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October 14, 2013 at 12:12 PM
It took decades to figure out, but we finally know how Dick Tracy and Star Trek’s Captain Kirk were able to place calls with their amazing wristwatch-communicator devices.
September 25, 2013 at 4:01 PM
RealNetworks has radically redesigned its venerable media player software in a bid to make it relevant and appealing in today’s era of connected mobile devices.
June 27, 2013 at 10:37 AM
SAN FRANCISCO _ When in Rome, do as the Romans, so Microsoft built app for the iPhone using a Mac on stage in front of 6,000 developers here at its Build conference today.
After touting the growth of its Azure online computing platform and its new Visual Studio software tool kit, Microsoft demonstrated how easy it is to develop apps that run on Apple’s iOS using Microsoft’s Windows Azure Mobile Services.
That followed a demo that showed how Google’s Chrome browser can be set as a default browser when building a web site with Microsoft’s ASP.NET framework.
It makes the bitter platform wars that characterized Microsoft’s relationship with Silicon Valley during the 1990s and 2000s seem like ancient history. That’s partly because it’s biggest rival in the online computing space is now Seattle-based Amazon.com, which took an early lead with its platform-agnostic Amazon Web Services. It also reflects how Microsoft has evolved and become more pragmatic as it approaches its 40th birthday.
Aaron Levie, chief executive of Los Altos, Calif.-based online storage company Box, was impressed by Microsoft’s embrace of heterogeneity.
“It’s really exciting to see an all new Microsoft,” he said on stage, where he talked about how his company’s working with Azure.
Levie said he was taken aback by the demo using a Mac.
“I was afraid Bill Gates was going to drop down from the ceiling and rip it off,” he said.
Gates gets the last laugh.
When Levie was still in grade school, Silicon Valley tech leaders such as Sun’s Scott McNealy were mocking Microsoft’s early attempts to build server software and move into enterprise computing. Sun faded and was absorbed into Oracle, which is working with Microsoft to run its software on Azure.
Microsoft’s Server and Tools business, headed by Satya Nadella, has become Microsoft’s most consistent revenue generator and was its second-largest business last year with sales of $18.7 billion.
Azure is off to a strong start with more than half of Fortune 500 companies using its services, Nadella said. At the same time, Microsoft’s “seeing tremendous growth” in sales of traditional server software that companies use in-house, he said.
Another sign of the evolution of Microsoft’s view of its software development platform is its overtures to open-source communities. The company partnered with open-source developers on a Python add-in for Visual Studio, S. Somasegar, vice president of Microsoft’s developer division, noted at a later presentation.
It may still be awhile before Microsoft builds native support for competing products such as Java into Visual Studio, Somasegar said. But the company’s happy to work with partners who want to create add-in features, such as an Amazon Web Services plug-in suggested by Amazon.com.
When someone brought up the Oracle partnership, Somasegar – who started at Microsoft in 1989 – grinned and said ”It’s a new world.”
Here’s Janet Tu’s blogging of the keynote and Nadella’s Azure momentum slide:
Microsoft had a head start building an online computing platform because it has experience operating its own huge services such as Xbox Live and Skype, Nadella said.
May 13, 2013 at 11:42 AM
It’s not often that the physical manifestation of an app or Web service appears on the curb in front of your house.
But that’s how I look at the hundreds of funny little Car2Go vehicles that have appeared on the streets of Seattle like a swarm of blue and white ladybugs.
October 29, 2012 at 9:54 AM
Microsoft really is shaking things up with Windows 8. It’s a remodel down to the foundation, a monumental effort to start a new era of personal computing.
The showcase of this work is the Surface tablet, the first computer made and sold by the company.
Simultaneously, Microsoft overhauled all of its major programs and services, from servers to spreadsheets to Skype.
Some may see this as a sharp turn by a lumbering aircraft carrier to avoid running aground. Others may see a superpower launching a new fleet, in tandem with allies around the world.
Either way, it’s an overwhelming show of force by Microsoft and the PC industry, a duo that’s been less than dynamic in recent years and largely written off by Apple-loving media, investors and gadget aficionados.
