Monthly Archives: November 2007

Internet Explorer 7’s $250,000 sweepstake

Well this is one way to keep market share if you have a quarter of a million dollars for a marketing budget. Starting from today, Microsoft is hosting a two month promotion, “The IE7 Shop with More Confidence Sweepstakes” in partnership with PayPal to give 25 lucky users each $10,000 to spend via PayPal.

Sure they could have put that money back into the development of Internet Explorer to make it a more competitive web browser, but that wouldn’t be as fun would it?

The IE7 Shop with More Confidence Sweepstakes

To enter, it is suggested you first watch a ridiculously boring Flash animation before being redirected to the entry page (or just go straight to it), then complete an entry form on the promotion website. However as the name suggests, it is a promotion for Internet Explorer 7 so it makes sense you will need to use it to access the page. If you try to access the page from other browsers, it will first ask you to download and install IE7. Fortunately for Firefox users like myself, IETab gives the best of both worlds in situations like this. Sorry, but I feel even more confident shopping with Firefox. The sweepstake ends on January 31, 2008.

Sometimes I wished Australia could just become the 51st state of the United States just so I can participate in all these sweepstakes. And for a while under the Howard government, that didn’t seem too far off either. Downloads Beta in Silverlight

SilverlightI’ve been wondering when Microsoft will finally implement Silverlight on to its own website. For a long time, the Silverlight animation on the frontpage advertising itself was somewhat of a disappointment and a paradox – ironically requiring Silverlight to be installed to view the ad showing off the capabilities of itself.

Today (via ActiveWin), Microsoft has quietly launched a beta of its Downloads Center website presented entirely in Silverlight which demonstrates some of the rich user-experience capabilities it has been long promising. Although not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of problems either.

Microsoft Downloads Beta

On the welcome page of the Microsoft Download Center beta website, they explain the purpose of the beta and their goals to “spruce up the site and make it easier to discover and download Microsoft software”. The only requirement is at least Silverlight version 0.95 to be installed.

At first look, this site bears a lot of resemblance to the current frontpage which is a good sign of consistency – something the Microsoft site lacks very much. But it also means what you see here at least can be easily achieved with just traditional HTML and CSS. Only when you start interacting with certain elements you begin to notice the difference. And for a Microsoft site, they’ve certainly raised the bar in terms of attention to detail.

For example, the navigation menu on the right has a baby-smooth transition between as one category collapses and another opens. And when you hover each link in the menu, a subtle animated background appears behind the link instead of just a boring solid fill. Take a look at this quick walkthrough I prepared earlier of some of the main features.

[flv:msdownload-silverlight.flv 660 455]

If you do happen to try the site yourself, you’ll notice that some parts can be extremely slow to load. Sometimes I will click on the “Browse Downloads” button and it will just sit there for up to 10 seconds without any form of feedback something is loading. Hopefully these performance issues is just a bug by design and is not a widespread problem of Silverlight, although most of the Silverlight websites I’ve been to are not particularly spiffy either.

For an attempt to replace a traditionally HTML only website entirely with Silverlight is a rather bold step. This is perhaps dogfooding at its finest. However I doubt something like this will ever make it to final release because of a few accessibility roadblocks with Silverlight. Even the most basic accessibility function to tab through screen elements with the keyboard is not supported until Silverlight 1.1. Accessibility aside, this is a great demo to showcase Silverlight’s UI capability.

Maybe one day they’re even get around to “spruce up” particular pages like this one.

Signature Sound maker: like iTunes Ringtones, but free

Say hello to an orchestra of sound snippet in your instant messenger. The Windows Live Messenger 9.0 beta was released today sporting a handful of new features as already uncovered last week by LiveSide. One feature in particular called Signature Sound is giving users the power to customize the sound their contacts hear when they come online. However as annoying that might sound (pun), what’s more interesting and actually useful is the embedded sound editor used to customize your Signature Sound and every other sound in Messenger.

Windows Live Messenger sound editor

From here, you can select any sound files in WMA, WAV or MP3 format to edit. Once you click on a valid sound file, it will take a few seconds to analyze the file and display a sound wave spectrum for you to edit.

