrive content — Timeline View for photos. With this view, which was going to be rolled out over 48 hours, you can see all your photos across all folders and sub-folders in a timeline view. This is very handy because you may have created many photo albums and if you are looking for a certain picture from a certain time in the past, now it is really easy to click through to find the said picture.
The timeline view allows you to see a general timeline listing and then, by clicking on a month name you can quickly browse through the various months where there are pics in your SkyDrive collection. Clicking on a month name will show all the photos with a timestamp of that month.
In addition, Microsoft also announced that they have improved the performance of the SkyDrive desktop application. They claim, per their internal tests, that the upload times are now 2-3x faster than before.
Another minor update was made to the thumbnail layout in SkyDrive, and also, new support now for PowerPoint and Word files.
Finally, related to SkyDrive, earlier they announced that from Windows Phones, the auto-uploading of full-resolution pictures and videos is now going to be possible in all markets and not just the US. It is quite astounding actually, that the auto-upload was not yet in place for most of the world. Anyway, it is better late than never.
It is very clear that the Outlook.com/SkyDrive teams are on a rapid release schedule of some sort because we have seen consistent updates from them over the past several months. Now that the transition from hotmail to Outlook.com is complete, I am hoping we will see some key missing features (music support on SkyDrive, video support in the timeline view, etc.) also implemented in short time.
What do you think of the SkyDrive updates?
Microsoft doesn’t exactly have the best of reputations when it comes to keeping cards close to its chest. Windows Blue is turning out to be no exception. We have had tips from insiders, leaks from partners, and even functional builds available for download on torrent websites. Now, Microsoft has finally opened up about its plans for the next iteration of the Windows operating system.
Speaking to shareholders, Tami Reller — who is the new Windows CFO, confirmed at the JP Morgan Media & Telecom Conference that Windows Blue indeed exists, and will hit the market by the end of this year. He also revealed that the operating system will be officially known as Windows 8.1. The best piece of news for current Windows 8 users is that the update will be available as a free download from the Windows 8 Store. Reller didn’t provide any insights into the expected enhancements in the next edition of Windows. However, the good news is that a public beta will be released on June 26th at the Build conference.
As was rumored, Microsoft announced an event on their campus scheduled for May 21, where they promise to talk about the next generation of the Xbox. Larry Hyrb, more popularly known as Xbox LIVE’s Major Nelson, announced the event on his blog.
Timing-wise, it works out very well for Microsoft. They can reveal the console and its capabilities along with the story of how it ties into the rest of the Microsoft ecosystem, especially around Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 in May. This reveal is then followed up 19 days later by the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) where Microsoft traditionally has had a major presence and a big keynote. This is where they show off the games that would accompany the launch, which is widely expected to by this Holiday season.
Finally, at the end of June comes //build, Microsoft’s developer conference where they could tell a deeper story to the rest of the developers (besides the launch partners, which are expected to be big game developer houses) and put the developer pieces together for not just game developers but perhaps all developers. If the rumors are true and the next Xbox is really “Windows 8 Inside”, there could be a lot of possibilities for all kinds of applications to be made available on the large screen. Combined with the power of the next version of Kinect, developers would have a great way to take their code from a Windows Phone 8 app or a Windows 8 app and tweak it for use on a large screen with gestures, voice and indirect touch via SmartGlass.
As for the #XboxReveal event itself, some of the media has been invited to the Xbox campus, but Microsoft is also live streaming the event on xbox.com, on Xbox LIVE on the console itself and on SpikeTV in the US and Canada. The event is on Tuesday, May 21st at 1pmET/10amPT/1700GMT.
As for the rumors, there have been a ton of them already about the specs of the console and the architecture. Much like Sony’s PS4, the Xbox is believed to be running on AMD architecture. Additionally, a more precise version of Kinect is expected to be on-board. There were initially rumors of an entertainment-only version of the console, to align with Apple TV, Roku and others, but recent updates suggest that it may have been postponed for now.
Among the unknowns of course are what the console looks like (there have been no leaks of the renders), the pricing and of course whether the current Xbox 360 would be kept in the market and if so, at what price.
I am excited about this, but not so much for the gaming on next generation hardware. I am more interested in the non-gaming parts of the next Xbox. How about you?
Finally, I say. After deflecting the need for and promising the availability of 2-step verification, Microsoft officially announced the roll out of optional 2-step verification on Microsoft account on April 17.
