Monthly Archives: May 2009

Microsoft Bing “decision engine” video tour

[flv:http://www.decisionengine.com/media/ProductTour.mov bing.jpg 600 338]

So the wraps came off “Bing” today and Microsoft’s Live Search replacement (and worthy Google competitor) is finally announced. Unfortunately because the service isn’t actually live yet, all the screenshots and blog posts can be pretty overwhelming and won’t make the name or what it is any clearer. Thankfully, here’s a 3-minute long video Microsoft prepared earlier (embedded above) to get you up to speed on this “decision engine”. Happy deciding!

Update: Since Bing.com is now live, I’ve made a search provider plugin which works for both Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 and support search suggestions too, add it by clicking here.

Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7: why it’s a Swiss Army Knife of multitouch demoes for OEMs

wintouchpack

The Windows 7 blog today showed off a collection of multitouch-exclusive softwares and games collectively known as the “Microsoft Touch Pack for Windows 7“. As many eager Windows 7 users with multitouch-enabled PCs (ex. Dell Latitude XT2 and HP TouchSmart, etc.) may have noticed, you can’t actually download or install these today. You might be wondering, why would they announce something so interesting and not release it? Or even more so why not bundle the cool games into Windows 7? I think that’s because this is actually not aimed at end users, but a clever plan to compel OEMs to certify their touch Windows PCs.

touchpackFor most people, a platform is only as good as its applications. Therefore to sell a platform, you need highly captivating demos. Up and until very much today, Windows 7’s (multi)touch capabilities were a bullet point for developers. It’s APIs offer developers a slew of touch gestures to implement into their applications, but relatively few built-in advantages for end-users. The taskbar buttons were bigger and you could flick some photos around, hardly captivating selling points in a retail environment if you could imagine.

Of course, some vendors took it upon themselves to come up with value-added touch functionality for their touch-enabled PCs, like HP’s TouchSmart software for their TouchSmart PCs (bonus points for consistency), but many and probably the large majority don’t provide any extras out of the box. This is where the Touch Pack for Windows 7 comes in.

Now Microsoft’s done the hard work to make multitouch look cool and practical on Windows 7 PCs and instilled the desire to have them in users, OEMs aren’t just going to get them for nothing, they’re going to have to work for it.

As mentioned in the blog post, Microsoft is only going to provide these applications to OEMs who certify their hardware under the Windows Touch logo program, a new quality-assurance program exclusively for touch-enabled Windows PCs. The Engineering 7 blog touched on the testing procedures a couple of months ago, and more detail is available on MSDN and WHDC too. Basically it’s a pretty rigorous process to ensure a quality touch experience with a set of standardized tests.

As someone who’s fiddled with many tablet and touch Windows PCs, I can see why Microsoft is being more strict on the touch experience. It is everything but consistent – including but not limited to accuracy, sensitivity and even the coating of the display. Frankly speaking, there might not be that much substance to the Touch Pack, but it’s a good leverage for Microsoft to enforce a minimum quality bar for touch-enabled Windows PCs going forward. Otherwise in the words of a popular meme, “it’s a trap!”

Higher resolution Windows 7 logo, presention style guide and retail concept all leaked in one big burst

win7coredeck

Stephen Chapman of UX Evangelist delivers yet again. In response to all the chatter and speculation surrounding the new Windows 7 logo, Stephen has published some interesting graphic resources he’s found in the master slides of the “Windows 7 Core Presentation Deck” which reveals more details of how Microsoft plans to market Windows 7 to the masses.

win7vennBesides larger resolution versions of the new Star Trek (flare)-inspired “7” logo in four vibrant colors, there are also some basic guides on how Windows 7 PowerPoint presentations should be designed.

The venn diagram example (right) I thought was particularly interesting and is probably a good representation of the simplified and humanistic approach Microsoft will use to pitch Windows 7. FYI, Windows 7 is at the intersection between “this is cool”, “easy” and “it’s what I want” encapsulated by “it works”.

If there wasn’t enough goodies in one PowerPoint deck already, there is also a small resolution mockup of a Windows 7 display in a retail environment which appears to feature the retail boxart not too different to the leaked version.

Needless to say, anything plastered with “Microsoft Confidential” is definitely worth a look.

