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August 2007 Virtual Earth Update

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

August 24th, 2007 Posted by | General, Live, Maps, Virtual Earth, Windows | no comments



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.
(via Digg)

Get the iPhone Keyboard on Windows Mobile Devices

iphone-keyboard-for-windows-mobile.png

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.
(via jkOnTheRun)

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
  • Burnout
  • 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
  • Exaskeleton
  • 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
  • Morrowind
  • MotoGP2
  • 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
  • RoadKill
  • 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!

August 7th, 2007 Posted by | Advertising, Corporate, General, Live, Maps, Search, Virtual Earth, Windows, Windows Mobile, Xbox, Xbox 360 | 5 comments

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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.

ribboncustomizer-classic-ui.png

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

information-cards-accepted-here.pngMicrosoft 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.

July 31st, 2007 Posted by | Applications, Developers, General, Live, Maps, Office, Silverlight, Virtual Earth, Windows, Word | one comment

Barrel O’ Silverlight Games

Silverlight Game - Destroy All Invaders

Chris Bowen has a roundup of games made on the Silverlight platform. There’s Dr. Popper, a familiar ball-popping game, Digger, a tunnel game that I know I played on the NES, Zero Gravity, which I tried out yesterday, Chess played against a JavaScript AI, Silverlight Rocks!, an Asteroids clone, and Sprawl, a tile capture game.

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.

June 29th, 2007 Posted by | Developers, Live, Maps, Silverlight, Virtual Earth, Windows | one comment

Details Of The Windows Live Commercial API

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)

May 2nd, 2007 Posted by | Developers, General, Live, Maps, Search, Silverlight, Virtual Earth, Windows | no comments

Flythrough Video Of The New Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D

Here’s that video of the new 3D interface of Virtual Earth 3D that I promised. It can be viewed on YouTube, MySpace, Google Video and MSN Soapbox.


Video: Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D

Microsoft Virtual Earth 3D

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November 7th, 2006 Posted by | General, Live, Local, Virtual Earth, Windows | no comments



Microsoft Virtual Earth Goes 3D

1 - IntroducingSome 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:

  • Atlanta
  • Baltimore
  • Boston
  • Dallas
  • Denver
  • Detroit
  • Fort Worth
  • Houston
  • Las Vegas
  • Los Angeles
  • Philadelphia
  • Phoenix
  • San Francisco
  • San Jose
  • Seattle

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.

Coverage:
Associated Press:

“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.

Reuters
Todd Bishop:

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.

Press release

Danny Sullivan provides these images of San Francisco and Seattle:

TechCrunch

I’ve got a bunch of great screenshots for you to enjoy:

2 - Downtown Los Angeles
Downtown Los Angeles

3 - Downtown LA with billboard
Billboards in downtown LA

4 - Dodger Stadium
Dodger Stadium

5 - Turner Field
Turner Field (Atlanta Braves)

6 - Atlanta
Atlanta

7 - Boston
Boston

8 - London
London

9 - Shea Stadium
Shea Stadium (yes, they even rendered the scoreboard)

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.

November 7th, 2006 Posted by | General, Live, Local, Virtual Earth, Windows | one comment

Write A Messenger Bot, Get $40,000

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.

The prizes:

  • 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 nüvi 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)

May 23rd, 2006 Posted by | General, Live, Messenger, MSN, Spaces, Virtual Earth, Windows | one comment

Live Dot Com Road Show

I just came back from the Microsoft Belux headquarters in Diegem where we had a talk and discuss session with evangelist Phil Holden – Director Windows Live, and Kevin Briody – Product Manager Community (MSN Marketing). The session was very interesting and of course it was all about Windows Live and its features. Phil did a demo of almost every feature I knew of. He talked about the integration of the Microsoft Gadgets in the Live.com personal homepage, about the progress in the Live Search and where it’s heading to and about Live Mail and its features. He also talked about Live Messenger and about how the contacts would be integrated into Live Mail and about Microsoft’s first steps into social networking with the Australian test run of the Spaces Friends network. Yeah, the session was quite stuffed.

