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Microsoft Website Nostalgia

Google Blogoscoped found a Microsoft retrospective, written in 2000, looking back at the first six years of Microsoft.com. I particularly liked this passage:

Six years may not sound like a lot of time, but in “Internet time” that’s almost half a lifetime. Internet time is sometimes likened to dog years - the first year is like 14, and every subsequent year is roughly equivalent to seven virtual years. By that reckoning, microsoft.com is pushing 50.

So by that reasoning, it’s 85 now?

Anyway, the first Microsoft.com looks pretty cool for early web, with its starfield background behind the links. It’s actually better looking than the 1995 version. You can see how it evolved over the years, eventually dropping the idea of putting “Where do you want to go today?” in every page header, and how the 1998 website looks pretty good, even today.

March 9th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General | no comments



Windows Live Too Slow?

Via Digg, found this video comparing the load times of Google.com and Live.com (and making fun of them, and Brokeback Mountain). The video tries to prove that Windows Live is too bloated when compared with the Goog, but is it a good point?

Using Firefox on a relatively fast wi-fi connection, Google.com loaded in under a single second. Live.com loaded in –

Wait, that isn’t right. Live.com is a personalized homepage. The Google equivelant would be google.com/ig, not google.com.

Using Firefox on a relatively fast wi-fi connection, Google.com/ig loaded in 38 seconds. Live.com loaded in 23 seconds.

Now, to compare apples to apples.

Google.com loaded in under a second. Search.Live.com loaded in two seconds. Searching for a junk term (with no results) on Google.com took one second. A junk search on Live.com took one second. A search for the company name on Google.com took one second. A search for the company name on Live.com took one second.

So, as far as page load goes, Google search and Live search load equally, and Google’s personalized homepage and Live.com’s personalized homepage both take awhile. Yes, Live.com takes longer than Google.com to load, but Live Search is just as fast as Google search.

In fact, Live Search runs faster than MSN Search, and that’s the main thing. Live Search doesn’t have some of the things that can slow down Google search, like desktop search results and OneBox results. So, any discussions of speed have to compare apples to apples. The fact is, searching on either site is very fast, and that is what counts.

March 9th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Live, Windows, Search, General | one comment

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MSN Maps And Directions: So Long, Farewell

The MapPoint blog announced that, as of March 3, MSN Maps & Directions’ website began forwarding to Windows Live Local, making official the end of Microsoft’s Web 1.0 map app. Chris Pendleton explans how Maps&D competed with MapQuest for years, but now the game has moved forward to more dynamic maps, like Live Local, Google Maps, as well as Yahoo and Ask’s products.

Which begs a better question: Why in the holy hell does MapQuest still exist? Its way behind the new competition, and I haven’t heard anything about them trying to compete. AOL owns Mapquest and uses it for maps in local search, and I hope they’re doing something new, or at the least licensing Google Maps for themselves.

If you’re feeling nostalgic for Web 1.0, or want to show the kids what the oldern days looked like, Maps & Directions will remain archived, hopefully for a long time, at this address.

March 9th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Local, Live, Windows, General | no comments

So, Do I Hate The Origami? Uh, No

There’s a lot of talk today about the Origami being a let-down. And, hype-wise, it certainly is. Microsoft admits the hype spiraled out of control, and kind of turned the announcement into a bit of a disaster, basically.

However, none of that really matters. All that counts in the real world is if the products are good. Are they?

Yes and no.

The fact is, you can’t buy these and just hand them to someone, not in the first generation. With two and a half hours of battery life, they’re unusable as portables. You can’t use them as an MP3 player or a movie player (and video will likely cut battery life in half). You can’t take them to school and type notes. You can’t use it at work.

The only way the initial devices are useful as portables is if you can keep charging them. That means, when you leave the house, you’d have to bring the power adapter with you, and at that point, you might as well be carrying a laptop around. Right now, you can use it sporadically, or around the house (as long as you don’t use it for too long).

None of the uses in the original video work without the battery life. I can’t take it with me while taking pictures, I can’t use it in an airport, I can’t listen to music while riding a scooter, because, unless I want to barely use it, the battery is going to die on me. The only use that works is keeping it docked next to a PC and grabbing it for when I want to work outside.

Still, the Origami seems like a great start. Minus the battery issue, its an excellent platform, and will work for everything promised, and more, once battery life tops 12 hours (and, bare minimum four hours of video). You’ve got a Windows Vista capable tablet PC, a small but usable form factor and programs that make Windows work on the small screen.

I like it. The product itself seems solid, and to have a great future (although a crippled present). I will probably buy one, although I’ll probably wait for version 2 and five hours of battery life. The price point is excellent. At $599, to get a slate tablet PC with 30 gigs of space is a good deal in my mind. Compare it to an iPod at half the price.

