Monthly Archives: November 2011

Microsoft begins selling advertising for Skype

Since it closed acquisitions of Skype last month, Microsoft has taken the first steps to integrate its new baby into the extended family by switching over management of Skype’s client display advertising from third parties to its own. Can you feel the synergy in the air?

It should be noted Skype introduced advertising in its Windows and iPhone clients months before Microsoft’s acquisition however Skype had to partner with a variety of companies in various geographical regions to sell this very premium screen real-estate.

Up until very recently, Meebo was responsible for the US region which has since been replaced by Microsoft Advertising. Of course I expect other regions to soon make the transition too if Australia is any indication.

Last week, Microsoft Australia announced a joint venture with Nine Network to create Mi9, Australia’s largest digital ad network which will assume responsibility for advertising on NineMSN, Bing, XBOX, Hotmail and Messenger in Australia. It also stated, “in 2012 Skype advertising opportunities will also join the family.”

Now with over 35.8 million unique users and an impressive demographic profile in its portfolio, people who claimed advertising was a big factor in Microsoft’s decision was right on the money. Even Microsoft Advertising brags by advertising on MSN and Skype, advertisers can reach 35% of the entire online audience.

Suddenly the idea of in-call advertising no longer seems far fetched.

Musicians at Microsoft release 5th album for charity

Continuing the charitable theme of Microsoft employees for the annual October Employee Giving Program, here is another for-charity product of a few gifted volunteers – an album recorded by Microsoft musicians. The last thing I expected to see is “Microsoft” as a record label.

In its fifth-year running, “Musicians at Microsoft: Opening Windows, Volume 5″ is like the photobook equivalent for the musically-minded. Put together by works across many genres (rock, pop, electronic), it “is a compilation of work donated by Microsoft’s diverse community of musicians to support Music Aid Northwest.”

People can find the track listing and a preview of all the songs at cdbaby.com, Amazon and even iTunes. Priced at 0.99 a song and $9.99 for the whole album, all proceeds will be donated to charity.

Although there isn’t anything there for my tastes, it’s nice to see such a variety of hobby groups at Microsoft come together for charitable causes. I’m still on the hunt for the Microsoft cat calendar people.

Bing Australia drops out of beta, still crippled

You know it’s Australian because it’s got kangaroos. Bing Australia made a quiet announcement today that they’re officially out of beta. In the strictest sense, it means they’ve removed the “beta” tag from the logo and enabled a small set of value-add services to the previously barebones local search engine.

Although I believe many of these features were quietly rolled out to Bing Australia over the past year, the official Australian feature-set includes Social Search, homepage hotspots, Instant Answers, Enhanced Results, local results in Bing Maps, News Search, Bing Weather, Image Search and Video Search.

Whilst those might sound quite comprehensive, it’s only the tip of the Bing iceberg. You only need to go as far as to compare the “Explore” page from Bing US and Bing Australia to realize the gap.

Many of the missing features in Australia (and other non-beta markets like the UK) like shopping search, travel search and map apps is what makes Bing unique and special. It’s such a shame to see Bing not capitalize on their strong points in markets outside of the US.

According to the press release Mumbrella received, Bing Australia will be running a special HTML5 video background tomorrow on November 16th. I guess a pretty video can lessen the disappointment a little bit.

Death to banding: Windows Phone devs, please upgrade your apps to 32 BitsPerPixel

As a lover of pixels, I want to spread the word on the little known feature that Windows Phone 7.5 “Mango” introduced to fix color bandings in third party applications. Of course, there’s a catch – it’s opt-in for developers. Doh.

The magic attribute is BitsPerPixel="32" inside the App tag of WMAppManifest.xml.

On the Samsung Omnia 7, this attribute appears to enable a noise-based dithering algorithms that is applied to both brush and image resources. Since many Windows Phone apps are scarred by ugly bandings, I encourage all developers to apply and deploy this fix to their apps. The exception being video applications which get opt-in automatically.

Developers, make your Windows Phone applications beautiful. Join the fight against banding.

Universal Text Input: Microsoft Translator Labs’ web-based input method editor

For large parts of the world, not only is English not the primary language but the localized text is not even composed of Latin/Roman characters. Besides the fact that most IBM PC-standard keyboards only have Latin characters, it’s physically impractical to design one for languages such as Chinese with thousands of unique characters.

That’s where Input Method Editors, or IMEs, come in. Now an experimental Microsoft Translator Labs project “Universal Text Input” is beginning to port an IME to the web, independent of the operating system. Currently only a small set of languages are available: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Greek, Japanese and Russian.

It is worth noting Microsoft is not the first to do this, Google already has a transliteration IME available and integrated into many of its services. Both systems use a combination of Javascript that sends users’ characters to a JSON-powered web service that attempts to translate the Latin characters into the desired language. Both also offer a bookmarklet to enable this functionality on any website.

However, one difference in Microsoft’s system is that it also offers English as-you-type corrections. Unfortunately the latency to the web service makes it quite difficult to use fluidly.

Although desktop-based IMEs are already more advanced than both of these solutions with prediction algorithms, I anticipate web-based IMEs will have the upper hand in the near future when it comes to crowd-sourcing telemetry and updating its algorithms to become smarter the more people use it.

Flashlight-X for WP7: finally a real LED flashlight app

I came across this handy free Windows Phone 7 app over at xda-developers, “Flashlight-X” is one of the first real LED flashlight apps on the Windows Phone Marketplace. No flickering, no shutter focus, just an undisturbed stream of intense white light.

So how does it work? I asked Rafael Rivera to do some auditing for me and it turns out it doesn’t use the popular but undesirable video camera activation trick. Instead, it uses System.Reflection to access an undocumented portion of the Mango camera APIs to activate just the LED lamp, skipping the code handling actual video recording.

I didn’t know this was Marketplace-worthy, but it turns out so. I wonder what other API treasures lingers in uncharted territories.