Monthly Archives: February 2012

Delivering on “Seamless computing” vision: presentation app for Surface, Windows & iPad

It’s always nice to see conceptual software demos realized with shipping code. Half a year after the Australian software firm nsquared demoed their visionary “seamless computing” concept at Microsoft Teched Australia 2011, they’re now delivering on their vision with a solution that aims to make group collaboration easier.

Their new presenter software allows people in a meeting room to collaboratively create, annotate and deliver presentations. It runs on a combination of Microsoft Surface (1st and 2nd generation), Windows PCs (laptop and slate), OS X and iPads devices for maximum compatibility.

As an example of what it can do, files can be flicked from device to device, presentations can be created by grabbing images, slides and pages from existing documents, and content can appear on any of the assigned projector screens by a simple drag and drop gesture.

What I find comforting about the video of their product above is the ability to browse the filesystem for real documents and files, with an interesting A-Z carousel view. No this isn’t a scripted demo where the right files always magically appear at the right time, this interacts with real pictures and real Office documents, as you would.

Although this isn’t quite feasible for most home users, nsquared says they’ve already received interest from a number of businesses and large enterprises to deploy this in offices around Australia and the US.

Visual Studio 11’s secret weapon for designers: PowerPoint Storyboarding

During today’s sneak peek announcement of the monochromatic Visual Studio 11 Beta to be released next week, Microsoft slipped in a new screenshot of the PowerPoint Storyboarding tool that will ship as part of Visual Studio 11.

The tool which ships as an add-in for PowerPoint will allow designers and developers to quickly mock up wireframe-based prototypes of their application using familiar presentation tools and animations, along with a host of UI controls which they can drag and drop to replicate a real application experience.

Windows desktop, Windows Phone mobile and web applications are all supported with a range of templates and controls suited to each scenario.

In contrast to Expression Blend SketchFlow which builds XAML-ready prototypes with real controls stylized to look like sketches, I think PowerPoint is a much easier tool for earlier stages of the design process. The fact that Expression Blend is dog slow, difficult to use and makes crappy XAML doesn’t help its cause either.

Since it’s been revealed internally at Microsoft they use PowerPoint to prototype designs, it’s no surprise a need for such an add-in exists. The only catch however is that so far all signs of the availability of this tool has been tied to the enterprise-focused “Team Foundation Server” edition of Visual Studio.

The designer in me hopes this tool will make its way down to all SKUs of Visual Studio 11 since it’ll make our job of making beautiful Windows applications that much easier.

Side note: I’m holding my breath to see the availability of .NET Framework 4.5 Beta which was also announced today. WPF applications like my MetroTwit would benefit from performance and memory usage improvements but the word is still out whether it will support all the current OSes – XP, Vista and 7.

Microsoft offers touch guidance to Windows 8 Metro-app developers

Since Metro-style applications for Windows 8 should all have a touch-first experience, Microsoft has recently released a brief but useful “Windows 8 Touch Guidance” documentation on how developers should think about touch in their applications.

The four-page PDF touches (pun) on some interesting touch characteristics of Windows 8 – including but not limited to drag-down/up for select/deselect, semantic zoom and panning and swipe from edge.

The document also establishes some useful guidelines on content and interactive element placements for different grip positions – landscape and portrait, and positions – one hand, two hand, rested on surface or on stand. Through user research, Microsoft has also found a 7x7mm touch target optimal for the average index finger width of 11mm.

If you’re designing or developing a Metro-style app for Windows 8, make sure to add this document to your required reading list.

Dear Microsoft, please listen to the people who designed your new Windows 8 logo

I think it’s fair to say opinion is still divided on the new Windows 8 logo, or at least Microsoft’s version. As I briefly noted in an update to my original post, it turns out the logo the prestigious design studio Pentagram proposed to Microsoft is actually different enough that I think it warrants some extra attention.

As they say, design is in the details.

The issue in question comes to light from the Pentagram website where they exhibit and explain their work with Microsoft on redesigning the Windows logo. One paragraph in particular highlights one of the fundamental features of their proposal, perspective.

The perspective drawing is based on classical perspective drawing, not computerized perspective. The cross bar stays the same size no matter the height of the logo, which means it has to be redrawn for each time it increases in size, like classic typography.

