Category Archives: blog

Microsoft Australia launches Visual Studio LightSwitch with Sydney office buildings lightshow

The guys over at Microsoft Australia are just having too much fun with their marketing campaigns. Australian tech blog TechAU noted the company took control of the lights in two Sydney office buildings for an interesting light show to promote the launch of Visual Studio LightSwitch.

Taking the product name seriously, it appears at least several hundred office lights of the two buildings combined were electronically controlled to form building-sized pixel-based displays. Of course there’s also the possibility they trained monkeys to switch on and off lights in sequence.

Either way, they were able to display several short animations including a stick figure jumping between the two buildings before displaying “LightSwitch” spelled out letter by letter.

Sprinkles of Microsoft’s cancelled “Courier” project now live in Clibe, an app for iPad

The product of Microsoft’s cancelled Courier skunksworks project may never see the light of day, but a new app for no other than the iPad called “Clibe” might just be the closest thing you can find today. Although Microsoft’s not behind the slick looks, there is however a subtle connection to Courier.

When I first came across “Clibe”, I was immediately struck by how much it reminded me of the Courier concept images and videos (emphasis concept). From the way how the digital ink looked to the concept based around journals, I knew there was more to this than meets the eye. And there is.

It turns out the company behind the app is Visere, a digital creative agency who has done contractual design work in the past. You’ve probably worked it out by now that Microsoft was one of their clients.

Since you can never be too sure, I later found the last piece of the puzzle in the resume of Adam Wulf, a director there who claims “our work includes Microsoft’s Courier user experience”. Bingo.

Although Clibe doesn’t do nearly as much as what was envisioned for Courier (which I believe to have been overly exaggerated), it lives within the confines of the iPad, it does take one of the ideas and execute it very well – digital journals.

As an example of how refined it is, users can customize the cover of their journals and even publish them online as an interactive HTML5-powered book (a portrayed feature of Courier too).

With Courier under their belt, I’m confident these can make “Clibe” even better over time. Especially with some of the clipping ideas that’s yet to be integrated, it would be a shame to see some great ideas go to waste. The beta app is free for a limited time.

Bing Image Archive, now with HTML5 video support

Due to popular demand from no less than three people (including myself), I’ve spent a better part of the night adding video support to my (actually) popular Bing Image Archive and now it’s available for your viewing pleasure.

As some people might have saw, a couple of weeks ago Bing announced they will be sprinkling some HTML5 videos to their daily cycle of picturesque background images. Since, there’s been a total of 3 such video loops including one of autumn leaves today.

In case you missed the previous ones, you can now see the Milky Way video and Autumn in Grand Teton National Park video.

Making browsers play video turned out to be a lot harder than expected. Besides obvious format incompatibilities, it’s frustrating Internet Explorer 9, Firefox and Chrome all exhibit unique quirks when handling HTML5 video. It’s no wonder why the HTML5 version of Bing has been delayed time and time again.

Forza Motorsport 4 wets my appetite for “Better with Kinect” games lineup

If you asked people about Kinect, most people would probably think of games that involve a lot of exaggerated body movements like jumping, dodging and waving arms like an inflatable tube men. While Kinect has proven its value with arcade games, its just beginning to reveal its more serious side.

Forza Motorsport 4, one of the first games in the “Better with Kinect” lineup is here to prove its more than just hand-waving gimmicks.

Of course it helps to have a great XBOX 360 game to build upon. Forza 4 is a spectacular racing game hands down. Like one expects from the franchise, it’s the game with the graphics and audio you would be proud to show off to non-gamers as a technological demonstration of state-of-the-art gaming realism.

As a game, it’s hard to resist driving petrol-gobbling sports cars on scenic racetracks all around the world at speeds that would most likely kill you in real life. Even though Forza’s trademark driving assists helps casual driving gamers like myself from spinning out of control at every corner, for the moments when you do crash, assessing the damage you dealt to the body of priceless cars is almost rewarding in a weird way.

With the foundations of a great game in place, the Kinect integration is like the icing on a cake. Granted the three main areas of Kinect integration – AutoVista, controller-free driving and head tracking are not all equally sweet, there’s enough substance to make Kinect owners appreciate the game even more.

AutoVista is the interactive equivalent to a car showroom in Forza 4. Using the Kinect, one can simply walk around a car (or tilt your head) to explore gorgeous high-resolution renderings for 24 prestigious cars at launch and more from DLCs in the future.

Compared to the controller, interacting with commentary spots is a little more difficult since it requires you to actually hold an arm with accuracy (an issue with many Kinect games), some Kinect-only gestures like opening a door, the trunk and pressing the horn on a steering wheel are details to be appreciated.

For those who have always wondered what $1 million car’s horn sounds like, Forza 4 with Kinect can satisfy that craving for just the fraction of the cost.

From the showroom to the race track, Kinect allows three racing modes: quick race, hot laps and split-screen versus side-by-side with a friend. After driving a couple of laps with the Kinect, it’s obvious why the game’s campaign mode can only be played with the controller.

Even though the game recommends you to sit, the hand sensing works just as well standing up as well. As both acceleration and deceleration is controlled automatically, rotating the imaginary steering wheel using two hands or even one hand is reasonably accurately reflected in the game.

It took a few laps to get used to but I’ve since mastered the art of holding an imaginary steering wheel with no resistance or feedback. It brings back childhood memories of imaging I was flying by stretching out my arms. Oh how naive I was.

Lastly, the most subtle Kinect integration is also the best in my opinion – head tracking. When enabled (oddly not on by default) and driving with the controller, directing your view ever so slightly to the left and right pans the camera too. This works in both in-car and out.

Because it’s naturally intuitive for drivers to be aware of the vehicles around them and to change the angle of vision at corners, the head tracking provides a subtle hint of refined realism, even if it might not make a noticeable difference in the lap time. I actually think I tackle corners better because of this.

Since the panning effect has to be exaggerated for a TV display, I assume the larger the display the more engaging it is (I played on a 40″ sitting about 1.5m away).

Looking beyond, the Kinect integration in Forza 4 is what wets my appetite for the future of “Better with Kinect” – great games with an extra layer of Kinect icing.

With motion-based gaming firmly established into the minds of casual gamers, there’s still a lot of unexplored potential for the technology to be used as a companion in many genres of hardcore games. Undoubtedly there will be a fair share of failed experimentations too.

As a patriotic PC gamer, I’ve never seen any obvious advantages of console gaming, until now. Even with the Kinect for Windows SDK in the wild, the sensor’s minimum distance requirement makes any PC gaming integration impractical. Any future cross-platform game that’s “Better with Kinect” is definitely going to make me have to think twice.

Microsoft awarded trademark for retail store design

If you were looking to sell computers in a room with four curved tabletop and walls of seamless video screens, be careful, Microsoft might come after you with their Microsoft Store “trade dress” trademark registration 4036534 as of three days ago.

It was only two years ago Gizmodo leaked a comprehensive design document with sketched plans for a Microsoft Store. A few months open, the real thing showed up in Arizona. Now, 14 stores (open and planned) are scattered all around the US.

Interestingly, Microsoft almost missed their re-approval application by a day having been refused its original application on the 15th of February 2011. A response was required within 6 months to avoid abandoning the application. Like a high school student, the response was submitted a day before on the 14th of August. Turns out even lawyers procrastinate.