Category Archives: Microsoft


Microsoft Tag Custom tags contest

Microsoft TagI really like the custom tags idea that Microsoft is enabling via their Microsoft Tag technology.

The idea is that you can take the same concept as the original Microsoft Tags and overlay them on pictures. You can also replace the triangles with dots.

The result is a whole new set of marketing opportunities for your brand as you incorporate a tag into a picture or logo. Time to get those creative juices flowing.

In fact Microsoft is running a competition – called the Tag Slaps Design Contest – to see who can create the coolest custom tag.

Here’s the overview from the contest page:

The Tag Slaps Design Contest challenges you to create an original customized Tag and creative concept for an accompanying mobile experience. Your entry should include a working customized Tag that leads to a mobile web site, as well as a creative concept for a mobile site. The mobile site experience concept should engage your customer and encourage them to take an action such as signing up for a service, getting more information about your product, downloading a special offer or an application, and more.

Here’s a typical original tag:

Microsoft Tag example

And here’s a few examples of custom tags:

Microsoft Tag Custom Tag examples

The contest opens on 4 May 2009 and judging will take place from 22 June.

Don’t get too excited about any big prizes though – this is just for the glory of winning. The winner gets recognition on the tag site, Facebook, Twitter, and select media articles.

(via Neowin)


Outlook 2010 screenshots

Office 2010 For those interested in what Outlook 2010 is shaping up to look like, here’s a few screenshots from the Microsoft PressPass Image Gallery. You may have read our post on Exchange 2010 a few days back. Whilst we were mostly critical of the increasing reliance on email, we also made mention of some of the good things coming that will help with managing your ‘corporate life’ in Exchange (and delivered via Outlook and OWA). These screenshots give an idea of how they will work. Notice also that Outlook has the ribbon in the main application now.

Here’s the ‘conversation view’ (in OWA):

Outlook Web Access Conversation view

Here’s the ‘mute button’ to take yourself out of a conversation:

Outlook 2010 Mute

Here’s the tips that help people stopping doing really stupid stuff:

Outlook 2010 MailTips

And here’s a few more:

Outlook 2010 MailTips

And here’s the voicemail preview:

Outlook 2010 Voicemail Preview

There’s further discussion on Zack Whittaker’s blog (from his April 18 post).


Microsoft and the art of making money

Hmmm, do you think we should be smiling about this?I agree with Joe Wilcox and his take on the current position Microsoft finds itself in: a very difficult one.

Times are tough. Interesting then, that announcing a drop in revenue last week resulted in an increase in stock price.

Microsoft share price after Q3 announcements

I’m no stock analyst and I’m not going to event try to understand the numbers, but I do think there is an underlying confidence in Microsoft at the moment.

I suspect there’s a few reasons for this. First, and perhaps this is just me, I’ve seen a lot less hype from Microsoft in the last 6 months. The days of flashy launch events seem to have died down (replaced perhaps by better advertising campaigns) and the company is focussing on delivering quality products. The Microsoft PR machine has played its Windows 7 cards very carefully so far, and it seems to be paying off. The sentiment for Windows 7 is very positive.

Much will depend on the success of Windows 7 later this year, and as I’ve mentioned before, it is my belief that Windows 7 will be the release that is looked back on in years to come as the even that saved Microsoft.

And the number of releases lately is very encouraging. SQL Server, SharePoint, Office, Vista all getting hype-low, quality-high updates (Service Packs); BizTalk and IE getting released; new technologies such as Silverlight 3, and Exchange 2010 Beta getting announced (these last two with perhaps with a little more hype than the others, but with restraint none the less).

As Joe notes, this is a time for Microsoft to be pushing out the updates and pre-release so that when the economy turns around and companies start opening their wallets again, there won’t be such a long lead time to adoption.

As you may know I’ve long been a Microsoft fan-boi but that hasn’t stopped me taking shots where I think they deserve it (example). But that said, the Microsoft I’m seeing today is undoubtedly on a very strong foundation (lay-offs and netbook pressures withstanding) in most areas. I will say however that I think they are weak on the mobile and browser fronts and will lose entirely there.