The best way to see what’s coming is through the 11-inch screen of the Surface tablet, the magnesium fighter jet in Microsoft’s new arsenal.
With its minimalist design built around a set of online services, the device epitomizes the way we’re using computers mostly as consoles to stay connected to our personal collections of people, programs and media.
You can do this on a PC or phone, but many prefer a slim tablet that starts right up and runs a full day without recharging. Until recently the best option was an Apple iPad, but most every major tech company offers models in different sizes.
After a few days with Microsoft’s Surface, I think it’s a decent alternative, especially for people who haven’t yet added a tablet to their computing mix or have yet to strongly embrace the online realms of Apple, Google or Amazon.com.
The Surface is a refined and elegant combination of hardware and software with a distinctive style and feel that make it stand apart from any other tablet on the market. It feels fast and smooth and is simple enough for my kindergartner to navigate.
Starting at $499 for models with 32 gigabytes of storage and a bundled version of Office 2013, the Surface pricing compares favorably to the latest iPad, which costs $599 for a 32 gig model and doesn’t come with Office.
Shoppers will have to do their own math to decide which is a better deal. More important, though, is feeling each device and trying out their very different software interfaces.
The Surface’s case feels sturdy and purposeful, almost Teutonic, with a metal kickstand that sharply snaps into place. The charging cord also snaps firmly into position, held by magnets, as do the accessory covers with built-in keyboards. It’s slightly heavier than an iPad and feels more dense.
Those covers are pricey but dramatically boost the usability of the tablet, particularly the $130 “Type Cover” with a physical keyboard that’s just a quarter-inch thick. The $120 “Touch Cover” is remarkable. Even with slightly raised keys, it’s just an eighth-inch thick, but I couldn’t type fast on it.
On a single charge, my Surface ran through a workday of heavy testing, including streaming part of a movie to my TV via an HDMI cable. It was still going the next morning when I used it as a platter to carry coffee to my wife, read the news on it in bed and then played music and checked my fantasy football team at breakfast. The battery held out through this brutal regimen until midmorning at work.
Unlike the iPad, the Surface has a memory-card slot. It also has a USB port that worked fine with an ancient mouse, but not my Verizon LTE wireless stick, which isn’t yet supported on the platform. Microsoft should have offered a Surface version with 4G wireless built in.
A big question for many tablet buyers is the selection of apps. Apple’s numerical advantage is misleading. There are 275,000 apps specifically for the iPad, but many are duplicative and most people use only a handful.
That said, Microsoft’s Windows 8 app store is still strikingly bare, even with some 10,000 apps at launch. This is a particular concern on the Surface and other new tablets running Windows RT, a special mobile version of Windows 8 that runs only new apps offered through Microsoft.
Not everything needs an app. Facebook and Twitter don’t have Windows 8 apps yet but you can use them through the browser.
But there are notable holes. Barnes & Noble has yet to release a Windows 8 Nook app, despite Microsoft’s investing $605 million in the company last spring.
“Angry Birds” was missing at launch; the “Space” version has since been added though it’s $4.99, versus 99 cents for the iPad version and there’s no free, ad-supported version like there is on Apple’s platform.
But the most shocking absence is Microsoft Solitaire, which doesn’t run on Windows RT devices. Thus, buying a Surface requires a leap of faith that your favorite apps will come to the platform or that you’ll be fine with what’s there so far.
I’m surprised so few companies have Windows 8 apps since it’s a free opportunity to put dynamic billboards in front of hundreds of millions of people around the world. Companies used to spend a fortune for a piece of Windows desktop real estate and now they’re mostly shrugging and pointing to the iPad.
It remains to be seen whether the quality and style of the Surface and Windows 8 can overcome this bias and restore Microsoft’s reputation for bringing innovation to the masses.
Microsoft knew for years there was a huge market for handheld displays filling the gap between the phone and the PC. It pounced too early, though, with its Tablet PC software in 2002 and other projects in the twilight of Bill Gates’ tenure as chief software architect. Then the company lost interest until Apple showed that the hardware and market for tablet computing had ripened.
Now the larger opportunity is beyond gadgets and in online services where people live their digital lives, connecting from whatever device is at hand.
