Hands-on with the Zune HD

Posted on August 11, 2009. Filed under: Gadget News | Tags: , |

By Peter Ha, Tech crunch

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Can Microsoft’s latest Zune, the Zune HD, take down the king? It depends on which king you’re talking about. As it stands, the iPod Touch is a whole different beast because of the App Store. What Microsoft has done with the Zune HD is nothing short of spectacular, but who is it really competing with? My BlackBerry can play videos and show me pictures taken on a recent trip. The HTC Hero and/or myTouch 3G can stream music from the likes of last.fm or Slacker. I can download MP3s from my iPhone. Everything the Zune HD does, I’ve been able to do with a slew of different devices that I already own.

You see, the features that the Zune team has been touting don’t interest me much. I don’t really care to see an artist’s bio, their pictures or anything of that nature. Sure, the modified IE browser is nice and works great, but I want to know how deeply integrated the Zune HD is going to be with other Microsoft devices like the Xbox 360. I don’t need to fork over extra cash for an HD dock to stream 720p content onto my TV. I can already do that through my Xbox 360, FiOS and whatever content is stored on my NAS. Tell me what the plans are for the next six months. Tell me when the damn thing is actually going to launch.

With that being said, please enjoy the short video that I took of the Zune HD in action. One thing I failed to capture was the on-screen keyboard. MS has taken a different twist, which may or may not be unique to the Zune HD, but it’s different than most other on-screen keyboards that I’ve seen. Unlike the iPhone (or any other device that lacks a physical keyboard) when you’re tapping away at the Zune HD’s on-screen keyboard; characters don’t pop up by themselves. Tap a character and its neighboring chums to the right and left will create a small arch with the center character popping up just a little more than the rest. It seemed to work well, but the firmware isn’t final so I’m unable to fully comment.

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Internet Explorer 8 becomes a gentleman today

Posted on August 11, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Tech News | Tags: , , |

By Lee Mathews, Downloadsquad

Internet Explorer 8

Back in July, Microsoft detailed a few changes that were “coming soon” to the Internet Explorer 8 installer. In a nutshell, the new version was designed to be less…well…presumptuous.

Previously, the installer’s Express mode would automatically set IE as your default browser without so much as an “excuse me.” That’s no longer the case. As stated in the official blog post, “IE will never install, or become the default browser without your explicit consent.”

In a nutshell, if you’re the click-first-and-read-warnings-later type, you no longer have to worry about your browser of choice getting hijacked during a Windows Update-related mishap. The change is all part of Microsoft’s commitment to user choice and control. Stop snickering.

Clearly Microsoft has learned not to make the same mistake as Corbin Dallas.

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Windows 7 activation crackers undeterred by Microsoft’s muscle-flexing

Posted on August 6, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , |

By Lee Mathews, Downloadsquad.com

windows7activated-vagfew435

Last week Microsoft and Lenovo went tag-team on the first activation workaround, which utilized a leaked OEM product key. “Nice try, pirates!” said Microsoft. “Your key has been blacklisted and will never see again the light of day! Ha HA!” The also touted the fact that Windows 7 has improved methods of detection of hacks like these.

If you listened very, very closely, you could hear a collective yawn from the cracking community.

A week later, and torrent trackers everywhere are awash with…er…alternative activation methods, and they’re being used with varying degrees of success. The bottom line: Microsoft can try, but they’re going to face an uphill battle against pirates yet again.

It might take a little longer with Windows 7 for a really solid workaround to appear, but it’s bound to happen. And once Microsoft figures out how to thwart that method? There will no doubt be another one waiting in the wings.

No post like this would be complete without the usual disclaimer. As you friends in Redmond will tell you, you should never, never download anything that activates Windows by illegitimate means. Doing so puts you at serious risk – the files could be infected and terrorize your system, increase your car’s carbon footprint, make your mattress lumpy and uncomfortable, and cause your all your toilet paper to turn really, really rough.

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Microsoft Is The New Owner Of Office.com

Posted on August 6, 2009. Filed under: Mobile World | Tags: , , , |

By Robin Wauters, Tech crunch

officeWe speculated about this when we first reported on Microsoft’s recent announcements regarding its software-in-the-cloud strategy, and now it’s official: istartedsomething and Download Squad have confirmed that the domain name office.com is now a property of the Redmond software behemoth, based on a simple WHOIS query.

Guess where Office Web (or whatever it’ll be called) be hosted soon?

While both istartedsomething and Download Squad report that the domain name was owned by Belgian startup ContactOffice before the transfer, the truth is that the domain name was owned by a U.S. resident and simply operated by ContactOffice, which markets virtual office solutions, under a revenue-share agreement. (I know this because I used to consult for ContactOffice, full disclosure).