In terms of the result, Chris Liddell (Microsoft CFO) doesn’t talk up it up too much, although he does look for some light in their cost cutting measures. Overall, the down results won’t be turning around in a hurry (from Microsoft PressPass):

“While market conditions remained weak during the quarter, I was pleased with the organization’s ability to offset revenue pressures with the swift implementation of cost-savings initiatives,” said Chris Liddell, chief financial officer at Microsoft. “We expect the weakness to continue through at least the next quarter.”

You’ll note that in general Microsoft hasn’t attempted to spin its bad news. Bad news is bad news.

But overall, I think the news and outlook for Microsoft is good.


Facebook Open Stream Apps

Facebook Open Stream APIFurther to my post yesterday, I thought I’d dig a little deeper into some of the applications taking advantage of the new Facebook Open Stream API (announced on Monday).

This video from CNET is a wonderful demonstration from Microsoft’s Brian Goldfarb where he shows two Open Stream enabled applications. The first, a Silverlight app allows beautiful interaction with a friend’s stream, especially their photos. The speed and UX is impressive. Even more so when noting it was put together in under 72 hours. Brian notes that the applications and their source code will be made available in the next few weeks. Also check out the Silverlight blog for more details.

The second app from Brian is a WPF app that allows rich interaction via the meta data that accompanies the steam. Using links between friends and photos, users can visualise their relationships in news ways. Very impressive.

Microsoft shows off Facebook Open Stream API demos from Rafe Needleman on Vimeo.

(via Neowin)

Attack of the SP2s

SP2It’s a big day of Service Pack Releases from Microsoft, with the following being made available today:

Office 2007 SP2

Office 2007 continues to improve with a substantial list of enhancements and fixes.

Whilst every product in the Office suite has received attention, the major focus (as we’ve mentioned previously) will likely be place on Outlook. The team have worked hard to improve the performance of Outlook, both in start-up and shutdown.

You can download Office 2007 SP2 here.


Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 (WSS) and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (MOSS) get a nice update (via the SharePoint Team blog).

This release provides performance and interoperability improvements as well as a check for upgrade potential to SharePoint 2010 (due in the next year or two – nothing like being prepared :-)

Download links are on this Knowledge Base article.

By the way, when you are on the SharePoint blog take a look at the little hover panels when hovering over a link – it’ll tell you which links are the most popular outgoing.


Kinda neat – I’d like to know what the key interest in these posts is – my suspicion was that deployment advice would be, but it doesn’t appear that way.

Vista SP2 (and Windows 2008 SP2)

Here’s the key benefits as noted by The Windows Blog:

  • Windows Search 4.0 for faster and improved relevancy in searches
  • Bluetooth 2.1 Feature Pack supporting the most recent specification for Bluetooth Technology
  • Ability to record data on to Blu-Ray media natively in Windows Vista
  • Adds Windows Connect Now (WCN) to simplify Wi-Fi Configuration
  • Windows Vista SP2 enables the exFAT file system to support UTC timestamps, which allows correct file synchronization across time zones

As well as all the updates since SP1 rolled in. There’s a full rundown on TechNet.

BizTalk 2009 Released

Microsoft BizTalk Server 2009Well this one certainly hasn’t had the hype that Windows 7, IE8 or Windows Mobile 6.5 has experienced. And perhaps you aren’t exactly sure what BizTalk is yourself. You wouldn’t be alone. BizTalk is one of Microsoft’s enterprise tools, and has been powering away for almost a decade. It’s now in its sixth version and was quietly released on Monday.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, BizTalk is Microsoft’s platform for enterprise integration (here’s a quick overview). Basically, if you want to connect systems together then BizTalk is your facilitator. Think SOA and interoperability… EDI systems are a typical example implementation.

Here’s the list of new features in BizTalk 2009 (from the Microsoft PressPass announcement):

The BizTalk Server 2009 release delivers the following:

