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Being Honest With Windows In China

One blogger decided to try to be honest and buy a legal copy of Windows XP in China, and found out the hard way that honesty just wasn’t going to pan out.

So off I went to the nearest 电子城 (dianzi cheng, Electronic City) to pick me up a copy of Windows XP. I was determined this time that I would buy a “real” copy, as I expected if I were to purchase a fake it’d only lead to more computer headaches in the not-so distant future.

So I arrive at Electronic City and start chatting the sales lady:

Me: Do you guys have an English version of Windows XP?
Lady: Yes, please wait a moment. Please, sit sit sit.
(lady goes behind a mountain of cardboard boxes, comes back)
Lady: Here you are. 15 yuan.
Me: I was just wondering, how much for a “real” version of windows? I should really buy that one, I think.
Lady: Well, we don’t have it here, but it would surely be more than a thousand RMB.
Me: Holy Windows Batman!
Lady: 什么?

Turns out the price the saleslady quoted was actually only half of the actual retail price, which is closer to two thousand RMB. That puts the price of XP in China between $125 and $250, reasonable in the U.S., not so much in China, where the GDP per capita is $1,700, compared to $41,800 for the U.S..

Perhaps that’s the exchange rate Microsoft should be looking at if it wants legal Windows to become popular in China. They can’t compete with 15 yuan (about $1.89), but if they dropped the price in China to something like 100 yuan, that would at least be reasonable for many people who just can’t afford the same prices we can. Increased sales would make up for the price drop anyway, so what’s the harm? Just don’t let the product activate outside of Chinese IP addresses.
(via Frank Yu)

September 29th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows | no comments

Download Zune Songs Now

The Idolator blog has six of the songs that will come preloaded on the Microsoft Zune player available as free, DRM-free MP3 downloads. Go get ‘em now, baby!

Gotta love indie music. Less problems.
(via Gizmodo)

September 29th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows Media, Zune | 2 comments

1600 Free Microsoft Points

True.com and Xbox 360 Achiever are offering 1600 free Microsoft Points if you sign up for a 7-day free trial of True.com’s dating site. Just enter your shipping info, then follow a link to sign up for the trial, and after about three days, they will supposedly send you your free Points, which have a retail value of $20 and can be used to buy things on the Xbox Live Marketplace/Arcade or the Microsoft Zune music store (20 songs!).

However, I’m going to recommend you do nothing. There’s no way to know if they’ll actually honor the promotion during the free trial, or if they’ll wait till after you become a paid member to send it out. Since you have to give your credit card, and you need to cancel over the phone, you are at your own risk signing up now. Wait a few days and keep an eye on the NeoGAF forums. If people there start getting their free cards, and successfully cancel during the trial, then you should jump on this offer.

Or keep reading this blog. I’ll let you know.
(via Xboxic > Digg)

September 29th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Xbox, Windows Media, Xbox Live, Zune | 2 comments

Politically Correct Happy Flowers Sweeping Game

Turns out Microsoft decided when updating Minesweeper to a sweet new look for Windows Vista, that now would be a good time to address the fact that land mines are very, very bad.

Many countries still have land mines, and people die and are horribly maimed on a daily basis, which results in the occasional complaint about Minesweeper, a fairly simple, old game. Microsoft figured that while it was redoing Minesweeper, it could design a version of Minesweeper that didn’t have mines. So, they made it so that Minesweeper can now have mines, or flowers. No one really knows why you are sweeping the field, but don’t like flowers, but it seemed like a safe change.

Vista Minesweeper preferences.png

The fact is, you try to give a little, and this is what happened: They had to deal with changing the name of the game, the defaults in “mine-sensitive” areas, the text in the help file, using the word “explode”, removing the game altogether, and a million other things.

Just when these their way through the system, another issue arose. It turns out that some countries were taking this even more seriously than we had initially considered. Merely changing the default was not sufficient - they didn’t even want to have the *option* to switch to mines! This is really a large ask so late in the project. We would basically have to rewrite the game as well as the deployment logic. It was really too late for such a change, so we suggested that if mines were completely unacceptable than those countries should probably just remove minesweeper all together. So the various legal and geopolitics and localization people went off to discuss that one - whether it would be acceptabled, and if so which countries should pull it.

Vista Minesweeper.png

God only knows how this saga will end. Will Vista ship in some countries with the “Microsoft Windows Vista Logic-based Hidden Item Seeking Game 2006 with Skins!”? Even the Vista UI blog has no idea. The good news: Minesweeper has some sort of skinning functionality, and that means someone is going to change what the mines look like. Maybe they can follow one of the original ideas for changing the mines to something less politically offensive: Dog poo.

September 28th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Humor, Vista | no comments

Zune: $250, Coming November 14

Microsoft has announced the pricing and release date for its Zune player. The portable music/video device will retail at a suggested retail price of $249.99, 99 cents higher than an equal capacity iPod (30 gigabytes). It is scheduled to reach stores on November 14, giving it almost two weeks to build buzz and stock the shelves before Black Friday.

So, should you get a Zune? Depends on what you want. On features, the Zune may have the iPod beat, with equal storage, plus wifi for music sharing, an FM tuner, a half-inch larger LCD screen, and one extra color (counter-culture brown). It also comes preloaded with a bunch of songs, music videos and film clips.

On the other hand, the iPod wins with its cultural icon status (which is a negative for some), better battery life, slightly thinner frame, iTunes support (again, a negative for some), and Mac support. So, it ultimately comes down to what your priorities are. Both look like good players, both have good reasons to buy, so just be a smart consumer and make a decision.