Live Search is definitely not cruising at top speed yet, that was the first thing Phil admitted. It’s only logical, because they’re still rolling out new features and tuning the existing tool to the needs of the users. However, it’s going to be big and the way it looks now it has a lot of good things about it. I like the concept of infinite search, where you no longer need to browse the search results per page, but all the results are projected in one page and you can just scroll down. The extension of the search with a ‘local site search’ included in the results is also a big progress I think. It sounds really obvious that sometimes the excerpt of a result shows there’s something interesting, but you’d like to find out more from that specific domain only. I’m also pretty keen on the feeds search, where you can click on a feed and see previews of the posts in it. I haven’t seen image integration there, but I think that’s only a matter of time. One remark is that apparently Live Search dropped the RSS feed per search query, but Phil said he’d look into it and agreed that functionality should be integrated as it is now on the ‘regular’ MSN Search. In the Live Search, there hasn’t been any experimenting with decent video or audio search and for now it’s not on the todo list. It would be a great expansion though. The image search is quite advanced and very smooth. It shows a lot of details of the image, but one way or the other it’d be great if you could define your query and limit it to small, medium or large images. The fact the size in mb is shown netx to the dimensions is pretty cool and it’s also pretty handy you can zoom the images if you select them.

The Microsoft Gadgets part is pretty nifty, although a lot of the content actually leads to a new page opening as it does for example with the Google Search gadget and the GMail gadget. Kris is right when he says that it looks like an upgraded link. People should expect such a gadget to add true functionality, which means: previews of GMail and loading Google SERPs into the page you’re looking at right now. Not in a new page. Other gadgets come in pretty handy if you really need them, like stock quotes. It’s truly necessary that there is some sort of general policy about the gadgets. Some sort of certification or seal of approval so to speak. Otherwise you might end up with gadgets in the general archive that have adult or inappropriate content, which would definitely not be a good thing. One must also be aware that a lot of custom gadgets are depending on the services of a third party, so if you don’t stick to the official and ‘tested and approved’ gadgets, it might be that at one time or the other, some gadgets might become corrupted. Normally that shouldn’t happen though.

Windows Live Messenger is going to be extended to SkypeOut-alike feature. Phil had a Philips Phone with him (see picture below) that had a base receiver on USB, which is plugged into your PC, and a portable unit that can be used anywhere around the house (wireless, of course). The phone would connect to your Messenger client and displays all your contacts and their online/offline status. You can access the Windows Live Contacts and make VoIP calls if the user you want to call to is overseas for example, or you can make an ‘analog’ call if you prefer to do so. The phone should be available on the market at the end of May. The Windows Live Call service should have competitive charges compared to SkypeOut. One thing to note is that home users who share accounts on their PC should create a family account with shared contacts, otherwise users might have to log on and off to be able to connect to their personal Messenger profile. Another cool feature is the P2P shared folders, where you can drag and drop files into folders that are synchronized with the user you share them with. Sharing with groups is not yet supported.

Windows Live Call Phone

Windows Live Mail has the looks of Outlook, which makes it a lot better and user friendly than the hotmail interface, although the feedback on the beta revealed that a lot of people want to hold on to the ‘old’ Hotmail interface, which I totally don’t understand. In this new Mail client, your contacts would be shared, which makes it easier to maintain a contact list. Phil showed a Live.com interface where he grouped his mail accounts, including GMail and the accounts from his provider (Quest) and said you could add any POP3 account to the list. He’s not aware of a maximum number of accounts that can be added. Nobody ever got to the saturation point of that. Presumably nobody has more than 10 or 15 accounts to monitor at once, but it’s possible and that’s cool.

In Australia, Microsoft is experimenting with a social network feature, based on the popular MSN Spaces. Here you can add friends and browse them, add notes to those friends and manage their contact data, wich is linked to the Windows Live Contacts which are also connected to the Windows Live Messenger. A funny side is you can browse the friends of your friends’ friends unlimited. Since it’s only being deployed in a rather limited form, there hasn’t been set any restrictions to the browsable generations. You can keep clicking for ever :) This will probably not be available if the service is scaled, but it’s fun for now.

The Windows Live Local services will be extended too, and the streetside view of Virutal Earth which had its testcase in Seattle will also be extended to other cities soon. There hasn’t been a decent advertising strategy developed yet, but one might suspect the integration of Windows Live Local data to be added in the future.

