Windows Live Maps and the Virtual Earth technology got a nice August update, adding two new 3D cities and 105 new bird’s eye (oblique) views, a total of 15.65 terabytes of new data. The full list, after the jump
aQuantive Deal Passes FTC, Live Maps Gets Huge Update, Live Search Preview, iPhone Keyboard On Windows Mobile, Another 360 Compatibility Update
Catching up: I had a crazy week, with me and my wife going on a short wedding anniversary vacation, one of my best friends getting married, and my aunt and her family moving forever to another continent. There’s a lot of stuff filling up the queue, so we’re going to go through it double time
Microsoft’s aQuantive Deal Clears Federal Review
Microsoft’s $6 billion purchase of aQuantive has passed the Federal Trade Commission’s waiting period for antitrust considerations without objections, leaving Microsoft free to continue the acquisiton without worry. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives is launching an inquiry into Google’s DoubleClick deal, meaning Microsoft will almost assuredly complete its acquisition well ahead of Google. Google’s deal is hitting some serious roadblocks, while Microsoft has been given the nod to go forward.
Live Maps July Update Adds Rendered Maps, 26 Terabytes Of New Data
The Virtual Earth team pushed out a huge update to the tech that powers Windows Live Maps, adding a new style that shows elevation in the regular road view. They call it “hill shading”, giving you an idea of hills, mountains and just plain ol’ inclines on maps you view in your browser or print out. They also added expanded aerial imagery (and in most cases, 3D buildings) to these cities:
Canada: Hamilton, Quebec, Toronto
Europe: Toulouse France, Eastbourne UK
United States: Birmingham, Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile, Phoenix (expanded), Arden, Denver (expanded), Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee, Fort Myers, Tampa West, St Petersburg, Coral Gables, Cape Coral West, Pembroke Pines, Orlando, Hialea, Columbus GA, Jackson, Oak Park IL, Rockford IL, Ohare IL, Baton Rouge, Shreveport New Orleans, Metarie, Jersey City, Elizabeth, East Ruth, Newark, Paterson, Brooklyn, Niagara Falls, Portland (expanded), Nashville, Chattanooga, Milwaukee
Windows Live Search Has Special Preview View
This website has details on a special view that Windows Live Search has in some countries and regions (not the U.S., far as I can tell) that shows the top six search results as thumbnail image previews of the website. A Site Owner FAQ on MSN Singapore confirms the feature, and gives instructions on how to tell the search crawler not to create a thumbnail for your site (for bandwidth concerns, I assume). You can see a screenshot of the Search Preview thumnails at the original post.
Get the iPhone Keyboard on Windows Mobile Devices
Someone’s released a program that replaces the Windows Mobile on-screen keyboard with one that looks more like the iPhone’s. Besides enjoying a bolder look, it has bigger, easier-to-hit buttons, though they don’t grow in size while typing, and they use Windows Mobile’s form of predictive text input, not Apple’s. If you’re like me, and you’re still wondering how the hell Microsoft thought the current WinMobile keyboard was okay, this app is a required install.
Xbox 360 Gets Yet Another Backwards Compatibility Update
The Xbox 360 got yet another backwards compatibility update, letting it run a good number more original Xbox games. Are there any important old games that still won’t run on a 360? If you’ve got one that’s driving you nuts, leave a comment. The newly compatible games:
- America’s Army
- Auto Modellista
- Bass Pro Shops Trophy Hunter 2007
- Blinx 2
- Bloodrayne 2
- Crash Bandicoot 4
- Crash Bandicoot 5: Wrath of Cortex
- Doom 3: Resurrection of Evil
- Drive to Survive
- Drive to Survive (EM)
- ESPN College Hoops
- ESPN NHL 2K5
- Evil Dead Regeneration
- FIFA Street 2
- Full Spectrum Warrior: 10 Hammers
- GUILTY GEAR XX #RELOAD
- Harry Potter: And the Chamber of Secrets
- Harry Potter: And the Prisoner of Azkaban
- Hot Wheels: Stunt Track Challenge
- Jet Set Radio Future
- Justice League: Heroes
- King Arthur
- Kingdom Under Fire: The Crusaders
- Magic: The Gathering: Battlegrounds
- Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects
- Marvel vs. Capcom 2
- Mech Assault 2
- MLB Slug Fest 2003
- Myst III: Exile
- NBA Live 2002
- NCAA Football 06
- Nobunaga no Yabou Ranseiki
- Outlaw Golf 9 More Holes of X-mas
- Outlaw Volleyball: Red Hot
- Outrun 2
- Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast
- Pac Man World 3
- Panzer Elite Action: Fields of Glory
- Pro Cast Sports Fishing
- Project Gotham Racing
- Project Gotham Racing 2
- Rogue Ops
- Sega GT 2002
- Sega GT Online
- Shadow Ops
- Showdown: Legends of Wrestling
- Silent Hill 2: Dreams
- Sponge Bob Square Pants: Lights, Camera, Pants!