Songs will cost 79 Microsoft Points (80 points are a dollar, so it’s actually 98.75 cents, and some places have MS points at a discount). A monthly subscription (”Zune Pass”) will be fifteen bucks.

The Zune comes preloaded with:

Music:

  • Band of Horses, “Wicked Gil” (Sub Pop Records)
  • Bitter:Sweet, “The Mating Game” (Quango Music Group)
  • CSS, “Alala (Microsoft edit)” (Sub Pop Records)
  • Darkel, “At The End of The Sky (edit)” (Astralwerks)
  • Every Move a Picture, “Signs of Life” (V2)
  • Small Sins, “Stay” (Astralwerks)
  • The Adored, “Tell Me Tell Me” (V2)
  • The Rakes, “Open Book” (V2)
  • The Thermals, “A Pillar of Salt” (Sub Pop Records)

I like any song that claims a “Microsoft edit”.

Music videos:

  • 30 Seconds to Mars, “The Kill” (Virgin Records)
  • BT, “1.618” (DTS Entertainment)
  • Chad VanGaalen, “Red Hot Drops” (Sub Pop Records)
  • Coldcut featuring Roots Manuva, “True Skool” (Ninja Tune)
  • CSS, “Let’s Make Love and Listen to Death From Above” (Sub Pop Records)
  • Fruit Bats, “Live: The Wind That Blew My Heart Away” (Sub Pop Records)
  • Grandaddy, “Elevate Myself” (V2)
  • Hot Chip, “Over and Over” (Astralwerks Records)
  • Kraak & Smaak featuring Dez., “Keep Me Home” (Quango Music Group)
  • Kinski, “Live: The Snowy Parts of Scandinavia” (Sub Pop Records)
  • Paul Oakenfold, “Faster Kill Pussycat (Featuring Brittany Murphy)” (Maverick Records)
  • Serena-Maneesh, “Drain Cosmetics” (Playlouderecordings)

Film shorts:

  • 5 Boro: “A New York Skateboarding Minute” (Skateboarding)
  • Radical Films: “Kranked — Progression” (Mountain Biking)
  • TGRTV The North Face (Skiing/Snowboarding)

Also included: A variety of images to personalize a Zune device, including 12 classic rock posters from “Art of Modern Rock”.

More accessories have been announced:


Zune AV Output Cable. The A/V Output Cable lets you connect your Zune device to a TV and home stereo. Ideal for listening to music and showing pictures and video, the A/V Output Cable is simple to set up and use, and will retail for $19.99.

Zune AC Adapter. The AC Adapter lets you charge your Zune device without a PC. For convenience, the AC Adapter will charge your Zune device in about three hours and will retail for $29.99.

Zune Sync Cable. The Sync Cable lets you connect your Zune device to your PC or the Zune AC Adapter (sold separately). It works as a replacement for your original sync cable or as a spare for travel and charging, and will retail for $19.99.

Zune Car Charger. The Car Charger lets you charge your device in the car while listening to your favorite music and even while using the FM tuner with AutoSeek (sold separately). The Car Charger will retail for $24.99.

Zune Dock. The Dock elegantly displays your Zune device anywhere in your home or office. Featuring a connector port and an audio/video output, the Dock is ideal for syncing, charging and connecting with home A/V equipment. (A/V connectivity requires the Zune A/V Output Cable, sold separately.) The Dock will retail for $39.99.

Zune Wireless Remote for Zune Dock. Designed for use with Zune Dock (sold separately), the Wireless Remote lets you control your device from across the room. The Wireless Remote gives you quick access to your current playlist as well as full control over menu navigation and volume. The Wireless Remote will retail for $29.99.

Zune Dual Connect Remote. The Dual Connect Remote offers convenient playlist control and two headphone jacks with independent amplifiers and volume controls so you can listen with a friend or family member. The Dual Connect Remote will retail for $29.99.

Zune FM tuner With AutoSeek. The FM tuner with AutoSeek lets you wirelessly listen to music through your car’s stereo through the FM radio. AutoSeek automatically finds the optimal station so it’s easy to set up, and will retail for $69.99.

Zune Gear Bag. The Gear Bag lets you bring Zune and related accessories with you wherever you go. The Gear Bag comes with a rugged exterior and fitted compartments to protect your device while you travel. The Gear Bag will retail for $29.99.

Zune Premium Earphones. Designed exclusively for use with Zune, the Premium Earphones produce superior sound and feature a noise-isolating, in-ear design. With a convenient storage case and three earpiece sizes to choose from, you can listen to your music with added comfort and quality. The Premium earphones will retail for $39.99.

More by Reuters and Todd Bishop

UPDATE: Wal-Mart now has the Zune ready to pre-order. The price: $249.94, because they always have to beat the MSRP, even if only by a nickel.

Amazon’s also got it:

September 28th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows Media, Zune | one comment

Yet Another Vista Build: 5734

Microsoft is circulating another Vista build to testers, this time Build 5734. This build is just six after the last one (5728), which means Microsoft is releasing builds at a very fast pace as RTM approaches. While it could be any number of reasons, the implication seems to be that a lot of the work is done, and what isn’t finalized is being released every few days to get it tested, fixed, and tested again as quickly as possible. It certainly looks like the book will be closed on Microsoft’s first new operating system in over five years within the next few weeks.

Line of the day:

Vista Builds for some. Miniature american flags for others!

September 28th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Vista | no comments

Congrats, Bink!

Yesterday, Stephen Bink (who runs the Bink.nu blog, an excellent Microsoft source) had a li’l addition to the family: A daughter, whom they named Rose Marlene Bink. Congratulation, Bink! It’s amazing how, ever since I got married, all I can think about is when I’m gonna have a kid. In other words: I’m hugely jealous. To the lucky parents: Enjoy, and I hope she brings an unbelievable amount of joy into your lives.