$599 UMPC - 30 gigs of space, runs Windows Vista, touch screen, video (formats: WMV, AVI, QT, MP4, Real, DivX, XviD), music (formats: MP3, WMA, AAC [including DRM iPod music], OGG), programs like Internet Explorer, Photoshop, Microsoft Office, Bit Torrent, runs any game that only needs 900 MHz and DirectX 8, like Doom, Quake, The Sims, Half-Life, can plug in USB accessories like GPS receiver, Bluetooth keyboard, camera, external hard drive, universal memory reader, FM or TV tuners, has VGA output

$299 iPod - 30 gigs of space, runs proprietary menu system, click wheel, video (formats: QT, MP4), audio (formats: MP3, AAC [including DRM iPod music]), runs mini-apps like Wikipedia, run mini-games like solitaire, can plug in proprietary accessories like FM tuner, no VGA output

So, you pay the cost of two 30-gig iPods, and you get a larger, but not too large, full Windows PC, that can do everything the iPod can do (including the one thing non-iPod players can’t do: play protected AAC) and a hell of a lot more. I call that a good deal.

Of course, it isn’t a good deal so long as the iPod gets 14 hours of audio and two hours of video. When Origami devices can do that, they’re ready.

I might buy a UMPC immediately. I’ll check ‘em out, see what they’re like, and see if they’re worth it as a supplemental system. More likely, I’ll buy one with double the battery and pre-loaded with Vista. But Microsoft has gotten a great start, and we need to give them the benefit of patience.

The PC wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the UMPC. Wait for it to get better, and Microsoft, you sure as hell better keep developing the Origami-variant OS. If a year from now, nothing has changed with the programs launcher, and I’m drawing comparisons to the 18-month old PMC OS that has become decrepit over time, then you will be failing us, and killing your product. Continued development and improvement is a requirement for this to succeed.

March 9th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Tablet PC, Windows, General | 3 comments

Origami Is UMPC

So, all the Origami hype came to a head, and the results are… underwhelming. In the end, the Origami was just an internal code for the Ultra Mobile PC and the new variant of Windows Microsoft will be releasing for those devices. Since we already knew a lot about the UMPC, it’s hard to look at Origami as unexpected. Additionally, there is no product to buy right now, and the prototypes don’t really work, and that is pissing off a lot of people.

So, lets go through the actual news.

Todd Bishop:

In an interview yesterday, Mika Krammer, a Microsoft marketing director involved in the project, explained that Origami was merely meant to be the code name. She said the volume and breadth of buzz created by the cryptic Origami campaign caught the company by surprise.

If the Origami products are as good as they are supposed to be, then the hype was a big mistake, since it overshadowed the features, specs, design and software. Microsoft should have never hyped it, and just made their announcements as planned, and let the devices speak for themselves. If they had, instead of having to answer to feverish Origami hype, things might be a little different today.

Microsoft expects the only people buying into the first wave will be the typical hard-core gadget geeks.

The first devices are supposed to hit next month, we hope, and cost from $600 to $1,000, and will not have all the features Bill Gates had hoped. Devices will come from Samsung, Asus and Founder (a Chinese company), have two and a half hours of battery life and weigh 2.5 pounds. Gates wanted full-day batteries and close to a pound of weight, and those marks will take a while to hit.

The devices will have 30-120 gigabyte hard drives and run off Celeron M, Pentium M or VIA C7-M processors, with options for stylus, touch and keyboard input. They have seven inch (or smaller) screens, minimum 800×480 resolution and are wi-fi and BlueTooth enabled. Some may sport more expensive options, like cellular modems or GPS navigation.

Other features: dual array microphones with noise reduction, stereo speakers, headphone jack, docking capability (some models), flip out stands (so you can prop them up and watch movies).

The devices will run standard Windows software, and Windows XP Tablet edition, and will be Vista ready, minus Aero Glass. However, they will be supplemented by Touch Pak, which adapts Windows for smaller screens with larger screen elements and other features, including an onscreen keyboard called DialKeys, which “creates an overlay of keys for typing, using the screen’s touch sensitivity”. You can type with just two thumbs.

Another feature is the program launcher, making it easier to find and run programs (after all, the Start menu doesn’t exactly scale). Scroll bars and icons will be larger, as well as the minimize and maximize buttons, and defaults thumbnail views in folders, so you can run everything with your fingertips. It also comes with Sudoko, which is just a happy bonus.

You can change the program launcher backgrounds for practically anything, and there are a bunch over here. There’s also a new Media Player theme called Brilliant Black:

NPD Group analyst Stephen Baker was skeptical of how much appeal the first round of devices will have. “It’s a product in search of a market,” he said. It’s too expensive for the things it does, Baker said, and is “too under-featured to do some of the other things it needs to do.”

