Microsoft spends over six and a half billion dollars a year on research and development, resulting in many new technologies that go into their products, and many others that conclude, successfully, and are never used. It is at the point where, when journalists hear about something really cool being researched at Microsoft, it is automatically assumed that the technology will never be productized and made available to the public.
For example, this week Technology Review wrote about a Microsoft project working on a sort of virtual headphones technology. The system would target sound coming out of speakers at a specific spot where a person was located, adjusting the timing of sound waves coming out of each speaker in array so that sound is cancelled out in some areas of the room and amplified in others.
The idea would be an experience similar to listening to headphones privately, without wearing anything on your head. A person could even lie in bed, watching TV with the sound on, but the person lying in the bed next to them would not hear anything at all!
This virtual headphone technology is exciting, but will it ever be “productized”, that is will it ever find its way into software and hardware in the future? Anything’s possible, but doubtful. I was shocked that Windows Vista shipped with the technology to use microphone arrays embedded in a laptop or monitor to isolate sound sources, and this could join that as a companion feature in the next version of Windows, but the hardware just isn’t there to support it.
According to Richard Sprague, 25% of laptops come with array microphones built in. Frankly, that is a shocking statistic. Where are these laptops? No laptop I’ve ever owned has had a built-in microphone, let alone a fancy array mic. I’ve seen some business laptops with built-in mics, but I’m always buying consumer models that never have that (relatively cheap) feature. It’s probably Dell’s fault for being cheap that I don’t have one, but I had no idea this was a common feature.
That tech is talking about the culmination of six years of work, resulting in an amazing noise cancelling solution done completely in software (noise cancelling is usually a hardware problem). The tech actually says that the advantage for him demoing this at TechFest is so that product teams at Microsoft will notice his work and build it into their products. Yes, a Microsoft employee is hoping to sell his product to other teams at Microsoft!
And you wonder why some of this stuff is never productized.
Then there’s Roundtable, which is finally making its way to manufacturing, a decent success story. I’ve talked about Roundtable here before, and it’s a system where a multi-camera Ring Cam is placed in the center of a conference table and records all the participants at the table, as well as tying in external video conference participants. RoundTable is finally going to hit the market as a product you can buy, albeit for $3,000. If there’s any product I want to demo badly this year, it’s RoundTable.
Also, one strategy for getting MS Research products turned into real products seems to be turning the development team into a seperate spin-off company. This week, Microsoft announced it was spinning off one Research project as ZenZui, which will provide a cool widgets interface for mobile devices. Take a look at their cool interface here, which will make Windows Mobile users a little less jealous of the iPhone, methinks:
Forbes decided to run an interesting article about where costs in video game development come from, an interesting subject as video games become a major industry. Then, they decided to ruin it all by applying their analysis too broadly, and saddling it with a title that makes no sense: “Why Gears Of War Costs $60″. Just trying to grab some readers by putting something popular in the title. Idiots.
Here are just some of the problems:
The article deals with development costs like art and engineering, and final sale costs like retailer markup and console owner fees, as though they were identical. That is absurdity on the highest order.
Development costs are a fixed number, something you pay when making the game and stop paying once the game is done. To express development costs as a percentage of the retain price, you have to divide them by the number of units sold, a number different with every game ever released. Meanwhile, the sale costs are fixed percentages, completely unrelated to the cost of making the game, and costs born directly by the consumer, not the publisher.
The development costs change with every title, and are in some cases absurd when applied to Gears of War. Art/Design and Programming/Engineering come out to 45% of Forbes’ accounting, which is not tied to the actual game mentioned in the story’s title. Are they saying Gears of War’s development costs equal 35% of all retail costs? No, the headline writer is just a dope.
They list licensing costs, giving examples like sports and movie-based games. Problem is, Gears of War is an original IP, with zero licensing costs. So why list it if the article is about Gears of War? Oh, right, it isn’t. Fire your headline writer.
I’m no economist, but I know this: As you sell more units, your R&D costs per unit drop, and your profit increases. This article (by Forbes, a publication that is supposed to know better) actually classifies R&D (game development, in this case) as a constant percentage of sales, rather than a fixed cost that is alleviated by high sales of a game.
Oh, my god, am I going to have to school Forbes in some basic economic theory?