As an aside, gotta love the “News Source: In House” line at the bottom of the announcement post :-) Also, she already has an email address. Where are the baby pics?

September 28th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Blogs | no comments

MSN To Stream Live Concerts

Microsoft has signed an exclusive global partnership with Control Room, the company behind last year’s worldwide webcast of the Live 8 concert, to stream live concerts to its users in the future. The multiyear agreement will see Microsoft get 36 concerts to stream live to MSN users around the world, and on-demand viewing for a period after the event. The concerts will be free and ad-supported. AOL had previously owned a one-year contract with Control Room/Network Live.

September 28th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, MSN | no comments

Halo Wars Trailer

Here’s a little extra from X06 today, the trailer for the upcoming real time strategy game Halo Wars:


Wow. Looks amazing. Makes Halo 2 look like crap, and makes me real excited about Halo 3.

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Xbox, Xbox 360, Halo | 2 comments

New Version Of Windows Live Writer

Windows Live Writer has been updated with a smattering of new features, usability improvements and bug fixes. The rundown:

  • Support for tagging
  • Support for the new Blogger Beta
  • Categories list fixed. It is now sorted by name, scrollable (before it was completely broken if you had too many categories and ran off the screen)
  • Faster startup
  • Can paste into the Title field
  • Can tab and shift-tab back and forth from the Title field
  • Right-click on selected text to insert link
  • Insert Link dialog has Title tag
  • Custom date support for Community Server
  • Improved keyboard shortcuts for switching between views
  • Spell check shortcut key is now F7
  • PNG included in Insert Image dialog
  • Better image uploading to Live Spaces
  • Improved blog style detection
  • Fixed issues with pasting URLs and links
  • Remembers last windows size and position
  • Retrieve more than 25 recent posts

There’s also a new section on the Windows Live Gallery for Writer plugins. Currently there are only seven listed, but they’ll get all of the many Writer plugins in there, and then all the other sites listing the plugins will watch their readership disappear.

To download the new version, just click here.

Read more at the Writer Zone blog, Mike Torres

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Live, Writer | one comment

Elmo Tops iPod

I find this funny: Searches for the new Elmo TMX tickling doll overtook interest in the iPod almost as soon as the product was released, according to the always-interesting Hitwise blog. While iPods may seem ubiquitous, nothing beats the big E. Apple needs to get that baby market by releasing an iPod wearing Elmo, and a version of the Shuffle with child safety features (you could choke on that thing!).

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Apple | no comments

X06 Keynote Report: HD-DVD Drive, Doom Arcade

Microsoft’s got a lot to announce at the X06 conference today. Here’s what we’ve heard:

You should be able to download the secret Xbox Live Arcade game right now. What is it? Doom. The original Doom, available at 800 Microsoft Points, gives you the original four-episode single player game, four player split screen for both co-operative play and head-to-head deathmatch, and four-player co-op and deathmatch over Xbox Live.

A full first-person shooter with online play for ten bucks, even one with the sprite based graphics and two-dimensional gameplay of Doom, should be a monster hit. The demo is now online, and I just tried it out. The graphics are fluid, and some textures have been improved, but for the most part it is the same game you’ve played a hundred thousand times.

The Xbox 360 HD-DVD Player will drop for a mere $199.99 in North America, and €199.99/£129.99 in the UK, France and Germany. It will ship with a copy of King Kong on HD-DVD, and the 360 Universal Remote. Sounds wonderful.

Xbox Live is getting exclusive episodes of GTA IV. They will be released months after the game hits in October 2007, continuing the story of the game with hours of new content and gameplay, and will be entirely exclusive to the Xbox 360. Huge bonus for Microsoft, as anyone buying their console for that game, or anyone who owns both consoles, will choose the 360.

Microsoft has sold 5 million consoles as of June, and is projecting ten million by the holiday season.

The Splinter Cell game after Double Agent (called Splinter Cell Conviction) will be an Xbox 360 exclusive. That is HUGE.

Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh will be making a new game set in the Halo universe, but not a Halo game. Presumably, this is the Forerunner title we’ve been hearing about. Again, huge.

Microsoft will also release Halo Wars, a real-time strategy game.

Joystiq is live blogging. I’ll update if there are any more announcements.

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Xbox, Xbox 360, Xbox Live | no comments

Interview With Clippy

Associated Content has an “interview” with Clippy, the paperclip from older versions of Microsoft Office. It is too much fun to skip.
(via Digg)

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Applications, Humor, Office | no comments

List Of Vista-Incompatible Apps

There’s a wiki collecting a list of applications incompatible with Windows Vista, as well as those known to work and those known to have some problems. Included in the incompatible lists are software like some versions of Nero (if you install it under XP and then upgrade to Vista, as I did, you’ll be fine), some older versions of AVG Antivirus, Roxio Easy Media Creator, Microsoft Expression Web, Azureus (bit torrent), ZoneAlarm Pro, Rhapsody, Microsoft Money 2006.

On the other hand, many security products do seem to work fine, despite popular belief. In the “working” list are Ad-aware SE Personal, Spybot - Search & Destroy, McAfee AntiSpyware Enterprise, McAfee VirusScan Enterprise, Norton 360 Beta, Symantec Antivirus, as well as Adobe Premiere Pro (can confirm that one myself), DVD Decrypter, WinRAR, Half-Life 2, Photoshop CS2, DivX, QuickTime, Winamp, AOL Instant Messenger, Google Talk, Skype, Microsoft Office XP, Microsoft Office 2003, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Google Earth, Google Picasa, RocketDock, and tons of other applications.