Phil also talked about Windows Live Expo, which recently aired. I asked if they were thinking about adding a payment module to it, the way they have now with Messenger (you can buy SMS tokens, winks and other things) but it hasn’t been developed yet. Expo looks cool, but without payment possibilities, there’s not much added value. They’re working on a feature which would allow users to rate sellers and their items, the way Amazon en eBay do. Adding credibility to the members of a platform is definitely a good thing. It’s one of the main reasons Amazon survived the dotcom bubble and eBay grew so fast: added consumer value. It’s the glue that keeps things together. Participating users will return, trusted users will sell more and people will step into the formula with more belief in its functionality.

I think this sort of conlcudes my review of the keynote. After the session, David Boschmans stole the show with his special Vista edition for the Toshiba Tablet PC. Awesome tool and it looks incredibly handy and robust. Added to the wishlist. More pictures in the Bubbleshare gallery.

Vista for Tablet PC

Thanks to Kris Hoet, Tom Mertens and David Boschmans for fixing this. I had a great time, really.

If you want to stay up to date with the developments of Windows Live, here are some blogs to tune in to:

Windows Live product teams:

Interesting blogs about Windows Live:

MS Team blogs:

Phil Holden & Kevin Briody

Today’s pictures (I haven’t had the time to remove the red eyes every here and there and I’m not a professional photographer so sorry if it doesn’t look that smooth)

Download all pictures as a .zip file to edit them yourself or just to keep’m.

Cross-posted on Marketing Thoughts.

April 20th, 2006 Posted by | Expo, General, Live, Local, Messenger, OneCare, Tablet PC, Virtual Earth, Vista, Windows, Windows Mobile | no comments

Developer & IT Pro Days 2006

I’ve been in the International Convention Center in Ghent all day to attend the Microsoft Developer & IT Pro Days 2006 event and I must say I was pretty amazed. I met a lot of interesting people and spent quite some time networking in between the sessions. The Microsoftees really turned me on with their fancy things and the new interfaces that were shown for Office 12 (or Office 2007, whatever you want to call it) have left me wanting for more. There’s a second day too, and I’ll return there tomorrow – which by now is only three hours away.

First session I attended was the 2007 Office System Overview, which was pretty amazing. I really like the way Microsoft redesigned the user experience and it’s a big improvement. The contextual menu’s, the semi-transparent floater (mini-bar) when you select text in Word 12, the shrunken navigation menu… it’s going to be so much fun to use this, I can hardly wait to get it.
This session was very commercial and glanced through the new things a bit too fast, but it was clearly intended to be a ‘showcase session’ for people who wanted to get a first look & feel experience. I was pretty amazed.

So, then there was lunch… and I met Maarten Schenk from SixApart who was wondering around foodlessly. We talked a bit until he had to go home to be productive and all that. Too bad he couldn’t stay. Apparently we have a shared friend, Jonas from Combell who is thinking about starting a blog platform. I hope that works out great for both of them. Clearly, Jonas has chosen the right person to handle this, so I’m pretty confident things will turn out to be very promising.

The Next session was the one that I liked best today, it was called: Office System: Introduction to the Programmable Customization Model for the 2007 Office System User Experience. Hans Verbeeck, a Developer Consultant in the EMEA .NET Platform Evangelism Group, really brought some good vibrations in the room. He is responsible for assisting the Visual Basic Developer Community in the move to Visual Basic .NET and focused on one of the benefits of the new UI. For the first time in many years, Microsoft has changed the user interface of the major Office products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access). The biggest progress here is that developers can customize and extend the UI, using a very declarative XML-driven model.

The session showed how you can build document-level and application-level UI customizations. This session described how the markup interacts with DLL-based code, and provides guidance for migrating existing solutions and developing new ones.

In this session Hans totally captured the audience with a presentation that ran like a train. Smooth, solid as a rock and super fast. He started with an evaluation of the Word interfaces starting from Word 1.0 (1989) with only 2 toolbars and running to the bloated Word 2003 version with 31 toolbars and 9 task panes. It has become obvious that the users have lost track of the meaning of all the options and that the need for a slimmed down version of the UI was urging. So Hans took us through the new Word interface, showing off the new features in detail, focussing on the groups (no more chunks, please) in the ribbon which can be edited, the mini-bar that semi-transparently pops up when you select text and the ribbon itself that changes contextually.