No word about how much the former owner fetched for the attractive domain name, but I know for a fact he had been holding on to that one for a long time now, so likely the man is smiling all the way to the bank right now.

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Microsoft drops 3-app limit from Windows 7 Starter Edition

Posted on May 30, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft | Tags: , |

by Brad Linder, Downloadsquad

win7-starter

The team of Microsoft developers working on Windows 7 have written a blog post spelling out exactly what features will and will not be available in Windows 7 Starter Edition. And the company has decided to drop one of the most talked-about restrictions: the ability to run just three applications at once. You’ll now be able to run as many programs as your computer’s limited RAM will allow. We first saw rumors that the company would drop this restriction last week, but today it’s official.

Microsoft has been making “Starter” versions of its operating systems since Windows XP. But in the past, these editions were only sold in the developing world. Windows 7 Starter is the first to be available in developed countries like the United States. The goal is to give netbook makers a cheaper alternative to Windows 7 Home Premium to include on low cost mini-laptops.

Windows 7 Starter will cost significantly less than other versions of the operating system, but Microsoft wants to give customers an incentive to upgrade. Windows 7 Home Premium and Ultimate are perfectly capable of running on slower systems like netbooks. But you’ll have to shell out some extra money to purchase them. If you do pick up a machine with Windows 7 Starter you’ll have to live with the following restrictions:

• No Aero Glass effects
• No ability to switch between users without logging off
• Fewer personalization features (you won’t be able to change desktop backgrounds, sound schemes, or window colors)
• No support for multiple monitors
• No DVD playback support (although I imagine you’ll be able to add this with 3rd party software)
• No Windows Media Center support
• No support for streaming local media remotely over the internet
• No domain support for business customers
• XP Mode for running older programs is not included

That list looks pretty long. But if you don’t plan to use a netbook or other low-cost laptop for any of those things, Windows 7 Starter Edition will be offered to computer makers are at a discount to help keep computer prices down. You will not be able to wlak into a store and buy a standalone license for this version of Windows 7.

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Microsoft to shut down adCenter Analytics Beta

Posted on March 16, 2009. Filed under: Internet Market, Microsoft, SEO | Tags: , , , , , |

By Brad Linder, Downloadsquad

microsoft-ad-center

Microsoft is ending its adCenter Analytics Beta. The company is no longer accepting new users, although existing users will be able to access the service through the end of 2009. You’ll probably want to export your data by December 31st though, unless you’re cool with watching it all disappear.

Microsoft adCenter Analytics Beta was a bit of an answer to Google Analytics and other web analytics software although, as the name suggests, it was designed with advertising analytics in mind.

If you were an adCenter Analytics user, or even if you weren’t, Microsoft has provided a rather lengthy list of companies offering similar services, including Google Analytics, Omniture, and Yahoo! Web Analytics.

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Microsoft reveals more changes from Windows 7 beta to RC

Posted on March 14, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , , , |

By Lee Mathews, Downloadsquad

win7-beta-rc

With the recent leaks of builds 7048 and 7057, some of you may have already gotten a taste of what’s been tweaked as Microsoft continues working toward an official WIndows 7 release candidate. Today, the E7 blog released another list of changes – some subtle, some not so much.

Surprisingly, one of my favorite changes – being able to add the download folder to your start menu – wasn’t metioned. Some noteworthy changes include:

The parent folder’s button always appears in explorer. Remember how we complained about the missing up arrow in Vista, then again in 7? It hasn’t been put back, but backing up one level is now just as easy since the parent’s breadcrumb always shows up.

Invert selection is back in the Explorer edit menu. I don’t use it often, but sometimes I want to select all but two or three files in a massive directory. It’s much easier to pick the two I don’t want and then invert, and now that’s possible again.

New folder is always visible. Another small thing that could be extremely annoying. Feedback noted, fix applied. Now you’re never without access to the new folder button.

Eject! Eject! USB device removal has been addressed, and now requires less steps and is referred to as ejecting rather than safe removal.

USB devices function on resume. An annoying bug caused some devices like flash drive, keyboards, and mice (mine has done this) to sometimes malfunction after a system resumed. There’s a workaround for beta users, but this has now been fixed in the RC branch.

Search re-index after an application install. When you install an app to handle a new file type, Windows 7 will now automatically re-index your drive for any related metadata.• The 200mb system partition has been slimmed. Cut in half, to be exact – collected user data told Microsoft that 100MB is more than enough.• Multi-boot and drive letter assignments. When installing Windows 7 beta in a multi-boot setup, the old OS didn’t receive a drive letter (and therefore didn’t show up in explorer).