Lucky for all of us, even at this early date, almost everything works with Vista. I’ve yet to encounter a serious problem. Microsoft should be compiling this public list, but at least someone is.

My only real problem is with applications disabling Aero Glass. In fact, if anyone at Microsoft wants to explain how I can turn off the preference that shuts off Aero every single time Quicktime loads, I’d be a very happy boy.
(via Mary Jo Foley)

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Applications, Windows, Vista | 7 comments

Two Quick Links Re: IM and Xbox 360 Price Drop

Two quick stories I didn’t want to devote whole posts to:

There’s a rumor Microsoft will cut the cost of the Xbox 360 to introduce a new version bundled with the HD-DVD drive. The new bundle would cost the old $400 price, while the regular premium 360 will drop to $300. Too early to know if it’s legitimate, but the price cut could kill Sony and make Nintendo look bad in one fell swoop.

At some point today, all Windows Live Messenger and Yahoo Messenger users will be able to communicate. Huzzah! You’ll only need the latest stable version, not a special beta, so enjoy!

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Xbox, Messenger, Xbox 360, Live | no comments

Poor Grammar Suggest Grand Theft Auto IV an Xbox 360 Exclusive

Read this quote from Microsoft’s own Gamerscore blog, written by Xbox and Microsoft Games employees:

And, let’s not forget that Xbox 360 will be the only console that gamers will be able to experience the next generation version “Grand Theft Auto IV” (Rockstar) and “Halo 3” (Microsoft Game Studios) in 2007.

So, what would you think if you read this? Most people would go, “Wow, I had no idea GTA IV was exclusive to the Xbox 360!” And, of course, you would be mistaken. GTA IV is very famously launching on both the 360 and the Playstation 3 on October 16, 2007. What Gamerscore meant was that the 360 is the only console to have both GTA IV and Halo 3. Both. Which is the same as saying it is the only console to have the ability to play video games and Halo 3, a completely useless and misleading statement.

Please word your blog posts better in the future. We don’t need those Sony fanboys calling us liars.

September 27th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Xbox, Xbox 360 | no comments

Microsoft Honored By FBI For Response To Mytob/Zotob Worm

Nine Microsofties received certificates from the FBI for “Exceptional Service in the Public Interest” for their role in fighting the Mytob/Zotob computer worm in 2005.

Microsoft’s investigation into the author and distributors of the Zotob/Mytob was referred to the FBI only five days after the release of the Zotob worm in 2005. FBI agents, using the results of Microsoft’s investigation, then flew to and Morocco, and assisted in the arrests of two individuals 12 days after the worm starting causing damage. This month, one of the individuals was sentenced to two years in prison in Morocco for his role in writing and distributing the Zotob and Mytob worms.

Honored were:

  • Brad Smith, Microsoft Senior Vice President and General Counsel
  • Tim Cranton, senior director
  • Simona Long, investigator
  • Stirling McBride, senior manager of investigations
  • Steve Santorelli, senior manager of investigations
  • Val Saengphaibul, technical analyst
  • Scott Stein, senior attorney
  • Frank Swiderski, security software engineer
  • Rob Vucic, security software engineer

One Microsoftie said, “We lost many good men on the field of battle. The devastation was horrible, blood everywhere, but we would not relent. The enemy, while numerous and deadly, would have to be defeated for the sake of the world, and our lives would have to be sacrificed to save the world”.

Okay, I made up that last part, but you get the idea. Was this the first time someone got an FBI medal for stopping a computer virus? Pretty cool. Cyber-crime is getting real big, and computer geeks are the new forensic experts.

September 26th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Corporate | no comments

Pirillo’s Quick Fix For Vista Font Consistency

Chris Pirillo figured out that by tweaking a few registry keys, he could fix the parts of Windows (and third-party applications) that eroneously call on Arial, MS Sans Serif and Tahoma, when they should be using new Vista standard font Segoe UI. Segoe looks similar to, yet considerably better than all of those, with cleaner curves, anti-aliasing, and overall improved readability, yet Microsoft has not taken the necessary steps to replace the old fonts with the new.

Chris’s registry patch (install at your own risk) uses CurrentVersion FontSubstitutes to redirect every attempt to use Tahoma, Microsoft Sans Serif, MS Sans Serif, MS Serif, Arial and Times New Roman, straight over to Segoe UI. It’s a dirty change, one that will promise to screw up fixed-width dialog boxes that don’t have a lot of room for error, but it does solve a major usability issue.

Frankly, I’ve been calling on Microsoft to do a similar, but slightly cleaner, solution, for months. Microsoft is already putting a significant investment in font designers for Vista. Call those guys back to the table, and get them to redesign Segoe to meet the exact specifications of every single old system font, to the smallest pixel. Then, redirect the fonts as a default in the OS, and delete the originals. Ta-da. Segoe, as a number of variations (like Segoe Tahoma Scale, Segoe Arial Scale, and so on), would faithfully and bug-free replace every old ugly font, and Vista would look a hell of a lot better.

I get it: It’s crunch time, and you guys are real busy. Still, those font guys probably haven’t done anything in months, so why not call them back in and get rid of this problem for good?

September 26th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Vista | no comments

Embedded Soapbox Videos

Paul Thurrott must be in the MSN Soapbox closed beta, since he embedded three videos in one of his pages. Lets take a look.

That’s the video embeded. The controls at the bottom, while thicker than YouTube, is relatively clean. It contains a play button, forward and back buttons, a progress indicator, time display, volume slider, mute button, the video’s title, an info button, and a playlist button. The word Soapbox is also clickable.