  • Simple, cost-effective service-oriented architecture (SOA) connectivity. With new and updated connectors, BizTalk Server 2009 advances interoperability by providing more than 25 industry adapters that make it easier for customers to connect critical business applications such as SAP, PeopleSoft, JD Edwards, Siebel and Oracle E-Business Suite.
  • Increased developer productivity. BizTalk Server enhances the first-class developer experience provided within Visual Studio 2008 by offering new integrated capabilities including visual debugging, unit testing and access to code artifacts. As a result, BizTalk Server helps democratize and simplify sophisticated integration projects, enabling a broader set of developers to rapidly deliver more standards-based and scalable business applications.
  • Better visibility into data and activities. Enhanced Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) capabilities reduce the complexity associated with trusted data collection and simplify access to data.
  • Take advantage of the benefits of virtualization. With BizTalk Server 2009 running on Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V technology, businesses can take advantage of the benefits that virtualization provides, including cost savings, production server consolidation and business continuity management.
  • Simple RFID solutions. RFID capabilities reduce the need for complicated custom coding for disparate device types. Now, businesses can easily extend RFID capabilities to mobile environments and experience the benefits from updated standards such as Tag Data Translation (TDT), EPC Information Services Standard (EPCIS) and Low Level Reader Protocol (LLRP).
  • Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) made easier. BizTalk Server can now participate in the full application development life cycle by including new project management, testing and deployment capabilities that extend ALM capabilities already delivered through Microsoft Visual Studio Team System 2008. As a result, customers experience faster time to solution with improved quality.

The improvements include better integration with the 2008 stack (Windows 2008 Server, Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008) as well as use in virtualized environments (using Hyper-V). In fact its worth pointing to the entire Microsoft Application Platform. I’ve been involved in BizTalk projects in previous companies, and whilst it had a steep learning curve, BizTalk always proved itself to be a rock solid technology.

It’s one of those products that tends to be used widely (90% of Fortune 100 companies for example, according to Microsoft), and yet no one really knows about it. It’s products like BizTalk that often get overlooked by analysts, and yet to me are powerful indicators of Microsoft’s underlying strength across multiple sectors.

The Windows 7 RC drain

Windows 7 RC is comingI’m really excited about the upcoming Windows 7 RC availability (who isn’t?). As the Windows 7 Team blog announced on Friday, it should be appearing on MSDN on 30 April, with the public release to follow on 5 May.

I’ll be downloading it straight away, as will millions of others I’m sure. What’ll be interesting is to see the download performance. In the past I’ve been really impressed with Microsoft’s infrastructure (or more correctly their infrastructure partner’s) ability to provide excellent download performance even with huge spikes. There’s been a few hiccups, for example I remember downloading Visual Studio 2008 was a long process during the first day or so, but in general the user experience has been exceptional. I wonder how the Windows 7 RC release will cope.

One of these days I’d love to meet with an IT guru who sets up these kinds of infrastructures and get a proper understanding. I think it is amazing what IT manages to deliver, usually based on protocols and underlying methods that are decades old and never in their wildest dreams expected to be deliver the kind of traffic they do these days.

Microsoft releases coming up

Waiting for Windows 7Good to see some credible rumours about Windows 7 being published. May 5 seems to be the day when Windows 7 RC goes public (and hopefully earlier for MSDN and TechNet subscribers).

A week later on May 11 Windows Mobile 6.5 might be released (or perhaps not).

But before those releases we’ll have Office 2007 SP2 available on 28 April.

And of course the Exchange 2010 Beta was released this past week.

Exchange 2010 – when will email jump the shark?

Exchange 2010Most of us have a love/hate relationship with email. In spite of all its problems, email is still the main communication mechanism of corporate existence. That’s despite the spam, incessant interruptions and lack of proper tracking functionality.

I wonder if you’ve considered how insidious email is? Have you pondered the limiting effects of email on company collaboration for example.

  • Notifications of updates to company intranets, issue tracking platforms and release procedures are often delivered via email.
  • Reminders of workflow progress, forum responses and blog comments are all email reliant.
  • We even have voicemail delivered to us via email these days.

We take the time and effort to introduce new communication mechanisms into the enterprise, but then repress them with email as the main notifier. That’s really inefficient.

Far from being made irrelevant via new collaboration tools, email use is actually increasing.


Speaking of inefficient, let’s consider meetings. In my experience there’s only one thing more unproductive than email, and that’s meetings. We spend so much time (mostly inefficiently) in meetings. But why are there so many meetings? I suggest its because of email. Consider how easy it is to call a meeting nowadays – its a simple email request. I’d like to see the correlation between the number of meetings people attend, and the ease at which meeting organization has been allowed via email requests over the last decade. I’ll wager that the rise of the unproductive meeting is another side effect of email :-).

And is it perhaps fitting that many people now spend time in meetings going through their email…

Microsoft’s Email Strategy

No surprise then that an email ‘platform’ is still a big money maker for Microsoft. Exchange – which granted is much more than just email – is a key strategy for the company, fitting in with its overall Unified Communications initiatives.

