Archive for February, 2008
There are many happy Zune owners right about now. At GDC last week Microsoft announced that XNA Game Studios games can now also be made for the Zune. If you didn’t know, XNA is a game development toolkit available to “do it yourself” enthusiasts for about $99 / year. You don’t need to create your own games, simply take advantage of XNA games created by the user base. The XNA team also made some cool announcements about Xbox LIVE community games. I got all the good dirt- take a look.
Watch out, Netflix and pay-per-view: You have some serious competition from the Xbox 360. Microsoft is reporting that video-on-demand monthly sales have been doubling month over month and are up more than 70 percent since last September. More important for videophiles is that much of the content available is high-definition, and the Xbox Live Marketplace Video Store now has a larger library of HD content than any other service.
New content is being added all the time, too. And while some of it is impressive, a lot isn’t all that new or exclusive. Movies such as Unforgiven, Training Day, and March of the Penguins, along with seasons one and two of Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives, aren’t exactly what I’d consider “must see” at this point (especially because I’ve seen it all before). But it’s still nice to see the library beefing up its older content. Even more impressive is that series such as Robot Chicken: Star Wars will be an Xbox Live exclusive before it heads to DVD (not that you can’t find it on… oh, say, YouTube). And new episodes of South Park will arrive on-demand on Xbox Live in March.
XNA Game Studio platform will be supported on Zune with 1000 games available by the end of the year. Additionally online multiplayer games will be supported on Zune. According to ZunInsider, Microsoft won’t change the orientation of Zune project to games (yet?) and is not announcing consumer availability for games, just the support of the platform on Zune…
Five exclusive music video podcasts are coming to the Zune marketplace free of charge. Download the first here. The first video features the title "Weightless" by Nada Surf and clips from the NBC hit series HEROES. The videos promote the the upcoming release of the official HEROES soundtrack. By subscribing to the podcast the four additional videos will be downloaded automatically leading up the the March 18th soundtrack release. The exclusive podcasts will also feature "He’s Frank" by Brighton Port Authority, "Not now but Soon" by Imogen Heap , "Keeping My Composure" by the Chemical brothers, and "Man in the Long Black Coat" by Bob Dylan.
I’m a fan of Eyejot, one of several online products that makes it very easy to send a video message. Eyejot uses Flash and your Webcam to skip the annoying video upload stage: you just just look at your camera, press record, and you’re making a video. Eyejot messages come as e-mails with links to the recordings. Today the company extends on that model with a new Eyejot This feature that will, optionally, send a message to your Twitter account.
Eyejot This is really designed to let you create video commentaries on Web pages, and it’s accessed by a bookmarklet you install in your browser. When you click on it and record video, the result is a link to the Web page you were on when you clicked it, with your small video in a frame above the page. Here’s an example.
You can also use Eyejot This to send your recordings by e-mail, but e-mail recipients don’t get the same cool video-on-Web-page format that Twitter readers get.
Turning the Pages 2.0 is an amazing example of what can be done with WPF and Silverlight. Using a high-end scanning device, the British Library has taken a number of precious books, which you would normally only be able to see under glass, and open to a single page chosen by a curator, and allowed the public to view the entirety of these books, using the familiar notion of turning the pages.
The Silverlight version (above) allows you to choose from 5 of the library’s treasures, and flip through them page by page. You can also rotate the book to view illustrations that are printed horizontally, zoom in or out, and move the book for a better view.
The Windows Presentation Foundation version (requires Windows Vista) adds several very cool features, including a magnifier for looking at fine details, and the ability to move the book in three dimensions.
All-in-all a very cool use of technology, and an opportunity to see more of some historic treasures than would ever have been possible without it.
Windows only: Browse and play the DVDs you’ve ripped to your hard drive using DVD Rip with freeware application DVD Play. Just point DVD Play to the folder DVD Rip is saving your backed up DVDs to, and DVD Play displays them with thumbnails you can browse. Similar to how DVD Rip is a companion application to DVD Shrink, DVD Play works with the free video player VLC to easily play any of your ripped DVDs. Hit the jump for more details, the demo video, and to download DVD Play.
