Tag Archives: Microsoft

Use Android? Get the Latest Outlook.com App Update

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.

Outlook.com Android app
Outlook.com Android app

 

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.

Outlook.com Android app contetxtual menu
Outlook.com Android app contetxtual menu

 

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.

Outlook.com Calendar Finally Gets a Coat of Metro

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.
Outlook.com Metro Calendar
Outlook.com Metro Calendar

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.

Skydrive App Update on iOS Finally Live

On April 3, Mike Torres announced on Windows Blogs that the SkyDrive app for iOS was updated to v3.0 and was available in the iTunes store.

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
SkyDrive on iPhone 5
SkyDrive on iPhone 5

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

Early Build of Windows Blue Leaks

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.

Windows-Blue-Split-Screen

Improved Multi-tasking
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.

Enhanced Charms
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.

Windows-Blue-2

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.

And More
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 ]

Microsoft’s “Keep The Cash” Developer Incentive Program Is Appalling

Screen Shot 2013-03-21 at 11.55.36 PM

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.

Internet Explorer 10 Now Available for Windows 7

Internet-Explorer-10Internet Explorer 10 is finally ready for Windows 7. Exactly four months after IE 10 officially debuted with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 operating system, Microsoft has managed to get its browser ready for Windows 7 users. Unfortunately, if you are still on Vista or XP, you are out of luck. Microsoft is no longer interested in supporting you. Of course, there are plenty of alternatives, each of which works flawlessly even on the more than a decade old Windows XP.

One of the things that kept Microsoft busy while making Internet Explorer 10 compatible with Windows 7 was touch API support. In fact, ArsTechnica is reporting that installing Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 7 requires the installation of a platform update that brings Windows 7’s version of these APIs in line with Windows 8. Hardware acceleration using Direct2D and DirectWrite is also in. Other features Microsoft is touting include 60% increase in supported modern web standards, 20% improvement in rendering speed, and improved security, privacy and reliability.

If you installed the preview release, Internet Explorer 10 will be marked as an important update for you, otherwise it will be an optional update. However, Microsoft will be marking Internet Explorer 10 as an important update in more and more regions over the coming months. As per the default Windows Update settings, important updates are automatically downloaded, while optional updates aren’t.

[ Download Internet Explorer 10 ]

Yammer Grows Big After Microsoft’s Acquisition

Today, Microsoft has released some new Yammer statistics, which shows that the enterprise social network has surpassed 7 million registered users, which at the time of acquisition last year it had only 5 million registered users.

Microsoft also said that the sales for the year 2012 tripled to that of 2011, and highlighted that the fourth quarter sales in 2012 were up by four times than the previous year. Microsoft added that the number of paid registered users on Yammer shot up 165 percent in 2012, and has added nearly 290 new paying customers in the fourth quarter of 2012.

Yammer is one of the best tools for collaboration and widely used for private communication within organizations or a team. Microsoft has announced that it is going to integrate Yammer with Office this summer. That is, Microsoft’s SkyDrive Pro and Office Web Apps technologies will be tightly integrated into Yammer, and will be made available by summer 2013.

Yammer

Starting next week, Microsoft will be making available Yammer/SharePoint products and services at new price points. Those offerings will be:

  • Yammer Basic Standalone: Free
  • Yammer Enterprise Standalone: $3 per user/per month
  • SharePoint Online (Plan 1) + Yammer Enterprise: $4 per user/per month
  • SharePoint Online (Plan 2) + Yammer Enterprise: $8 per user/per month
  • Office 365 E Plans 1-4 + Yammer Enterprise: $8 – $24 per user/per month

Outlook.com is out of Preview, Said to Have 60 Million Users

In a blog post (and in interviews), Microsoft announced on February 18th that their new webmail service Outlook.com is coming out of preview. Microsoft claims Outlook.com has 60 million users, which makes it the fastest growing service.

In an interview with The Verge, Dharmesh Mehta, Senior Director of Outlook.com said that about a third of Outlook.com users came from GMail. While this number does not include true switchers, it does show that the service did pique the interest of many GMail users. The real success of the service will be determined by how it is able to retain those users who came from GMail, as well as of course attracting users from other services.