So, can Microsoft improve the efficiency of email? The news of Exchange 2010 being released later this year (beta available here) could be the start of an answer.

The feature list includes the support for ‘conversations’ (which I assume is similar to GMail’s much loved feature) and ‘email mute’ functionality to ignore certain email threads. MailTips will help you avoid the ‘Reply to All’ occurrences. All good improvements.

Next Wave

It doesn’t stop there. Exchange 2010 is also providing additional deployment options (you can mix both on-premises and partner capabilities) and archiving tools (as they address growing compliance requirements).

And then there’s the fact that Exchange 2010 is the first in the ‘next wave’. Here’s what the Microsoft PressPass announcement describes:

The next wave, which includes Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft Visio 2010 and Microsoft Project 2010, is designed to give people a consistent experience across devices, making it easier to create and edit documents and collaborate from any location.

This is good right? Reduce the barriers to entry with consistent UI**. That should give some gains.

This all sounds good.

But sadly, its missed the main need…

The result

You can see what is happening here right? The next version of Exchange isn’t about improving the efficiency of email and combating all its side-effects. It’s not about reducing email or the time we spend consuming it. Sadly the reverse is true.

The result of all these improvements is that far from being reduced email is now being integrated into more and more of our lives, both business and personal. The inefficiency of email is hardly addressed, whilst its ubiquitousness gets yet another big push.

Corporate existence has been condemned to an even richer integration with inefficiency.


When will Email jump the shark? Answer: Never.


[**Aside: what about cross-product as well as cross-device UI consistency? This is something Adam Cogan has been lamenting (example) for many years – the fact that many Microsoft products have a completely different UI, so when you use Office it is different to SharePoint which is different to CRM which is different to Visual Studio which is different to the Live Essentials products and so on.]

Microsoft’s Boring-est Catch?

Deadliest CatchMost Australian’s won’t have had the fortune of seeing Deadliest Catch – it’s a show where a bunch of blokes do blokey things on ships that are always caught in The Perfect Storm while trying to catch crabs. No joke. I’ve seen an episode and thought it was the biggest load of drivel I’ve ever seen. Well, perhaps not quite as bad as Australia’s Got Talent, but pretty bad all the same. It’s one of those shows where 13 minutes of footage and content is drawn out over a whole agonising hour. But hey, that’s just me – and what would I know, it’s actually one of the highest rating shows in the US, so it demonstrates yet again you should never trust my judgement. The show even has a blog and wiki as well as video re-runs. They’ve probably got more Web 2.0 stuff going on than most technology companies!

Which all goes to show that Microsoft’s decision to compete for (and worse, win!) the advertising rights to the show might actually be a good thing. Thanks to this post from LiveSide I learned that Microsoft went all out on winning this deal (yes, I’m resisting all fishing related terms) to the point of integrating SMS and video game sweepstakes with web site plastering of ads (on both MSN and Fox Sports pages).

Here’s what the VP of Marketing at Discovery said:

“Microsoft just came in like rock stars on this,” Donna Murphy, the Discovery Channel’s vice president of marketing strategy, said in an interview. “They were the first ones to really blow it out in every direction.”

The interesting thing in all this (besides the spell binding show of course) is that Microsoft is pushing the boundaries of advertising. And perhaps this is where the future opportunities are. Instead of just going head to head on Search advertising with its competitors, Microsoft is leveraging a number of its platforms. This will transform the industry pretty quickly. It won’t be long before a promotion is saturated across all platforms – combining business, personal and leisure activities via desktop, mobile, entertainment (consoles) and online. Prepare to be immersed. And can you think of any company that can really compete with Microsoft across all these channels simultaneously? Google may be entering the mobile market but they don’t have an entertainment console channel.

One of the key points that Microsoft mention is that this ability to work together across their divisions is a relatively new ability. Keith Lorizio (an ad VP at Microsoft) notes that separate teams handled these disparate channels, but they now have the ability to work together efficiently.

This is the start of something big.

Virtual Earth 3D Update

Thanks to those wonderful folk at Soul Solutions I was notified of an update to the Virtual Earth 3D control.

You simply head over to Live Search Maps and click on 3D. You’ll be prompted to install the control if you don’t have it already.

Virtual Earth 3D


But before we go on, a quick gripe first.