As you can see, DVD Play makes a fairly seamless transition between itself and VLC, making browsing and playing one of your ripped DVDs with VLC much friendlier than the default method.
What it does: DVD Rip makes ripping DVDs to your hard drive a one-click affair. DVD Play aims to make playing back those ripped DVDs just as easy. The rips DVD Rip produces retain the menu structure of your DVDs (see video above), so playing videos isn’t just a matter of finding and opening one single file. Instead, these rips consist of two folders (VIDEO_TS and AUDIO_TS), both containing several files. DVD Play sets up a simple interface for browsing and playing these ripped DVDs without worrying about any of that nitty gritty.
As I said above, DVD Play is just a helper application. VLC is what’s actually playing back your video. If you haven’t already installed VLC, DVD Play will take you to the VLC download page so you can.
DVD Play is distributed as a standalone executable, so there’s nothing special to install. Just drag the DVD Play.exe file to wherever you want it to live on your computer. I’d suggest keeping it in the same directory as you’ve placed DVD Rip.
How It Works
The first time you run DVD Play, you need to tell it where you save your DVD Rips. After that, it’ll go straight to your ripped DVD library every time you launch the application. If you want to change your settings, just hold Shift when you start up the application.
Once you’re browsing your library with DVD Play, playing one of the DVDs is as simple as double-clicking the cover of choice. As you saw in the video above, double-clicking the cover launches VLC into fullscreen mode so you’re straight into DVD watching mode.
The first time you run DVD Play, you’ll probably notice that your cover art is missing for your DVDs (instead you’ll see an art placeholder). DVD Play doesn’t automatically fetch cover art, but it does make the process pretty simple for you. Just find the DVD you’ve ripped on Amazon, go to the product page, and drag and drop the cover art into the ripped DVD folder. Next time you run DVD Play, it’ll automatically detect the art and display it for easy browsing.
Windows Vista only: Shadow Copies, an automated file version saver built into all copies of Windows Vista (and enabled by default), isn’t a complete backup solution, but it could be a life-saver in certain situations. As The How-To Geek blog points out, however, it’s pretty hard to find, let alone extract files from. Luckily, a forum member at the Geek’s site has posted a complete tutorial on accessing and recovering previous file versions using the free utility ShadowExplorer. Using ShadowExplorer requires a good deal more clicking and searching than Apple’s Time Machine, but it’s a good solution for those "Oops, I forgot to back up …" moments. Hit the link below for instructions and screenshots
Apparently, video is all the rage these days. Just ask the folks who received a survey from Microsoft about services which may or may not be coming to the Zune. It’s possible your heart might skip a beat when you read questions like, "I would rather download a movies from an online service than buy a DVD," or, "My friends and I regularly send each other links to online videos." Though the question, "I’m willing to carry a larger MP3 player if it improves the quality of the display," could just be suggesting a new Zune-XXXL is on the way. Regardless of what it you take away from these cryptic messages, remember one thing: just like that Netflix survey, this may not mean anything at all.
Microsoft will shortly make available the test version of Internet Explorer 8, which is set for final release in the first half of this year.
The Web site ActiveWin on Monday published the contents of a beta invitation, which said Microsoft is nearing a launch date for Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1, which will be available for download and testing.
According to the Internet Explorer blog, the next version of Microsoft’s Web browser is set for release in the first half of the year.
Microsoft executives are expected to reveal further details about the browser’s features at the software maker’s upcoming Mix conference in Las Vegas next week.
Last year at Mix, Microsoft outlined some of the features planned for IE 8, including standards compliance and tools to ease Web development.
Is Microsoft considering some sort of integration between its Zune digital music player and its Windows Mobile platform? InfoWorld.com speculates that this might indeed be the case. The Web site reports on a series of postings on the Windows Mobile blog over the weekend that include a Microsoft developer asking bloggers for ways that the Zune and Windows Mobile devices might have a closer relationship.
According to the article, the developer received suggestions from more than 50 users. "The most common idea is to essentially replace the Windows Media Player on Windows Mobile devices with Zune software," InfoWorld says.