First, what is 2-step verification? It is a method by which services force you to provide an additional verification item to ensure you are actually who you say you are, before allowing you to login. Typically, this is done through a code sent via SMS after logging in with username and password. That way, the service ensures that just because someone has access to your username and password, they won’t be able to easily login to your account.
For Microsoft account, you can enable this feature by going to https://account.live.com/proofs/Manage. Once you enable it, you will be required to provide the code sent to your phone or if you set up a secondary method like email, then via email after providing your username and password. Additionally, for smartphones there are authenticator apps that work with Microsoft’s 2-step verification and Microsoft has also built an app for Windows Phone for the same purpose.
Once you set up the 2-step verification, it will work on Windows Phone, Windows 8, the web as well as Microsoft services on iOS and Android. As is the case with Google and other services that have already implemented 2-step verification, for clients that cannot support entering codes like Xbox, Microsoft will allow you to set up an app password. Once you have the app password for a particular client, it will remain associated with that client so you don’t have to enter the code at every login.
Microsoft has also enabled functionality where you can choose to have the code remembered for a particular application or service. If you do that, the code won’t be requested for 60 days, thereby making the process seamless.
It is also worth noting that Microsoft has enforced 2-step verification for some of its services already. For example, with SkyDrive you can remotely fetch files from other computers. Since this is a critical feature which can be abused by someone breaking into your account, Microsoft required a security code to be entered in addition to username and password.
Finally, remember that if you change your phone number or email, it is important to update the information in your account preferences before losing the number or email since it is something that cannot be updated by customer support. If you do lose the number and it is not reflected in your account preferences, you will have to wait for 30 days which is the typical account recovery period.
I like this step that Microsoft has taken. 2-step verification is not easy and has a lot of issues when the account is also used for authentication on other services besides the provider’s. It does seem like Microsoft is aware of the complexity involved and have tried to make it a bit more user-friendly than competing services. With more of our lives being stored in digital form, it is important to have good “locks” installed to protect our digital properties. 2-step verification is just one of the steps, and I am glad Microsoft has chosen to implement it.
Images are from the Official Microsoft Blog
Android users rejoice, especially if you also use Outlook.com. Microsoft announced on April 16 via their Outlook Blog that they have updated their Android app for Outlook.com. The update is not an incremental update by any stretch of imagination. It is a complete overhaul, and it looks beautiful.
As you can see above, the first thing that you notice is the overhaul of the user interface. The look is now distinctively “Metro”, looking very much like the Windows Phone and Windows 8 mail apps as also Outlook.com on the web.
Besides the visual changes, some new features were also added to the app. Conversation view for messages is now introduced in the app. In addition, there is also a “mark as junk” label which, I am surprised was left out all this time. Finally, the app now allows for viewing messages by read/unread status and provides the ability to view only flagged messages.
It is worth noting that despite Android “supporting” Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol, Microsoft were forced to build their own app for Outlook.com because, as per Microsoft, different versions of Android have different implementations of EAS. In order to provide a consistent experience across devices, it was felt necessary to build a separate app. This seems to fall in line with how Android works, given that their email client is not stellar, and how Google itself has chosen to build a GMail app for its own service.
If you use Hotmail/Outlook.com and have an Android device, this is a must-have. Download it here.
Images from the Office Blogs.
If you have been using Hotmail/Outlook.com for email, you would have noticed that the email, contacts and SkyDrive interfaces are all uniform, designed along the Metro principles of letting the content stand out and moving all unnecessary chrome and controls out of the way. One service which was still bearing the old Hotmail/Live look was the Calendar.
The Calendar was left in the old format for some strange reason even after Outlook.com left preview and became “production” recently. One of the early comments made by Microsoft about Calendar was that they observed that most people use the Calendar on mobile devices or via desktop applications and not the website, and hence they prioritized the Calendar update lower.
However, for those who got used to using the Outlook.com web interface (partly because it is so beautiful and functional), started feeling the eyesore that was Calendar. Until April 2.
Over on Office Blogs, David Dennis announced the new Outlook.com Calendar was finally available at http://calendar.live.com. Some of the salient features of the new Calendar are:
- The fresh/modern/Metro design. Finally in line with the email, contacts and storage services.
- Easier navigation and usage. The web app works much like a desktop application with drag across time periods to create an event, incorporating tasks within the same page as calendar, clicking to add/edit events, etc.