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Melee
- The DaVinci Code
- The Sims 2
- The Urbz: Sims in the City
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2X
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3
- Transworld Surf
- Trivial Pursuit Unhinged
- Winning Eleven 8
- Without Warning
- WWF Raw
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dawn of Destiny
The SpongeBob game now works? Huzzah!
Customize The Office 2007 Ribbon, Information Cards Accepted Here, Microsoft Student 2008, Virtual Earth MapCruncher, Where Silverlight Comes From
I’m in Atlantic City with my wife, celebrating our one-year wedding anniversary, so here’s a post featuring a bunch of items I should have blogged weeks ago.
Add-in Lets You Customize The Office 2007 Ribbon
RibbonCustomizer is a very useful add-in for Microsoft Office 2007 which lets you customize the Ribbon interface in Excel, Powerpoint and Word 2007. In the professional edition, which costs $29.99, you can customize individual commands, create new Ribbon tabs and populate them any way you want, create and share customizations, remove and re-order groups in Ribbon tabs, re-order and remove tabs, pretty much anything you want to change.
The free version includes less features, but it does share one feature with the Pro version that might make it all worth it for you: The Classic UI tab. This adds a tab to your Ribbon that has file menus and toolbars, just like the old versions of Office did. You can use this for free to help someone get used to the new interface, by switching back and forth between new and old, until you are ready to use the new one. That feature alone makes this worth installing.
(via Erik Rucker)
“Infomation Cards Accepted Here” Icon Released
Microsoft is pushing adoption of Windows CardSpace for digital identity management, so they’re sharing this icon for websites that accept Information Cards. Sites and applications can use this icon if they accept any Information Card, even if it’s not using CardSpace, which is why the icon doesn’t have any corporate info in it. Microsoft just wants people to start using Information Cards, so it can start becoming the one you get your Information Card from.
Microsoft Releases Student 2008 with Encarta Premium
Microsoft released the latest version of Student, and the 2008 package includes Encarta Premium 2008, Microsoft Math 2.0 (with a Graphing Calculator, Step-by-Step Equation Solver, Equation Library) and Foreign Language Help. Not very different from Student 2007 besides the Encarta update, but there is one new program: Learning Essentials 2.0 for Students, which has templates and tutorials that transform Word, PowerPoint and Excel into more student-oriented applications, with tips for creating better papers and other things for class assignments.
MapCruncher Lets You Import And Combine Existing Maps With Virtual Earth
Microsoft Research has this useful program called MapCruncher, which lets you take an existing map, like a map of bus routes, tourist hotspots, or hiking paths, and import it into Virtual Earth. You import the map, whether in vector (PDF, WMF, EMF) or raster (JPG, PNG, TIFF, GIF, BMP) format, find 5-10 landmarks on both the imported and Virtual Earth maps, and it creates a mashup for use on a web page, and image tiles to match up with the road and aerial images in Virtual Earth.
To see how it works, look at this mashup of the Louisville, Kentucky bus map. You can find any bus station or route, and with a click swith between bus map, aerial, and road maps. Very cool.
Where The Silverlight Name Came From
Ever wonder how Microsoft came up with the name “Silverlight” for what was Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere? Sean Alexander had some background on it I missed. Included is that the Silverlight name was settled on in mid/late 2006, but was held back behind an intentionally awful codename of WPF/E so the new Silverlight name would be a bigger hit.
However, the gem is definitely Destroy All Invaders, pictured above. The game uses Windows Live Maps Virtual Earth API, letting you choose any location on the planet and putting your helicopter above its satellite imagery. You fly around the map, shooting down UFOs. This is a brilliant use of both Silverlight and the Windows Live Maps API, created by Andy Beaulieu. Great job, man!
For most of these, the source code is available, so if you want to create a Windows Live Maps-based Silverlight game, check out Andy’s code.