Another point made by Mehta was that all the time while Outlook.com was in preview, they were focused on scaling and tuning the performance so that they can handle the loads which would inevitably come when they start migrating existing Hotmail users over to the new service. This is going to start from the 19th and after sending emails and alerting the users, at some point the migration will happen automatically. Microsoft expects this process to complete by the end of summer.

Now that they are out of preview, Mehta said that they will focus on enhancing the features of the service. I look forward to some of the missing pieces in the service like:

  • Calendar: The beautiful interface (inspired by Metro design principles, and made for touch-friendly devices) extends from email, to contacts (People) to SkyDrive. The one service which has not seen the new coat of paint is Calendar and boy does it stick out like a sore thumb. The calendar needs to be updated quickly.
  • 2-factor authentication: When Outlook.com launched in preview mode, the team did some interviews and even a Reddit Ask Me Anything. When asked about 2-factor authentication like GMail and many other services use, the Outlook team said they don’t have it because most normal users don’t use 2-factor authentication because it makes sign in too complex. Instead, they claimed, they have a one-time password that gets sent via SMS, to use when accessing the service at an unknown PC. I don’t think that is a great substitute for 2-factor authentication. If Microsoft feels it is too complex, they should have an equivalent solution so that hackers cannot easily hack into email accounts.
  • Logged in activity: Continuing with the security trend, GMail also offers a nice snippet of IP addresses which are logged in to the GMail account at any given time, with the feature to remotely log any of those connections out. There is no such feature in Outlook.com. Another very nice feature available in GMail is a notification upon login that there was activity from places like China on the GMail account, potentially signalling an impending hacking attack. These days, it is better to have such measures in place than regret a hacking later, so it would be very nice if Outlook.com can adopt some of these security features in the service.
  • Spam filtering: While Outlook.com’s spam filter is great, I am not a big fan of blocking senders to mark an email as spam. This is especially true when there is a limit on how many senders can be in the blocked sender list. Instead, a message should be marked as spam and the anti-spam engine can then make an intelligent guess about the sender *and* the content of the message for future use. Similarly, moving a message to the Junk folder should trigger the same action as marking a message as Junk does, and that is not happening today.
  • Mobile apps – “Send email as”: What I love about Outlook.com among many other things, is the ability to collect emails from multiple accounts and use it as the only email service. On the web, I am able to decide which of the email addresses I want to use to send messages from, but that is not true with mobile apps. Even on Windows Phone, the email app is unable to send a message from a sender which is different from my Outlook.com/Hotmail account. Hence, when I want to send a message from my GMail address via my phone, I am unable to. I know part of this problem lies with the Windows Phone team, but since Outlook.com and Windows Phone are both from the same “team”, I as a user of both those services should expect things to just work. They don’t.

Let’s see how quickly these (and other) features get included in the service. I am looking forward to the massive marketing campaign for the service that is about the start soon. Unlike the negative Scroogled campaign, this one seems to target all the things that are great about Outlook.com, which is always a nice way to get your message out. See some of the upcoming ads below.

This one talks about Sweep feature:

This one is “Get Going”:

Microsoft’s Surface Pro “Sold Out”

Microsoft made its new member of the Surface family, Surface Windows 8 Pro, available for sale starting February 9, 2013. The Surface Pro, as I would like to call it, is being sold via Microsoft’s online store, their few retail stores and Best Buy and Staples retail stores.

Within hours, news started rolling in of the 128GB model going “out of stock”. The 64GB was available in most places, but the higher-end model was showing no stock at most of the retailers.

What does it mean? Unfortunately, besides the simple math of demand being more than the supply, nothing. The supply was not enough to keep up with the demand, which for a robust manufacturing organization means a supply chain disaster. How can a company botch supply on launch day? It is the one day the company gets to be in the press more than any other day, at least from that product’s standpoint, and they are unable to fulfil demand.

However, despite their keyboards and mice, as well as their Xbox and now Surface RT, I don’t consider Microsoft a “robust manufacturing company”. Also, the Surface Pro is not a run-of-the-mill product, or an iteration of an existing product. It has a complex screen and specialized materials. There very well could be issues in larger scale manufacturing of those components. In fact, after promising that the Surface Pro would be released about 90 days after the Surface RT, Microsoft ended up releasing the former about 2 weeks later. That hints at a possible issue (or a set of issues) they may have faced during the manufacturing.