Smaller default pagefile. Rather than allocating 300 additional megabytes above your total amount of physical ram, Windows 7 now sets the default size to 100% of ram.

Remote desktop user? Pin the program to your taskbar, and your connections can be pinned to its jumplist.

There are several others mentioned in the official Engineering 7 blog post, including improvements to device stage, the add printer wizard, network drivers, and more.

What’s perhaps most encouraging about the post is the number of changes that have been implemented following feedback from users. We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: Microsoft is listening this time.

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iSynth Brings Microsoft’s Powerful 3D Photo Viewer Photosynth To The iPhone

Posted on March 12, 2009. Filed under: iPhone, Microsoft | Tags: , , , |

By Jason Kincaid, Techcrunch

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iSynth (iTunes Link) is a new application that brings Microsoft’s impressive Photosynth 3D photo viewer to the iPhone. Photosynth stitches together user-submitted photos of the same subject, allowing users to ‘fly-through’ the area by clicking on each successive photo. The technology works best in places and events with many user-submitted photos (popular Synths include the Taj Mahal and President Obama’s inauguration). The site is very fun and often gorgeous, and is certainly worth checking out if you haven’t seen it before.

iSynth brings much of the functionality of the original Photosynth to the iPhone, and for the most part it works well. In fact, the touch-screen interface makes the experience even more intuitive than the original – tapping on the screen causes the app to zoom in on the highlighted photo, shifting the viewer’s position in the 3D scene. Unfortunately, because the iPhone’s screen is so much smaller than a computer monitor the feeling of ‘walking through’ each scene isn’t quite as good as it is on the original application, but it’s still fun nonetheless. And the application is perfectly suited for those moments when you just need to kill time for a few minutes – just fire up the app and take a virtual stroll around the Taj Mahal.

The free iPhone application was developed by Greg Pascale, a former Photosynth intern who received permission to build the app from Microsoft (though Microsoft didn’t build the application and does not support it). Also worth checking out is Microsoft’s Seadragon Mobile (iTunes link), which allows users to flick through large albums of high-resolution photography, including 2D versions of albums from its Photosynth product.

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Questionable Microsoft Chart proclaims IE8 is the fastest browser

Posted on March 12, 2009. Filed under: Internet, Microsoft | Tags: , , |

By Lee Mathews, Downloadsquad

There have been a lot of speed claims lately when it comes to web browsers – when Apple released Safari 4, I put half a dozen options through the paces to see who came out on top. IE8 didn’t appear in my chart, because it handled the benchmarks so badly that I canceled them before its javascript engine seized up completely and cracked the block.shinola

“Hey, wait just a gosh darn minute!” shouts Microsoft. “We ran our own tests, and they showed that our browser is the fastest!” On a related note, I’ve done my own testing that conclusively proves that I am, in fact, the all time leading goal scorer for the Detroit Red Wings. Sorry, Gordie Howe!

But really. Come on, Microsoft, are we supposed to take this seriously or is this some halfhearted attempt at humor like the recent news about Firefox conquering one entire continent (Antarctica)?

Put simply, IE8 is a dog. What kind of dog? A very slow, old dog. Though apparently one that manages to squeak out enough decent load times on a particular bunch of websites for Microsoft to sneak a chart in at the end of a 14-page report showing it to be the browser speed king.

Let’s take a look at the sites Microsoft chose to include in the report: Google, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, Ask, Mozilla, Blogger. None of these are really giving the browsers a workout, espsecially if it’s only the landing pages that were being tested. How much time do you spend on Facebook’s intial page when you visit? Barely any, I’ll wager. It’s just not a compelling way to measure how fast a browser is or isn’t.

Try it yourself and give your browser a challenge. Send it to a more intense site like Compfight or twitter.peoplebrowsr.com, and the difference is obvious: IE8 is simply outmatched when it comes to the heavy lifting.

There are things that IE8 does well, and Microsoft should be emphasizing them better – rather than pointing to internal tests and singing drunken choruses of We are the Champions.

I’m sorry, Microsoft, but I can tell the difference between shine-ola and the other stuff, and I think our readers can, too. If you’d like a bigger whiff of the report, you’ll find it in the MS Download Center.

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Microsoft’s Windows Marketplace Gets Detailed

Posted on March 11, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , , |

Chris

windows-marketplace

Microsoft is just about ready to launch its own app store. And we have hot details for all those developers interested in the future Windows Marketplace. Microsoft will charge developers $99 to be accepted and $99 extra for every application they submit after 2009. This year devs will have the chance to submit five apps for free. Microsoft will charge that fees in order to “run a rigorous certification process to ensure that the end user’s experience is optimal, and that the device and network resources aren’t used in a malicious way.”