The Windows Live Dev news site details the new usage of the Windows Live API, which will let larger websites use the API beyond typical restrictions by paying for it. See, almost all web APIs have a limit of how many uses you get in a certain time period, but many give you no way of paying for more, so Microsoft’s release of a for-pay API is better than nothing at all. The bullet points:
- For basic usage, the API will always be free
- Usage up to one million unique users is free, except for:
- Windows Live Search is free up to 750,000 searches per months
- Virtual Earth (Live Maps) is free up to 3 million map tiles per month
- Silverlight video streaming is free up to 4 gigabytes of storage, with free unlimited streaming, and no limits on users
- Above one million unique users, sites will have to pay 25 cents per user per year
- For Search and Virtual Earth, sites will need to negotiate a commercial agreement with Microsoft
- No beta services will charge for usage of the API. You will only have to pay after it leaves beta
- Users will be averaged out per quarter, so if you have a big spike one month, you won’t have to pay for it
Great stuff, except the negotiating for Search and Virtual Earth. I’d like to know what the process is, and if it is going to be difficult for small websites to make a deal.
Still, four gigabytes of Silverlight storage, with free unlimited streaming, is incredible. It sounds so good that I’m going to have to start using it. I mean, who needs YouTube when you can host the actual video for free like that?
(via the Virtual Earth blog)
LiveSide announced the following cities have new higher-resolution satellite maps in Windows Live Maps:
- several areas of California including San Diego
- Hamilton, Canada
- Ontario, Canada
In addition, Miami has been blessed with a sweet 3D update.
Here are screenshots:
Rockefeller Center, Manhattan, New York City:
Coral Gables, Miami, Florida, in 3D:
As always, click to enlarge.
The Map Room blog reports that there’s a lot more to look at now in Microsoft’s Windows Live Local. They’ve added new 3D textured buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, Tacoma, Washington, Irving, Texas, Sacramento, California and some more suburbs of LA, including Irvine and Newport Beach. They’ve also added imagery and terrain for Italy, as part of a recent agreement with a Norwegian pictometry company.
(Found on Findory)
The picture above is Fashion Island in Orange County California. Pretty damn cool.
Two changes in Live Local today, both making the interface that much better to use. First, they’ve completely changed the birds-eye (3/4) view, getting rid of the thumbnail selection and letting you drag on a mini-mapto get the birds-eye of a location. Also, if you drag to the end of a birds-eye area, it will at least try to jump to the next image, which works well more often than it doesn’t.
The second change involves improvements to the drawing tools. Now, when you draw on the map, you see the distance involved, great for planning or reviewing jogging/walking/biking routes or generally measuring out anything. Need a route for running five miles in the morning? Just start drawing till the distances add up.
The Windows Live folks have released a really cool application for mobile phones, one that makes it easier to check out maps and find driving directions and traffic conditions. The application is available by pointing your mobile browser at wls.live.com, and comes in two version: one for J2ME platforms, and one for Windows Mobile devices.
While you can get maps and directions by going to live.com on most mobile devices, this dedicated application allows for speed and a much richer experience. The maps come in both road and hybrid aerial view, giving the satellite photos that are so popular these days in web maps, and are draggable just by putting your stylus on the touch screen.
Gizmodo has a comparison between this app and Google Maps’ app, and it looks like in their view, the two just don’t compare. Google’s is J2ME only, and a pretty buggy and unstable version at that, with a painful user experience. Windows Live’s maps are smoother, scroll faster, and zoom better, while Google’s were sluggish.
They’ve also released an updated version of their web search for mobiles, at mobile.live.com/search. It allows searching the web, local search, maps, news, and Windows Live Spaces, even seeing the top result in each category on one screen. You can test drive the new features and the SMS search feature by going to mobile.search.live.com.
LiveSide reports that they’ve also released a browser-based version of Windows Live Messenger for mobile phones, available at mobile.live.com/wlm/imsi.aspx (and eventually on the live.com mobile portal). It’s simple and text based, so it should work in any mobile browser, and lets you do IM easier than almost every mobile AOL Instant Messenger I’ve tried. You can run it in your regular web browser, so give it a shot.
Some of us knew this day was coming: Today, Microsoft added a 3D interface to Virtual Earth, giving its local search/mapping product a user experience similar to Google Earth, all within the Internet Explorer browser. Visit local.live.com in IE 6 or 7 (no support for Firefox, Opera or Safari) and you will be asked to install a plugin for Virtual Earth 3D. The system requirements are:
- Microsoft Windows XP Service Pack 2, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, or the Windows Vista operating system.
- Windows Internet Explorer version 6 or 7, with security settings set to enable or prompt Microsoft ActiveX controls.
- A video card with 32 MB or greater video memory that is compatible with Microsoft DirectX 9.
