Category Archives: blog

Putting together the pieces of Microsoft’s “big announcement” next Monday

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It might have been the day the Chrome OS is finally announced, but according to Robert Scoble, this was actually a timely stunt by Google in an attempt to steal some of the spotlight before what he claims to be a “big announcement” coming from Microsoft on Monday. Apparently he has seen and shot videos of it, but is not allowed to talk about. Let the speculation begin.

As it turns out, next Monday is not the ordinary first day of the week for Microsoft. On that day, Microsoft is kicking off it’s Worldwide Partner Conference 2009 in New Orleans and from just looking at the keynotes list, is nothing to be sneezed at. Long story short, it’s basically a who’s who list of Microsoft executives. However, this doesn’t actually help narrow down what the big announcement might be since almost every Microsoft division is represented extensively.

Potential announcements already on people’s minds include the announcement and subsequent availability of Windows 7 RTM code and pricing and licensing plans for Windows Azure, but this does not appear to be what Scoble is referring to.

Scoble made several comments in his Friendfeed post that provide clues to what the announcement is about. The first made a reference to “Microsoft’s 14 billion dollar business”. After tracking down Microsoft’s last quarterly financial results, they indeed have a $14 billion dollar business ($14.33bn to be exact) and that is the Microsoft Business Division.

Update: Some people have pointed out what Scoble meant is that Microsoft runs fourteen (14) billion-dollar (valued) businesses, which makes more sense grammatically. In which case, puts a dent in my speculation.

Whereas Windows falls under the Client division and Azure falls under the Server and Tools division (they have since merged as the platforms division, but remain separate in financial reports), the Microsoft Business Division among other (and obviously extremely profitable) initiatives is responsible for the Office suite.

The second clue Scoble provides is that it runs in a browser, Chrome and Firefox specifically, and at least witnessed being demoed in Firefox. Whilst it’s not impossible whatever this is is not a Silverlight application, I’m more inclined to guess it’s an AJAX web application.

To play devil’s advocate however, Scoble specifically refers to “part of the Microsoft announcement” runs in a Chrome and Firefox, which could be interpreted one of two ways. Either it is not entirely a web application or that it is not 100% compatible with Chrome and Firefox.

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To add a bit of seasoning to the salad mix if you will, Microsoft evangelist Keith Combs had been tweeting this week of some “secret Microsoft software”. Whilst I’m not sure if the two tweets are related to each other or related to this announcement, it appears at least one of the softwares would allow users to create content, which fits with the Office clue. If he is talking about the same software, why he doubts it might not work on Windows Server 2008 R2 remains a mystery. What Keith was referring to has since been revealled to be Expression Encoder Screen Capture.

Putting together all the clues, I’m going to speculate this is the public release of the Microsoft Office Web application that was announced back at PDC08, possibly with some new major features or capabilities that wasn’t demoed initially to take it above and beyond just Microsoft’s version of Google Docs. If it is indeed Office Web, it will certainly have to compete with the mindblowing collaboration features of Google Wave which sets the bar pretty high.

Nonetheless, there’s always the chance that I’m way off and it could be something complete different, but hey, that’s the price of admission for the speculative rollercoaster. 🙂

Update 2: Some people have provided me with more information that confirms the big announcement on Monday will be indeed Office Web application.

Update 3: Commenter “Bob” points out that the company that previously owned Office.com has recently changed their domain. Microsoft Office Web applications moving in? The plot thickens.

Update 4: It has been confirmed Keith wasn’t referring to the same thing as Scoble. The Office Web application prediction lives on nonetheless.

Windows 7 ISO Verifier, for your downloading pleasure

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Just between you and me, I’ve heard that one could obtain copies of Windows 7, including builds newer than the public betas, from some not-so-sanctioned sources. Of course I would know very little about how this works, but I understand that there is a process of verifying the integrity of files to ensure files are as described and have not been tampered with, however not everyone does this.

Leading up to the inevitable leak of the Windows 7 RTM build like a bottle of champagne shaken once too many times, I wanted to make this process of verifying file hashes even simpler by making it easy and convenient to generate and compare the hashes. With the help of Sven Groot, we came up with this little applet for your Windows 7 ISO verifying pleasure.

