Microsoft Office 2013 Launched with Cloud Integration

We have already written a fair amount about Microsoft Office 2013, including an in-depth review. However, until now, the latest iteration of one of Microsoft’s biggest money-spinners was available only to a select group of users. That changes today with the public release of Office 2013.


Office 2013 is a significant step forward for Microsoft in more ways than one. The biggest change is not in the product itself, but in how it is sold. In an attempt to counter the threat possessed by Google Apps and other similar cloud based productivity suites, Microsoft is offering a subscription model for Office. Office 365 Home Premium, as the cloud service is being called, will cost home users $10 per month. Users will have the flexibility to turn it off any time they feel like. Alternatively, users can also signup for an annual account, and get access for $100. Office 365 includes all the popular Office tools including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, Outlook, Publisher and Access. Additionally, it also comes with 20 GB of SkyDrive cloud storage and 60 minutes of Skype calls per month. On top of this, the subscription model offers allows access to Office apps on 5 PCs or Macs. If cloud is not your thing, you can purchase individual Office apps for $110, or purchase the Office Home & Student for $140, Office Home and Business for $220, and Office Professional for $400. Each of these installations are restricted to a single PC.

In terms of features, the biggest talking points include support for touch, roaming profiles with documents, dictionaries, and settings being automatically stored in the cloud, and full PDF editing. Check out this list for a brief quick overview of what’s new in Office 2013.

MS Research and UN Plan to Simulate the World’s Ecosystem

MS research and the UN have planned to undertake the massive task of simulating the ecosystem of the entire world. The plan has been revealed in a recent Nature article titled “Ecosystems: Time to model all life on Earth”. The article is behind a paywall, but for those who can access it, the link goes here. Work on this project has been undertaken at the World Conservation Monitoring Center (WCMC) of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and scientists from Microsoft Research and the WCMC are working together on this project.

The scientists working on this project specialize in biodiversity assessment, and claim that,

This type of model could radically improve our understanding of the biosphere and inform policy decisions about biodiversity and conservation.

As part of this project, the team of scientists will build General Ecosystem Models (GEMs), which will simulate environmental processes like reproduction, migration, death, and feeding. This will provide valuable statistical data to plan and design conservation efforts for the ecosystem. A similar model called the General Circulation models (GCMs) is already in place, which is used to simulate climate changes as well as oceanic changes across the world.

The project is focusing on development of a number of competitive and cooperative models instead of a single model. This will keep the development process competitive, and will create a number of simulations that can exchange ideas and improve over time.

Here is a short interview on Forest Dynamics by Drew Purves, who is also the head of the Computational Ecology and Environmental Science Group at Microsoft and a part of the GEMs project.


End of the PC Era: Dell Buyout, Problems for Microsoft and Intel

After Apple launched the iPad in 2010, the technology market was disrupted. The PC gave way to touchscreen tablets. Many Goliath’s at the time, like Dell, Microsoft, and Intel saw the tablet market as being complimentary instead of as a substitute to their PC and laptop market.

“Tablets have dramatically changed the device landscape for PCs, not so much by cannibalizing PC sales, but by causing user shift to tablets,” says Mikako Kitagawa, principal analyst of Gartner.

The end of the PC era seemed all too clear with the dismal earnings shown by HP and Dell last quarter. Today it seems that Dell, which is the master of custom-delivered computers, is in talks for a buyout. Sources have said that Silver Lake Partners was in discussions with Dell for a leveraged buyout at around $13 to $14 per share. This will be one of the largest deals since the global recession.

This is seen as a desperate attempt by Dell to focus on new areas away from its core PC business. Its decline has been the worst in its sectors after its shipments fell by 21% to 9.2 million. This news resulted in a surge of its stock price to $12.29.  Dell has declined to comments on these developments.

Consumers are flocking towards tablets. A recent study has already claimed that at the current rate, tablets will outsell notebooks this year. This may be due to the booming tablet market in China and the recession. The report explains that tablet shipments will reach more than 240 million units worldwide this year, with notebooks forecast to reach 207 million units.

After Microsoft launched Windows 8 in October last year, the expected boost to their sales would have come from users who upgrade their operating systems, in addition to users who buy new PCs or laptops. However, the declining PC sales (down 6.4% in the last year) will give them cause for concern.

