Monthly Archives: July 2007

Microsoft Research releases Hotmaps (Live Maps Apocalypse edition)

Microsoft Research VIBEIf the world were to ever overflow with lava, Microsoft Research would be first in the industry to have the maps for this new world. Last April, Danyel Fisher, a Microsoft Researcher at Redmond developed a tool to create a paradox of looking at what we look at on online maps.

He named his tool “Hotmaps” – Hotmail is reportedly upset – uses internal Microsoft statistics to generate a heatmap overlay for Virtual Earth. Areas of interest on the map with the most views (Bill’s house) are given bright red spots whilst areas without much interest with not many views are given dark spots (Steve’s house).

Previously used for only research purposes, now the tool is freely available for the public to see how many people are looking at their house and neighbors.

Microsoft Research Hotmaps

I’m surprised at just how many people look at the Pacific/Atlantic ocean. Is everyone looking for mermaids? I also wonder if we can create a tool to look at what we look at looking at what people look at on online maps. I’d call it, “Heatmaps for Hotmaps for Virtual Earth”.

Vista SP1 pops up on TechEd Australia’s website
(update 2) MS says no SP1 at TechEd

Update 2: Microsoft has confirmed this is a copy error and does not intend to show Vista SP1 at TechEd Australia this year.

Microsoft TechEdIt looks like Windows Vista’s first service pack is coming a lot sooner than expected. Mary Jo Foley’s reports that a Vista SP1 beta might be seeded to ‘elite’ testers and enthusiasts as early as this week and public release around November, or as vaguely described by Microsoft PR “sometime this year”. However, pundits down-under might even get their dirty “hands on” SP1 as early as August 8th at Microsoft Australia’s TechEd conference on the Gold Coast this year.

Microsoft TechEd Australia Windows Vista SP1

Whoever made this website, likely an outsourced company, is a pure genius for making the entire website load in a single page – making it impossible to link to any particular pages directly. I wonder why the rest of the internet haven’t adopted this groundbreaking method of website navigation. Having said that, you can find this particular page under the “Education” menu, “Hands-on Labs” submenu and second collapsible table “Windows Client”. Displayed in black and white is “Windows Vista SP1″

Microsoft TechEd Hands-on Labs“Hands-on Labs” is a Microsoft event specialty. Like the name suggests, it is an opportunity for anyone to get their hands-on the latest technologies at one of hundreds of virtualized computers with brick-thick tutorial handbooks and step-by-step scenarios to help learn and familiarize new products.

To see SP1 show up in these labs would be interesting because it suggests it will be available to play with, not just look at or read about. For that to happen, it should be ‘feature-complete’ – meaning no new features will be added (only fixes), documented, tested for basic reliability, and deployable via Windows Virtual Server.

This could be a copy mistake, but I fail to see how anyone could mistype “Windows Vista SP1″ for anything else in that context. At the moment it looks like I’ll be attending so you can all guess where I’ll be rushing to first. And if I remember correctly, cameras are allowed in the labs. ;)

Update: Microsoft Australia cannot confirm or deny at this point whether SP1 will be making an appearance in the Hands-on Labs or TechEd. They will provide an update when possible.

Update 2: Microsoft AU: “We’ve double checked and, as you suspected, this is a copy error. There will be no Vista SP1 content at TechEd Australia this year. We’re in the process of updating the TechEd site to accurately reflect this.

The Windows team is working hard on the service pack, and our current expectation is that a beta will be made available sometime this year, but there will be no content on Vista SP1 at Tech.Ed in Australia.”

Microsoft files patent for possible taskbar replacement

“A method for managing windows in a display” would sound particularly familiar to every Windows user as “that strip at the bottom of the screen with the Start button and clock” or perhaps the more formal name, the taskbar. On July 12 the Patent Office processed a patent application from Microsoft filed on the 9th of February, 2006 of what appears to be a possible alternative for the decade-old taskbar we all know and cherish in Windows.

Windows taskbars
The taskbars styles of the last two Windows release. (Composited) images credit: Wikipedia user BWCNY

Time and time again, Windows enthusiasts have jumped on the idea of replacing the taskbar in the ‘next’ version of Windows as one of the most revolutionary user interface changes Microsoft can make. For Windows Vista (Longhorn), the center of attention was the sidebar before undergoing major feature-reduction surgery in 2005 – a lot of people fantasized about how the sidebar could become the taskbar replacement, however that soon worn-off.