- Hardware acceleration must be set to Full. For more information, see Help.
Wow, I just spent a LOT of time discovering a really stupid bug with this. Installation is not easy, with a lot of random factors that can go wrong. Be sure to explore Help if you have a problem. The issue I ran into: If your default browser is not Internet Explorer, the install may try to launch in the other browser, and you may not notice what the hell is going on, clicking and clicking and clicking until you are ready to go insane. Not that I did…
Anyway, once you’ve installed the ActiveX control, you can click the 3D link to load up the 3D interface, which happens quite quickly. You get three options for quality, in order to improve speed and performance. The best part: Just like with Google Earth, you can navigate with an Xbox 360 controller, and the controls are even tighter than Google Earth’s. The left thumbstick handles position, the right thumbstick pivots the view, and the left and right triggers handle altitude.
The experience: Excellent! While Virtual Earth 3D can’t have all the bells and whistles of Google Earth, it has better memory management, runs in a freakin’ web browser (!) and actually looks better. Loading seems a little slower than Google’s, but not significantly, while the 3D building kick the ass of Google’s. Google has basic, featureless buildings, while Virtual Earth 3D’s buildings are textured. Stop moving, and you could confuse the view with a photograph (if you ignore the road names).
Seriously, Microsoft has just changed my view of what a web browser is capable of. This is stunning, and they should be damn proud. Google is going to have a hard time living up to this.
I’ve done a 24-minute video, flying around a few cities. It should be up on Google Video sometime later today. Check back for it. If you can’t wait, CNet has one.
As you’ll see in the video, Microsoft has set up floating billboards around the 3D cities, a cool way of monetizing things. The billboards float in the air, so you know they aren’t part of the cityscapes, but you just want to run up to them and see what they say.
Here are the cities they are claiming 3D views of:
- Fort Worth
- Las Vegas
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
- San Jose
Obviously missing from this list, but present in my video, is my hometown of New York City. Some cities don’t have a lot of buildings, but a few worth checking out, so they aren’t on the list. Don’t be afraid to check out something not listed.
“We think this is going to open a new dimension in search,” said Stephen Lawler, general manager of Virtual Earth. “It’s the beginning of the 3-D Web.”
Microsoft also is offering online advertisers a chance to place marketing messages on artificially manufactured billboards dotting the 3-D landscapes. Google also shows ads in its mapping service, but those appear in more mundane thumbnails pointing to a specific location.
In a statement, Google welcomed Microsoft’s mapping improvements while signaling its intention to protect its turf. “We will continue innovating to provide users with the fastest and easiest search experience on the Web,” Google said.
Microsoft acquired the new technology through its acquisition of Vexcel Corp. earlier this year. One advantage, Microsoft says, is the Virtual Earth 3D images are more realistic and detailed than those in the Google Earth program.
Danny Sullivan provides these images of San Francisco and Seattle:
I’ve got a bunch of great screenshots for you to enjoy:
The Virtual Earth team blogs about it, noting this release is called Spaceland, and shows how five lines of code can to get the map control for Virtual Earth 3D. See, you can use this is web applications, just like you would Google Maps, which is incredible considering the power behind it.
Microsoft has taken its Windows Live services to your mobile device. Just point your mobile phone’s web browser at live.com (or mobile.live.com if it doesn’t redirect you) and you’ll get access to 13 services:
- Search beta
- Live.com beta
- MSN.com beta
- MSNBC News
- FOX Sports
- MSN Calendar
I went to a wedding in Baltimore yesterday, and guided the entire 11-hour roundtrip drive (bad traffic) using Live Local. I settled an arguement about the ingredients of Red Bull (the taurine is synthetic) finding and reformatting a Wikipedia page through Windows Live Search. Suffice to say, that is a great real-world test, and it was easy and completely effective.
Microsoft is officially releasing Windows Live, having Windows Live Search replace MSN Search (exactly 22 months after it originally released MSN Search). Live Search and Live.com leave beta, and Live Search becomes the new destination for users searching from the MSN homepage. The changeover hasn’t completed, but it is underway right now.
The millions of users who use MSN are going to eventually run a search. When they do, they will find something different enough from what they are used to on Google that they might decide to take a look around. They might discover Live Search’s neverending search results. They might discover Live’s Image Search, with its expanding thumbnails, resizing slider, scratchpad and great preview mode (and a really cool new “Related People” mode that is damn near perfect!). They might discover Windows Live Local, with its great map dragging, easy pushpins, saved and shareable locations, overhead and 3/4 views.