Okay, if the game costs $40 million to make, and you sell $100 million worth, then, yes, development costs 40%, and, based on other costs, publisher profit is the 1.5% quoted in the article. But if the game sells $300 million, development costs are still $40 million! In that case, an extra $80 million goes into the “profit” pile, and the publisher profit is now over 30%!
Seriously, is Forbes just stupid? This is the kind of miscommunicated shoddy journalism I hate. Poor research, generalizations, complete lack of depth, zero context, over-exhuberant headline writers. Yuck. Why do these guys get paid for churning out this crap?
(via GameProducer > Digg)
Turns out Microsoft pimps out its Spaces bloggers, photos included, in ads on Match.comâ€”without their consent or knowledge.
Well, that is interesting. Does Microsoft have the right to use the likeness of Spaces users in advertising, especially on a dating site? And even if the user agreement allows for this, there’s no way Spaces users would be happy finding out their stupid smiling faces are being used on major websites. I wonder if this one is going to blow up in Microsoft’s face…
Are you a paranoid parent? Do you want to keep tabs on your kids, instead of talking to them and parenting? Well, you may have noticed that your kid is pretty smart, and knows how to cover his tracks by deleting the browser’s search history before you can see where he’s been.
Luckily, this MSDN forum thread explains how you can disable the ability to access the options page which allows deleting of the search history. Here’s how:
Open the Start Menu and Click “Run” (in Windows Vista, just open the Start Menu and start typing. Alternatively, you can hold down the Windows key on your keyboard and press “R”)
Type “gpedit.msc” and hit Enter
Browse through the folders in the left pane to: Local Computer Policy -> Computer Configuration -> Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Internet Explorer -> Internet Control Panel
Double-click “Disable the General page”
Click “Enabled” and click OK
That should do it. Now you can read your kid’s search history and find out that your kid isn’t looking up porn, he just hates you, because you’re too invasive. Whoops.
No, seriously, this is pretty useful. I don’t believe parents should snoop on their kids, but the kids shouldn’t have full access to cover their tracks on the family computer. With that in mind, if you make your kid an administrator, you really are an idiot.
Possibly the most anticipated game ever, Grand Theft Auto IV is coming October 16, 2007. The first trailer is out, and you can get it at rockstargames.com/IV/. Check it out.
The only real news? The game takes place in a real-life New York City, and the star is a Russian immigrant. I believe it takes place in the modern day, although that is not obvious from the trailer, it could be the 90s. There seems to be more of an attention to detail, and more subtleties, but it is not readily apparent at all that this is a new engine from the previous games; an evolution, not a revolution. Hopefully, it won’t be so serious that it isn’t fun.
Microsoft is proudly letting everyone know that Xbox Live’s Video Marketplace is now in second place among all downloadable pay video stores, second only to iTunes, in just the four+ months since its November launch. With Apple’s iTV not allowing users to purchase video from the device, Microsoft is proclaiming itself number one in the living room, the only player with movies and TV in high definition, enjoying double-digit growth month-over-month since launch.
As Liz Gannes points out, Netflix has a really flexible vacation policy: Take as much time as you like, whenever. While it’ll never happen at a company the size of Microsoft, I bet some ‘Softies wish Hastings brought it with him.
Meanwhile, in conjunction with the release of the Xbox 360 Elite, the Video Marketplace has announced new partners to help fill those 120-gigabyte hard drives. Coming are Paramount Pictures adding HD movies (including Bravehart and the South Park movie), Warner adding direct-to-video (including Babylon 5: The Lost Tales), A&E, ADV Films, National Geographic, New Line Cinema (including Snakes on a Plane, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me and Magnolia), and TotalVid (extreme sports).
Speaking about the release of the Elite, which was a major On10 event, there’s an article in Wired this month about On10, Channel 9, and Microsoft’s transparency efforts. The article is generating controversy because Waggner Eddstrom, Microsoft’s PR agency, accidentally emailed writer Fred Vogelstein their notes on him, which showed a scary amount of research and calculated spin. What does it show: Microsoft is becoming transparent, but their PR folks don’t operate as well as they do.
Apparently, the new 120-gig drive, if you buy it in stores, comes with a number of conditions. You’ll only be able to transfer over one 20-gig drive to one 120-gig drive, so if you bought more than one (honestly, who did?) you’re out of luck. There are a bunch of things you should know, so read them all at Joystiq.