- If you connect your Microsoft account to Skype, LinkedIn and Facebook, you will automatically see birthdays (and other events) from those services in your calendar.
- Granular (but easy to use) privacy controls for sharing calendars and parts of calendars.
- Shared calendars with change notifications, enabling scenarios where parents share calendars and get notified when one or the other changes/adds events.
Overall, this is a much-needed and highly delayed change which finally makes the “Windows Services” consisting of Outlook.com email, Outlook.com Calendar, People and SkyDrive appear like a suite of services made by the same company.
There are still some features available in other services like Google Calendar that are missing from Outlook.com Calendar, but here’s hoping that with this “big” update out of the way, the Calendar team will get more resources to focus on adding functionality to the Calendar, and enhancing how it interacts with the rest of the products in the Microsoft portfolio like Bing.
Do you use Hotmail Calendar? Have you been upgraded to the new version? What are your thoughts?
Image courtesy Office Blogs.
Some of the changes and additions in this update are:
- Support for iPhone 5 and iPad Mini
- Updated app icons and user experience
- Works better with your photos:
- Download full resolution photos to your iPhone or iPad
- Control the size of photos you upload and download
- Photo metadata is retained when you upload to SkyDrive
- Opening and saving files to SkyDrive works better with other apps on your iOS devices
- Many other small changes, bug fixes and performance improvements
Given that the last update to the app was about a year ago, this news is very welcome for those who use SkyDrive.
What was not mentioned in the change log was that the option to buy additional storage on SkyDrive has been removed. This is because as per Apple’s App Store policies, if any app provides such functionality or even a link to their own site, the company has to pay 30% fee to Apple.
In fact, it is widely believed that the app was held back from being released because the negotiations between Microsoft and Apple were not going anywhere. Microsoft was trying to convince Apple that this is a special case and they should not be charged the 30% fee for the functionality. Clearly, Apple did not budge and Microsoft had to remove the link.
However, the silver lining here is now that Microsoft has published the SkyDrive app, we may not be too far away from Office on iOS making its appearance. The generally believed theory among those who watch Microsoft is that Office on iOS (specifically, iPad) is going to be free apps with read-only functionality unless a user has a Office 365 subscription. If they sign in with their Microsoft account tied to the subscription, they will be able to edit the Office files on iPhone and iPad. Given how important the “real” Office is for consumers and enterprises alike, it is natural that Microsoft would not want to pay 30% of the entire Office 365 subscription fee to Apple. Here’s hoping there was a good deal worked out between Cupertino and Redmond so end users like us can finally see Word, Excel, PowerPoint (and wishfully thinking, Outlook) on the iPad.
Do you use SkyDrive? Do you use it on iPhone/iPad? What do you think of the latest update? Let me know!
Image courtesy Microsoft from the Windows Blogs
Windows Blue, the successor to Windows 8, which is expected to be released towards the tail end of this year, made an early appearance yesterday in the form of a leaked interim build. The leaked build is a 32 bit edition of Windows Blue with a build id of 9364.0.
Since its appearance, it has been thoroughly dissected by several Microsoft watchers, including the likes of WinSuperSite and The Verge. As anticipated, Windows Blue is an incremental update, rather than a major overhaul as Windows 8 was. It builds upon the foundation laid by Windows 8, and tries to alleviate some of the major pain points.
For me, the biggest enhancement is the new half-screen app snapping. The Metro UI is simply too inhibiting on larger form factors (especially on PCs) because it only allows 1 app to be in the foreground at a time. There is an app-snapping feature, but that only allows the second app to run in a mini-mode within a quarter of the screen. In Windows Blue, you can run two apps side by side in a 50/50 screen sharing mode. In fact, Blue supports as many as four apps side-by side.
Enhanced Metro Settings
One of the biggest problems with Windows 8 is its split personality. No where is the half hazard division between Classic and Modern UI more apparent than the Settings. While the Modern UI has its own PC Settings app, it’s woefully inadequate. Most crucial settings are present only in the classic Control Panel. Windows Blue takes a step forward by adding several more options to the new PC Settings app.
Microsoft has added two new options to the Charms menu. The Share charms has received a new screenshot option for quickly capturing a screenshot and sharing it, while the Devices charm has been augmented with a play option.
Enhanced Start Screen
Windows Blue adds two new Tiles to the start screen – the first one is minuscule, while the second one is oversized. Additionally, Windows Blue prevents accidental modification of the Start screen by locking it down. You need to specifically select the Customize option to be able to modify the layout.