Windows Mobile 7 job ad reveals “Unified (Communication) Store”, confirms Zune integration

It appears the Windows Mobile team, who has had a history for sharing good insights into the future development of Windows Mobile through innocent job advertisements, is not wasting any time sharing new information about Windows Mobile 7. A recent job advertisement for a Software Development Engineer on the “Communications Foundations” team writes,

The Mobile Devices division is Microsoft’s fastest growing, most cutting edge, and most competitive business. Windows Mobile 7 is a huge, important bet for the company and the team has benefitted from a recent influx of senior talent from around the company. Our users buy Windows Mobile devices to manage all parts of their work and personal lives through the use of phone, email, IM, SMS, calendar, contacts, photo sharing, and access to social networks. “Communications” is the Windows Mobile 7 team that owns that experience end to end from phone to connectivity to Windows Live and Exchange services. Millions of Windows Mobile customers all around the world use what we build in this team every day.

The Communications Foundations team is the engine room that powers these social experiences – the team builds the connectors and Unified Storage models that power all the social & communications experiences for WM7. The team is at the center of the rich change in how communications is happening, driven by the rapid shifts in social networking – Live wave 4, Facebook, Twitter etc. The team is looking for an experienced developer to drive how we enable exciting, new market-changing scenarios based on top of the Unified Store. You will help architect, design and build capabilities to enable these new end-to-end scenarios, and drive a clear model/view separation in our architecture.

As far as I’m aware, the “connectors” and “Unified Storage” referred to here is a new concept for WM7. Unfortunately the job description doesn’t go into any details, but in the context of communications, I’m predicting it’s a new framework designed to handle all the communication storage needs on a phone in a single, structured and open-access system.

If my prediction is correction, as opposed to the current method where each application has its own proprietary storage model (ex. Outlook Mobile, Facebook application, Twitter applications), this new framework would allow applications to store and retrieve any communications data on the phone in a consistent and managed manner, allowing for far richer integration.

Like icing on the cake, the job ad also confirms what has been hinted at for a very long time, integration with the Zune service.

Responsibilities
Deliver core platform technology to internal and external partners. Effectively design, schedule, build and deliver on a v1 product and existing products. Collaborate with partners such as Outlook Mobile, Database, Zune, Shell, and OS. Deliver detailed specifications for the technical architecture of the system. Help mentor other members on the Dev team.

Microsoft China: look here, the Windows 7 logo!

mschinawin7

It looks like Microsoft China is really putting in an effort to make sure absolutely everyone knows about the new Windows 7 logo before it is, and if ever, officially confirmed by the Redmond mothership. Besides plastering a slightly different variation of this new logo all over its Windows 7 RC launch event, the flare-abounding logo is now featured front and center on the homepage of Microsoft China. I guess it’ll only be a matter of time before they put up the boxart too.

Speaking of the logo, some people are going to great lengths to find a “meaning” behind the logo. Whilst I don’t dispute some people’s suggestions the negative space resembles the top-right corner of the Windows logo, I believe it was designed to be just a “7”.

Microsoft’s SideShow-enhanced PC gaming concept confirms hunch you can never have enough displays

sideshowgaming

Windows SideShow‘s reception in the marketplace since the launch of Windows Vista has been lukewarm at best, but they haven’t given up. Now Microsoft is trying to breathe new life into Windows SideShow by illustrating some interesting applications of the platform to PC gamers.

A research study conducted by Microsoft earlier this year shows gamers are keen on a small Windows SideShow-powered touch-enabled and rotatable widescreen display to the tune of about 6.4-inches attached to the side of a monitor. If that wasn’t enough, it’s also suggested the display be connected via WiFi or Bluetooth so you could place it wherever. Since, Microsoft has ran with the idea showing how such a screen can benefit gamers.

One and perhaps the most obvious implementation of SideShow for a game, illustrated above, is to move the menus and on-screen controls of the game to the SideShow display, freeing up the primary display to show more of the game. This I’m sure captures the interest of RPG and strategy players who might find a third of the screen today dedicated to controls.

sideshowgaming2

In another scenario, the auxiliary display could also be used to provide a more immersive gaming experience. In this example, the auxiliary display acts like wing-mirror of a racing game, but is suggested could act as an instrument panel for a flight simulator game. Of course prior art is due as Sony first demoed the same concept between a Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable for a racing game, however has since failed to realize.

sideshowgaming3

Furthermore, the auxiliary device could display secondary information when a gamer would normally otherwise have to pause the game to display, for example a map in a flight simulator game. Anyone who’s played GTA4 probably comprehends how frustrating it was to pause the game every time you needed to review the large map.

Last but not least, the auxiliary display could also provide information outside of the game but useful to the player, for example walkthroughs, game guides or chatting applications. Of course, like a standard SideShow device, it should also allow you to control music, read emails and check the weather, and we all know how well that caught on.

As an avid PC gamer, this definitely captures my interest but of course is still nothing more than a Photoshop mockup (as seen by the Gamespot watermark). If a hardware vendor can produce such a device for under $100, I think it could sell like hotcakes.