Bink shows off this virtual desktop program called Yod’m 3D (Vista/XP only). Not only does it give you four virtual desktops (so you can manage your apps on seperate “screens”), but it has a cool method of switching between those screens: As faces on a spinning cube.
You can bind the switching of desktop to any key combination, and watch as they spin around on you pretty quickly. Each deskto can even have its own wallpaper. I’ve had some great ideas for a 3D cube interface, and this isn’t it, but as far as virtual desktops go, it’s pretty damn good.
Also, check out the Internet Connectivity Evaluation Tool, an Internet Explorer-only browser test that determines what useful features your router does and does not support. It’s free, doesn’t take all that long, and is a good way of knowing if your router has all the cool features you might want (and if there are any you accidentaly disabled in the settings).
Basic Internet Connectivity Test – Supported
Network Address Translator Type – Supported
Traffic Congestion Test – Supported
TCP High Performance Test – Not supported
UPnP Support Test – Supported
Multiple Simultaneous Connection States Test – Supported
Cool! Five out of six, not bad. Read the advanced report for some true geek-ery, as it shows you exactly what the tests tried to do.
(via Brandon LeBlanc’s Hive blog)
Also, Brandon Paddock continues active development of Start++, releasing four updates in the last month. The latest version adds a system tray icon, in order to display a custom UI in the Start Menu. What happens is you type “pic Nathan” and it’ll show you pictures that match that search, right in the Start menu. Right now, there’s only one of these “Start Gadgets” (the Pictured Gadget), but expect to see more as things develop. I’d like to be able to preview music and video files right in the Start Menu.
Other changes: More configuration options, the ability to disable all or parts of the program, bug fixes, better performance, automatically checking for updates, and other little things. Also, it lets you use CTRL+Backspace to delete a word while typing in the Start Menu search box, which is just useful in and of itself. Get the latest version here.
This June, after a thirty-one year leave of absence, Bill Gates will return to Harvard University and receive an honorary degree after giving the commencement speech. Gates, Harvard’s most famous dropout, left the university in 1975 to work with Paul Allen at Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems on a BASIC interpreter, and never returned (though he did make a few bucks on the endeavour, which they called Micro-soft).
Harvard won’t say what the honorary degree is for until the commencement, but I doubt it is for Gates’ original goal, a pre-law degree. I’m guessing something Computer Science or Business related, or, if they want to go in the other direction, some degree related to his philanthropic efforts. I wonder if there’s a degree in Competition?
Gates already has three other honorary degrees, from the Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Breukelen, The Netherlands in 2000, the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden in 2002 and Waseda University, Tokyo, Japan in 2005 (from Wikipedia), a fly named in his honor, was one of Time’s Persons of the Year, and was knighted by the Queen of England. Still, I’ll bet this holds a special place in his heart, letting him finish what he started back in 1973.
The one thing I don’t like is that in order to use it, you have to include a small image that says the name of the service, and tells readers to double-click on any word. The image, while small and looking good enough to blend, is animated, which is just plain annoying. This is a first release, so I’m hoping Answers releases new, non-animated images. I like the idea of explaining to people how to use it, but I hate having animation distracting people.
AnswerTips works in most web browsers, but not Opera or Safari. Check it out.
Deepfish is a browser for mobile devices. It works much like the typical dragging maps tool (like Google Maps or Windows Live Maps), and not like a regular web browser. In doing so, it solves many of the problems of browsing the internet on a small screen. It displays the full web page, shrunken to fit on the width of the phone’s screen. You zoom in, instantly, on the content of the page by pressing your main button, and you can just use your finger to drag around the page.
There’s also a cue map that displays the map of the page, shows you where you are on the page, and lets you jump to any other portion of the page.
I’m almost shocked at how responsive the app is, letting you zoom in instantly, and the dragging around of the page is great. Apple, with an unreleased mobile device, has proven that scroll bars on mobiles suck, and Deepfish is the first great attempt I’ve seen on Windows Mobile to do a scroll bar-less program. I’m hoping they add gestures, since the default zoom is not going to work on so many web pages.
Deepfish is a free download, but it won’t be available forever. Be smart and download it now. Watch the video at On10 (or embedded above) for a look at what this thing can do.