They might discover a whole bunch of other great Live services, like Spaces, QnA and Expo, or try the new Live Mail. They might download and install some great software, like Live Mail Desktop, Live Messenger, or OneCare. Or they might not.
It’s a lot to hope for, certainly, and it would be great for Microsoft if it all worked out. If there’s a chance to have a slam dunk, this is it. Windows Live is a ton of great technology, at exactly the right time, while none of its rivals are taking as many chances. MSN has a lot of users who don’t know what Web 2.0 is, and they might discover AJAX for the very first time when they hit that search box. If they love it, it will be Microsoft that introduces them to Web 2.0, and Windows Live Search that replaces their Google.
Will it pull off? We’ll see if the market share starts inching up by the end of the year.
Image search results pages also includes a slider to let the user determine the layout of the page and a pulldown to limit to specific sizes of images. Each image also includes a link to a â€œscratchpadâ€ where you can store images. The AJAX drag and drop to the scratchpad is nice.
Searching for image of people, for example (Warren Buffet) includes a a list of related names. Btw, Ask.com has been using Zoom technology with their image database since the beginning of the year. Youâ€™ll not only find related names of people but also ideas to narrow or expand your search. Warren Buffet example at Ask.com. Zoom is also available with web search at Ask while Live Search only offers related searches.
Search page changes
First, the page is much faster. The search box is wider and we’re including messaging for key new features. You’ll also notice that the Jewel (the drop down in the upper left hand corner) is now available on this page.
Direct URLs to personalized page and search
This has been a popular request by many users. Now you can type beta.search.live.com (soon search.live.com) and go directly to the search page. Similiarly you can type my.live.com and home.live.com and go directly to the personalized page.
live.com is now accessible including screen reader mode which can be enabled via the ‘Options’ dialog.
The release also is part of the Redmond software company’s push to offer a number of free, Web-based services under its new “Live” brand name. The approach has been aimed at helping the company establish a fresh, separate Internet brand for those services, but it also has confused some users more familiar with the company’s traditional MSN Internet branding strategy.
“In general, I don’t think a lot of consumers outside of computer enthusiasts … are aware of Windows Live or know what it is,” said Matt Rosoff, independent researcher with Directions on Microsoft.
Microsoft plans to use Live Search on its MSN portal, and it also planning to promote Live Search later this fall. But Rosoff said the company needs to do more — whether it’s a massive marketing push or some sort of broader tie-in with other products — to tell uses what Live is, and persuade them to switch from Google and others.
One thing that no one is talking about (at least not yet) is the pretty significant update to the mobile search experience. There’s a new user interface, support for instant answers like Encarta and finance, some new scopes like news and maps, lots of changes to local search (bigger maps!) and more. You can check it out from your phone at http://mobile.live.com/search. The team is blogging here: http://itsallmobile.spaces.live.com.
Live is Microsoftâ€™s key play for the future and new company leader Ray Ozzie has been a vocal advocate of Live in particular and web based software as a service in general. Live.com places new emphasis on customization, RSS, blogs, video and other areas of emerging interest. Start.com was to fulfill a similar function, but when Start lost steam last fall the team posted to their blog calling for engineers interested in working on Live.com.
The company says that MSN attracts 465 million unique users worldwide per month. Itâ€™s long been believed that the MSN brand was being fazed out and would be replaced by Live.com as the intended home page and search engine for Microsoftâ€™s huge user base. You could say that Live.com has a much more contemporary feel to it than MSN – or you could say that itâ€™s a weak attempt to mimic Googleâ€™s sparse interface that ends up looking unfriendly and awkward. Todayâ€™s announcement also underlines the strangeness that Microsoftâ€™s new YouTube competitor is being launched under the MSN brand.
PC World has once again released its list of the top 100 products of the year, its always interesting and vaguely defined listing of “tech stuff that is good”. Google Earth is sixth on the list, with appearances by Google Search (#17), Blogger (#33), Google Desktop Search (#47). Oh, and Firefox, an open source project somewhat funded by Google and somewhat run by Google employees, is #12.
On the Microsoft front, the Xbox 360 shows all the way down at number 89. Ouch, and what? How is the hot and popular Xbox rated lower than the floundering and stagnant Blogger? Other Microsoft products: Windows Live Local (#39), and the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 Keyboard (#54).
Other products of note:
- YouTube.com (#9) – Google Video competitor. Google did not make the list.
- Apple Boot Camp (#10) – Yes, software to run Windows on a Mac is high on the list, while Windows is not on it at all.