The rise of mobile systems is not helping Intel either. Its era of extraordinary profits and market invincibility seems to have come to an end. Intel’s shares have fallen by over 7% last year. Its competitors are chip manufacturers for tablets and smartphones who have to work with smaller profit margins. Having said that, Intel’s server chip market is still growing very fast. This is mainly due to the rise of cloud services. Also, Intel is fighting back with a strong focus on Ultrabook laptops that have touch screens.

(Source: Gartner and Reuters)

Microsoft’s New ‘holodeck’ Turns Your Room into a Giant Screen

Microsoft shows off its “Holodeck” system to recreate your room into a more intense cinematic experience. Microsoft has refused to revel details on how this works until it is presented in Paris at the CHI conference on human-computer interaction this April.

Imagine your game spilling off from your screen onto your entire room wall. That should make things more interesting for sure. It will move gaming to a whole new level. Microsoft has submitted a patent application in the US Patent Office. Patent application ‘Immersive Display Experience‘ was filed by Gritsko Perez on behalf of Microsoft on 2 March 2011.

The idea has been sketched out shows that the foal point of the game will be seen on the screen, but the surrounding area will fill your room walls.

Microsoft has described the Holodeck as,

It augments the area surrounding a television screen with projected visualizations to enhance the traditional living room entertainment experience.

User enjoyment of video games and related media experiences can be increased by making the gaming experience more realistic. Previous attempts to make the experience more realistic have included switching from two-dimensional to three-dimensional animation techniques, increasing the resolution of game graphics, producing improved sound effects, and creating more natural game controllers.

Again, this seems to be a counter to Apple’s iGlasses, except that this is more multi-viewer than single viewer. The peripheral image would be created by a 360-degree projector and would adjust as the gamer moved around in the game, and in the room. Eye-tracking tech would ensure that the scene shifts as the user looks around it. A special built in mechanism would avoid shining light into the user’s eyes.

Perez’s application also suggests that the image could be adjusted to the shape and even color of the room to optimize the experience.


Microsoft Gives Us a Glimpse of the Future of Gaming with Its Stunning and Uber-cool Illumiroom Project

Yesterday, during Samsung’s CES keynote, Microsoft’s Eric Rudder made a brief appearance to demonstrate Microsoft’s vision for extending computing interactions. Rudder, who is Microsoft’s Chief Technology Strategy Officer, revealed a Microsoft Research project called Illumiroom that takes advantage of surfaces around your display to augment and enhance your experience.

Illumiroom uses Kinect for Windows camera to scan your environment, and then uses a projector to project an extension of the image being displayed on the screen onto the walls and other surfaces. Illumiroom uses the appearance and the geometry of the room (captured by Kinect) to adapt the projected visuals in real-time without any need to custom pre-process the graphics. The most obvious application of this is gaming. However, this technology could find its way onto a lot of different segments. Microsoft has published a video that shows Illumiroom in action with games like Red Eclipse and Supertuxkart, and the effect is simply stunning. Illumiroom projects your gaming environment onto external surfaces in your room and provides an experience that is both immersive, engrossing, and uber-cool.

Microsoft has already patented the concept behind Illumiroom, and a is promising to publish the research paper at ACM CHI 2013.

60 Million Windows 8 Licenses

At the JP Morgan Tech Forum at CES 2013, the Chief Marketing Office and Chief Financial Officer of Windows, Tami Reller stated that Windows 8 has sold 60 million licenses so far. This includes licenses sold to OEMs to install on new devices as well as upgrades sold directly to customers. Additionally, she also said that this is approximately in line with Windows 7 sales.

This announcement is the third key data point we have been given by Microsoft with regard to Windows 8 sales. At the end of the first month of sales, Microsoft announced on their blog that they had sold 40 million licenses after the first month of general availability.

Before that, at Microsoft’s developer conference //build/, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced that over the weekend after Windows 8 was generally available, they had sold 4 million upgrade licenses.

There are some other interesting data points provided today in relation to the Windows 8 momentum. The first, related to developer interest, is that the number of apps in the Windows Store has quadrupled since the Store opened. The second, related to consumer interest in the apps, is that the Windows Store passed the 100 million apps downloaded milestone.

This is a terrible market for traditional PCs. These Windows 8 and Windows Store show that despite the steep fall in consumer interest in PCs and the obvious resistance to Windows 8 by enterprises, Microsoft may actually have an interesting story to tell in 2013. The reason being, more and more made-for-Windows 8 devices are coming to the market (as evidenced by the announcements at CES 2013), and some of the trendsetting enterprises may start taking a look at Windows 8 finally.