Windows 8 is Microsoft’s attempt to build a new interface not just for PCs, but for this kind of computing.
When you first set up a Windows 8 system, you’re encouraged to sync it with online services such as email and Facebook. Windows 8 comes preloaded with Microsoft’s online suite, including Skype and the SkyDrive online storage locker. Files are saved online, and accessible from other devices you log in to.
Once it’s all connected, the big tiles on its home screen display constant updates, as well as news headlines, weather reports and other sources you select.
The idea is to be able to see at a glance what’s happening, then easily choose which program or service to launch. It works especially well for email, weather and news. The steady flow of images from social networks doesn’t provide usable information; it’s more of a shiny lure, pulling you back to the services.
Reinforcing the personal feeling of the software is the conversational tone used in its messages. When you first open the music or photos applications, it says “it’s lonely in here” and suggests you “open or play something.”
The flip side of all this personalization, of course, is that Microsoft knows more about you and binds you tighter into online services that it may use for marketing products to you.
Windows 8 system controls fade into the background to maximize the display space, which is a nice concept, especially on devices with smaller screens like a tablet.
But it requires an extra step to activate the controls, and you have to learn how they work or you may get stranded.
With a Surface tablet, these controls feel more natural than on a Windows 8 desktop or laptop.
A slight brush of your right thumb calls up the “Charms” controls, including search, settings and “Start,” a button that takes you back to the home screen. Flicking the left thumb scrolls you through recently opened applications.
Sweeping a finger up from the bottom of the screen reveals additional controls. A downward swipe closes the open program.
You can do all this with just a mouse and keyboard, but it feels less intuitive.
The mandatory minimalism has its limits. Microsoft shouldn’t have followed Apple in eliminating the physical “back” button. As a result, you end up going to the start screen often to “back up” or exit applications.
You frequently have to toggle to the software back to an “old fashioned” Windows 7-style PC desktop to get things done, such as configuring a tricky wireless connection.
Even the key Microsoft program on the Surface — the new version of Office that comes with the device — has to run in old-fashioned “desktop” mode. When you click the Word 2013 tile, it launches the program and switches the desktop back to circa 2009.
You can use the new “search” feature to find files or programs in the new interface.
But I prefer to use Windows Explorer, so I “pin” the trusty old app to the Windows 8 desktop.
Windows 8 is a fresh and fun new operating system, but it will take a while for people to fully embrace Microsoft’s vision of the future. Ready or not, here it comes.
Here are the Surface specs as provided by Microsoft:
May 21, 2012 at 10:29 AM
Carrying a Sprint Evo phone used to make you feel special, in a geeky way.
It was the first true 4G wireless phones when it debuted in 2010, showcasing the Clearwire-powered WiMax network.
With a huge screen, sleek black case and powerful processor, the Evo was the baddest phone on the block. As long as the battery held out.
Now Sprint’s releasing a more powerful version that I’ve been testing, the HTC Evo 4G LTE.
You feel special carrying this Evo, too, but for different reasons.
For one thing, it’s contraband.
Imports of the new Evo were blocked this month by U.S. Customs, delaying its May 18 launch. The phones are being reviewed to see if they comply with a court ruling in a patent spat between Apple and HTC.
The Evo — and an HTC One phone for AT&T that’s also held up — are casualties of Steve Jobs’ going “thermonuclear” on Google’s Android software.
I think the late Mr. Jobs is doing Sprint customers a favor by delaying the Evo’s release.
The Evo’s biggest selling point is that it uses fast, new 4G LTE network technology. LTE is becoming the new standard for smartphones in the U.S. and soon every major network will offer it.
Sprint plans to have LTE across its network in 2013.
The problem is, Sprint doesn’t yet offer LTE coverage anywhere. It’s promising coverage by “midyear” in six cities — Dallas, Atlanta, Baltimore, Houston, San Antonio, Kansas City — but won’t say where it’s coming next.
Yet it began selling LTE phones in April.
These phones also work on Sprint’s 3G network, which is being upgraded, but there’s no comparison to LTE speeds. Current LTE phones also won’t work with the LTE capacity-boosting service Clearwire is providing Sprint next year.