Microsoft Research VIBEThis time around a bunch of Microsoft Researchers have come up with a way to manage multi-tasking windows by the use of what they call a “clipping list”. The inventors, Tara Matthews, George Robertson, Mary Czerwinski and Desney Tan are all except Tara, part of the infamous MSR VIBE (Visualization and Interaction for Business and Entertainment) project aimed at enhancing information presentation and work efficiency. Ironically, they can’t seem to do the same for the website – it’s renders horribly in Firefox.

Their proposed solution, one of many I’d imagine, detailed in over 30 or so odd pages can be summarized as thumbnails with an icon – “A clipping comprises an image of a region of a window and an icon.” To picture what that might look like, imagine each of your minimized application buttons represented by a ’tile’ and an overlaid icon with text. These tiles would then be stacked vertically on the side of the screen looking somewhat a sidebar. The following diagrams were provided.

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Google gets owned by Australian trade commission, forced to make changes to its website

Well that was the quickest corporate court-case turnaround I have ever witnessed. It seemed like only yesterday when the ACCC (Australia Competition and Consumer Commission), or otherwise informally known as Whiny Customers Complaining Channel, announced they would take Google to court over misleading and deceptive conduct for its “Sponsored Links” program.

The dispute in question is actually valid, where a sponsored link duplicated the name of a legally registered business which linked to one of its major competitors. Now the Federal Court has ruled in favor of the ACCC for breach of the Trade Practices Act (Section 52) in Australia. Now this is where my pain and suffering to study Business Law pays off.

The ACCC wants to take things even further whilst they’re on a roll. They want Google to shame themselves by displaying their breach on the website’s homepage, which I thought would be amusing. I’ve put together a little mockup of what that might look like.

Google breaches Trade Practices Act in Australia

Or maybe the LOLCat version…

Google breaches Trade Practices Act in Australia (LOLCat)

“I’m a Mac, we’re the PCs” now Creative Commons

Mary Jo Foley business cards

A few weeks ago Mary Jo Foley had asked me whether she could use the Mac vs PCs picture I had composited for a post I did earlier this year for her new business cards, of course I agreed. Just yesterday, she sent pictures of the new cards printed straight from moo. They definitely look cute.

I thought since a few other people (probably more PCs than Macs) might feel like using this picture for stickers and what not. So instead of making them feel guilty of stealing, I’m now distributing the image under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. In essence this allows anybody to use this image for both personal and commercial purposes for free, as long as you provide attribution in some way or form (best not to ruin your card/sticker). You are also allowed to modify and redistribute the work under the same license. At least that’s what the legalities are, I didn’t say this but do whatever.

Besides a lossless PNG, I’m also putting up a layered Photoshop file so you can add/remove/edit any of the individual characters, borders or text as you wish.

World In Conflict: why I still play games

World In ConflictWhat if the Cold War never ended, asks Massive Entertainment. A smartass might respond with “what a stupid question, of course it ended.”, but that would have destroyed the whole premise of making a kickass and thrilling massively multiplayer online real-time strategy (MMORTS) game.

There are games where you have to watch the high definition trailer to appreciate, and there’s the game where you know it’s a winner just by reading the back-story. You drive cars (and motorbikes), “Project Gotham Racing 4“, is the former. The war comes home, “World In Conflict“, is the latter.

World In Conflict

Yes that’s right, I’m actually showing off most of my units being obliterated by a nuclear bomb, I’m that proud. No one said a compelling story can’t look good either. I’m running the game on medium graphics setting for smoother gameplay and it is still absolutely gorgeous to look at, can’t imagine what “Very High” and a DirectX 10 graphics card could do.

For those of you frightened by the complexities and technology trees in most strategy games, this is not a complicated game. In fact, I jumped straight into an online match to come first (score) in a match without playing the tutorial, which unfortunately crashed on me. The camera controls are uniquely intuitive, which feels very much like a first-person shooter. Buttons and tooltips flash giving you awareness of things that are happening or should happen so it’s no problems jumping straight into.

But back to what makes this game ‘tick’, the story, is one of those war-fiction scenarios you’d pray would never actually happen, but can’t help fantasize what would be like. “World In Conflict” is all about making war feel surreal, a tank battle on a farm, an infantry ambush in the city and the most popular of all, nuclear bombs, anywhere actually. Hey, this is why we play games and not the real thing right? Let’s hope what happens on my screen in the screen forever.

If you like online games, if you like co-operative games, if you like team-based games, if you like real-time strategy, if you like Battlefield 2, or if you just simply happens to like PC games, then I strongly urge you to check out World In Conflict. Sign up for your free open beta registration key at the official website, download the client and get ready to go to war. PC release in September 07. Also coming to XBOX 360.

World In Conflict