Microsoft has released a new version of its free Virtual PC image of Windows XP SP2 with Internet Explorer 6. The VPC image is designed to help web designers see what their sites look like on that sort of system, since most XP computers have moved over to Internet Explorer 7. The image is free, and thus a free way to run Windows XP in a virtual machine, but is time-bombed to stop working on July 23, 2007. Luckily, they have said they will release a new image right before it expires, just like they promised last time, and obviously, they’ve delivered.
Just got the word from someone at Microsoft’s On10: Tonight’s On10 exclusive announcement will not be, as I guessed, about the Halo 3 beta. In fact, it won’t be about anything Xbox at all. The quote, right from the horse’s mouth:
Sorry, it has nothing to do with the Xbox platform.
That was sent via the handy contact link in the sidebar. Never noticed it? Well, it’s damn convenient if you want to send me a quick message, a hot tip, or send me some product for review. Find a reason and start using it today.
So, if not Xbox-related, what could tonight’s big reveal be about? Games For Windows is surely possible, but given the reveal of so much G4W info recently, I doubt there’s much else there. Same for Windows Mobile, since we just saw Windows Mobile 6 released. Vista is certainly a possibility, maybe some sort of Ultimate Extra, or the much-discussed Fiji update to Vista Media Center. Home Server is also a possibility, given we haven’t heard anything in months.
I’m putting my bets in two areas: Fiji, and Windows Live Core/Drive. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fiji was unveiled tonight, given it has to be unveiled sometime. However, we’ve heard a thing or two about Windows Live Core lately, and Windows Live Drive was rumored to be announced at CES (and this is supposed to be a CES-caliber announcement), so the first public reveal of Core/Drive would be a big deal.
While everyone else is talking about it and showing grainy camera phone pictures from undisclosed bunkers, we figured weâ€™d go right to the source and get you an exclusive video. You think you need it, you know you want it, and we have it â€“ the Xbox 360 Elite. I sat down with Albert Penello to get some of your questions answered. Yes, it has HDMI & 120GB hard drive. No, it doesnâ€™t have an HD-DVD player. Yes you can still pull audio separate from the HDMI. No, it isnâ€™t going to be a limited edition. Yes, itâ€™s awesome! Watch the video for more, including what comes in the L337 box.
It’s coming out on April 29 for $479, with a 120-gigabyte hard drive, an HDMI port (for high-end HDTV connections), black finish (including black controller, headset) and an HDMI cable (as well as the traditional composite cables). You will be able to buy the 120-gig drive for $180, and use a migration cable to move over all your data (and then sell the console on eBay).
The hard drive will be preloaded with demoes and videos, but nothing special.
I am uploading the video to Soapbox now, for dissection here (and because On10′s servers are getting hammered).
So, what do we have here? A third version of the Xbox 360, something designed to take steam away from Sony as the PS3 is now available in stores. This has twice the hard drive capacity of the high-end PS3, for $120 less, HDMI for incredible picture on HDTVs, and a nice black finish to distinguish its “Elite” status. Pretty cool. It will look even cooler when the 360 gets its first price drop, which I expect will be just before the holiday season.
Great move by Microsoft.
So, what’s the plan for current 360 owners? If you want to unload your 360 Premium and buy an Elite, what will it cost you?
I don’t know what GameStop’s trade-in value for a used 360 is, but they sell used Core systems for $270, thirty dollars off. If they are buying for $30 less than that, and the same math works for the Premium (and it probably doesn’t, since I’m just guessing), then it would cost you $140 to basically add 100 gigs to your hard drive and HDMI, as well as the black finish.
On eBay, Xbox 360 Premium consoles have sold, brand new, for $240-250. So don’t expect much help there.
What I’m going to do: I have a protection plan with Best Buy on my 360, good for another 14 months. I am going to wait for it to break (it always does, twice already), or maybe just bring it in, and march into Best Buy and ask if I can pay the difference for the better model. If that doesn’t work, I’ll turn over my broken console, get a brand new one (as per the terms of the protection plan) and sell it to a buddy for $10-20 less than retail. Then, I can buy a new 360 Elite for just $100 out of pocket. In theory.
Also, some background: On10 announced it would be having two days of midnight exclusives, with major videos containing exclusive new info coming out today at midnight, and again tonight at midnight. Obviously, they delivered in spades here, so I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring. However, given recent chatter and tonight’s subject, I suspect tomorrow’s video will feature the beta of Halo 3.