- Ubuntu Linux distribution (#27) – So, operating systems are allowed. Are you telling me Windows XP doesn’t beat anything on this list?
- Yahoo Mail (#30) – Gmail and Hotmail didn’t make the list.
- TiVo (#31) – Okay, how about Windows Media Center?
- Opera 9 (#48)
- Yahoo Maps (#56) – Again, no Google Maps
- Yahoo Music Engine (#73)
- Yahoo Flickr (#78)
- Yahoo del.icio.us (#93)
- Amazon A9 Toolbar (#96)
Oh, and on their top companies of the year list, Yahoo was named Web Company of the Year, Apple the Hardware Company of the Year, while Sony was the Worst Company of the Year.
Interestingly, Windows Live Local is listed number 39, Yahoo Maps is listed number 56. But, Google Maps doesn’t even make it on the list – which just doesn’t seem right.
Microsoft presents, “The Invasion of the Robots“. Oh, it isn’t anything that sinister. They’re just challenging people to make use of one of the MSN/Windows Live Messenger SDKs to create an IM bot, and you could win $40,000 in prizes. Or 40 G’s, dawg.
There are three different SDKs to choose from, giving you different directions to develop from. Your bot will have to public and available for anyone to install, especially since users will vote on the winner of the $500 User’s Choice Award. The big money will be awarded by judges, and evaluated based on user interactivity, usefulness, creativity and use of multiple Windows Live services, like Virtual Earth, Spaces or Microsoft Gadgets.
A $10,000 Alienware system, powered by dual-core AMD Opteron processors
A $5,000 Bose 48 DVD System with cube speakers and wireless audio link
A $3,000 Alienware laptop with Odessy backpack and $200 gift certificate
A $1,000 Garmin nÃ¼vi GPS
The User’s Choice award is a pick of one of three $500 prizes, either a 80 gig portable USB drive, DX1 customizable game keyboard, or an LED binary watch.
(via Alfred Thompson)
So, I was sent to the Microsoft Windows Live Road Show in London by my future boss, and invited by Kris from MSN BeLux. Microsoft paid for the trip and took care of hotel reservation and any travel expenses I’d have to make. Pretty awesome. Although it hasn’t been that long since I saw Phil Holden at the last road show in Brussels, I was eager to know what he’s been up to these last few weeks. He also brought Koji Kato, the man who codes faster than his shadow and apparently the Group Program Manager at Windows Live. Phil ‘borrowed’ Koji to bring him to London and do some Gadgets demos to show us what they’ve got up their sleeves.
I went to London by Eurostar, for the first time in my life I travelled business class and it was pretty WAW. So much service, free food, free drinks… I had to stop myself from enjoying it too much on the way there, so I wouldn’t arrive drunk or sick or something like that. Something some other folks in the same coach clearly saw no problem in.
Anyways… I arrived in London a small hour before it started at the Zero 101 building in Peter Street. I was quite surprised to find out what kind of neighborhood it was. Let’s say there was a lot of neon light behind the windows. But I wasn’t there for sightseeing. I went straight to the school (yup, in the same street as the neon ‘drive-in’ stores) where it was all happening.
I met Darren Straight and Robert Gale who got there a bit early to interview Phil Holden. Nice people and very nice to meet them, really. Robert had a cool accent. Just like the one you hear in the movies. Then Kris from MSN arrived and a bit later Pieter from Mess.be. The Belgian Side was complete.
I also met someone from LiveSide and asked how they got all this info so quickly. Seems they’re pretty networked, and that’s about it. I had hoped for a greater story, but nope. Then the session started and we all sat down and listened to Phil as he explained the status of Windows Live today.
What I remember: At this thime there are about 17 Live services, and if you include the previous marks that adds up to about 20. The day before the session, on May 15th, M6 went live. (Milestone 6) LiveMail (or M6) has an improved performance and has some subtle but effective UI tweaks. At this time there are between 3 and 4 million users, but they’re going to add more invites, so the user number can grow and they can adjust the service in scale.
The Live Messenger has about 8 million users, but Messenger 7 and 7.5 have about 210 million, so that needs some more work. I’m currently trying the beta and I like what I see. There’s still some work to be done, but it’s getting close to what I look for in a chat client. I kicked out Trillian. Let’s see where this brings me. Recent changes in the Messenger are: the shorter login time (from an average 45 secs to about 20 secs), and some smaller issues I forgot.
