Monthly Archives: December 2007

Microsoft takes Vista advertising to YouTube

Windows Vista on YouTube

If you’ve been wondering where all the advertising for Windows Vista has disappeared to, look no further YouTube. Starting from last week, Microsoft has begun uploading a series of original short videos showcasing a combination of Windows Vista, Windows Live and Office 2007 experiences.

Unlike the $500 million heart-warming “Wow” campaign at the start of the year, this campaign focuses much more on functionality with realistic end-user scenarios and clear benefits on how using Windows Vista, Windows Live and Office can help get the job done. Perhaps this marks the beginning of the $300 million more Microsoft’s throwing into the Vista advertising pool.

The videos themselves are well-produced with scenarios most home users can associate with, such as making a panoramic photo. Instead of just talking about the benefits, it’s good they actually demo the products in-use from beginning to end to show how it can be done.

Unfortunately for Microsoft they’ve also left the floodgate wide open for ‘constructive criticism’. As usual, streams of Microsoft-bashers and users with Vista horror stories have taken it upon themselves to let the world know how much better the other operating systems are.

For example user ‘dasBaum1234′ wanted to share, “haha windows you suck so much. You faked everythibg from Mac OSX Tiger und you didnt get that right. YOU SUCK SOO MUCH!”. What dasBaum1234 doesn’t know is that Vista is not a person, and should not be referred to as “you”. However his argument is indisputable so it really doesn’t matter.

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Extending the Windows Mobility Center with third party tiles – Rafael releases “Display Off” tile

Windows Mobility CenterThe Windows Mobility Center is hands down the best feature for mobile PC users in Windows Vista. It’s so simple in concept, easy to use and useful that I don’t know how much time I’d waste without it every day. Having said that, I’ve always wished it did a little more than what Microsoft has provided as the basic set of eight tiles or functions.

Back in April, I made the suggestion to implement third-party tiles for the Mobility Center. Instead of building full-blown applications with a specialized user interface which had to be installed and always running in the background – wasting resources when really you only need once a day, ideally they could just build a Mobility Center tile.

Soon enough my optimism came to a crashing halt when a Vikram Madan, a Microsoft employee, pointed out the WMC was purposely restricted to discourage third-party developers from building these tiles. Instead, the ability to build and distribute tiles is a luxury only to original equipment manufacturers like Lenovo who does in fact make available some of their own tiles, but they’re not very useful. Vikram explains,

“This is so random applications don’t author and install their own tiles into the mobiitity center, thereby both diluting it’s value/focus. Also, by making it OEM exclusive, we give OEMs incentive not to write lots of separate little applets that are not only annoying but also consume valuable system resources.”

I disagree. The ultimate choice to which tiles are installed should be up to the users, and if they choose to randomly install crapware wherever they can see it then that’s their own fault. As long as it’s an open platform, there will be at least one developer doing the right thing and that could be all users need.

Which is why last week I challenged Rafael Rivera Jr. (who recently patched Yahoo’s Messenger for Windows Vista to work on X64 amongst patching many other things) to find a way to build third-party tiles for the Mobility Center. As a sample implementation, I wanted him to realize the “Turn off display” functionality I so desperately wanted.

Windows Mobility Center - Third party tiles

Today, Rafael is not only releasing the first non-OEM tile for the Windows Mobility Center but is also showing how other developers can as well. As it turns out, it’s not impossible, just Microsoft’s tried very hard not to reveal how it is done.

Display OffTo try this “Display Off” third-party Windows Mobility Center tile for yourself:

  1. Download and install the “Display off” tile installable.
  2. Open the Windows Mobility Center (Shortcut: Windows + X), or run “C:\Windows\System32\mblctr.exe”.
  3. Click “Turn off” in the tile to force your monitor to go to sleep.

To remove the tile, simply uninstall “Windows Mobility Center Tile: Display Off” from the Control Panel.

If you have a desktop computer and still want to use the Windows Mobility Center, download and execute this registry file which forces the WMC to load on any computer. Although not all the tiles will show up.

This is a great first step of what I hope will become the first of many useful third-party tiles.

Although as Rafael explains, there are two types of tiles – static and dynamic. A static tile, like this one, is the most simple to write because the contents of the tile does not change and it only has one action. Dynamic tiles, like most of Microsoft’s tiles, have many levels of actions are are updated to reflect current system settings like the volume for example. For more information there is a 47-page Microsoft documentation (PDF) on how to build these tiles.

Another limitation of the Windows Mobility Center is a limit on the number of tiles active at any one time. On top of the eight tiles provided by Microsoft, one can only add another 8 non-standard tiles to the Mobility Center. As well, there’s no front-end interface to install/uninstall or manage these tiles so it could become quite complicated. Rafael has proposed to build a “tiles manager” which will serve as a front-end interface to managing third-party tiles, but until then developers will have to implement installers/uninstallers themselves.

