Monthly Archives: August 2011

Windows 8 Explorer gets a ribbon, everybody gets a ribbon

I’m still reserving judgement on the ribbon UI in Windows 8’s Explorer application until I can spend some time using it. Nevertheless I can still appreciate a ribbon when I see one, a real one.

Thanks to a heads up from Richard Burte, Ilana Smith, an Aussie (oi oi oi) Microsoft designer who works on the design team responsible for the Explorer ribbon, posted a photo teasing some of the 600 ribbons she had made for an internal event with the words “Windows Explorer” printed on.

According to Ilana, if the real thing is any indication, it was in popular demand.

Green Button makes Pixar’s RenderMan concept on Windows Azure a reality

At last year’s Professional Developers Conference 2010, Microsoft partnered with Pixar to show off a fundamentally significant proof of concept for Windows Azure by taking the industry-leading RenderMan software to the cloud. Less than a year later, the concept is now a reality with production ready code.

Speaking at Microsoft TechEd Australia 2011, Dave Fellows of the Green Button, a New Zealand software company that specializes in cloud services is helping Pixar port their rendering software to Windows Azure. RenderMan Cloud Services currently in beta testing and will be available generally soon.

The company which actually shares its roots in Weta Digital saw the possibility to sell extra data center capacity to “spike workloads” at the conclusion of production for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It was later approached by Microsoft which shifted their attention to Windows Azure.

Green Button now partners with many software vendors to offer cloud computing integration into their app with an interesting shared revenue model, which Pixar is also part of. Although the RenderMan web interface is targeted at small-scale 3D projects, they’ve also built more specialized tools for professional studios.

Since render projects are a great example of a “spiked workload” with intense computing requirements for a limited time, RenderMan which was previously out of reach to many smaller scale 3D projects can now be more affordable on Windows Azure. A demo scene which usually would have 30 minutes to render was rendered in 25 seconds on 360 cores for just 30 cents.

The next time you see a feature film or photorealistic CAD model which RenderMan is behind so many already, there’s a chance it may have been rendered in the cloud, powered by Windows Azure.

nsquared demos “seamless computing” prototype at TechEd Australia 2011

An Australian software development company specializing in Surface applications took the spotlight of the Microsoft TechEd Australia 2011 developer keynote today with a pretty compelling “seamless computing” demo utilization the whole deck of Microsoft platforms including Windows Phone 7, Surface, Windows 7, Kinect and Silverlight.

The demo features a scenario where an architect is working on a house design project and needs to find a replacement part for a door handle that is no longer available. To visualize the change, they utilize a system that brings together the phone, a tablet, an interactive surface and gestures working in unity.

Although Microsoft is known to feature such integrated experiences in many of their concept vision videos and ads, seeing a live demo (albeit scripted in some areas) with commercially available hardware and platform tools is still very satisfying. With the increasing attention on NFC, I’m optimistic scenarios like this aren’t too far away from mainstream adoption.

Update: One notable outcome of this project is that Microsoft and nsquare are going to be giving away the source code of the whole solution to universities (and others) for user experience education purposes.

Microsoft TechEd Australia 2011 kicks off with two keynotes and geek stories

Finally, developers and IT professionals no longer have to argue about the focus of the TechEd Australia keynote.

This year, Microsoft Australia trialed an interesting new hybrid keynote format where IT pros and developers take separate keynotes first and come together for a combined “general” keynote later. From early impressions, it seemed to satisfied both crowds.

The theme for this year’s event is showing “geek” pride. To set the tone, Australian comedian Adam Spencer introduced a host of interesting speakers from a range of backgrounds – film maker, maker of Cochlear implants, children’s book writer and the managing director of Microsoft Australia to share their personal geek stories.

The most memorable of which was Adam writing incorrect answers to a surprise maths test in grade 2 which a popular kid in class copied, only to erase and correct it after the kid handed the results in. Little did the other kid know the answers were all off by 20.

Does anyone else have an interesting geek origin story?

Microsoft ad showcases sweet Windows, Windows Phone, Windows Live & System Center synergy

It feels like just the right amount of time since we’ve seen one of these feel-good promotional videos from Microsoft. The latest, called the “Microsoft Flexible Workstyle Ad”, would easily take the trophy for the most products featured in a single video.

The cast of honors include several Windows 7 tablets and desktops, Windows Live SkyDrive, Lync Communicator, Microsoft RoundTable, Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 Slate, Office 2010 Broadcast Slideshow, LG Quantum Windows Phone 7, Samsung Focus and System Center 2010.

On a lighter note, it’s kind of funny the only thing that stands out in the video as not realistic are the overwhelming lens flares.

Update: The video has since been removed by Microsoft, for reasons beyond me.

Socialite: Microsoft’s social client for Windows 8?

I don’t normally pay too much attention to what applications appear on my Facebook news feed but recently “Socialite” caught my eye for no other reason than an interesting icon. Digging deeper, this otherwise generic application placeholder reveals an intriguing connection to Windows 8.

A useful feature of Facebook Applications is the ability to view who of your friends use the application. In this case, it provides an invaluable context.

Out of the 393 currently active monthly users reported by Facebook, the 10 people I can see using the application and the listed developer of the application are all Microsoft employees who work in the Windows organization and presumably on Windows 8. Even the President of the Windows group, Steven Sinofsky, is also a user. However due to interesting circumstances (he blocked me on Facebook), I can’t verify this personally.

It was only days ago Mary Jo Foley revisited the “[email protected] Twitter application shown briefly during the Windows 8 demo at the D9 Conference. Although Socialite is also the name of a Mac social application, it should imply a much broader reach than just Facebook.

As the social integration in Windows Phone 7 is proving to be a practical and useful differentiator of the platform, it would make a lot of sense for Microsoft to bring similar functionality into Windows 8 as well, and Socialite might be at the heart of it. Having said that, hopefully there’s still room for MetroTwit.