Windows Live Messenger sound editor

The interface for this editor is similar to any mainstream sound editor applications in which it displays a selection box with a start and end point to clip a segment of an audio track. Messenger restricts all of its sounds to a maximum of 5 seconds which might seem to restrict creativity, but you’ll be thankful when your friends pop online later.

Windows Live Messenger sound editor

The user can move the left and right boundaries anywhere between the two blue arrows to define a start and end of their sound clip. To move back and forth in the timeline, you simply drag the wave left or right to move the “5-second window”. Alternatively you can also click the rewind or fast-forward buttons to step back or forth in seconds. On top of all that, it’s a nice touch to be able to perfect the clipping by adding a fade in or out. Then it’s as simple as clicking play to preview.

iTunes ringtone editor

The first thing I thought of when I saw this was how similar it is to the iTunes Ringtone editor for the iPhone. Both of which are dead simple yet unsuspectingly fun and addictive to perfect that perfect clip. Thankfully you don’t have to pay 99cents every time you sign online so it’s a lot more attractive to experiment with.

I’m sure it won’t take very long until someone figures out how to make full-length Signature Sounds which would play the entire Beethoven 9th Symphony every time you signed on. In which case you would want to tick the checkbox to disable Signature Sounds.

Update: On a side note, I understand the WLM 9.0 beta is a private beta and this post is somewhat in the gray, however I do not endorse non-beta users downloading any leaked versions as it is still relatively unstable on the backend and might even compromise the stability of the whole Messenger network.

More Microsoft Longhorn PC concepts

Thanks to a tip from Steve Clayton, a treasure chest of Windows Longhorn inspired PC design concepts has been just unearthed. An industrial design company located in San Francisco called Ammunition were recently interviewed as part of a Wired article on evolving PC designs. Following the link to their website shows an array of computer-related design concepts for a variety of companies including Microsoft.

An image overlay of a Longhorn screenshot indicates these were commissioned for the purpose of demonstrating to OEMs how Microsoft envisioned Longhorn PCs. In relations to the other Microsoft-commissioned Windows PC concepts by Carbon Design, these are much earlier. The Aero Glass theme is clearly carried throughout in both concepts.

Microsoft Oxygen
Microsoft Oxygen concept desktop system that converts from typical use mode, to media viewing, to pen input.

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Clever promo card from Microsoft

Microsoft Imagine Cup Seed of Change

Yesterday I got one of these promotional pocket cards for Microsoft’s Imagine Cup 2008 competition, and in it was a clever surprise. Imagine Cup for those who don’t know is an annual Microsoft-sponsored competition exclusively for students worldwide to compete in a range of computer technology related categories including but not limited to software design, games development and film. This year’s theme is the environment.

The special touch to the pocket card is a little piece of plantable seed paper attached to the bottom. It contains the seeds of a native Australian shrub called Callistemon. Whilst it would have been way cooler if the entire card was printed on seed paper, this is a great effort to do something positive for the environment as well as promoting native Australian plants.

Update: I’ve been told the concept was developed locally in Australia by marketing agency Wunderman. They have plans to take the idea worldwide to promote Imagine Cup with presumably different native seeds for different locales.

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Mix On Campus in Melbourne

The Microsoft event for freeloading students called “Mix On Campus” happened yesterday in Melbourne and I went along because I very well fit the description. It has also been a few weeks after finishing my university exams so it’s a good chance to reunite with a couple of friends, fresh air and sunlight. The event was organized by the Microsoft Australia Academic‘s Nick Ellery who put in a lot of generous time and effort to give students a free ticket to live some (and I’m sure it’s barely a scrape) of the real MIX experience in Vegas or ReMIX in Melbourne a few months ago.

For students, it was an invaluable opportunity to take a first-hand look at some of the new Microsoft web and design applications and services as well as network with industry professionals.

As expected, everyone showed up 5 minutes before the event (including myself). It might look empty now, but it easily reached a hundred people once the big hand struck 10.

Handy Microsoft Student Partners were on-site to help.

Unfortunately the person who hooked up the XBOX was what people in the industry call a “noob”.
See if you can spot the mistake.

Nick Hodge had a better idea for the high-definition cable.

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