To all the developers out there looking for a challenge, take a look at the Windows Mobility Center as a platform to develop something as obvious yet useful as turning off a monitor on a laptop. To all the users out there, do you have any ideas for third-party tiles?

P.S. I take credit for designing the icon which I’m certain will win many awards. :)

Microsoft’s “It’s not cheating” Facebook competition – chance to win a Smartphone and XBOX360

Microsoft’s “It’s not cheating” Facebook competitionStarting from today, Microsoft Australia is hosting a Facebook competition to promote the “It’s not cheating” $75 Office discount for students in Australia.

Basically, they’re outsourcing asking a bunch of Microsoft Student Partners, interns and Microsoft bloggers to help them get the word out by setting up groups on Facebook. The person who can draw the most people to their Facebook group at the end of the specified period wins a bunch of prizes.

But by now you must be thinking I’m trying to suck you into this right? Sort of, although I want to turn the idea on its head. Instead of the host (in this case, me) reaping the rewards of what is basically a collective effort, I want to share the prizes with you.

So this is my proposition. By the end of the competition, if this group wins the competition with the most users, I’ll randomly pick a person from the group (besides myself of course) and ask Microsoft to send the prize to that person. Alternatively, I could also impersonate that person but I’m not very good with accents. If Microsoft refuses to do so, I’ll claim the prize and send it to the ‘winner’ myself shipping and handling included. They didn’t say the winner has to be in Australia, so everyone’s invited.

The prizes include a HTC S310 Smartphone (awarded on 14 February 2008) and a XBOX360 bundle with 3 games (awarded on 5 May 2008). They’re not Academy Awards Goody Bag standard but free is free right?

If you like the sounds of the idea, add your name to the istartedsomething.com “It’s Not Cheating” competition group.

Invite some friends to bump up the numbers a bit, but maybe not all of them to keep the chances on your side. If all else fails, there’s still a billion people in China and they’re always up for a freebie.

Internet Explorer 8 passes the Acid2 mark

From silence to the grand opera, finally Internet Explorer will join the league of a handful of next-generation web browsers that passes the Acid2 test.

Whilst remembering Acid2 is not a standards test – in fact it breaks a few standards to test how browsers handles malformed code, passing the test represents the browser will properly support a range of next-generation CSS 2.1 features that opens up a range of creative opportunities for web designers. It doesn’t test everything, but these are probably the most useful features.

Acid2 TestThe major CSS capabilities tested includes,

  • Transparent PNGs — The eyes are encoded as transparent PNGs.
  • The object element — The eyes of the face are attached to an object element. Being able to use object (which can have alternative content) is one of the oldest requests from web designers.
  • Absolute, relative and fixed positioning — Being able to position elements accurately is important for advanced page layouts.
  • Box model — The original Acid test focused on the CSS box model. Acid2 continues in this fine tradition by testing ‘height’, ‘width’, ‘max-width’, ‘min-width’, ‘max-height’ and ‘min-height’.
  • CSS tables — There is nothing wrong with table layouts. It is a powerful layout model which makes sense on bigger screens. However, the table markup is troublesome as it ties the content to these screens. Therefore, being able to specify table layouts in CSS is important.
  • Margins — CSS defines accurate algorithms for how margins around elements should be calculated.
  • Generated content — The ability to add decorations and annotations to Web pages without modifying the markup has long been requested by authors.
  • CSS parsing — Acid2 includes a number of illegal CSS statements that should be ignored by a compliant browser.
  • Paint order — We test that overlapping content is painted in the right order. This is not a feature in itself, but a requirement for other features to work correctly.
  • Line heights — The Acid2 test checks a few key parts of the CSS inline box model, upon which any standards-compliant Web page depends.
  • Hovering effects — One of the elements in the face changes color when you hover over it. Which one?

It’s one thing for Firefox, Safari and Opera to pass the ACID2 test, but it’s another for the default browser of the most widely used consumer operating system to support it too. And not only is it a web browser, the rendering engine is used in thousands of third-party applications to draw interface elements.

Imagine when Internet Explorer 8 is pushed out via Windows Update to every Windows user as a recommended update, then web developers and designers will sleep like a baby knowing their standards-compliant code should work on any browser and any platform without a single hack. Wouldn’t that be nice.

In other news today, a decade-old game is also breaking expectations by showing its face. Coincidence?

Sneak peek at the new Mactopia site

The Mactopia website is finally changing. It only took them a year or two. The lifeless gray page dating almost 3 years old, reminiscent of Microsoft’s older table-based templates, is being replaced with a slick white-on-black contemporary design in the coming weeks as part of the Office for Mac 2008 release in January. A slide from an internal sales training presentation shows a near-final mockup of what the site will look like.

Mactopia website redesign

Can’t deny the inspiration from the Expression and Microsoft Design sites.