There are several other changes including new apps (Alarms, Calculate, Sound Recorder, and Movie Moments), improved SkyDrive Modern UI app, Internet Explorer 11, and new gestures.
Windows Blue is a step in the right direction. It attempts to solve some of the biggest issues with Windows 8. However, Microsoft still has some distance to travel. Modern UI is growing up, but still isn’t mature enough to stand on its own. Windows Blue will be a cheap (possibly even free) upgrade for existing Windows 8 user, which is expected to be released later this year.
[ Images via The Verge ]
One of the major issues plaguing the Windows Phone platform as a whole is the lack of quality apps, primarily the various popular ones that are currently thriving on iOS and Android. But simply porting these apps a few months — or more — to Windows Phone from their release won’t solve the problem. Microsoft needs to improve the platform’s mindshare amongst both developers and consumers.
When developers — big and small — work to release their apps as quickly as possible on Windows Phone, and treat the platform as an equal to iOS and Android, then Microsoft will have succeeded. Obviously, the issue isn’t just the lack of existing awesome apps. It’s the fact that now, when a hypothetical developer of what, unbeknownst to him, will soon be an incredibly popular app sits down to build it, he’ll prioritize getting the app on iOS and Android.
Maybe initially, due to the lack of resources and the need to ship, he’ll select one of these platforms to initially launch on. But then, in most cases, the next priority will be shipping an app on the other. After a year of hit sales on both of these platforms, maybe rumors will surface that a Windows Phone app is in the works.
This is the obvious problem with Windows Phone, and it’s why I’m perplexed as to how Microsoft could think that its latest incentive for people to develop on Windows Phone was a good idea at all.
The program, — aptly named “Keep The Cash” — encourages developers to create and submit up to 10 apps to the Windows Phone Store, offering $100 for each qualifying app. The program is also accepting Windows Store apps, allowing you to submit another 10 apps. That’s a total limit of $2000 in app submission.
Evidently, this drastically favors quantity over quality. The copy on the registration form blatantly encourages developers to make multiple apps. Can we seriously expect nothing less but shitty apps from developers who are developing multiple apps from March 8th to June 30th?
The program boasts that developers can earn up to $2000 per qualifying app. That’s a whopping 20 apps in roughly three months. And yes, the Terms and Conditions makes it clear that you cannot submit apps that have been previously submitted to the store.
Sure, some apps from developers who technically take advantage of this may be good; in that timeframe, developers who are wrapping up apps that have been in the works for some time could enter their creations in this program and claim the reward.
But we all know that this isn’t who the promotion is targeting. Everything is clearly targeted to appeal most to people who will try to pump out apps in this timeframe to gain as much money from the promotion as possible.
The negative image that this gives Windows Phone far outweighs anything positive that can come out of it. A good developer with taste from any platform — including existing Windows Phone developers — will scoff at the program.
With this program, Microsoft actually discourages quality developers from wanting to create Windows Phone apps while encouraging those who wish to make some cash as quickly as they shit out their apps to build on Windows Phone. On top of that, it can look like an incredibly desperate, “we’ll take all the apps we can get” program.
Even the registration form to participate looks sleazy. It’s reminiscent of those Monopoly promotions by McDonald’s, or even those cash for gold ads we occasionally see on TV. It’s aesthetically unpleasing and only serves as foreshadowing to the quality of the apps that will come as a result of it.
And, finally, this shows a lack of focus and awareness from Microsoft in regards to Windows Phone’s true problem, despite the fact that they’re definitely well aware of it.
In fact, Microsoft issued the following comment to AllThingsD regarding this:
We believe the best apps come from those partners who are invested in the platform and own their experience now and in the future. Of course, we are always working to spark creativity with new developer audiences and sometimes try limited incentives or contests, like Keep The Cash. However, it is not representative of an ongoing program.
Except it doesn’t spark creativity, it scares it away.
I largely wrote this article with emphasis on the impact of this program on Windows Phone, but it’s worth once again mentioning that the program also seeks out up to 10 Windows Store apps. The complete disregard of quality that’s projected through this program also impacts one of the company’s most valuable products.
In conclusion, I hope that Microsoft stops hosting programs like this and instead offers incentives that favor quality and innovation. As Long Zheng points out, that is something that the company is no stranger to doing.