2012 was the year Microsoft changed virtually every product in their portfolio. 2013 is the year they build upon it.


Microsoft Wins Bid for R2 Studios Against Apple and Others

Last month, we reported that Apple along with Microsoft and Google were in talks to acquire home automation company R2 Studios. R2 was created in 2011 by Krikorian who founded Sling Media Inc., maker of the Slingbox TV streaming device.

Today, The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft has won the bidding war. Microsoft will use the acquisition to improve its Xbox division and increase its presence in the living room. The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.

“Microsoft Corp. MSFT +3.41% has acquired a small home-entertainment technology startup to beef up its Xbox unit, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company, id8 Group R2 Studios Inc., was created by entrepreneur Blake Krikorian in May 2011. Mr. Krikorian will be joining the Redmond, Wash., software giant with a small team. As part of the deal, Microsoft also acquired some patents owned by the startup related to controlling electronic devices.

The price of the deal couldn’t be learned.”

R2 Studios is currently developing a home automation technology, but as of now, it does not have any products in the market except for an Android application.

Microsoft Releases Wordament, First iPhone Game with Xbox Live Achievements

Today, Microsoft released a game called Wordament for the iPhone. It has been a popular game on Windows Phone, but available on iOS also. Wordament was originally a side-project for two Windows Live employees that was later acquired and published by Microsoft Game Studios. The game is also the first Microsoft game to come to iOS with Xbox Achievements.

When you sign in with your free Microsoft account, you can earn up to 50 Gamerscore from our 10 achievements and you’ll have access to all of your Xbox Friends and Wordament Frenemies. If you’ve played on Windows Phone or Window 8 and jump to the iOS version, all of your player stats and friends will follow your account automatically.

Wordament is a word game that allows you to compete, real-time, with everyone else playing at the same time. The app is available for free on the App Store. [Direct Link]

Microsoft has been taking steps to adopt the iOS gaming space. Earlier this year, they released an Xbox Live App that allows you to manage your Xbox Live account, and a few iOS games.

Apple in Talks to Acquire Home Automation Company R2 Studios

According to The Wall Street JournalApple, Microsoft, and Google are all potential buyers for home automation firm R2 Studios, part of the id8 Group founded by Blake Krikorian. The company was created in 2011 by Krikorian who founded Sling Media Inc., maker of the Slingbox TV streaming device.

R2 Studios, which is developing home-media and automation technology, has remained largely mum about its plans but last year released an app that turns Android phones into touch panels for controlling heating and lighting systems wirelessly. R2 Studios also holds some patents related to controlling electronic devices and interfaces.

The status of the discussion and terms under consideration remain unclear. A deal may not happen and some talks may be preliminary.

R2 Studios is currently developing a home automation technology, but as of now does not have any products on the market besides from an Android application that can control heating and lightning systems.

The reports also says that R2 also owns some patents related to “controlling electronic devices and interfaces”, in addition to its existing app work. If Apple does plan to release a television at some point, this technology could fit along nicely.

Windows Blue: Free, Annual Upgrades for Windows

Windows-BlueIt’s been just about a month since Windows 8 was released, but Microsoft is already hard at work on its successor. Of course, this isn’t really surprising. However, what is surprising is that Microsoft might be gearing up to launch Windows 8’s successor as early as next year.

The Verge is reporting that Microsoft plans on ditching its traditional big-bang release cycle in favor of a more iterative annual release cycle. The next Windows OS, which is currently going by the codename ‘Windows Blue’, is slated for launch in mid-2013. It will reportedly include UI changes and alterations to the entire platform. The Windows SDK will also be updated, and in a move that will surely infuriate developers, once Blue is released, Microsoft will stop accepting apps coded using the Windows 8 SDK in the Store. Thankfully, Blue will be fully backward compatible, and will be capable of running Windows 8 apps. The most interesting thing about Blue is that Microsoft plans on making the upgrade extremely cheap or even free for current Windows users.

Although Windows Blue is a dramatic departure from the tradional Windows release cycle, it does make a lot of sense. While previous versions of Windows were tasked with simply maintaining or improving Microsoft’s dominance in the PC market, Windows 8 has the additional burden of making Microsoft competitive in the tablet segment, where it is a late-entrant and an underdog. Without rapid iterations, it will be virtually impossible for Microsoft to remain competitive with Android and iOS, both of which offer free, annual upgrades.