This is like selling color TVs limited to black and white content. It’s infuriating if you’re already used to the newer technology.
I began testing the Evo the day President Obama was in town. Downloads were so slow I wondered if the Secret Service had jammed the network.
I tried watching a high-def YouTube trailer for “The Expendables 2.” It was maddeningly slow, so I tried it on the free Wi-Fi at a McDonald’s. It still froze and buffered more than a dozen times.
I tried the same video on the bus ride home, over Sprint’s 3G network. The sound of gunshots roared out of the Evo’s “Beats” audio system so I pressed the volume button, and the phone completely froze.
After a reboot, the video “loading” icon spun for another mile. Finally it began playing as I stepped off the bus, then paused to buffer 25 seconds later.
Network aside, I found the Evo to be a nice phone with an 8 megapixel camera, good call quality and far better battery life than the 2010 Evo.
Despite a massive 4.7-inch display, the $200 Evo feels light and easy to hold.
From the front, the case is plain but handsome. The back has an odd combination of shiny and matte plastic, divided by a red aluminum kickstand. It’s not as striking as the original Evo or as svelte as the HTC One series (T-Mobile’s One at left).
The first Evo’s battery barely made it past lunchtime. I could use the new one lightly for well over a day without recharging. Sprint claims 7.5 hours of talk time, but the battery is “embedded” and can’t be replaced by users.
There are many layers of capability in the Evo, which runs the latest “Ice Cream Sandwich” version of Android.
Especially prominent is an assortment of preloaded media apps. This profusion of digital storefronts is a little confusing.
Google’s “Play” store and service get a home-screen icon and appear in the corner when you scroll through multiple screens filled with apps. “Play Movies” and “Play Music” also link to Google services. “Music” opens a folder with other music apps and “Watch” launches HTC’s video store.
Another app, called “Media Share,” is designed to connect the phone to a Wi-Fi network and share media files. I thought it would be cool to rent a movie from HTC and play it back through my home network, but I couldn’t connect the phone. This was probably a user error, but it should be easier.
The Evo also has the ballyhooed Google Wallet and NFC capability. Wallet lets you load credit-card info, which is permanently linked to your Google account. Wallet also stores retail-loyalty cards, and Google will use it to send you coupons and offers.
With near-field communications hardware, you can wave the phone near special credit-card readers at some stores to make a payment.
That may appeal to some, but to me the convenience isn’t worth giving Google my credit information. It’s like giving Cookie Monster keys to the Keebler factory. If Google wants that access, it should provide a free phone and wireless service in return.
Others may also be excited to have a truly next generation phone like the HTC Evo 4G LTE.
It’s a fine phone, but users will be paying $80 per month to use it on a last-generation network for a significant part of their two-year contract.
Here are the phone’s specs, via HTC:
Network: LTE (Band 25) and CDMA 1xRTT EVDO Rel. 0, EVDO Rev. A
Dimensions: 5.31″ (L) x 2.72″ (W) x 0.35″ (T)
Keyboard/Form Factor: Virtual QWERTY
Weight: 4.73 ounces
Operating System: Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) with HTC Sense
Display: 4.7-inch 1280×720 HD with IPS technology (In Plane Switching); Capacitive touch screen
Battery: 2000 mAh
Camera: (Main): 8MP color CMOS with auto focus; (Front): 1.3MP color CMOS Front Camera; Back Side-Illuminated (BSI Sensor); HTC ImageChip
Memory: 1GB RAM, 16GB ROM, microSDHC compatible
Connectivity: Bluetooth 3.0+, 3.5mm Stereo audio jack, Micro USB connector with MHL, NFC, WiFi: IEEE 802.11 A,B,G,N
Processor: 1.5GHz dual-core Snapdragon Qualcomm MSM8960
Here’s a photo taken with the HTC Evo 4G LTE, of the site of Amazon.com’s forthcoming office towers:
March 19, 2012 at 10:16 AM
If Microsoft is ever going to have its Alec Baldwin moment, it will happen because of a home-brew game called “Wordament.”