The news site was quick to point out that we shouldn’t get our hopes up for a converged device or a Zune phone because neither is apparently on Microsoft’s drawing board despite the fact that it’s buying Danger, the company that developed the T-Mobile Sidekick device
What do you do if you’re billed as a business professional’s Facebook, and a substantial portion of your more than 19 million members are jet-setting business types with fancy mobile phones and jobs that lend to schmoozing? You build a mobile site so they can invite contacts as they meet them or identify in real life those they already have.
That was the impetus behind LinkedIn’s mobile beta. (That and the fact that all the other social networks have mobile sites, too.) It’s a good move for the social network, whose CEO, Dan Nye, said in a statement that "many of these professionals are on the move, attending conferences, sales meetings and client events. Making LinkedIn available on mobile devices responds to both these business realities and will be great for our users."
LinkedIn Mobile’s beta WAP on a BlackBerry.
That may be true in the future, but LinkedIn’s multilanguage beta WAP site, accessible from phones by visiting m.linkedin.com, has a long development road ahead if it’s to be as useful to members as the main Web service. The stripped-down site offers a search bar, and the ability to view contacts, updates, and your own profile. You can invite other members from your phone, and change language settings or offer device-specific feedaback; you can also forward job postings to a friend. It won’t be until future releases that you’ll be able to answer a question, update your profile, accept or decline invitations, or reply to a job posting.
LinkedIn Mobile looks nice enough on the iPhone, for which is was optimized, but professionals with BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Palm devices will look forward to downloadable apps that will be able to integrate with phone’s contact list and camera.
Engineering director Brandon Duncan confirmed that these versions are under consideration, and LinkedIn will decide which platforms they’ll develop for based on user and marketdemands. In the meantime, LinkedIn members on the move can check their accounts or pick out contacts in a crowded room with a quick photo appraisal by visiting LinkedIn from their phones.
New friends? Steve Ballmer and Jerry Yang
With Microsoft’s pursuit Google…I mean Yahoo… going into the end game, some are questioning the wisdom of plunking down about $45 billion on such a prize. Last week, Robert Breza, an analyst with RBC Capital Market, made the case for Microsoft chipping away at Google’s search/ad lead in a less desperate manner with its adCenter platform, and instead investing the billions in business applications and social networking. Michael A. Cusumano, professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, recommends that Microsoft stay closer to its business software roots and acquire SAP. This advice won’t provide much relief for Yahoo CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang.
Breza and Cusumano both make solid arguments but discount or miss what is going on as the Internet scales from a billion users to the entire planet. This is the period of software colonization, a land grab for consumers and businesses. Microsoft has realized that failing to make inroads in search and to annex more territory (users) and engineers (an army to build out and protect its colonies) could be fatal in the long run. Microsoft’s future– Windows Live — is dependent on reaching billions of users, and providing monetizable services, ranging from a cloud-based Office to virtual games. And if it is successful in integrating Yahoo, which is not assured, the money will flow to make substantial acquisitions in other parts of its business.
For reference, Breza stated:
Currently, Microsoft doesn’t have the scale in their search advertising platform, and this lack of scale has slowed them from making the "killer app" that combines one platform for users to target search, display, in-game, mobile, voice, and video marketing. These are all previous investments that depend on SCALE to make any further platform integrations reasonable. Online advertisers are ingrained in Google and Yahoo! platforms. Getting advertisers to spend on the additional overhead for a platform that is a distant third place in terms of search is a difficult task (it’s been difficult for Yahoo which is a distant second).
It’s possible to argue that without YHOO and a blank check for $45B, Microsoft could make investments that would bring scale over time, and also more synergies beyond just advertising. Salesforce.com at 100% premium is $12B, Omniture at 100% premium is $3B; and that leaves $30B to acquire Facebook. It could be argued that adapting/integrating these platforms with adCenter would bring advertisers/scale to the markets these businesses already serve (business and gen-x-y-z).
As Larry Dignan of ZDNet expressed it, "What opportunities will Microsoft forgo as it tries to integrate Yahoo?"
