Monthly Archives: February 2011

Microsoft demos safer and more private web with U-Prove CTP R2 samples

To coincide with the security-oriented RSA Conference 2011, Microsoft today introduced a new community technology preview release of its acquired U-Prove technology, along with a couple interactive and fun (a virtual smart card is as fun as security can be) web demo of its U-Prove Agents component. It’s quite compelling to say the least.

Tipped as the replacement for the poorly-received CardSpace technology introduced in Windows Vista, important differentiators for U-Prove appears to be “minimal disclosure, unlinkability, and untraceability” – internet security without compromising privacy.

To help adoption of U-Prove, in this new release Microsoft added cloud-based U-Prove Agent services that handle the retrieval and release of personal information. Using Microsoft’s agent for demonstration (agents can be any number of organizations or governments), you can play with the auction or unemployment benefits demos on your own, all with dummy data of course.

Although the process looks similar to OAuth-style authentication from Facebook and Twitter, the big difference is that the two parties are never associated. This separation means an identity issuer cannot track where the information is used, and the receiving website can’t access any other personal information beyond the verified information it requested.

For example, although the unemployment benefits site will trust the personal information issued by a bank, it can’t associate that with a bank account number or any other unique identifier.

On the other side of the world in Germany, Microsoft is already putting some of this in practice with a trial implementation of the U-Prove technology and Healthvault on top of the German eID smartcards that will be issued to every citizen. Although the video below is more of a promotion for Healthvault, it does tease a smartcard-based future we might find ourselves in.

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Evidence of different screen resolution for Nokia’s concept Windows Phone 7 (or a new chassis)

With the help of advanced CSI forensics (a.k.a. fixed ratio marquee in Photoshop), I have found evidence to suggest the oddities of the home screen tiles on Nokia’s concept Windows Phone 7 is not a mistake.

Looking back at the catalog of Nokia smartphones, one commonality stood out – many of them have the screen resolution of 640×360. In fact, Nokia coined this resolution “nHD” and as far as I know is not used by any other brand on the market.

Now, using the ratio of that resolution which is 1.77 (or more commonly known as 16:9), placing it over the Windows Phone 7 home screen yields an interesting but not unfamiliar result – four tiles plus a bit.

What might be happening here is that Nokia, who like all other OEMs, are trying to minimize costs in adding a new model to their product line. It’s common for them to utilize existing components such as a screen and display sensors and. It would not be surprising if Nokia is reusing nHD as they’re familiar with the technology and its manufacturing process.

In response to criticism that these images are “rough designs”, I would say for a CAD model as polished and as detailed as Nokia’s to be shown to the public at a press event, it’s extremely unlikely the designer would base it off “hunches”. To that effect, the designer simply don’t add and place elements as they wish, instead, they would be given quite specific if not scientific measurements on all the elements that make up the hardware’s exterior.

Having said everything about the Nokia concept device, let me be very clear, there is nothing wrong with this phone. In fact, I quite like the bold colors and clean lines on the industrial design. However, it’s specifications can have ripple-like impact on the rest of the ecosystem which up and till now was evangelized to be consistent.

We’ll have to see when the specifications of this device is revealed if it’ll stay that way.

Update: Commenter “Juan Camargo V.” also raises an interesting point that this might be part of a hardware specifications refresh from Microsoft coming at Mobile World Congress 2011. iPhone 4’s qHD (960×540) also has an aspect ratio of 1.77 which makes it a contender for a future-proof resolution. Nevermind that, iPhone 4 has a 960×640 (ratio of 1.5) screen.

Update 2 (16/02): At the Mobile World Congress 2011 financial analyst briefing, Microsoft’s Andy Lees, SVP of Mobile Communications Business, said in response to how quickly OEMs can design a WP7 device,

It varies a lot by OEM. If you were to start completely from scratch, it takes a while, 18 months. But, you don’t often need to start from scratch. If you’re asking specifically with Nokia, Nokia has lots of components that they can use in order to get a much faster start.

Nokia WP7: first an extra tile, now an extra button

I may have miscommunicated the issue the first time around, but there is yet another interesting aspect of Nokia’s concept Windows Phone 7 device. This time, an extra hardware button on the right side of the phone sits alongside the per-Microsoft-specified camera and volume buttons.