After your apps get approve, Microsoft will get 30% off any revenue generated by them. That’s the same percentage Apple and Google also charge. Windows Marketplace will arrive once Windows Mobile 6.5 gets launched in Q4 2009 but you’ll be able to register as a developer in Spring and start submitting your apps this Summer. What do you think? Anxious?

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Microsoft unveils Windows Mobile App store details

Posted on March 11, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , , , , |

By Brad Linder, Downloadsquad

windows-marketplace-mobile

Microsoft plans to launch an App Store that lets Windows Mobile users find, purchase, and download programs directly from the phones. It’ll work much like the iPhone App Store and the upcoming BlackBerry App World.

Today Microsoft revealed that developers will have to pay $99 per year to list their items in the store, plus another $99 for each program listed in the Windows Marketplace store. Developers can save some money by submitting up to five apps before the end of the year.

Microsoft will take a 30% cut on the sales of any paid applications. That’s the same fee that Apple charges, although Research in Motion keeps just 20%.

The Marketplace is scheduled to go live later this year. In the meantime, you can still download and install thousands of Windows Mobile apps from third party stores like PocketGear, Handango and MobiHand. Pocketgear even has an App Store for Windows Mobile that runs from your device, much like the upcoming Microsoft store.

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Microsoft unveils Windows Marketplace fees, splits, hopes, and dreams

Posted on March 11, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , , , |

By Joshua Topolsky, Engadget

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Microsoft has begun laying out plans for its version of the App Store — dubbed the Windows Marketplace — with some familiar numbers, and a few unfamiliar tweaks. According to Ina Fried, the company will charge developers an annual fee of $99 to become part of the ecosystem, and an additional $99 for every app they submit (though throughout 2009, they’ll have a chance to submit five apps at no cost). A rep from the big M states that the fee is “an acceptable cost of doing business for [software developers] looking to get in front of millions of customers,” and justifies the charge on the grounds that Microsoft will “run a rigorous certification process to ensure that the end user’s experience is optimal, and that the device and network resources aren’t used in a malicious way.”

Additionally, the company maintains that the process will offer “complete transparency throughout the application submission process,” which indicates the folks in Redmond wouldn’t mind courting devs who’ve been burned by Apple’s opaque, confusing, and sometimes unfair system of approval. Besides the flat rates, Microsoft will take 30 percent of earnings from sales just as Apple and Google do — the lone standout being RIM, who’s generously offering 80 percent to devs (though hasn’t exactly been blowing doors off hinges with its movement on fostering development). Microsoft’s Marketplace will debut with the launch of Windows Mobile 6.5 in Q4 2009, though developers can apparently register come Spring, and start submitting this Summer.

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Windows 7 RC build 7048

Posted on March 10, 2009. Filed under: Windows | Tags: , |

By Lee Mathews, Downloadsquad.com

win7

Apart from implementing some of the previously announced changes in post-beta Windows 7 builds, Microsoft has clearly set their sites on providing a desktop environment that users can customize six ways from Sunday.

Don’t take the title too literally: build 7048 has definitely received plenty of attention under the hood. In my normal computing tasks, build 7048 feels more stable even more usable as an everyday OS. However, most of the updates aren’t very obvious. Subtle changes appear here and there, for example:

•  the glow on your taskbar button staying put when you mouse onto a taskbar thumbnail
• the increased number of items you can pin to your taskbar
• the start orb is slightly clearer and its glow is brighter
• Send Feedback links no longer appear in window title bars
• a slightly cleaned up Control Panel

One small but very welcome addition is that your Downloads folder can now be added to your panel via start menu customization. Prior to making this change, getting the folder on your list was far too cumbersome and required editing the registry.

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More visible additions include a bevy of new wallpapers, new sound schemes, and a number of retouched icons. Apart from the Windows defaults, there are now 13 sound schemes to choose from and the wallpaper count is up to 31 from 14.

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Of course, new wallpaper and new sound schemes mean new pre-built themes. There are two new choices – Architecture and Characters. True to its name, Architecture features images of houses and other structures, but Characters isn’t quite as accurately named. Its wallpapers are fairly abstract, with the exception of a pile of pink teddy bears. As with previous themes, both feature six wallpapers and default to displaying them as a slideshow.

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And let’s not overlook all the features that can be turned off, as Brad mentioned in hist post last week. Couple that with the increased number of interface options that have appeared, and it’s obvious that Microsoft wants to ensure that Windows 7 will provide a comfortable and highly customizable desktop environment for its users.