The mini-bar was originally called ‘the floaty’, but apparently a floaty is something that drifts around in a swimming pool, which really doesn’t need to be drifting around there. So it became mini-bar, because ‘floaty’ would make it seem a bit smelly.

When you insert a table, the contextual menu changes and shows some possibilities you can select to change the appearance. Hoovering the list instantly changes the source, displaying in real-time how the changes would look like if applied. Same goes for text editing options and styles. The instant previews are possibly the coolest thing a standard user could encounter. It would decrease the use of the ‘undo’ button with 80%, no doubt.

The Ribbon
Here’s what the famous ribbon looks like

Another super fine feature is that the entire Office environment is XML based and the you can change a Word 12 document (for instance) to a .zip by simply changing the extension. The document then transforms into a compressed file which contains all the data, the styles etc in XML format. The document becomes very portable and transparent. You can easily tag the file, making future searches a lot less complicated and you can customly edit every piece of the code, adding or removing whatever you feel like. Rebuilding the document is done by changing the extension to .docx. The XML feature also allows you to create application ribbon extensions that load at runtime, in the entire Office environment (in every app, from Access to Word)

The Ribbon(2)

The Ribbon(3)

Hans also showed off the Excel 12 and ‘OMG’ the me-wantee feeling took over. You type in some data in the row like ‘client name’, ‘product name’, ‘price’ and ‘amount’. Then you enter a few clients and fill in the products. You select the cells and instantly turn them to a worthy table which you can then change with the same styled contextual menu with the real-time displayed possibilities. Another cool thing is that the complicated Excel formulas have become far more obvious. Adding a column for ‘totals’ for example can easily be done by right-clicking (I think) and then selecting the ‘insert formula’ thing (could be he used a shortcut, it happened too fast). The formula no longer is based on the ‘Cell X*Cell Y’ but can be replaced by the title of the column, in this case ‘price’*'amount’. That makes things very accessible to users that used to be frightened by the mathematical approach Excel used to have.

The new Word 2007 lets you save a file as .pdf, so you no longer need to rely on third-party software for that.

Another find thing is the transitional column header. In the previous versions of Excel, you always needed to freeze the title row so you could still see, when you were reading stuff below row 50, and still know what the hearders of the columns were. In Excel 12, as soon as you scroll down and the title row goes off-screen the cells outside the spreadsheet (A, B, C,…) will automatically display the name you’ve given to the title cells. Very nifty !

Next thing in the demo was Powerpoint, which became even more easy to use. The menu looks a lot like Word, and Hans played around a bit wih the IGC graphics. Very attractive, very customizable, Highly adorable.

Presentation up for download, .ppt (1.50MB)

Like I said, this presentation was the best I’ve seen, and Jan from u2u (the coder who showed the XML features on the spot) really impressed me with his knowledge and fastness. That guy is brilliant. Absolutely stunning, the way he juggled with the code!

Third session I attended was the Live Communications Server 2005 in Close Up, but Frédéric from Digipoint ( who arrived at slide number 7 or 8 ) and me ran out of that one because it was really boring and Ilse Van Criekinge from Azlan who presented it was just reading the slides and talked way too silent to actually grab our attention. The first ten minutes or so, she explained what instant messaging was and what you could do with it, needless to say I wasn’t really shocked nor impressed. After 20 slides we threw in the towel. Filed under boring.

Presentation up for download, .ppt (8.31MB !?)

So we waited for the Atlas presentation, Microsoft’s ASP.net 2.0 take on Java & AJaX. Impressive. Good stuff and very powerful. I did, however, expected a take that would be more implementable for regular web designers the way Java and AJaX are. Instead we got to see a drag and drop show for Visual Studio 2005. The results were quite fine-tuned and there’s a lot of potential in this standard-to-be. We just didn’t get to see it. It was like we only saw the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps the strenght of the product is within the fact it is so easy to understand and so easy to implement. Maybe we were waiting for the wrong thing. Maybe you don’t have to hard-code it. Maybe it’s so easy to use we kind of missed the point because we were expecting a difficult solution?