The most interesting thing I find here is the playlist functionality, as indicated by the playlist button and back/forward button. Other services don’t let you do multiple videos in an embed, forcing you to use something like VidMirror, but apparently Soapbox handles playlists and successive videos in a single box.

The coolest thing has to be the info button. Hit it and a pane slides up (we can assume the playlist button acts in a similar fashion), with info on the video, including the author, upload date, number of video views, comments, a description, and links to other videos.

This is what the embed code looks like:

< embed src="http://soapbox.msn.com/flash/msn_embedded_player.swf" quality="high" width="412" height="362" name="msn_warhol" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" pluginspage="http://macromedia.com/go/getflashplayer" flashvars="strXMLSource=http://soapbox.msn.com/embed.aspx?vid=505cd974-3975-4fd4-bd45-edf2e0c8ce61" >< /embed >

Also: The buttons reveal their functionality if you roll over them. The video quality seems no better than YouTube or Google Video’s. There is no button to run the video in full screen. Compared with Google Video or YouTube, they seem to be doing a great job with features and design, but might want to find a way to reduce the size of the controls themselves.

Here’s a screenshot, to compare against future changes:

MSN Soapbox embed v1.jpg

Compare to YouTube (top), Google Video (middle), and MySpace (bottom):

Notice that, besides MySpace, the others do not have a completely unnecessary frame around the vide. That should be the first thing Microsoft drops, before redesigning anything else. A full-screen button would be nice, too.

Ratings, for now, out of five, in both looks and features:

YouTube: 4.0 (looks) 2.5 (features)
Google Video: 2.5 (looks) 2.5 (features)
MySpace Video: 2.0 (looks) 3.0 (features)
MSN Soapbox: 3.5 (looks) 4.0 (features)

Pretty good start.

September 25th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, MSN, Soapbox | no comments

Microsoft Looking At Incentives For Soapbox

AdWeek reports that Microsoft is considering what kind of incentives it can offer for those who make heavy use of its Soapbox video storage/sharing service. Being considered is giving away Microsoft Points, which can be used to buy songs from Microsoft’s Zune service, games from Xbox Live Arcade, and extra content on Xbox Live. Most Xbox 360 and Zune owners would probably switch to Soapbox, just to get some extra music and games.

A suggestion: If you find a video service that offers a feature, like revenue-sharing, but don’t want to give up the network effect of YouTube, upload your stuff to YouTube, but disable external embedding. This way your video gets to YouTube’s users, but you can use the other service for inclusion on your blog or website.
(via Digg)

September 25th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, MSN, Soapbox | no comments

Microsoft Meeting Snarls Traffic

Microsoft held it’s company meeting at Safeco Field (where the Seattle Mariners play), and area drivers were not happy. More than 14,000 employees attended, and although over half got there on just 184 buses, it still made for more traffic than people are used to at 9:30 am.

From the Seattle PI:

And just to make sure that’s all that got out, Microsoft put butcher paper over windows looking in on the field and assigned a public-relations handler to stay at each reporter’s hip for the brief time they were allowed inside.

Apparently, the anonymous blogger Mini-Microsoft leaked out something sensitive said at the meeting about the forthcoming Vista operating system. The offensive language had been removed by Friday after several comments were posted chastising the blogger for disclosing company secrets.

Here’s what was left: “And the [[wow, holy crap, guess I shouldn’t have mentioned that!]] for Vista was news to me.”

Maybe it will be news to the rest of us soon.

So far, I can’t find anything on what Mini posted. If anyone caught the post before he deleted it, let me know.

September 25th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Corporate | no comments

Yes, You Can Mute The Vista Start-up Sound

Microsoft’s Steve Ball writes that they have added to Windows Vista the ability to mute the system start-up sound, which had been an issue of minor controversy. Here’s what the control panel looks like:

Disable Vista start-up sound.png

As you can see, you can’t change the sound, you can just say yes or no to it. This satisfies Microsoft’s need to brand the Vista startup, while not pissing off users with a sound they can’t get rid of if they absolutely need to. Besides, you know some modders are going to figure out how to change it by swapping a DLL or a registry key or something.
(via Scoble)

UPDATE: Here’s what Vista startup sounds and looks like in Build 5728:

Video by Long Zheng.

September 25th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Vista | 4 comments

Latest Vista Build Available Publicly

Here’s some surprising news: The latest Vista build, Build 5728, is a public download. Just click this link to get the 2.6 GB download (32-bit only, 64-bit is a direct download at this link). Previously, it seemed RC1 (Build 5600) would be the last public build but, well, there it is.

This page includes information to help you download a special test build of Windows Vista. This build (5728) has a number of improvements and updates from RC1, but has not been put through the same internal testing process as RC1 and therefore may be unstable in certain installations. We are making this release available for a limited time only (and only by download) in order to get broad distribution and testing in a variety of PC configurations.

Supposedly, you can upgrade from RC 1 to this build, but you may not be able to upgrade it to the final retail version. Still, if you want the latest version, you don’t need to jump through hoops to get it. You’ll need a Beta 2/RC1 product key to activate.
(via Slashdot)

UPDATE: Mary Jo Foley details the changes in 5728.

September 25th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Vista | no comments

Long Weekend = Zune Link-Post

I won’t be back online till Sunday night, so everybody enjoy this one last tiny link post about the Zune.

CrunchGear guesses that the Zune can be upgraded later on to run VoiP applications. I’m guessing someone was running out of things to write about, and pulled a post out of his ass.