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ZoomInfo Scores Deal With Microsoft To Integrate Search Into CRM

Posted on March 8, 2009. Filed under: Internet Market, Microsoft | Tags: , , |

By Leena Rao, Techcrunchit.com

zoominfoZoomInfo, a popular business information search engine used to find information about industries, companies and people is partnering with Microsoft to integrate its search engine into Microsoft’s Dynamic CRM platform. ZoomInfo’s search engine has proven to be useful tool to incorporate into CRMs because its research capabilities help identify new sales leads, expand data on existing customers, create more qualified leads and provide a single data source to integrate sales and marketing teams. Sugar CRM and SalesForce.com are also using ZoomInfo’s comprehensive search capabilities within their platforms.

ZoomInfo’s technology may not be sexy but its proven to be the basis for a good business model. The company is profitable, which in these economic times is tough for both big and small enterprises. Plus, ZoomInfo’s semantic based search engine and its vast information-delivery capabilities have caught the eye of quite a few Fortune 500 tech companies, including Oracle and Yahoo! (ZoomInfo offers a premium service products like highly powered executive only searches to companies).

ZoomInfo’s technology crawls the web to extract business information about companies and people from sources such as press releases and corporate bios on websites. The company claims its intelligence algorithm can even differentiate information about people that hold the same name.

Sugar CRM and SalesForce also connect to other competitive third-party business information databases, such LinkedIn and Hoover’s, so ZoomInfo’s engine is not the primary business information source for many CRMs. But scoring a deal with Mircrosoft and remaining profitable should help ZoomInfo’s applications remain competitive among fellow business search engines.

Here’s a screenshot of the integration of ZoomInfo’s on Microsoft’s CRM:

zoom

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Windows 7 will let you turn most apps on or off

Posted on March 8, 2009. Filed under: Windows | Tags: , , |

By Brad Linder, Downloadsquad.com

win7-on-off

The other day we saw a leaked screenshot of a build of Windows 7 that lets you turn off Internet Explorer. Now Microsoft is not only confirming that Windows 7 will be the first version of Windows in years to let you disable the built in web browser — but you’ll be able to turn most major components on or off. That list includes, but is not limited to:

• Windows Media Player

•Windows Media Center

•Windows DVD Maker

•Internet Explorer 8

•Windows Search

•Handwriting Recognition

•Windows Gadgets

In other words, if you’d rather use VLC, Firefox, and Media Portal as your primary media, web browser, and media center apps, you’ll be able to do that without dedicating any system resources for the Windows versions of those apps.

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LiveSlices showcases useful web slices for IE8

Posted on March 8, 2009. Filed under: Internet, Windows | Tags: , , |

By Lee Mathews, Downloadsquad.com

liveslices

One things I would have liked to include in Pimp Your IE8 was bigger list of webslices, but the collection at the Microsoft addon site isn’t all that impressive. The crew at LiveSlices, on the other hand, has put together several that are well worth installing.

Among their listings are slices for CNN headlines, Google News, new Flickr uploads, a slice for viewing Twitter updates, and one for unread GMail messages. The Twitter update slice is perhaps the best executed, though it only updates every 15 minutes – likely not often enough for hardcore users, but you’re probably 1) using a Twitter client and 2) not running IE8 as your primary browser anyway. The Flickr slices work nicely as well, and provide instant eye candy right in your bookmarks bar.

Create an account on the site, and your settings can be stored for speedy re-install if you have to reformat your machine or remove and reinstall IE8.

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Microsoft releases Windows Vista SP2 RC to the public

Posted on March 6, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , , |

By Jose Vilches, TechSpot.com

ms-vistadesktopAs expected, Microsoft has put the release candidates for Windows Vista and Server 2008 SP2 up on its website for public consumption. The service pack brings with it a number of changes and bug fixes, including support for Blu-ray disc burning and Bluetooth 2.1 as well as simpler Wi-Fi setup and Windows Search 4.0. For the server version, on the other hand, it offers the Hyper-V virtualization environment as a free fully integrated feature along with improved management options and various fixes.

Anybody hoping to tinker with the almost final version of Service Pack 2 can download it today from Microsoft’s website in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors – note that you will need to uninstall any beta versions first and have SP1 running. Microsoft has not confirmed a shipping date for the final version of SP2, though some speculate it will arrive as soon as next month.