After a seamless install experience, here’s the final dialog. Yes, its one of those ‘let me fuck with your existing settings’ dialogs. I guess I don’t really mind being given the option, but please don’t tick them on by default. Microsoft, it’s just cheap wins and it lowers you into the realm of all those other shitty companies that do this kind of thing. Please stop it.

Final dialog from Virtual Earth 3D install

But once it is installed, it all works very nicely.

Sadly Sydney doesn’t seem to have made the 3D cut yet, so here’s what the Sydney Opera House (or Sydney Opera Center if you’re Hugh Jackman :-) ) looks like:

Sydne Opera House on Virtual Earth 3D 

(The little globe in the bottom left will have a building on (see below) if there are details.)

But other areas are rendering nicely. Here’s Times Square in New York (I thought I’d check if the Virgin Megastore showed :-))

Times Square on Virtual Earth 3D

Oh, and I like how the globe fills up to indicate progress in the rendering:

Virtual Earth progress Virtual Earth 3D progress

The Soul Solutions post has an an impressive image of the Statue of Liberty which renders really nicely, much more so than say this view of the Microsoft campus in Seattle:

Microsoft campus in Virtual Earth 3D 

There’s a few options too, including some terrain view improvements. But be careful with the Options dialog. It can easily fall behind the other windows (eg if you are taking a screen shot) and then you wonder why Live Search won’t respond anymore. You’ll need to minimise windows one by one until you find it. Hopefully the VE team can fix this little quirk in due course.

Virtual Earth 3D options

The control runs in both IE and Firefox, but Chrome wasn’t supported in my experience.

All in all, I like it. Very cool.

See also the Virtual Earth 3D Team Blog.

Time for Windows 7 RC?

Windows 7Time to check in on the daily Windows 7 RC rumours and yet again we’re in for a treat.

If much of the Twitter buzz is true then the RC will be released on April 10. What a wonderful way to spend the long weekend (Australia has a 4 day weekend starting Friday), reformatting my machine and loading on the latest. Yes, it’s a sad thing that some of us look forward to these activities. On a side note I’ve been cleaning up an XP machine for my brother this week – ahhh what memories – and I think I’d die if I had to go back to that for any more than a few hours. But I digress, back to Windows 7…

The Hotfix mentions ‘legit and trusted sources’ which was picked up in forums and made its way onto blogs.

There’s all kinds of talk about different builds (7077, 7079, 7100 and even 7105) which I find completely boring, so perhaps I’m not that geeky after all (note to self: need to take some more of my geek pills).

Meanwhile there’s also advice on how to upgrade from the beta to the RC (in short, don’t), assuming it hasn’t been blocked, plus the ability to downgrade to Vista or XP.

Finally, there’s been a dubious report on IT Pro acceptance of Windows 7, and the usual playing-devils-advocate stance from Joe Wilcox (who I happen to totally agree with on this one – I mean how can you take seriously a poll of only 66 people!).

Rumours are rumours, so take them with a grain of salt. But if per chance the RC does make it out this weekend, there’s going to be a lot of happy people.

Link to SQL Server 2008 SP1

SQL Server 2008Just a quick link to the download (approx 900MB) for SQL Server 2008 SP1 which was released earlier this week.

The release is predominantly a bug fix release (you can view the full list of fixes here). There’s nothing really new in the product itself, although install (via slipstreaming) and uninstall (granular rollback via Control Panel) are improved. There’s also a ClickOnce version of Report Builder 2.0.

So, in summary, not very exciting right? Well, no. In my opinion this is another example of Microsoft focussing on quality. I’m pleased to see this practice becoming more of the norm in the last year or so. Instead of pushing in all kinds of new features, they are concentrating on making what is already a very high quality release, even better.

In some ways you could say that SP1 is aimed at improving the IT Pro experience, rather than the Developer experience. Installing Service Packs for SQL Server is one of the scariest procedures for IT Administrators (more so than OS patches in most cases) so it is right that Microsoft is reducing the barriers to upgrade. Back in the SQL Server 2000 days, any Service Pack install was a precarious thing – that’s why so many were caught when the Slammer worm hit. SQL Server 2005 improved the process, but we still saw the service packs introduce brand new functionality.

SQL Server 2008 SP1 with its minimal footprint change, and singular focus on just fixing bugs is a good move. Applying the Service Pack still needs to be a carefully planned exercise of course, but it is much more manageable than in previous releases.