Amazon UK says Apple manufactures the Zune. Yeah, wouldn’t that be wonderful. Oh, wait, turns out Amazon.com says the Zune company makes the Microsoft Zune. This is confusing. I thought it was Toshiba :-)

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows Media, Zune | one comment

Live Search To Be Embedded In Nokia S60 Phones

Microsoft and Nokia announced an agreement to integrate Windows Live Search into its Mobile Search platform, bringing it to Nokia S60 devices. Mobile users will get search, as well as instant answers on things like stock quotes, movie times and Encarta information. The Mobile Search application is planned to be available to the Nokia N80 Internet Edition, Nokia N73, Nokia N93, Nokia N70, Nokia N71, Nokia 6630, Nokia 6680, and Nokia 6681 devices. It is available as a free download to S60 devices at nokia.com/mobilesearch.

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Search, Windows, Live | no comments

PS3 Gets Price Drop, Only In Japan

Sony has announced a price drop for the Playstation 3, but only for Japanese folks. The lower-end version of the console will sell for 49,800 yen, or something like $424, a drop from $515. Sony denies that the price drop will hit the U.S., but we can hope.

Here’s my thinking: The perception of Sony’s price makes the PS3 look like a disaster. In the U.S., Sony can rely on consumers sitting back and overpaying as the PS3 sells out and creates shortages everywhere, but in Japan, Sony risks angering its base. So, they drop the price in Japan to calm the home front, and plan to wait out the shortages before giving North America a cut (since the cut is just costing them a huge amount of money).

The beauty: The lower-end PS3 represents only 20% of the stock. This means that the Japanese, now more willing to accept the PS3 because of the price drop, will saunter into stores and see the $424 PS3 sold out, but the $600+ PS3 still in stock, and the more desperate buyers will pay for the now-ridiculously-expensive unit.

Since Sony dropped the price, the higher-end PS3 looks like the biggest rip-off in gaming. The differences between the two consoles are (a) 40 gigabytes of hard drive space, (b) a memory card reader and (c) silver finish. Yeah, that’s worth two hundred bucks!

Coverage:
Gizmodo
Associated Press
Kotaku
Joystiq

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General | no comments

Media Player 11 DRM Terms Stricter

There’s some serious differences between the DRM terms between Windows Media Player 10 and 11. Most specifically, this section:

Backing up and restoring licenses
Windows Media Player 11 does not permit you to back up your media usage rights (previously known as licenses). However, depending upon where your protected files came from, you might be able to restore your rights over the Internet.

If you encounter an error message that indicates you are missing play, burn, or sync rights for a file and you had these rights previously, you might be able to resolve the problem by restoring your media usage rights. You have several options to do so:

  • If you obtained the file from an online store, contact the store to find out if it offers media usage rights (license) restoration (some stores refer to this procedure as computer activation, computer authorization, or license synchronization).
    The procedure for restoring your rights varies from store to store. For example, you might be able to right-click the file in your library or click an Error button or an Information button next to the file, and then click a command. Or you might be required to delete the file from your computer and then download the file again.
    The store might limit the number of times that you can restore your rights or limit the number of computers on which can use the songs or videos that you obtain from them. Some stores do not permit you to restore media usage rights at all.
    For details, see the store’s customer support or Help links.
  • If the file is a song you ripped from a CD with the Copy protect music option turned on, you might be able to restore your usage rights by playing the file. You will be prompted to connect to a Microsoft Web page that explains how to restore your rights a limited number of times.

As you can see, you can no longer back up your music “rights”, ensuring a fail-safe if something goes wrong. Microsoft is basically saying it has no responsibility to protect your purchase, and that some stores won’t even bother to help you if you lose your music. In the end, the music store can choose to give you as few or as many rights as it wants. And if you want to switch stores, well, you’ll have to buy your music all over again.

See, when it comes to legally downloaded music, this is why I prefer the subscription model. If I don’t really own the music anyway, and I have to deal with licenses and such, I’d rather have a means of switching stores without taking a huge hit. If I buy my music, I might have to re-buy it for a new music store or a new device, but if I subscribe, I can switch stores easily.

I really don’t like the idea of copy protecting music ripped from CDs. It’ll never work with every ripping program, and it only convinces MP3 player owners not to buy a CD. When you listen to most of your music on an iPod (or a Zune or whatever), why would you ever buy a CD you couldn’t rip? In this day and market, the idea is preposterous.

More at Slashdot, and hysterical ranting at the Enquirer.

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Applications, Media Player | no comments

Microsoft Confident On Vista Ship Date

It looks like Windows Vista will actually ship on time, barring any unforseen circumstances. Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft insiders, testors and vendors are all absolute that Vista will make it into the hands of volume licensing customers by the end of November, no matter what.

I believe it, for one simple reason: The code that is buggy, the stuff that constantly crashes my Vista machine and make my life a living hell, it isn’t going to volume licensing. That code is mostly Media Center, and volume licensing customers are probably not getting a version of Vista that uses it. That buys Microsoft a little extra time to get things to work.

Jim Allchin says that they remain on track, “barring any unforeseen quality issues such as bugs around data corruption, resiliency, or security”. Seems like Microsoft is saying that they will release the OS even if everything isn’t perfect, as long as it is safe and mostly stable. He also says they will probably sell 200 million copies in the first two years.

Robert McLaws says Microsoft needs to take more time, fix things and release more builds before it thinks it can sell this thing, but I disagree. Few people remember what a disaster OS X was in the beginning (or, at the very least, how difficult the early days were for longtime users), but Apple remained committed and improved it, and now it is considered one of, if not the best, major software product on the market.

Microsoft should just ship Vista in January and let the world beta test it. Yes, that won’t inspire much confidence, but if Microsoft can fix key bugs and components on a monthly basis, the stories in the press will only get more positive as time goes by. If the perception of Windows goes to an operating system that only gets better every month, that will be better than the perception of “one new release per six years”.