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Microsoft drops Xbox Live Gold membership price

Posted on March 6, 2009. Filed under: Game, Microsoft | Tags: , |

By Jose Vilches, TechSpot.com

Microsoft is hoping to entice Xbox Live Silver members to upgrade their accounts by offering a $10 discount. The promotion is for a limited time only, though the company has yet to confirm how long the offer will stay open for, and brings the price of a Gold subscription down to $39.99 – or something like $3.30 a month. This is still more than what many are willing to pay, especially when PC and PlayStation 3 owners get full access to online gaming for free, but at the very least the new price will be a tad more tempting to some.

nxe-screen

With some 17 million paying subscribers, and a wealth of additional content up for sale or rent on Xbox Live, there really is no incentive for Microsoft to stop charging. However, could this be a sign that the company is considering a permanent price cut? Earlier this year they also began offering discounts through Amazon and other online outlets, though the price quickly jumped back up after a few hours in that occasion. Anyway, if you’ve been putting off upgrading for a while, now may be the time to hop on the Gold bandwagon.

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EU! Internet Explorer now uninstallable in Windows 7

Posted on March 5, 2009. Filed under: Internet, Tech News, Windows | Tags: , , |

By Lee Mathews – Downloadsquad.com

windows-7While it’s not likely to placate those who are out for browser blood, Microsoft has taken steps toward pacifying the European Union in the latest RC builds of Windows 7.

As you can see in the updated Windows Features screen captured by AeroXperience, Internet Explorer 8 can now be removed just like Tablet PC support or Chess Titans. Unlike older versions of Windows where stripping IE with a tool like NLite usually caused some kind of headache down the road, Windows 7 appears to plug along just fine after removing the executable.
What the ultimate solution will look like remains to be seen. Some outlets still like to suggest that Microsoft would actually have to ship Windows with other browsers pre-installed, though a more likely solution would be to offer alternatives for download – for example, through links on the welcome screen.

It’s also good news for Google, who have been sweet talking OEMs since late last year in attempts to bundle their browser on new laptop and desktop PCs.

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Microsoft publishes list of changes in Windows 7 RC

Posted on February 26, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Windows | Tags: , , |

By Lee Mathews

windows-7-rc

Microsoft continues to plug away at Windows 7, patching holes, fixing bugs, and responding to a veritable avalanche of beta tester feedback. Today at the Engineering Windows 7 blog the team has produced a list which elucidates some of the changes that have been made since the release of the public beta version.

The list covers a wide range of changes, including everything from cosmetic touch-ups to the UI, touch interface enhancements, and improved support for Device Stage from Microsoft partners.

Some interesting changes include:

Taskbar enhancements: the amount of real estate you’ll have available for pinning programs has ben increased, and a 1280×1024 display will now accomodate up to 20 large icons – four more than in the beta. Taskbar icons also retain their glow color when you mouse over a thumbnail preview (in the beta, the glow disappears as soon as you mouse out).

Windows key + # tweak: apart from simply launching your first ten pinned apps with win + location #, a couple new tricks have been added. Pressing the key for an app that is running will bring it o the front, and you can hold win and tap its number repeatedly to tab through all of that program’s currently open windows.

Improved multi-touch keyboard: if you’ve used the Windows on-screen keyboard before, you know how the special function keys lock when pressed once. That was a little confusing to users with a touch interface – the expectation was for keys to function exactly as they do on a normal keyboard (i.e. shift must be held down), so the OSK was changed to behave more like a real keyboard.Windows Media Player overhaul: a lot of negative comments about the beta were aimed squarely at WMP12. Among the changes: Media Player will no longer display files it doesn’t know how to play (like Apple’s lossless m4a) in the library. Support has been added for the .MOV format used commonly in many digital cameras and camcorders, and device interaction has been tweaked to be less obtrusive. Improvements have been made to internet radio streaming performance and the Now Playing view has received some much-needed TLC.

Performance enhancements: by tracking user-generated data, Microsoft has been keeping tabs on things like how long it takes the start menu to open. The blog post points to 50-100ms as the target time for the menu to display. In the beta, the goal was met85% of the time – recent builds have pushed that to 92%.

Changes to libraries: FAT32 drives were not supported in Windows 7 beta libraries, but that has been corrected. Windows Explorer’s header has been reworked to improve and clarify library navigation. The Windows + E shortcut has also been reverted to its pre-7 state and launches Computer instead of Libraries in Explorer. Create and Add to Library commands have been moved to the Explorer command bar to address concerns over posible data loss and confusion with the beta’s drag-and-drop options.

Jumplists and pinning: files can now be pinned to an application regardless of whether or not it’s the registered handler for that type. For example, if WMP12 is handling all your media defaults, you can still pin an MP3 file to EvilPlayer if you want. In order to prevent masive jumplists – like Explorer with its frequent access display – a maximum of 10 items are now shown, though that number can be tweaked if you like.