It couldn’t be any easier to use. Simple drag and drop an .ISO file onto this EXE, or double click on it and navigate to the file, then sit back and relax whilst it crunches the numbers. Once it generates a hash, it’ll compare it with a list of known and trustworthy hashes of ISOs to tell you exactly which build version and architecture it is known to be. This list will be updated live over the web so you won’t have to redownload the app.

Download the Windows 7 ISO Verifier (EXE, 253KB)

Disclaimer: Like most entrepreneurs, I take no responsibility for the consequence of using this application. The information is provided only as a guide and cannot be used as evidence in an internet argument.

Update: As a few users have noted, this only works for English versions of Windows 7 ISOs so far.

Update 2: Added support for official retail US English RTM ISOs.

Update 3: With the wider public release of Windows 7, this tool is no longer kept up to date with the many and numerous versions of Windows 7 SKUs and languages. It is recommended you take personal care when using any ISOs.

Get paid to talk about PC operating systems

strickmanrippsNeedless to say, there’s a lot of people here who are genuinely passionate about operating systems and generate a lot of constructive feedback, which is why I think this offer is going to be hard to top.

In short, Strickman Ripps, a people-casting and marketing research company is looking for people who have voiced concerns about operating systems regarding features and functions in the past and are offering $100 for a short 20 minute video interview over the web. Enough money to preorder a particular OS you might be after I might add.

Here’s the offer in full.

Strickman Research, a marketing research firm, has contacted us [or in this case, me] for assistance in reaching out to you [in this case, the plural you] with this invitation to participate in a paid research study. If you qualify for the study, they would ask for no more than 20 minutes of your time and would pay you $100 US:

What are we researching?

We are looking for people who have left comments on various blogs and forums about operating system software they’ve used. We are looking for people who have previously “published” their suggestions online and expressed their wishes for certain features or functions they would like to see in future versions of various PC operating systems [the Windows 7 Taskforce qualifies perfectly]. Such comments can run the gamut from very technical to very broad, for instance comments like: “I wish it would boot faster.” or “How can I share files between my home computers?” would suffice. The wishes and suggestions can be implied in a question where one is hoping to find a solution to a particular problem.

We are looking for comments published online between 1/2004 – 12/2008. More recent assessments of newer operating systems, published in 2009, may also be pertinent.

How do I participate?

If you left a written comment on a blog, forum or informational website which was, broadly speaking, a suggestion or wish for a certain feature or function you would like to see improved in your computer’s operating system, please find your specific comment or comments online and paste the link/s in an email to us at [email protected].

Please include:

1. The link to your comment/s including the date when it/they was/were posted
2. Your username on that/those site/s
3. Full name
4. Email address
5. Phone number
6. Location (City/State/Country)
7. Best time to be reached

We are looking for participants age 19 and older in, or very near the following regions: UK, France, Germany, Australia, USA.

What should I expect?

Once we have received your email, and reviewed your comment/s, a representative from Strickman Research will contact you by phone to ask you a few qualifying questions. This call will take no more than 10 minutes of your time. If you qualify (95% of applicants should qualify) we will schedule you for a recorded internet video chat at your convenience that would take no more than 20 minutes of your time and for which you would be paid $100 US in the form of a VISA cash card.

What if I don’t qualify?

If you do not meet the criteria for our research study, we will most likely let you know in the first few minutes of our phone call. We will not trouble you any further and we will not store or share you contact information.

I know this might sound too good to be true, but I have since come across one person I trust who is already involved and assures me that this is indeed legitimate. Furthermore if you’re worried about the @live.com email address, the official company twitter page confirms that these email addresses are indeed real and provides further evidence of this research study. Those who can read between the lines can probably figure out what this is all about too.

If you have any personal concerns, feel free to discuss them in the comments or simply ignore this offer.

Disclaimer: In the spirit of transparency, I have been informed that I do receive a commission for every successful participant but I can safely say that it did not affect my decision to support this project since I made the decision without knowledge of any commissions.

Update: Added clarifications regarding age and region requirements.

Kodu: first impressions and the art of simplicity

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The Kodu game by Microsoft Research is out today and I’d encourage anyone with an XBOX 360 with access to Indie Games on the XBOX Marketplace to check it out. Simply put, it’s a sandbox game that allows you to make games using a straightforward but capable visual programming language. By definition it’s not the Little Big Planet for the XBOX 360, but if that makes you want to try it, then let it be.