Apple has proven that people want an operating system that improves, not one that is frozen and pretends nothing is wrong. An OS is a work in progress, and users will be happier if that progress is obvious, even if only because it had a lot of problems in the beginning.

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Vista | no comments

What, Now It’s Windows Search Preview?

Okay, so Windows Live codename “Casino” is now on its fifth name:

Codename: Casino >> Internal name: OneView >> Windows Live Search >> Windows Live Search Center >> Windows Search Preview

This program is a desktop application designed to bring the Windows Live web search in a way only a desktop application can. We saw part of it at Search Champs, eight months ago, and no public beta has been released yet. Microsoft needs to settle on a name finally.

The concept is complicated enough that choosing a name is not going to be easy. Microsoft should just bite the bullet and go the Mac route, giving it a one word name that says practically nothing, but keeps things simple. I vote for “Results”.

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Live | no comments

Microsoft Basically Recalling First Run Of Xbox 360s

Microsoft has announced it will be giving free repairs for any Xbox 360 purchased before January 1, 2006. That means that if you were one of the first to buy the Xbox 360, your warranty is extended by one year, and if you had it repaired for the $140 out-of-warranty fee, you will get that refunded to you. Microsoft’s statement explaining the change in policy:

As part of our standard and ongoing process of analyzing repair data, we recently noticed a higher than usual number of units coming in for repair. Upon further investigation, it was further discovered that the bulk of the units were isolated to a group that was part of the initial manufacturing run of the console. Returns for repair are coming in for a variety reasons and it’s a higher rate than we are satisfied with. We’ve made the decision to comp repairs for consoles manufactured before January 1, 2006, and provide refunds to the small group of customers who have already paid for repairs.

While most 360’s are fine, Microsoft has to start acknowledging that some number of them will just break for no good reason, and should just offer free repairs for any systems that break for non-damage reasons. Unless I drop my console, it is probably a manufacturing defect, and Microsoft should have always been taking responsibility.

The real lesson: If you buy a $400 game console and don’t get an extended warranty, you are an idiot. Most extended warranty’s are a waste of money, but paying Best Buy $40 to guarantee your console lasts at least two years is just a smart thing to do. I had to replace my console once already, and am glad I got the warranty.

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Xbox, Xbox 360 | no comments

Microsoft’s High Tech High School

Earlier this month, Philadelphia opened a new high school, called “The School of the Future” and created with help from Microsoft. Students work on laptops with wifi, teachers teach real-world subjects, and parents can track their kids over the net. It cost $63 million to build and is a free public school with an open, random lottery acceptance process. Because of the location and school district, 95 percent of the students are black and 85 percent come from low-income households.

Some more details from the article: Classes rely heavily on software. Homework is all done on the computer, and submitted and graded on the school’s network, where teachers leave feedback.

Christopher Green said he was “ecstatic” that his daughter Meray was selected to attend the school. “She’s a cancer survivor, and this is her second wind,” he said.

The school’s environmental enhancements include natural lighting, windows made of photovoltaic glass that generates some of the building’s power supply, and cabinets made from trees removed from the site during construction, officials said.

Microsoft, motivated by a combination of altruism and self-interest, was closely involved in planning the school and providing its technology, said Mary Cullinane, group manager for the company’s Partners in Learning program and the school’s “technology architect.”

“We have a vested interest because we need to hire the kids who are graduating, and we want to make sure we have created a blueprint that other folks will be able to use,” she said.

Also, worth noting: Microsoft issued a press release that it’s employees, not including the mega-charity that is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have donated an amazing $2.5 billion since 1983. A lot of other companies like to tout their charities, many of which have yet to actually do anything, but the man who started Microsoft runs the largest charity in the world, and the rank-and-file have donated more than Google’s billionaire owners have pledged.

September 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Corporate | no comments

Microsoft Works Live Coming?

Business Week says Microsoft plans to add the functionality of its second tier office suite, Microsoft Works, to the web-based Office Live. This would bring Microsoft Word, spreadsheets (a light versions of Excel, with files completely compatible with their Microsoft Office counterparts) calendar, address book, project organizing, email, thesaurus, Encarta, and Powerpoint viewing, in a made-for-online form.

The company is working on plans to offer a free version hosted on its Office Live Web site, as well as a subscription flavor with more bells and whistles. While it’s not a done deal, the company is throwing a lot of manpower at the project. “It’s not a small number (of people working on the project) to be sure,” says Chris Capossela, vice-president for Microsoft’s Business Division Product Management Group. “This is core. We want to win this space.”

Based on Office Live, Microsoft knows hot to do web-based application incredibly well (and better than Google), it just hasn’t done so.

Now, Works Live may not contain all of the functionality of the store-bought Works package, but if it is close enough, it could be very successful. If Microsoft is smart, it’ll come up with a business model designed to appeal to those who would consider Google:

  • Full version, complete with every function Microsoft can build in, free for Office users (must be running the most recent version of any Office or Works Suite), or $25 a year for others. Unlimited space for saving files.
  • Free limited version, with Microsoft promising to meet or exceed any feature of any major web-based competitor). Storage space shared with your Hotmail/Live Mail/Live Drive account.

If Microsoft gave away the store to Office users, but required those without Office to pay up, it wouldn’t be competing with itself, which is the primary worry at MS. Those users who might buy Office if it was cheaper, they can pay for the full version. Those users who will never buy Office, they can try the free version, which will at the least be competitive with Google

Keep in mind, these are just my speculative ideas. Indeed, Microsoft’s vision might be completely different. And BusinessWeek might be wrong. It could be that my vision of the limited version is all you’ll ever see of Works Live. As usual, we’ll just have to wait and see.