Clearly, it’s a matter of priorities, and Microsoft views battling Google as the more strategic one. And, it’s far more risky than adding a salesforce.com to the mix. Yahoo could be a 1+1 = 1.5 integration nightmare, and Google would continue to grow its share of the search market. Microsoft would get half a billion users, but not necessarily their loyalty.
Randall Stross wrote the story in the New York Times citing Cusumano’s idea that Microsoft swap Yahoo for SAP. He wrote:
Determined to match Google in search and online advertising, Microsoft has managed to overlook a plain-vanilla strategy, the oldest one in the book: build on its own strengths. What it does best is to sell software to corporations, for all sorts of applications, visible and not so visible, at a handsome profit.
If Microsoft thinks this is the right time to try a major acquisition on a scale it has never tried before, it should not pursue Yahoo. Rather, it should acquire another major player in business software, merging Microsoft’s strength with that of another. This is more likely to produce a happier outcome than yoking two ailing businesses, Yahoo’s and its own online offerings, and hoping for a miracle.
SAP, which would cost well above $60 billion, and would be a reasonable acquisition for Microsoft. The two had discussions in 2003 regarding an acquisition to compete more effectively for large enterprise budgets versus Oracle, which since has brilliantly rolled up the enterprise application and middleware industry.
It’s a matter of businesses priorities, and you have to credit the aging Microsoft warriors–Gates, Ballmer, Mundie and Ozzie–for choosing the path less well travelled but the one that could have more significant impact.
Of course, there is the fear of what happens if Microsoft, or Google, is successful in colonizing a larger portion of the Internet.
UltraExplorer combines customization and a wide range of useful features.
UltraExplorer overhauls the file-browsing experience. Many things will seem similar, yet several key features have radically different work flows from the Microsoft file navigator. It also combines the best aspects of Windows Vista’s explorer with those from XP, and then throws in a few spices of its own to come up with a delicious meal of file management.
The tricky thing about describing the UltraExplorer interface is that it’s entirely customizable, from the Toolbar menu to the icons, tools, and options that live below. You can permanently hide any of the 17 toolbars and nine windows that come with the program, so you never have to deal with more clutter than is absolutely necessary.
Two of the most useful toolbars are the address bar, standard in Windows Explorer for XP, and the breadcrumb bar, standard in the Vista version. Here, you can use one or the other or both, and even choose to have drop-down navigation included with the breadcrumb bar. Being able to easily access the absolute location of a file is important for me when sending files to co-workers or uploading images, but being able to easily go up three folders is important, too.
UltraExplorer’s address bar and breadcrumb bar.
The Favorites section can live as a left-navigation window or as a toolbar, and both files and folders can be added with a simple drag and drop. Each window contains its own mininavigation for maximizing and minimizing, and its own toolbar for enacting changes without having to figure out where the tool controls are in the main toolbar. In Favorites, by clicking on the ABC button you can edit the otherwise locked lists.
Messenger Plus! Live is an add-on for Windows Live Messenger that lets you add features and extras to the IM software. With Messenger Plus! Live, you can download new skins, emoticons, scripts, or even options that let you log and search your chats. The service, which currently boasts 27 million users, offers so many features, that regular IM users will want to at least check it out. (Watch out when installing though – you may want to uncheck the “sponsor” program it wants to install).
Here are a handful of things that I found that make Messenger Plus! Live worth a look:
1. This Snazzy Vista skin makes Windows Live Messenger even more sleek and shiny.
2. Reminder+ is an add-on script that helps you remember scheduled tasks.
3. Messenger Plus! Live Enhancer features things like contact list docking, auto-hide contact list, disable flashing of windows & taskbar button, and more.
4. Screenshot Sender lets you easily send screenshots to your contacts.
5. CountDown in Personal Message adds a counter (up or down) to your personal message or nickname.
You can download Messenger Plus! Live for free from here.
Yeah, there’s already a few folks out there depriving themselves of adequate exercise by choosing to cruise on an electric bike, but those who’ve yet to take the plunge now have yet another alternative. Panasonic’s Titanium Flat Road EB electric bicycle isn’t likely to be certified for use in the Tour de France, but it can propel riders a maximum of ten kilometers in around half an hour (or up to 150 kilometers if you use your own strength every now and then). Additionally, the bike features a Smart Lithium-Ion Integrated Management System (SLIM) to display remaining battery life and the distance left before your legs will be forced to take over. No word on a price just yet, but there’s plenty of pics in the via link below.