Main idea is that Live.com still needs to improve in performance. Within 2 months there’s going to be a large performance upgrade which would make things a lot more easier to use, and above all: faster. Another big main idea is that they need to enable a decent 1st run experience, so that first time users can find their way more easily and have less to worry about. Also scheduled in the category ‘real soon’.
What’s also pretty impressive is the plans they have for a “Share Setup” mode, where you can export your live.com settings (make it portable) and transfer it to other users so they can enjoy what you’ve been putting together. Incredibly handy if you’re the IT dude in the family and everybody keeps asking you how stuff works. Export, end questions, start fun. Easy as that. Close to this topic will be the appearance of sponsored pages where a news service or sports service introduces a sponsored page filled with content, like for example NBA or Sky. They would offer you a load of content, in exchange for that they’ll have some ads.
Last but not least in Phil’s intro was the demo of the new Live Local service where they’ve started to upgrade all footage with HQ images. In the US it’s already there, it’s going to be rolled out in the UK really soon, in the next few months the rest of Europe will follow. The images are waaaay clearer than those on Google’s Satellite view or Earth. Really. What I’ve seen was wicked to the third degree. I can’t wait to see that for Belgium. So closed-up (not street sight, but bird’s eye view) and so incredibly sharp. A subtle ‘wtf’ came out of some mouths while Phil showed some footage from the London Bridge. Amazing.
On a sidenote, but I don’t have the right URL yet, there’ll be a Greetings platform connected to Live.com and the Live Messenger which is linked to www.us.mypersonalexpression.com, I saw some footage from that. It’s nothing for me, but I can imagine it’ll be used a lot by most ‘regular’ Messenger users.
That concludes Phil’s first contribution. Then he introduced Koji Kato who showed us how to quickly make some gadgets for the Live.com dashboard. I’m not that good of a coder, but I could follow every step he did while creating gadgets ‘on the spot’. He showed off a page with a local map that had geotagged pictures on them. Kind of like Flickr has, but then with a Microsoft flavor. Koji created the page while we were watching, it only took him a couple of minutes to have the webpage ready. Nice moves.
Koji also showed off some nice code to search from within an app, but I don’t remember all of the context, so I’m not going to write more about it. If you’re into coding a little, check this out, I bet you can do some funky stuff with it as well. The coolest thing Koji pulled off was a custom search engine for his tablet PC which recognized his handwriting. Some simple coding, seconds of work for him and there it was. He wrote a few words, they were recognized immediately and then yielded search results. Selecting the words and moving them closer to the top of the field would change the priority of the keywords and caused the search results to change. Very nifty. I was really impressed.
Then it was back to Phil, after some food and drinks and some interviewing by the guys from heaven.fr, who organized this evening chat. Phil showed the Q&A of Live.com, which is currently still in limited beta. It’s a bit like Yahoo Answers, a community-based directory where you can post questions, answer questions from other people and vote on answers that have been posted by other users. In the Q&A you can tag your questions, and of course perform tag query searches. You can customize your experience in a ‘YourQ&A’ section, have a look at the Top Users and see how many kudos they’ve collected from the community, how many questions they’ve posted and answered… personal stats like that. Kudos cannot be traded for gift vouchers. We asked, but no, you can’t. I think they’ve got to add an incentive or something to motivate the participation of the users. It’s not so big yet, but imagine those millions of Messenger and Live Mail users joining in when it goes live … it has a huge potential.
Then came the top of the bill. The most revolutionary thing I’ve seen with Messenger for mobiles. Really, I was f*cking impressed. On his laptop, Phil logged in with account A, and on his mobile phone with account B. He initiated the Messenger, so far nothing new. Then he took a picture from the audience, and transferred it immediately through messenger to the account on the laptop. It took a few seconds (image size 25kb) and the image was transferred. He then recorded a voice clip on his mobile and that too was directly transferred. That takes away all the time you spend typing answers to your online buddies. You say it and send it. It can’t be easier than that. Video footage isn’t supported yet. A funny note: if you send a nudge from the laptop in the conversation with the phone, it vibrates heheheh.
Then the guys from heaven.fr introduced their piece of art. The AJaX RSS Hub (RSS Flux) which hasn’t got a real name yet and is supposed to be released officially somewhere after the summer. It’s a cool flexible RSS aggregator that fetches all the feeds you want it to fetch, but doesn’t capture the content. You can display the feed items by category, language or by site. I preview of how it works is live at xbox360daily.fr, but it’s not really how it looks. It’s more or less an integration of the concept. One thing Kevin Briody (who was also in Brussels the last time) noted was that Microsoft didn’t want to aggregate the full content because that might piss off some bloggers (he didn’t say it in those words, but that was what he meant) so instead the articles are links to the site they came from, which could generate more traffic for the bloggers.