These devices will need more battery life and better looks to sell. Gizmodo has a video of them using the Samsung Q1, and it looks like a Creative Portable Media Center running XP, with a larger screen. It has an ethernet port, two USB ports, audio out, compact flash, volume control, a bunch of face buttons (including back and menu), VGA-out, and, weirdly enough, an antenna. The video:

The Asus device (on the right) looks much better than the Samsung one:

The Samsung device suffers because of its slick black surface, which is actually engaged to fingerprints, given how many you see on its surface.


Links:
Seattle P.I.
CNet News.com
Origami Project community website
Mary Jo Foley
Neowin
Amit Agarwal
Microsoft UMPC site
Video on Channel 9
Things That Make You Go Hmm…

March 9th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Tablet PC, General | no comments

Windows Live Toolbar

Another thing Windows Live has released is their new toolbar. It includes search, tabbed browsing (for Internet Explorer 6), and the Phishing Filter (again, for IE6). The 817 kb download also offers you multiple optional components during installation:

  • Feed Detector - 196 kb
  • Form Fill - 259 kb
  • Onfolio - 6.2 mb
  • Popup Blocker - 236 kb
  • Windows Live Local - 158 kb
  • Windows Live Toolbar for Microsoft Office Outlook - 227 kb
  • Highlight Viewer - 236 kb
  • MSN Extensions - 167 kb
  • MSN Games - 232 kb
  • MSN Money - 797 kb
  • Windows Desktop Search beta - 4.4 mb

I just went ahead and installed everything, even though some of this stuff seems meant for IE6. The RSS extension offers auto-discovery of feeds, and lets you subscribe with a single click.

Onfolio is a company Microsoft announced it was buying just yesterday, and its tool “provides a way to easily save, organize, and share all sorts of data you find on the Web, including links, entire Web pages, portions of pages, e-mails, and Microsoft Office documents”.

The tool includes a pane called Onfolio Sidebar that pops up along the left side of your browser and lets you build a library of nested folders where you can store all your data. To pull data into your library you simply click on the Capture button to save a link to the current Web page, the contents of the page, or a portion of the page. Or you can just drag and drop. As you capture items, you can also annotate them. Onfolio’s publishing feature lets you quickly share captured content via e-mail, presentations, and more.

If you use the MSN Search Toolbar with Windows Desktop Search, the Live Toolbar replaces that entirely. That is why Microsoft is now offering Windows Desktop Search as a stand-alone program. If you don’t want to lose it when you move to the new toolbar, make sure you select to install the extension. If you never liked installing a toolbar, you can get Windows Desktop Search from this page (via Bink), and install it all by its pretty self.

When you first run IE after installation, it asks you if you want to use Windows’ popup blocker or the toolbar’s, making sure you don’t have dueling blockers. It imports your whitelist, so you lose nothing if you want to give it a shot. The RSS feed autodiscovery lets you add feeds to Live.com while surfing the web.

The toolbar lets you search the web, site search, Live Local, Images, News, Feeds, with an additional menu for “look up word”, encyclopedia, shopping, Spaces, movies, music, stock quotes, yellow pages and white pages.

Other buttons on the toolbar display:

  • Stock quotes
  • let you start games (if you installed the extension)
  • highlight search terms on pages (extension), see a single snapshot of the entire page with the terms highlighted (the optional Highlight Viewer)
  • a dedicated button for Live Local, with an option to run the locator program (extension, again)
  • the RSS button, which lights up with a feed on page and uses the new universal RSS button
  • the popup blocker button with stats on the number of popups
  • an MSN Messenger / Windows Live Messenger button, that lets you sign in, add or view contacts, or send a page via Messenger
  • a Hotmail / Windows Live Mail button that lets you get to your inbox, contacts, calendar, send a page via email, send an email, or add contacts or appointments
  • a Spaces button that lets you blog something or go to your space
  • buttons for additional options, uninstallation, updates, and even one to repair the IE toolbar menu for you

You can also get weather conditions, and see the three day forecast with expected highs and lows. You can also go in the options menu and install a Windows Live Favorites add-in, so you can use Live Favorites with the toolbar.

All in all, its a very powerful toolbar, with a lot of features for IE6 users, and plenty of stuff for IE7 users as well. The Onfolio stuff seems cool, although I haven’t had enough time to look through it. My favorite thing is that a huge amount of the toolbar features are optional components, and if you don’t need them, you don’t install them. I wish I could do that with half the Google Toolbar features.

UPDATE: Wow, you can set the Live Toolbar to use Google search instead of Live Search. In fact, you can set it to use any search engine out there. In the preferences, go to the Web Search page, click Other Search Service, and, to use Google, enter http://www.google.com/search?q=$w. For other services, you should be able to figure out how to hack the URL. You lose none of the features of the toolbar, even the highlighting on the search results page. Very cool, for those who can’t resist Google Search.

March 9th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Live, Windows, General | 2 comments