Source: downloadsquad

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Microsoft TechFest: Qik Meets Photosynth With Impressive Panoramic Mobile Movies

Posted on February 25, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Mobile World, Tech News | Tags: , , |

By Jason Kincaid

techfest2009I’m here in Redmond, Washington at Microsoft TechFest 2009, where Microsoft is showcasing many of the projects its researchers around the world. The event is filled with impressive demos covering diverse topics ranging from advanced user interfaces to improving computer-based learning in developing countries. We’ll be posting videos throughout the day, the first of which is a demonstration that essentially combines the mobile video broadcasting of services like Qik with Microsoft’s image and video stitching technology that can be seen in its impressive Photosynth product. The technology can take multiple live video streams focusing on the same subject (as you might find at a concert), and stitches them together to create one large panoramic video. For a full demo, see the video below.

It’s important to note that while many of these technologies are extremely impressive, they may not be seen in consumer devices for quite some time (if ever). Still, given the fact that products like Microsoft’s Surface emerged from similar research projects, these may well be a window into the future what our gadgets will soon be able to pull off.

Source: techcrunch

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Microsoft Chief Still Stuck on Yahoo

Posted on February 24, 2009. Filed under: Internet Market, Microsoft, Tech News, Yahoo | Tags: , , , |

Yahoo may have a new chief, but Steven A. Ballmer appears to be getting the same cold shoulder.

As Mr. Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, give a fairly grim outlook for 2009 at a strategic update on Tuesday, CNBC was reporting that Microsoft has been repeatedly “rebuffed” and “ignored” in its attempts to reach some kind agreement with Yahoo that would allow them to compete better with Google on the Internet.

But he apparently isn’t giving up hope that he can get Carol A. Bartz, who recently succeeded Jerry Yang as Yahoo’s chief, to the negotiating table.

Mr. Ballmer said Tuesday that he would like to talk with Ms. Bartz to see if the two companies could “somehow get together and find out how to provide more competition” with Google, TheStreet.com reported.

Microsoft failed last year in its unsolicited bid to buy Yahoo outright. But since then, Mr. Ballmer has repeatedly said he would like to reach a search deal with Yahoo, which, like many other Internet companies, is struggling with weak revenues from display advertising.

Mr. Yang, who helped found Yahoo, was said to favor a stand-alone strategy for the Web company. But Ms. Bartz’s views on a Microsoft deal aren’t well known yet.

It’s not for lack of trying: Analysts repeatedly asked Ms. Bartz about a potential Microsoft deal last month, when she spoke on her first Yahoo quarterly conference call.

“Everything is on the table,” she said at the time. But she also added: “This is not a company that needs to be pulled apart and left for the chickens.”

Microsoft’s latest overtures to Yahoo have been in vain, according to
Jim Goldman, CNBC’s Silicon Valley bureau chief. Citing undisclosed sources, he reported Tuesday that Microsoft executives have been increasingly frustrated that there has been “no progress whatsoever” on a Yahoo search deal.

Source: NYTimes

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Hands on with Microsoft My Phone: pretty neat, actually

Posted on February 24, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Mobile World, Windows | Tags: , , , |

By Peter Bright

Microsoft’s new My Phone syncing service has gone into beta. Ars gives the beta a quick spin.

options-smAlthough the big Microsoft-based excitement (if that’s the right word) at Mobile World Congress was focused on Windows Mobile 6.5, Redmond also announced its My Phone service. The basic concept is simple: My Phone syncs data between your phone and the Web.

The beta client is currently available only for Windows Mobile phones, though there are rumors that other phone platforms will be added after the 1.0 release. Installing and configuring the client takes only a few moments, and before too long the syncing can take place.

My Phone can sync pretty much all the data on a phone. The full list is: Contacts, Calendars, Tasks, Text messages, Photos, Videos, Music, and Documents. For phones with memory cards, My Phone can be used to sync the photos, videos, music, and documents on the cards, as well as those in the phone’s main memory.

Synced items are all put onto the My Phone website. From here, new items can be created, existing items can be deleted or edited, and most things can be archived. Archived items are removed from the phone and just reside online; they can be put back on the phone as needed. As well as syncing back to the original phone, items can also be synced to a different phone, allowing easy migration of data from one handset to another.

myphone

I’ve been using My Phone for a few days now, and as simple as it is, I think it holds a great deal of promise. The software itself is quite limited and the website is fairly rudimentary, but that doesn’t matter much, because it all does exactly what it’s meant to do. So far, at least, it has all worked.

sync-result-smThe ability to easily back up text messages and pictures is what appeals to me most. Though many phones let you sync this data to a PC over a cable, it typically requires the use of annoying vendor-specific software, and of course the fact that it’s syncing to a PC means that it’s of no use when out and about. With My Phone, I can sync any time, any where, as long as I have a data connection.

For non-Exchange users, the Calendar, Contact, and Task syncing will also be handy; in particular, the ability to enter contacts on the website (rather than through the phone’s number pad) makes contact management a great deal easier. These three things aren’t available to Exchange users, as ActiveSync takes care of them instead.