On its side, the button’s icon appears to be a lock which would indicate this is a screen lock button. This of course would be in addition to the power button that already exists at the top of the device that all current Windows Phone 7 devices use to turn off and lock the screen.

Although this might be a welcomed featured to some, what worries me is that little things like this will have a butterfly effect on the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem in the long-term if the hardware and software diverge, like Android has. Having said that, fragmentation doesn’t seem to affect market share but it will muddy the platform experience.

Of course I understand these images are concepts, but you would agree they’re not sketches on the back of a napkin either. There’s an attention to detail in these 3D models that takes it over the line of “a rough design”. There’s no reason not to believe this is what Nokia intends to manufacturer and apparently they have the power to do so.

The Jelly Reef: cutest Microsoft Surface game to date

Since most people probably don’t come across a Microsoft Surface very often (hopefully that will change with the new Surface), it’s easy to miss some of the cool applications and games being developed for it, like the one above, The Jelly Reef.

Designed by a group of final year Dutch arts students, the project was commissioned as multiplayer game for the lobby of the Dutch Game Garden, a game development center. The premise of the game is to use your fingers to manipulate the flow of water which carries jellyfishes across the underwater terrain, avoiding obstacles and harm on the way. The mellow look and feel of the game easily makes it one of the cutest Surface games I’ve seen.

If you’re interested in how they put the game together, one of the project’s members is putting together a series of blog posts about developing the game. Also, if you ever get the chance to play with a Surface like the ones at the Microsoft campus, be sure to check out some of the neat games on it. Although I can’t remember the name of it Galactic Alliance, I highly recommend the 4-player cooperative tower-defence style space shooter.

Why the Nokia Windows Phone 7 concept is fake (update: now official, very concerning)

An image posted by Engadget today portrayed to be concepts of an upcoming Nokia Windows Phone 7 device should be taken with a grain of salt. From afar, it’s easy to be captivated by the elegant industrial design, but a closer look reveals a glaring mistake that results in one of two possibilities, the more likely of which is that it’s a fake not an final design.

The mistake is actually quite obvious once you see it. There are too many tiles on the home screen. Due to Microsoft’s specification of the screen resolution (and indirectly aspect ratio), only slightly less than 4 tiles should be visible. The Nokia concept contradicts this by showing even fraction of the fifth (with the top of the tiles lining up with the arrow). This would only be possible if the display proportions are not the same.

Although it’s still possible this concept may still be authorized by Nokia, it just means that this is not a very realistic representation of the phone. Sloppy, as some might put it. The real phone should either a little fatter or shorter.

The other less likely but more frightening possibility is that this is real and would actually mark the beginning of Windows Phone 7’s fragmentation. For everyone’s sake I hope it’s the former.

Update: This concept photo plus another newer one still showing the extra tile is being shown off by Nokia at Mobile World Congress 2011.

My argument remains that this does not look like a “rough” design. Most of the elements appear to be designed to specification, thus if these concepts are accurate would be very concerning for the Windows Phone 7 ecosystem. Does fragmentation begin at screen resolution?

First Microsoft Signature PC comes to Australia with back-to-school Dell XPS 14 laptop offer

The newly relaunched Microsoft Signature brand has made the huge leap across the Pacific Ocean tonight as the first bloat-free and performance-optimized PC is now available on sale exclusively from the Australian online Microsoft Store.

The back-to-school “Student PC offer”, although available to anyone for purchase, is a Dell XPS 14 laptop with Windows 7 Ultimate and Office Home and Student 2010. What you lack in ability to customize the specifications, Microsoft makes up for with a sizable 34% discount off the recommended retail price – worth a cool $500.

The PC’s secret sauce of course is Microsoft Signature, an effort by the company’s OEM group to improve the out-of-box experience by primarily reducing the number of pre-loaded third party application. Although it’s unfortunate that the PC ecosystem has come to this point where a “standard” PC experience is so poor, Microsoft needs to intervene, at least there’s a choice.

If you do choose to take up on nice offer, hurry as it’s only available while stocks last.