Archive for September, 2008
BlogMS – Official Microsoft Team Blogs : Resource Guide to Free Microsoft Software and Online Services
Talk about the ultimate steal! There’s so much stuff here, I just couldn’t believe it. I bookmarked this page for my own reference, but then I realized I would be remiss if I didn’t share the link with all of you, too.
The Resource Guide for Free Microsoft Software and Online Services is where you’ll find the huge list of free stuff. The different types are broken down into the following categories:
- Software Products
- Software Products available through Software Assurance
- Microsoft DreamSpark for Students
- Security Software
- Support and Diagnostic Tools
- Solution Accelerator Tools and Resources
- Windows Live Software and Services
- Office Live and Office Online Software and Services
- Other Live and Online Software and Services
- Microsoft Patterns and Practices (for Developers)
- Microsoft Research and Microsoft Office Labs
- Microsoft e-Learning, Virtual Labs, Events and Webcasts
- Microsoft Software Update Services
Will you find something new to you? Yep, you probably will. Whether you’re a developer, I.T. pro, student, or just looking for consumer-level tools for your home PC, there’s something on this list for everyone. It’s definitely worth checking out…and saving.
Vista Ultimate users recently got a nice surprise: a handful of new Ultimate Extras have been made available for download. These Extras include new DreamScenes, soundscapes, and a fun puzzle game called Tinker. The four new DreamScenes are simply four different variations on one image of clouds and sky, each with a unique color scheme. These are great for those of us who want to use DreamScenes but wanted a background that wasn’t too busy as some of the others were. The sky image is much simpler and can still be enjoyed even if you decide to cover it with icons.
The real winner from this recent update, though, is the new game called Tinker. (Click here to see a video). This is a fun little puzzle game that features a character called Tinker, a robot that some say is reminiscent of Wall-E. In the game, a creation of Fuel Industries, your goal is to navigate Tinker through various obstacles in order to complete each level. It may sound easy, but it’s not as easy as you think. However, it is addictive, so be warned – you might end up playing it for much longer than you anticipated! There are 60 levels in all, and if you complete the whole game, you can actually build more levels by downloading the editor used by the team. You can then share those levels you made with your friends.
Klipfolio is a tool that provides a dashboard for your Windows desktop which you can use to monitor anything – news, weather, RSS feeds, email, or whatever else you can access via a web browser. You can also monitor computer events like your CPU usage or disk space, too. Although the program works on Vista, it’s clearly a Sidebar replacement, so you wouldn’t want to run both at the same time. However, for XP and Windows 2000 users, this program can certainly deliver the sidebar experience, except that instead of gadgets, Klipfolio offers “klips,” downloadable programs which developers can write with as little as 7 lines of XML code.
Like the Vista Sidebar, Klipfolio can be set to auto-hide and can be positioned on the right or left of your screen. Yet, unlike the Sidebar, it can also be moved to the top or bottom or you can have it float on your screen like an AIR app, too. To personalize Klipfolio, you can adjust the font, change the color, and/or choose from a bunch of different skins. As for content, there are currently over 4000 Klips available for download from the Klipfolio website, so you’re sure to find enough of interest to fill up your dashboard and then some.
Although it’s ancient in Internet years, WinZip is still up and kicking. Among the various improvements and tweaks, the latest upgrade to Version 12 includes one massive reinvigorating feature: the WinZip folks have figured out how to compress JPEGs without sacrificing image quality.
The details on exactly how this is done remain a secret for now, although WinZip has promised to open up its compression algorithms as they’ve done in the past. On the user end of things, this means that ZIP files containing JPEGs will be more than just bundles of your photos–the archives will actually be smaller in size.
To test it out, I wanted to create a massive archive. I used all the screenshots I’ve taken of programs since January 2007, more than 550 images that worked out to be about 70MB uncompressed. Keep in mind that the issue here isn’t basic compression, but lossless compression, where the image quality in the JPEG doesn’t turn south.
That test provided 24 percent space savings, toward the high-end of WinZip’s predictions of between 20 percent and 25 percent. This only works with JPEG images. GIFs, TIFs, PNGs, and others will be compressed using standard algorithms, and so it’s unlikely that you’ll see a drastic savings in space with them.
Some of the other new features in WinZip 12 were nearly as interesting. The Pro version of WinZip offers a Zip from Camera option. This cuts out multiple steps and instead lets users archive their images as they get transferred onto their computer. There’s also a new tool, Send Selected, that lets you e-mail archives as they get created. However, this is WinZip playing catch-up–other compression tools, like 7-Zip or WinRAR, have offered this for some time.
This latest version includes better encryption control that should appeal to system administrators, where they can determine the encryption method or specify if one is even to be used. Both professionals and home users will probably like that you can now create new folder architectures within a ZIP once it’s been created. WinZip also now autodetects the file type in Smart View, which will then show thumbnails if the archive is made up of images, for example.
Without a doubt, the lossless JPEG compression is the big draw here. The minor improvements to the workflow and security settings are important, but not must-haves unless you’re a die-hard WinZip fan.
Do you chat globally? If so, you’ll be glad to hear that the Microsoft Translator team has just released a new translation bot for Windows Live Messenger. With this new bot, you can IM back and forth with friends who speak different languages while the bot does the translations for you. To use the new bot, just add firstname.lastname@example.org to your contact list. Keep in mind that machine translation isn’t perfect – using slang or other colloquialisms can give it trouble.
At the moment, the translation bot support the following languages:
- English to/from:
- Chinese Simplified
- Chinese Traditional
- Russian (RUS->ENU only)
- Chinese Simplified <-> Chinese Traditional
More languages will be added over the next few months.
The team also suggests that the bot can be used in WLM on your smartphone for quick translations when you’re traveling in foreign countries. Not a bad idea, considering nearly all smartphones today can support Windows Live Messenger (if your phone doesn’t have WLM already installed, you can download it from here or you can get all the mobile tools from here).
At the Microsoft TechEd Australia 2008 conference keynote this morning, Dr. Neil and Amit Mital showed a quick preview of the Live Mesh application running on a Windows Palm Treo Pro. Long Zeng has the screenshots on his blog. In the demo, they showed how quickly a mobile photo could be synced to all the other devices on the Mesh. When will we see the mobile Mesh client app? “In the coming months,” they say.
In the meantime, it’s not live you have to do without – the Mobile Mesh web page is available at m.mesh.com from your mobile phone. It works OK on my Blackberry Pearl (for viewing at least) and you can view your files from an iPhone, too. However, a native mobile app for my Blackberry would be even better. Hopefully, the Live Mesh for Windows Mobile client will be the first step towards that goal.
The Popfly team has just added a bunch of new features to the Popfly Game Creator beta. The game creator is now more social with the addition of profile pages for users that show off people’s projects, friends, recent activity and more. You can also see anyone’s favorite projects and subscribe to either those favs or their entire project list via an RSS feed.
New badges also bring a more social element to the Popfly community and they make it more fun to participate, too. The badges offer awards for being a great player, being active in the community, being the first to play someone’s game, and many other things.