There were also anecdotes from individuals going to or calling retail stores in their area and finding out that the stock at these stores was in many cases in single digits. While those are still anecdotes, it is worthwhile to remember that the stock is ordered by the store, and not by Microsoft. Regardless, the customer experience ended up being bad because they could not buy the product they wanted to.

However, not all is lost as long as Microsoft can ramp up quickly. If they replenish stocks quick enough and take advantage of the momentum they have unexpectedly received, it may end up working in their favour. These enthusiastic customers will show off their shiny new toy to their friends and family and perhaps create a few more customers out of them.

Here is where Microsoft will have to learn what Apple has mastered — pre-production capital expenses to fulfil the demand expected at launch, accurately predicting launch day demand, and most importantly, making sure more markets are served at launch and soon after, than the previous launches.

In some ways, this situation is better than the opposite situation, which is Microsoft and its retail partners stock a ton of units and no one wants to buy them. At least at this point it does seem like there is unmet demand for the product. It is for Microsoft to ramp up and ensure that their next Surface family member has even better launch day balance between supply and demand.

Who is the Target Customer for Surface Windows 8 Pro?

The embargo lifted on Surface Windows 8 Pro or as I will call it, Surface Pro, reviews and out of the gate, most tech news sites had a “meh” conclusion. The device, they claimed, is neither a great tablet nor a great Ultrabook. Hence, their take away was that it is not a good device for either use case. A few sites mentioned that it is not for all, but for those who need such a device, it is a great one for them.

Who is the target customer for such a device? Is it a big enough market for Microsoft to pursue, or is it a niche that may explode in the future?

First, let’s remove the obvious non-market. This device is not for those who have truly moved into the “post-PC era” and are ok using just a tablet for their computing needs. It means they either don’t need programs that need a “computer”, or they have decent alternatives available in the tablet’s app marketplace to accomplish all their computing on the tablet. For such a market (many of the tech writers may be in this category, since most of their work is writing and with decent keyboard attachments, they can somehow make it work), a tablet like the iPad with a much lower cost and a much better battery life may easily be a better choice than the Surface Pro.

Surface Pro is also not for those who don’t mind carrying two devices around, or having two devices in general. They have a computer, perhaps even an actual desktop PC, where they do all their work. In addition, they have a tablet where they do most of their “play”, and have some sort of connectivity established to their workplace email so they can keep on top of email while they are away from the office. These folks are perfectly ok with two separate devices because they may not be carrying both around much.

There is an important market though, which many/most of the reviewers failed to recognize, either due to ignorance or oversight. The typical office worker. Millions of employees around the world are handed a laptop when they join a company. Earlier, it used to be dull Windows PCs from a single supplier. Nowadays the choice has expanded to include Macs as well. However, many of these office workers also carry tablets around the office because they don’t want to or they don’t need to carry their PCs around to conference rooms and to meetings. These folks will absolutely love the Surface Pro (especially the ones who did not choose a Mac :-)).

For the office worker, the Surface Pro provides a powerful PC for all they do at their desk, but instead of leaving the PC at the desk and carrying a separate tablet to meetings, or to use at home for “play”, they can have the same device for both those purposes. Since the “work PC” is normally plugged in, the lower battery life of Surface Pro compared to the iPad would not be a big factor. Also, since the device won’t be used purely as a tablet, the slightly higher weight compared to most tablets would also not be a concern.

On the other hand, having one device instead of two would be a benefit in favor of the Surface Pro. The Surface Pro would weigh less than the combined weight of a PC and a tablet, and because it is one machine, the office worker would not need to keep shuttling files between the two devices with or without the cloud. Also, there would be no issues about apps and application compatibility and maintaining document fidelity. All these are important considerations for many, many employees around the world.  Needless to say, there were many on the Surface Pro team’s Reddit Ask Me Anything thread who claimed that they would be getting a Surface Pro (or their company is testing the device for mass deployment, or as one person said, it would be great to load Linux and use it!).

From the CIO’s perspective, the Surface Pro offers an ideal solution to the BYOD movement. Since it runs Windows, it is a highly manageable device, and it would work with all the existing management infrastructure. The CIO gets to sleep at night, and the employees get something that is thin, light and works for work and works for play.

There may be other scenarios too, where the Surface Pro may work quite well, but I focused mostly on the biggest piece of the pie, the enterprise worker.

What’s your take? Let me know in the comments!