September 21st, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Applications, Google, Office | no comments

Sony Giving Away Xbox 360s

Sony BMG, a 50/50 joint venture between Bertelsmann and Sony (makers of the Playstation 3) is running a giveaway to promote Jessica Simpson’s new album, A Public Affair. Enter your info and you could win a copy of her new album and an Xbox 360.

Anyone see the silliness here? Sony giving away a product that it is betting the future of the company to defeat? I didn’t even realize it at the time, but Jessica Simpson is the Xbox Artist of the Month, yet a Sony artist. Either Sony doesn’t care what Sony BMG does, since it only owns half, or it isn’t thinking straight. You don’t giveawy competitor’s products! When was the last time Apple held a giveaway for a Windows Media Center PC, or Ford handed someone the keys to a new Corvette?
(via Digg)

September 21st, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Humor, Xbox, Xbox 360 | no comments

Witness What Could Have Been

Few remember it now, but in the earler stages of Longhorn, Microsoft was proposing some pretty crazy stuff for the Longhorn UI. Witness this video of “floppy windows” from 2003:

Well, you can get this sort of stuff in XGL, of course.

More videos on ExtremeTech.

The new Windows Shell team blog discusses why they don’t have floppy windows in Vista. The reason: Vista can do it, as promised, but doesn’t, because it creates a crappy user experience. In fact, there are a million cool things the Vista UI can do, and the idea is that any third party can create a utility that hacks the Desktop Windows Manager to do it.

For god sakes, if you want to make a lot of money, someone needs to create an easy software program that lets users choose from hundreds of effects to add to Windows. Microsoft will have something to shut up Mac users, and Windows users will be able to do amazingly cool things. This is one area that needs to be exploited before Chris Pirillo abandons Windows forever.

September 21st, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Longhorn, Vista | one comment

Expo Gets PayPal, More Features

Windows Live Expo, Microsoft’s community classifieds system, has added some new features. Now, you can pay for items via PayPal for secure transactions, either from PayPal debit accounts or through credit cards. Sellers can also specify the cost and type of shipping. Expo also now integrates job listings from Career Builder, featured ads by AdMission that highlight your listing for an added fee, a preview of national search results below local results, and an Expo tab for Windows Live Messenger.

Read more at the Live Expo team blog and LiveSide. You can also take a tour.

September 21st, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Windows, Live, Expo | no comments

Remove IE Clicking Sounds

The Yahoo Mail blog had a funny post about the completely annoying sounds Internet Explorer makes when loading things, comparing it to the clicking noises made by dolphins. To help, Omar Shahine provides a simple registry key that you can use to completely disable the sounds. Copy this text into a blank Notepad window:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CURRENT_USERAppEventsSchemesAppsExplorerNavigating.Current]
@=”"

Save the file as “Navigation Sound Off.reg” and run it. For convenience, I’m providing the file ready-made for you (it worked fine in Windows Vista on my machine).

Click here to download Navigation Sound Off.reg

Microsoft really should consider getting rid of the sound permanently. It made sense when everyone had dial-up connections, and the sound was useful to let you know when the damn page finally started responding and finished loading. Now, with pages loading quickly and dynamic AJAX apps that load items in the page constantly, the sound can click almost over and over and over, and make you want to throw the damn computer out the window.

September 21st, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Applications, Windows, Internet Explorer | 5 comments

Mary Jo Foley Leaves Microsoft Watch For ZDNet

Mary Jo Foley, possibly the premier blogger covering Microsoft, has jumped ship from Microsoft Watch, the blog she started and made huge, to ZDNet. Replacing her at Microsoft Watch is Peter Galli from ExtremeTech.

Mary Jo’s new blog is called All About Microsoft, at blogs.zdnet.com/microsoft. She says that the move was spurred by her belief that blogging is the future of journalism, and the need to write at a place that reflected that view. She’s done a short exit interview with Robert McLaws, where she talks about eleven years of covering Microsoft, being blacklisted by MS, and why Microsoft just “matters” more than any other technology company.

I had the opportunity to meet Mary Jo at the Ziff offices in Manhattan once, and she really seems to get this reporting thing better than most. Based purely on my impressions of the place, with its old magazines covering the walls and antiquated publishing systems, I could see the need to move to a pure digital news organization. I salute her career move, and hope that All About Microsoft becomes even more successful than Microsoft was.

You can get the feed here.

Microsoft Watch is the 755th blog in Technorati, with 3,276 links from 1,370 blogs. Best of luck to Peter, but I suspect he’ll find those shoes pretty damn hard to fill.
(via Scoble)


A history lesson for everyone, especially TDavid, who asks:

The part of this that doesn’t make much sense is has Ms. Foley really left anything? I mean if Ziff Davis was behind Microsoft Watch, what will be that different at a ZDnet blog besides a different web address? Why doesn’t she start maryjofoley.com or foleyprobeswindows.com or something if she really wants to go out on her own? Working for Ziff Davis is still working for Ziff Davis, yes/no?

Microsoft Watch is owned and operated by Ziff Davis Internet, the online component of Ziff Davis, the magazine publishers. However, in 1989, Ziff Davis launched ZDNet, an online set of publications complimentary to their print operation. ZDNet was acquired by CNet in 2000 during the sale of Ziff-Davis to SoftBank.

So, CNet owns ZDNet, formerly Ziff Davis Inc., which is why articles from News.com.com are always reprinted on ZDnet. Microsoft Watch is owned by the publishing company Ziff Davis Media Inc., which hasn’t had a relationship with ZDNet in six years. Even more confusing than that whole Wired Magazine / Wired News thing, right?

You know who explained this all to me? Mary Jo Foley, of course.

September 21st, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | General, Blogs | 2 comments