Baldwin was famously thrown off a plane in December because he wouldn’t stop playing an addictive word game on his iPhone.
The actor was playing “Words With Friends,” Zynga’s Facebook version of Scrabble played by more than 8 million people a day.
So far the closest thing on the Windows Phone platform is “Wordament,” an extracurricular project of two Microsoft employees that became a surprise hit after its debut last year.
The free, ad-supported app is a twist on the word-hunt board game “Boggle.” You compete with players around the world in two-minute matches and work your way up leader boards.
It’s still a pipsqueak in the broader world of mobile games, with hundreds of thousands of downloads since it appeared on Windows Phone in April 2011 and on Windows 8 last month. It has tens of thousands of unique visitors a day, with up to about 650 playing together at once.
But as one of the highest-rated, exclusive games on those platforms, it’s positioned to lift off. It may even draw people to Microsoft’s fledgling mobile devices, at least if they’re “Boggle” fans.
The game was created as a side project by John Thornton, 37, and Jason Cahill, 38, who worked on the Windows Live photo team and had offices next to each other. They built the game after Microsoft began a “moonlighting” program in 2010, encouraging employees to build Windows Phone apps in their free time.
Thornton (left) began tinkering with word games and made a New Year’s resolution in January 2011 to build an app a month. One was a prototype puzzle game he showed to Cahill and asked if he wanted to help. The answer was no, initially.
Cahill (right) and his wife were “Boggle” fans who played against each other wirelessly on Nintendo DS handhelds. The more he thought about the possibilities of a computer-generated game board connected via Internet services, the more excited he became about the project.
“I went home after telling him this whole lecture on how the way you get ahead at work is by doing work and not by doing moonlighting … and ground all weekend,”Cahill said. “I came in Monday with a basic implementation of a service and a set of puzzles and I was like, ‘OK, can I help on this half’ ?”
This still cracks up Thornton.
“He must have coded the whole weekend after telling me no,” he said. “It was kind of funny.”
Thornton said the game’s popularity sank in for him a few months later, at the Kirkland Fourth of July parade. Looking over the shoulders of a row of people in front of him, he noticed they were all playing the game.
Later that month, the Xbox Live group asked them to distribute “Wordament” through the game service. The Xbox group then hired them, where they’re now the principals of a new studio expanding “Wordament” and developing new titles.
I heard about “Wordament” last year from a friend and fellow “Boggle” fan at Microsoft and was planning to write about the game after the Windows 8 preview version (left) was released in February. But I waited, partly because the game froze on a Samsung Windows 8 tablet I’ve been using. I wondered if the newsroom installed some kind of filter, because I’d spent so much time testing “Wordament” on the tablet.
Finally I got in touch with Cahill last week, and he explained that the Windows 8 version is a prototype and they’re preparing a fix for the “suspend/resume” issue I encountered. Meanwhile, the trick to unfreezing it is the “downward swipe” gesture that closes and exits Metro-style apps.
The game can be played with a mouse but it works best with touch-screens, on which you mark words by sliding your finger across the letters. Speed and responsiveness are critical, so the game’s a good way to sample the performance of a phone or tablet.
“Wordament” seems to be a game that Xbox Live could use to expand on platforms such as Apple’s iPhone and iPad.
I wonder if “Wordament” will end up preloaded, alongside “Solitaire,” on Windows Phones or Windows 8 tablets when they appear later this year.
The original goal with “Solitaire” on Windows was to teach people to use a computer mouse, so perhaps “Wordament” will help familiarize people with the new Windows 8 touch gestures.
That would propel the game into the “Words With Friends” league.
It could also offset productivity gains promised by the new software, though, and potentially cause problems for Alec Baldwin types.
September 2, 2010 at 12:26 PM
Here’s a video of the mobile demonstration of Google Goggles for Android phones, with Google’s Jason Freidenfelds showing the product at Pike Place Market.
June 7, 2010 at 5:05 PM
In a post keyed to Microsoft’s TechEd conference in New Orleans this week, Bryan explained the company’s portfolio of phones and how the WP7 devices coming out later this year are aimed largely at business users.