Livestation, the new video streaming service that features Silverlight technology, has begun its invite-only beta this past week by sending out invites to those who signed up for on the Livestation web site.
With Livestation, you can watch a range of live radio and television channels on your computer if you have a broadband connection, with no need to install a tuner, aerial, or any additional hardware. Unlike other Video-On-Demand services, Livestation delivers live broadcast channels, so you can watch news, sports or live events as they happen.
After downloading and installing the software, you sign in with your username and password in order to launch the player. By default, the player stays on top of your other windows, making it easy to keep watching while doing other things on your computer. While you are listening or watching, Livestation shares some of the stream with other users. This allows Livestation to serve a very large number of simultaneous users – even millions – without running into limitations of other streaming services.
Right now the selection of channels on LiveStation is somewhat limited. LiveStation offers you channels based on where you live. For example, U.S. users can access BBC World Service and Channel 4 radio streams, Al-Jazeera in English, and France 24, making LiveStation a must-have for any news junkies out there.
You may have heard a little announcement today – that developers now can develop a (multiplayer!) game once and gamers can play it on a Windows PC, Xbox 360, and Zune. Wait, what?!?! Zune??? Yes, that’s right, the new XNA Game Studio 3.0 available this Spring will have the ability to let devs make Zune games.
For the official FAQ, check out the XNA Creators Club, also check out Gizmodo, engadget, and don’t miss the pictures at JefTek. Cesar at ZuneInsider points out that this is a dev tool announcement, not game title announcements.
For those of you wondering what XNA is, here’s a two part video from Channel 9 (part 1 | part 2).
That is not a typo. Today, the SkyDrive team announced that they are increasing the amount of free storage to five times what it was before, going from 1 GB to 5 GB. With this new release of the service, some other improvements to the site have been made to make the service faster and more reliable too. This new version of SkyDrive, now no longer in beta, is also available in 38 more countries and regions. To see if your region is listed, check out the SkyDrive blog. The SkyDrive service is available from skydrive.live.com.
We got a chance to check out the first functioning games for Zune and were able to answer a few — but not many — questions about how this thing’s bound to play out.
- For starters, first-gen Zunes don’t appear to be ruled out by any means, but it’s going to be dependent on the game controls. Zauri, the sample space shooter game demoed today, uses the Zunepad, thus wouldn’t work (as well) on a Zune 30. Nothing has been decided as to whether games will universally require 2nd-gen Zunes, though.
- Use of the Zunepad in Zauri was as a trackpad and omnidirectional — it wasn’t just up / down / left / right, as in the menus.
- Right now the system partitions a mere 16MB for storing games, although this might change.
- Right now there isn’t a professional-grade SDK to announce; all titles should initially be done up in XNA Studio.
- Means of distribution (i.e. games loaded through an installer, through the Zune desktop app, or through Zune Marketplace?) has not yet been decided.
- The first beta development tools will be out this Spring.
- There are no plans for Zune game sharing (yet), so to play with a friend wirelessly you both must have the game on your Zune.
There was plenty more we wanted to know but Microsoft definitely stressed that this is an incredibly early announcement, and many of the details we’re all lusting after are still being hammered out. Again, we’ll know more in Spring and Summer.
Gallery: Games for Zune details, hands-on
There are many ways to sync your files between two computers, but new service called SugarSynclets you sync files between computers and your smartphone! The SugarSync service has 3 separate clients – one for your desktop, one for the web, and one for your smartphone. SugarSync securely backs up all your computers online and synchronizes them automatically so you always have access to your files. This syncing runs in the background, so you never have to make backups or email files to yourself. The service is currently in beta, so you’ll need sign up for an invite on their homepage.UPDATE: The first seven people to use the link below will be able to get in on the closed beta, courtesy of bigBrains.com.
Quickly search for local fare from Zumobi’s widget interface.