Which, if you think about it, is pretty damn good news.
Microsoft has announced the release of a pink version of the Zune, to join the current white, black and brown versions. It will be available on May 1 in stores at the regular price of $250. This is actually the second run of pink Zunes; the first were 100 randomly inserted in the packaging of regular Zunes (and naturally fetching a pretty penny on eBay). The one above is a ship gift given to evil angela, a program manager at Microsoft.
Alex Barnett annonced on his blog yesterday that this Friday he is leaving Microsoft, going off to begin a new job as Vice President of Community at Bungee Labs. I met Alex at Search Champs last year, and have read his blog forever, and I’m really sad to see Microsoft lose such a great guy. Alex is a great resource for a company to have, and I hope Bungee uses him to a fuller extent than Microsoft did (which could be why they’re losing him).
Good luck Alex, and have fun in Salt Lake!
Microsoft seems to be losing a bunch of people that made up the great “New Microsoft”, and it would kill me to see the company backslide. They need more good people to sign up, and not lose the Niall Kennedys and Gartenbergs that might help them out. Microsoft is at the cusp of something spectacular (or an awful and dissapointing backslide), and anyone who agrees with that should be thinking about applying. Maybe I should start openly campaigning for a job…
Bungee Labs is developing a 100% on-demand service environment for efficiently developing and instantly deploying next generation web applications. Bungee Labs will provide an extensible, end-to-end environment delivered over the web: no install for developers, no installation of delivery infrastructure, and no client install for end users.
Bungee Labs’ immediate discovery, access, integration, and presentation of public and private web services empowers developers to create full featured applications with rich AJAX interactivity, without the programming complexity that AJAX requires today. Bungee Labs web service integration takes applications beyond the desktop, and automates cross-browser development for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.
Bungee Labs enables the full life-cycle of web applications through a ubiquitously available on-demand development and delivery service environment, supplemented by an active developer community intent on expanding the realm of the possible.
The latest update to Windows Live Mail is slowly being pushed out to users of Microsoft’s advanced webmail service, and this release changes the branding to Windows Live Hotmail. If your inbox says Hotmail, you’ve got the upgrades, which include spell check and improved photo uploading in classic mode, a version picker between Classic and Full, more checkboxes, an improved safety bar, and the usual performance improvements.
For the fourth time, I present my review of the latest Vista Sidebar Gadgets, inspected and quality tested for your protection:
Windows Vista Sidebar Gadgets Issue 4 Hosted on Zooomr
All Gadgets mentioned in this article are in the screenshot above.
The App Launcher Gadget has been updated with some new features. It is becoming a must-have Gadget, with drag-and-drop to add shortcuts, a feature that, if you drop a shortcut on it, creates a link direct to the program (instead of a ridiculous shortcut to a shortcut), removes shortcut arrows, importing IE and Firefox shortcuts, and exporting your shortcuts as a text file.
Travelocity has created a Gadget that gives you instant access to all sorts of searches on Travelocity, right from the Gadget. The Gadget is the first one I’ve see that comes with its own End User License Agreement, and you pick the flight you are looking for, and it keeps you updated on special offers for flights on that route. Clicking the Gadget lets you search for flights, lodging, both, rental cars, and cruises, without ever opening the browser. Love it.
Next week Tuesday night starts the counting of the Omer for Jews, and naturally that means someone has created a Gadget so you always know what day of the Omer it is. The Gadget links to Chabad.org for info on the Omer, and even provides you with all the necessary blessings.
This is really cool: A Gadget that you ask a question, and it goes out and finds the answer from Windows Live Search, Live QnA, MSDN, and Wikipedia. Most of the time, it finds the answer perfectly. Nice.
The Sidebar Switcher Gadget adds a great feature to Vista: Multiple Sidebar profiles. You can create unlimited different pages of different Sidebar configurations, and with a click, load up completely different screens of Gadgets. So, you could create a page of just RSS Gadgets, a page of communication/IM Gadgets, a page of system monitor Gadgets, anything, and use all of them. Beautiful!
The Toss The Dice Gadget lets you roll a die and get a random result. Yeah, its useful in some situations. I wish I could set it to have multiple dice, but you could always just open multiple instances of the Gadget.