I’ve been toying with Kodu for a couple of days now and I can’t help imaginging almost everyone will have a different experience with the game because it is so unique and depending on what you want to get out of it. As someone who didn’t take the time to build anything in the game, purely playing other people’s levels has been the ultimate “why didn’t I think of that” experience for me.

kodugames

The variety of games that the creators and testers have already made is pretty astounding, ranging from a classic story-driven side-scroller to a multi-hole golf game. Even though I have no motivation to create a level from scratch myself, being able to dive into the “source code” of other games is extremely compelling since I’m one who loves to figure out how things work.

I think it’s quite amusing to recognize that in some ways Kodu, a games-building platform, is built on top of Microsoft XNA, another games-building platform.

Furthermore, I want to share with everyone the amazing simple art style of Kodu which I think is the perfect testament to the game’s shallow learning curve as part of its goal to be accessible by kids to learn about the fundamentals of programming.

Continue reading

Microsoft TechEd Australia attendees to receive free HP Mini netbook with Windows 7

hpminiwin7If any Aussies out there wasn’t entirely sure of going to the Microsoft TechEd Australia conference on the Gold Coast this year or not, then here’s an offer to nitro-boost your thought process a little. Microsoft Australia is going to be hosting the largest hands-on Windows 7 evaluation in the world by offering each paying attendee with one of 2,300 HP Mini netbook preloaded with Windows 7 for free.

From a freebie perspective, it’s difficult to imagine anything better. Whilst no person can ever have enough backpacks, drink bottles and glossy printed materials, a netbook on the other hand is not only fun but practical.

The particular netbook on offer is a HP Mini 2140 notebook which has actually been discontinued by HP just recently, but still packs a punch. It features an Intel Atom N270 processor, 160GB of storage, 10.1 inch (16×9) LED display. Microsoft will be preloading the latest public build of Windows 7 at the time (in September so presumably RTM) and attendees will be able to not only gain hands-on experience before the product launch, but also experience it on a netbook-class system, where it is said to perform very well.

techedFrom a conference perspective, this is also a smart move on Microsoft’s behalf to optimize the infrastructure necessary for hosting a large-scale event like TechEd. Attendees will be able to use the wireless connectivity to participate in collaborative development activities, download hand-out materials, presentations and communicate with other attendees using the webcam. However from experience the wireless networks are usually already-strained at an event like this, it’d be interesting to see how it will cope with every attendee potentially accessing the network wirelessly at the same time.

Of course, no freebie comes without a moral dilemma. At the conference, recipients of the netbook will be given the choice to receive the device as a gift or a loan. Those who do not need a netbook device can use the machine for the duration of the conference, after which it will be donated to the community sector through a local Microsoft initiative, On My Way, aimed at helping disadvantaged Australians develop technology skills.

To be eligible for this offer, attending must hold a paid registration. Unfortunately, this excludes sponsors, sponsor free tickets, exhibitors, volunteers, Microsoft staff (full-time and contingent), nor any delegate who has received a complimentary ticket (excluding non-Microsoft speakers).

The best Windows Mobile concepts you’ve never seen

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Chinese Microsoft enthusiast blog LiveSino.net today posted a bunch of links to some interesting portfolios by a handful of Chinese designers who works at the Microsoft Advanced Technology Center (ATC) Studios in Beijing. What many people don’t know is that the ATC has been largely responsible for the user experience design of Windows Mobile. This however is no longer the case as WM 6.5 was their last project, but up and until now, they’ve been busy conceptualizing the future of Windows Mobile. Most of those concepts have never surface in public before, until now.

Out of all the portfolios linked, one stands out as the juiciest. Teng Lei, a user experience designer at the ATC recently blogged about a new portfolio by Robin Zhu (not yet launched) who appears to also work at the ATC. What appears to be a teaser quickly turns into an enormous gallery of high resolution clippings from Robin’s portfolio which showcases some extraordinary Windows Mobile concepts he’s designed over the years.

Here’s a select few I found the most interesting, but I would encourage everyone to visit the original blog post to see the whole range.

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With these amazing UX concepts, one wonders, where did it all go wrong for Windows Mobile?

Update: The author of these concepts, Robin, clarifies in the comments that not all of these concepts were designed for Windows Mobile but designed for mobile user experiences in general.