My Phone is still in beta, however, and its immaturity is apparent. One significant omission is that it’s currently extremely poorly integrated with other Windows Live products. My Phone users get 200MB of disk space for synced objects, but I really feel Redmond should be using SkyDrive—with its 25GB of disk space—to store this information. The My Phone site as a whole is poorly integrated with the remainder of Microsoft’s online properties; still, the product is in its early days, so this kind of integration can certainly happen later.

The client is also quite primitive at the moment. Automatic syncs occur no more often than once a day, and even then only on a scheduled basis; in an ideal world, I’d like it to sync each time I took a new picture or got a new text, so that I always had an accessible, online backup for my phone’s content. Again, though, I hope this kind of thing can be added in the future.

All in all, I like My Phone a lot. It works, it does something useful, and though there’s room for improvement, I think it will make a compelling addition to the Windows Mobile platform. OK, it’s nothing ground-breaking—in fact, the obviousness of it makes it surprising that Microsoft hasn’t done something like this sooner—but it’s a good idea that is well-implemented, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

Source: arstechnica

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Microsoft explores link between education and video games

Posted on February 24, 2009. Filed under: Microsoft, Tech News | Tags: , , , |

By Chakkaradeep Chandran

Microsoft has become the first giant to focus on shooter games to explore whether video games can enhance education. Although many studies are in progress to explore the link between education and video games, they are focused mainly on educational games and not shooter games. The Gears of War publisher has put up $1.5 million to start The Games for Learning Institute (G4LI), a co-operative effort with the New York University and other colleges. The goal of the research is to see whether video games can attract students into math, science and technology-based programs.

John Nordlinger, head of gaming research for Microsoft says

“We want to figure out what’s compelling about the games. If we can find out how to make the games fun and not make them violent that would be ideal”.

Microsoft’s chief researcher Craig Mundie adds that games could stimulate educational abilities by helping people develop a higher-order cognitive capability.

University of Wisconsin researchers have found that playing World of Warcraft can encourage scientific thinking and noticed that players used mathematics and models to deal with situations in the game’s fantasy world. Devin Krauter, a 17 year old ranked among the best players of Gears of War 2 by a video game Web site, says the game teaches him to think on his feet about succeeding and not slaying. One of the members of video gaming club in Fargo’s South High School joined the club so as to meet other gamers and play puzzle-solving games to sharpen reaction time.

Vince Repesh, a Counselor at the University of Minnesota fears that gaming is replacing education, not adding to it. He recalled a couple of students coming to him for help after they got hooked on World of Warcraft and one of them was playing the game without a pause for nearly 28 hours!

Are there any possible long term psychological and sociological effects on frequent game players?

Is there really a good educational value in video games?

Source: neowin

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Some Microsoft tech courses, exams to be free

Posted on February 23, 2009. Filed under: Tech News | Tags: , , , |

By Linda Shaw

Washington state is one of the first three states where Microsoft, in an effort to help ease the economic crisis, will offer some of its technology courses and certification exams for free.

Microsoft announced those plans Sunday, one part of a three-year job-training effort it calls Elevate America. The company says it will offer 1 million vouchers for Microsoft eLearning courses and select certification exams, such as those leading to Microsoft business certification.

“Millions of Americans don’t have the technology skills needed in today’s economy,” Pamela Passman, a Microsoft vice president, said in a prepared statement. “Through Elevate America, we want to help workers get the skills they need to succeed.”

Florida and New York will be the other two states where Microsoft will first offer Elevate America programs.

Microsoft isn’t saying how much it will invest in the initiative, a company spokeswoman said, other than to call it “significant.”

The company will work with each state, she said, to determine how many and what kind of classes and certification exams will be offered for free and at reduced prices. The decisions will hinge on the needs of each state.

The company also unveiled a new Web site Sunday that’s designed to help anyone figure out what kind of technical skills they need to expand their job prospects and how to get them. That Web site, www.microsoft.com/ElevateAmerica, also provides instruction in basic computer skills such as how to use the Internet and send e-mail, as well as more advanced programs.

Microsoft said Elevate America is an extension of its existing skills-training and certification programs offered through schools, government programs and community organizations.

The initiative comes as many companies, including Microsoft, have laid off workers because of the economic downturn.

Microsoft also plans to give grants of cash and software to community partners as well as discounted membership rates for institutions participating in the Microsoft IT Academy programs.

Overall, the company says the initiative will reach up to 2 million people.

In a prepared statement, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire said Microsoft’s initiative will support Washington families and help the economy recover.

Source: seattletimes.com

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