This kind of thing won’t sway the people who can’t wait for an iPhone 4, but it may help corporate IT buyers and developers thinking about if and how Microsoft phones fit into their plans.
A few excerpts from Bryan’s post:
“By adding Windows Phone 7 to our portfolio, Microsoft is well positioned to address the needs of customers with active personal and business lives who desire a single device that delivers rich end-to-end experiences and navigates seamlessly between work and play. Demand for Smartphones that play as hard as they work is fueling the continued growth for new devices, with IDC projecting 31% growth in Smartphone units in 2010 and another 22% in 2011.”
“More than 90% of our target customers for Windows Phone use their Smartphone for business purposes and 61% use their phones equally or more for business than personal use. This is why we designed Windows Phone 7 to combine a smart new user interface with familiar tools such as PowerPoint, OneNote, Word, Excel and SharePoint into a single integrated experience via the Office hub.”
But the phones won’t look like tiny Windows PCs:
With Windows Phone 7, rather than attempting to replicate the experience of the desktop, we focused on delivering end-user experiences that are uniquely optimized for the phone through tighter integration with Exchange and Office, the addition of SharePoint and our Silverlight development platform for delivering new user experiences.
The Windows lineup, and why some companies may still want Windows 6.5:
“Windows Phone 7 is the newest addition to the Windows Phone portfolio that includes Windows Mobile 6.5, more specialized CE based devices for ruggedized or task-worker scenarios, and the new KIN phones targeted at social communicators. We understand that while Windows Phone 7 will bring a new level of business productivity to a broader range of customers than we’ve ever reached before, for more highly managed corporate scenarios or where customers have made significant investments in applications on Windows Mobile 6.X, Windows Mobile 6.5 may remain the best choice in the near-term.”
A companion post today provides new details of Windows Phone Marketplace, Microsoft’s response to the iTunes App Store and Android Market.
It said developers will pay an annual registration fee of $99 that allows unlimited paid app submissions and five submissions of free apps, after which each one is $19.99.
Microsoft’s also giving developers 70 percent of the revenue from their apps and providing services such as a push notification service and a trial API for offering trial versions of apps to customers.
April 14, 2010 at 4:36 PM
Watching his 3 year-old daughter nearly get run over by a texting driver inspired a Seattle landscape contractor to jump into the phone application business.
Erik Wood, 43, was walking home from Queen Anne’s Coe Elementary with his daughter last fall when a woman in a black Volkswagen shot out of an alley while texting with both hands, passing within a few feet of the girl.
The driver drove on without ever seeing the pedestrians, but Wood was so shook up he started researching safety issues around texting drivers. Then he decided to create an application that could help.
“People live in this false reality that ‘I can get away with texting and driving,’ ” he said. “The problem is they don’t know what they’re missing, they don’t get the wake-up call until it’s a T-bone, violent crash.”
He and his wife tapped their children’s college fund, withdrawing more than the cost of a new truck, and spent seven months working with software developers to produce an application called Otter that was released on the Android phone platform April 5.
“I think we realized that we had survived our first nearly fatal text-and-drive encounter but with two little girls growing up, the statistics proved this wouldn’t be our last brush with this,” he said. “That’s what inspired us to do something about it.”
The Otter application interrupts text message notifications when the phone’s GPS radio detects the device is moving at least 10 miles per hour. It doesn’t block the messages outright, but sends an automatic reply to the sender, saying,”Otter says BTH (Break the Habit).”
Otter — which stands for one touch text response — also has parental controls so parents can activate it on their children’s phones.
Wood is joining a growing number of companies producing applications and other systems to block or prevent texting while driving. He said Otter has a cost advantage because it doesn’t carry recurring monthly fees like some competing applications. It’s a one-time $3.99 download from the Android Market.
Versions for the Windows and BlackBerry phone platforms should be done in three to six months. Wood would like to do an iPhone version but its new software apparently won’t provide access he needs to the phones’ notifications or SMS services.
It’s a moneymaking venture, but Wood said he had to give it a try no matter what.
“You know when you come to those forks in the road where you don’t have any other choice?” he said. “This was definitely one of those.”
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