Surfing the Web on a cell phone screen can be the laggy, draggy pits, but companies like Zumobi want to make it a rush. The announcement of Zumobi’s first full release (for Windows Mobile 5 and 6) brings the Microsoft-birthed, now Microsoft-partnered platform for delivering mobile content closer to the dream.
I’ve been following Zumobi’s young career for some time and happily, its character is catching up to its glitz. Version 1.0 corrects many of the beta’s more glaring errors, including major functionality potholes that are now mostly paved over.
For the uninitiated, Zumobi is a grid of 16 thumbnails that users access by zooming into a quadrant and then zooming in again to an often-customizable ’tile,’ each of which is populated by the content partner and updated several times a day. For instance, Amazon’s tile operates a portable book store that also links to Amazon’s mobile site. AP News, MTV, Epicurious, and Flickr are other well-known brands.
Significant improvements to speed, image rendering, and a roster of other back-end tweaks have made their mark with faster, less pixelated loading and zooming. Zumobi’s footprint is ever-shrinking, and the app can now live on the phone’s expansion card, whereas the beta was hemmed into the phone memory. Some visual elements have also benefited from intense developer scrutiny, including the "0 (zero) Menu" with its gallery of featured tiles, and other interface upgrades that make navigating and rating tiles more intuitive.
Program tiles are divided into four quadrants.
That isn’t to say that total intuition has been achieved. The purpose of the "7" and "8" keys on a zoomed-in tile is still a little murky and leads to different outcomes depending on the sponsor. In testing, the keys often did the same thing, and usually resulted in channeling several tiles to my Zumobi inbox. Had that been my intention, I could then replace tiles on my zoom space. Since it wasn’t, precious seconds were sucked into waiting while the unwanted tile populated the inbox and in opening the "message" to then delete it. The app needs an abort mechanism and fewer clicks to nix a mistake.
While navigation has gotten better on the whole, there’s some evidence it will further improve. John SanGiovanni, Zumobi’s co-founder and vice president of products and services, hinted that the next update should dispatch one of my biggest peeves, which I’ll speculate means that users won’t have to zoom twice to crack open a widget.
The one thing that won’t change in future iterations is Zumobi’s high visual standard. "We still have a religion around the lushness of this experience," SanGiovanni said in a phone call. "We’re trying to create a really sexy experience that makes the user feel like they’re using an iPhone or a PSP." So far, so good. Zumobi has the looks, the advertising partners, and now, acceptable performance. It will be interesting to see how widely it’ll be adopted, but with plans for Zumobi to ship on Windows Mobile phones, half that work is already done.
Zumobi 1.0 is available for Windows Mobile phones (including touch screens) by downloading the CAB file to the PC or by pointing the phone’s browser to http://get.zumobi.com for over-the-air installation. BlackBerry and J2ME apps are expected in Q2 of 2008
How would you like a free copy of Microsoft Visual Studio 2008? How about the entire Microsoft Expression Studio? Not enough…… how about Microsoft Windows Server 2003 and more?
For once, something that sounds too good to be true really is this good and really is true. Starting today (or soon in some areas), students worldwide will be able to download our professional development and design tools for free! It’s called DreamSpark and it is upon us.
We got a few minutes with the guy himself, Mr. Bill Gates, to talk about his thoughts on this student opportunity. We also discussed the fast pace of technology and how students can best deal with that. Finally, I gave him a chance to think about what he would do if he were 17 years old again and starting up the next big company. His answer was–are you sitting down because this one was a real shocker–software!
We figured since one 8er already won a PC and another 8er won a Zune, we should hook you guys up with something cool too… I better see some smiles in the comments!
According to these—allegedly "leaked"—photos, the black and aluminum 2.5-pound HP Compaq 2133 UMPC laptop looks like the Asus Eee PC’s cooler cousin.
No price yet, but the wi-fi-enabled HP Compaq 2133 supposedly comes with an 8.9-inch 1,366 x 766 "scratch-resistant" display, ExpressCard/54 slot, integrated webcam, optional solid state flash drive and two-buttons-apart trackpad which looks like it was designed by Satan himself.