Even though the crossbars are just a line, the end result is a logo that is unique at different “sizes”. In retrospect, this is actually quite an interesting and thoughtful design choice that demonstrates extra attention to detail to an otherwise simple shape.

“Now why does this matter” I hear you ask. This matter because the logo Microsoft has shown off and since trademarked on the 17th of February 2012 does not inherit this feature as the trademark and following example illustrate.

Windows 8 logo difference

To be completely anal-retentive, Pentagram’s design is a single trapezoid (trapezium) overlaid with a fixed-size crossbar, whereas Microsoft’s design is four trapezoids arranged in a two-by-two grid. There’s scale and perspective in Microsoft’s crossbar when there shouldn’t be.

Even if you disregard the difference in principle, the logo will look very different when applied to the all the various print and online materials when Windows 8 is released.

I don’t expect Microsoft to pull a GAP in their rebranding exercise and go back to the drawing board – it seems like they are already committed down this path. But I hope they’ll come to accept the one aesthetically-witty aspect of Pentagram’s proposal to heart. After all, they’re the experts Microsoft probably paid millions for.

So about that Windows 8 logo…

So there you have it, the Windows 8 logo. I was wrong about it being a fake. It’s very much a real, thing. I’m just going to quote from the popular and respected “Brand New” corporate identities blog which I wholeheartedly agree with.

With Windows Like These Who Needs Enemies?

…(Segoe) works best as a user interface ingredient but as the typography on a logo, it’s extremely underwhelming — pair it with the worst rendition yet of the Windows window and you have a real loser. I’m not saying the previous Windows icons were good, but they had enough abstraction (and gradients and shadows and highlights) to at least look techie and Microsoft-ey, but this “minimal” approach looks like, well, a window. A window in a $400-a-month studio apartment rental with beige carpeting and plastic drapes. Moving away from the more flag-like icon seems like abandoning two decades of equity — crappy equity, but equity nonetheless.

Since I know it’s unreasonable to suggest going back to the drawing board (although not impossible), here are some minor tweaks I would suggest to make it a little easier to swallow.

Update: The design studio behind the new logo Pentagram posted a video showing the logo being animated. I must admit in animation, it does further drive the message of “motion”, but I have to wonder how applicable it is to common uses like the keyboard/hardware button and bitmap graphics on screen.

Windows 8 Transparency from Pentagram on Vimeo.

They also note the “crossbar” is actually not in perspective on purpose, which is an interesting design choice as it would mean the logo doesn’t scale at all, but has to be re-rendered for every size.

The perspective drawing is based on classical perspective drawing, not computerized perspective. The cross bar stays the same size no matter the height of the logo, which means it has to be redrawn for each time it increases in size, like classic typography.

The crossbar posted on their site actually differs to the one posted by Microsoft which leads me to believe they are already running into the scaling issues already. Will the real Windows 8 logo please stand up.

Cats & dogs: Microsoft’s charity dog calendar

Where there’s cats, there’s also dogs. Having wrote about the Cats of Microsoft Calendar, I feel morally obligated to give equal representation to canine friends and their Dogs of Microsoft calendar. Unlike your typical cat versus dog scenario however, both win for very noble causes.

The idea for a Microsoft dog calendar started in 2007 when employee Janna Harala was inspired to fundraise for a friend’s wife who was in need of a service dog. In the same year, she also broke the Guinness Book of World Records for the “largest Dog Biscuit in the World” with the help of Microsoft who owned the “largest oven in Washington”.

Since then, a volunteer team of Microsoft Finance Analysts, Program Managers, Portfolio Managers, Advisors and People Managers has taken on the role for dog-related funding events at Microsoft after the original employees left the company. Through various activities including but not limited to the dog calendar, they raise funds for Summit Assistance Dogs, an animal non-profit who train service dogs for people with disabilities.

In addition, some Microsoft employees also volunteer their time to raise and train service dogs themselves, including obedience training on the Microsoft Redmond campus. “One occasionally sees the green-vested dogs accompanying their foster parents as they go about their daily jobs on campus.

Having written about just a few of the fun employee-driven fundraising activities Microsoftees undertake, it comes as no surprise Microsoft recently announced they broke the record raising over $100 million of donations for nonprofits in 2011 with the company’s generous donation-matching policy.

With cats and dogs covered, I’m wondering if there are Microsoft calendars for more exotic pets, like a Sea-Monkeys of Microsoft calendar.