The last notes were vague mentions of subdomain portals which would be launched after the summer and about gadgets for live.com that would have ‘random blogs’ and ‘community sites’ in them. Also that MSDN would become dev.live.com, which is going to be announced at TechEd if I recall it correctly. Windows Live News Groups is also somewhere in the pipeline, but again no release date has been set.
That concludes what I remember of the session. Afterwards we could have a little chat here and there and Phil proposed a lottery where 5 phones could be won by the participants of the event. Everybody wrote his name on a piece of paper and the lucky winners can expect a brand new ‘Messenger Phone’ like the one I wrote about in the previous write-up of the session in Brussels.
The session ended somewhere around 11.30 PM and Kris, Pieter and I took a cab to the hotel. We drank something in the trop cool Light Bar and then went to bed. I woke up the next morning at 8 AM, checked out walked around a bit on Picadilly, enjoying the morning buzz as London awoke. I took a cab to the station and got on the Eurostar back to Brussels. I had a great time. Nice of i-merge to send me there, even nicer of Kris to have me invited. Thanks. Honestly.
Cross-posted at Marketing Thoughts
Bruce Clay Inc.’s Lisa Barone writes about some things I’ve been talking about, and since I don’t see anywhere to leave comments, I’m responding here. Unless you like sitting in dark rooms, read her post, then return.
First off, regarding Windows Live Mail Desktop: It is beta software, and a lot of things have been improved since the build I tested. Still, like any software that uses the internet, firewall configurations are always tricky. I finally managed to make sure that my firewall let WLMD through, and I can use the product safely from now on, so don’t worry about that.
Funny you mention a desktop version of Gmail. I’ve been thinking the same thing.
Finally, regarding CelebFavorites: Besides getting some publicity for the service, and getting people to see how darn good the Live Local interface is, CelebFavorites is supposed to show people how easy it is for them to show off their favorite places, just like Eva Longoria can. I had no idea it was that easy, and I’ve had drinks with the people making the product.
I do think they did a crappy job getting the point accross. There should have been a big link at the top of the page saying, “Like this? You can share your favorites, too!” leading to a short walkthrough, with the ability to save and blog your favorites. There has to be someone at Windows Live whose job is to examine the ways they can take advantage of social networks and the blogosphere to create buzz on their products, and I hope they hire someone like that soon.
Anyway, enjoyed the post. I think at SES New York, I saw 150 people with Bruce Clay Inc. badges
Microsoft is looking to create a system that can take skyline photos, that is, straight-on, zero-degree photos that show cities just as you’d see them from a hotel window. Microsoft Research is trying to get it done, making a system that can take hundreds of digital photos, stith them together, and compensate for environmental changes, creating single photos with 4-10 billion pixels, and distributed pictures that can contain tens of billions of pixels.
The Live Local team is so smart about this. Yes, Research is working on it, but they’ll be the beneficiaries if it pays off. Microsoft’s goal seems to be to beat Google by including more views than anyone else is even thinking of. If this works, Live Local users will have:
- Map view
- Ariel/Satellite view (what you’d see from space)
- Bird’s Eye view (3/4 views, showing buildings in from above and the side, giving a better sense of depth and distance, what you’d see from a helicopter)
- Street view (what you’d see from a car on the street)
- Skyline view (what you’d see from a window)
I’m just waiting for them to point one of those car cams up, and give us “Tourist view”. Seriously, they are coming up with great ways to extend the service, and eventually, people are going to realize that in many respects, Live Local is beating Google Maps on interface and features.
Michael Cohen, a scientist at Microsoft Research, is trying to create a photo this summer that will contain 10 billion pixels.
He’s already done 4-gigapixel shots of downtown Seattle.
Cohen’s work, dubbed Big Panoramas, is an attempt to marry Internet mapping and high-resolution photography. With 4 billion or 10 billion pixels, a single photograph will contain several square miles of real estate in accurate detail. In the Seattle photo, users can zoom in on windows on different buildings, or zoom out to get a view of the entire skyline.
The end result is something akin to the satellite images on services like Google Earth. The difference is that the angle is more familiar. The pictures provide the panorama you might see staring out of a window on a building, or from standing on the sidewalk. Satellite images capture only the unfamiliar bird’s-eye views of rooftops.
The camera is not held by a person. It sits in a motorized rig and the angle of the rig and camera are controlled by a computer.
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