Atlas is a package of new Web development technologies that integrates an extensive set of client script libraries with the rich, server-based development platform of ASP.NET 2.0. Atlas enables you to develop Web applications that can update data on a Web page by making direct calls to a Web server — without needing to round trip the page. With Atlas, you can take advantage of the best of ASP.NET and server-side code while doing much of the work in the browser, enabling a richer user experience.

ASP.NET Atlas will make it dramatically easier to develop richer web experiences because there’s a higher developer productivity, because its great ease of authoring and maintenance and its seamless programming model integration. Atlas works everywhere. That’s exactly what we were shown, illustrated with the Live Local maps and the interactive toy car sightseeing map and Visual Earth I blogged about recently. This is something to keep an eye on. Atlas is going to be very big. No. It’s going to be huge !

Presentation up for download, .ppt (1.48MB)

At this time, Luc Van Braekel arrived at the scene. Of course, important people almost always show up ridiculously late to make a noticed entrance. The guy at the wardrobe thought Luc was joking when he offered his jacket for safekeeping, since the event only lasted for another hour and a half. Luc actually had to go ‘complain’ at the Microsoft people to ask them if they could ask the guy to please put away his jacket. To thank the man, Luc took his picture which he clearly did not like. I think if the dude had a knife or a pair of scissors he would have cut the jacket to shreds and pieces.

So, the threesome we were now went back to the main room to attend the ending keynote by Rob Creemers, a Dutch trendwatcher. The show was awesome. His presentation was called “The Networked Society”, and it was incredibly fast-paced. It was stuffed with quotes, press headers, pictures and videos and blasted through 50 years of communication, IT and development within the hour (and a bit). I was blown away by the amount of data he fed the audience and captured by his enthusiasm. Luc has written a good review of the entire keynote if you’re interested in another good article.

To see all the presentations of the entire day, check here on the event website. They’ve already listed the sessions that will be organized tomorrow (in a few hours, that is)

Here are some pictures I took during the day:

Cross-posted on Marketing Thoughts

March 7th, 2006 Posted by | General, Live, Office, Office Live, Virtual Earth, Word | 2 comments

Dumping Links

Okay, some stuff sitting around in open tabs:

Microsoft has announced it will spend a billion dollars to expand its Recmond campus by one-third, accelerating a 15-20 year plan to be finished in just three years, by 2009.

A total of 14 buildings will be added to the campus. Seven buildings will be new and seven have been purchased. Coupled with leased spaces, they will provide the capacity to house approximately 12,000 people based on the current conceptual layout. By June 2009, 3.1 million additional square feet will be available.

Virtual Earth Madness is an online session on March 1 for for maps mashup developers, showingyou how to create cool stuff, improve your business website, or just get things done with MSN Virtual Earth. And there’s a bonus:

Stay to the end of the session to hear how you could win a chance at a new XBOX 360 by putting your coding skills to the test with the First East Region Virtual Earth Mashup!

And this just sucks ass: Media Center DRM preventing you from sharing your recorded TV shows. With a half hour of MS-DRM clocking at a minimum of 700 megabytes (and that’s low crap quality), no one is sending this stuff out on P2P. Besides, if I were desperate enough, I could burn it to DVD, then rip it back.

February 14th, 2006 Posted by | Corporate, General, Media Center, MSN, Virtual Earth, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, XP | no comments



Top MSN Messenger Apps

Microsoft ran a competition for MSN Messenger (soon to be WLM) applications at worldsbestapp.com. The winner: a pool game that lets you play pool in Messenger and trash talk your opponents while doing it. First prizes were given for games (hide and seek using MSN Virtual Earth [cool!]) and non-games (collaborative note-taking). Seen any other cool apps?
(via ProgrammableWeb)

February 8th, 2006 Posted by | General, Messenger, MSN, Virtual Earth | one comment

Perspectives: January 1

perspectivesI’ve decided to start a new series on this blog, which I’m calling Perspectives. I realize that I end a lot of posts with “we’ll see where this goes”, but we never get to see, since I’m not going to repeat the same stuff every day until a conclusion is reached. Blogs tend to be so obsessed with the “now”, that we never pay attention to what’s happened in the past, and we forget things that might be important. So, every day, unless I’m way too busy (or not around), I’ll post about whatever I was discussing a year ago, and, as time goes by, two years ago, and so on.

On January 1, 2005, I gave a list of predictions for Microsoft, things I thought would be big in 2005.

I thought MSN would have a big year, largely because it finished big in 2004. I was wrong. While MSN Spaces murdered Blogspot, few other MSN services did anything. It seems that, with MSN one of the largest portals on the net, Microsoft didn’t want to mess with it, and is saving the good stuff for Windows Live, which will have the innovative products I thought would be big in 2005. MSN Virtual Earth was released, but it is now Windows Live Local, and was an otherwise bright spot in a lackluster year.

I was right on about security being a big deal. Microsoft, in Windows OneCare and AntiSpyware (soon to be Windows Defender), has released products effective enough that many users would pay for it, although they’ve been free betas so far.

No one could have predicted the Xbox would have as big a year as it did. Microsoft marketed and produced a world class console launch. Its a shame no one could buy it, and no one is stupid enough to say Microsoft already won, but they did a great job in 2005.

Internet Explorer is finally getting interesting. MS surprised me with IE7, and although they have yet to deliver a beta that measures up to Firefox, the final XP version, and better yet, the XP version, look to be major upgrades. I’m still 50/50 on whether they’ll pull it off, but they’re trying, and doing quality work.

Windows was slow this year, MCE was really big, and MCE can be bought in stores. So I was completely right. I even bought an MCE box, and I’d never go back (and never get a Mac without media center capabilities). Microsoft also excited with Vista betas, and the Office 12 beta I’m currently running has the best interface I’ve ever used.

All in all Microsoft did a great job hyping 2006 in 2005, while delivering nothing, or next to nothing. Lets see what happens now that they have to show results.

This has been “Perspectives”, I’m Lionel Osbourne.

January 1st, 2006 Posted by | AntiSpyware, Applications, General, Internet Explorer, Live, Local, Media Center, MSN, Office, Perspectives, Security, Spaces, Virtual Earth, Vista, Windows, Xbox, Xbox 360, XP | one comment

links for 2005-12-07

December 7th, 2005 Posted by | Applications, Bookmarks, General, Internet Explorer, Live, MSN, Virtual Earth, Windows | no comments

links for 2005-11-09

November 9th, 2005 Posted by | AntiSpyware, Corporate, General, MSN, Security, Virtual Earth, Xbox, Xbox 360 | no comments

MSN Virtual Earth With Haunted Houses

Poly9 has put together an MSN Virtual Earth-based site that shows you haunted houses all across the nation. Scare away!
(via Search Engine Watch)

October 27th, 2005 Posted by | General, MSN, Virtual Earth | no comments

MSN Adds Flyover Views Of Katrina Devastation

MSNBC Katrina Flyover Image Comparison

MSN has added a website at MSNBC that shows flyover views of the damage caused by hurricane Katrina, powered by MSN Virtual Earth. It isn’t as seamless as Google in-Maps Katrina view, but the pictures seem a lot better, and you get to compare them side-by-side. You can really see how the region has suffered, seeing the normalcy of the city at peace right next to the destruction.

From C|Net:

The images, provided by Pictometry, are the first public application from MSN taking advantage of the overhead image technology. This early Virtual Earth technology was released ahead of the fall launch date for MSN’s Virtual Earth application in order to help government and aid agencies see the damage and assess priorities, an MSN spokesman said.

The before images were taken on Jan. 11, 2004. The after images were taken between Sept. 6 and 11, 2005, the site says.



September 15th, 2005 Posted by | General, MSN, Virtual Earth | no comments

MSN Developer Center Is Live

Search Engine Watch reports that the MSN developer center, with access to the major MSN APIs, is now live. It features tools and information regarding MSN Messenger, MSN Search, MSN Virtual Earth, the MSN Search Toolbar and Windows Desktop Search, and Start.com.

September 13th, 2005 Posted by | Desktop Search, General, Messenger, MSN, Search, Virtual Earth | one comment