Figures suggest that SQL Server 2008 itself has been downloaded more than 3 millions times since last August. So adoption is high. Keeping quality high will only improve that confidence further.

Microsoft Surface and Health care

Microsoft Surface - the possibilities are endlessMore on Surface, this time with Health Care taking the focus (see also our earlier post on Surface in Education). At the annual HIMSS Health Care conference this week, Microsoft is demonstrating a number of health care scenarios with Microsoft Surface (along with Amalga and HealthVault technologies).

You may be wondering where Microsoft Surface fits in with Health care. Consider for a moment how people normally interact with their doctor. Probably the same way they have for decades. But then consider this (from the HIMSS schedule):

A trend in healthcare that has emerged over the past decade is the evolution of patient-centered medicine. Patient-centered care is the movement to empower individuals to become medical decision makers who take an active role in their own care. New information systems such as patient portals and personal health records facilitate this transformation. We describe the development of a prototype application for the Microsoft Surface platform designed to promote a patient-centered approach within the context of a physician-patient interaction.

Health care is changing.  

Need more convincing that Surface (and technologies like it) will play a significant role in patient interaction? Watch this video (or see below) with Tim Huckaby from January. In it he demonstrates how a doctor and patient can interact using Surface:

And that’s only one of the many scenarios possible. Microsoft plan to present 4 at the conference, including Rehabilitation (using Surface to promote motor control) and Virtual Clinic (giving the patient an overview of the process before consultation) as well as the patient consultation scenarios.

This is just the beginning.

IE8 Web slices in 3 minutes

Michael Kordahi - Delicate GeniusMichael Kordahi may yet turn me back to Internet Explorer (I’ve been living in FireFox and Chrome for the last few months). His ‘3 minute’ series kicks off with how to add a web slice to your page. It’s so easy, even I could do it! (see the Featured section on this site’s home page – my only problem is that the content name will change along with the content, but perhaps that’s a benefit…)

The question that remains in my mind however, is who would actually use web slices? I’ve heard the ebay example enough times and can probably accept that. But other uses? I’m still wondering. In any case, having a slice from my blog probably isn’t high on anyone’s list :-)

The video is available in HD which is always good for code samples. I think these kinds of videos are really useful and 3 minutes is a good length for us time poor attention deficient geeks. See also the Microsoft How Do I sites for more videos along these lines.)

Go check it out here or watch it below: 

(I’m not sure of the etiquette of embedding someone else’s video in your own site, but since it has embedding allowed on YouTube I figure it’s OK. And anyway, it’s all about getting the message out right?)

Thanks for the great vid Michael.

More Windows 7 Rumours

Windows 7 is definately going to be released. Some time. Some day.Its been a good week for rumours with the Google-Twitter discussion generating a lot of interest on the interwebs.

So, it  must be time to re-stoke some other rumours – how about the Windows 7 release date rumours again. This time the suggestion is for a September RTM according to today’s Windows 7 Center post.

Note, this is a little later than the June/July RTM timeframe rumoured in February, but only by a few months.

Remember, there’s a difference between RTM (Release to Manufacturing) and Launch. RTM is when you can download it (ie via MSDN), and the launch usually happens a few months later (although this is not always the case – SQL Server 2008 for example was launched long before actual release).

Personally I can’t wait for the release. I’ve been using the Beta since January and love it. So, for me the sooner the better. But I understand Microsoft has a lot riding on this. The groundswell for Windows 7 has been very positive, so Microsoft won’t want to damage that with a premature release. Rock solid quality and a wonderful user experience are what’s needed. And I think they’ll deliver. Just this week it has been good to see Dell publishing some very positive Windows 7 results on their systems (thanks to Neowin for the link).

From what I’ve seen of Windows 7 so far, coupled with the favourable response it is getting in just about all sectors, I think Microsoft has a winner on their hands. In years to come I suspect analysts will look back at Windows 7 and point to it as the release that saved Microsoft.

Microsoft Office for Web iPhone Mobile whatever

Office for the Web - I predict Silverlight!It’s not until you get to the end of Mary Jo’s excellent summary of Microsoft Office ‘versions’ that you hit the gold. It’s all about Silverlight. Well, in my mind at least. The Silverlight 3 details announced at MIX last month are exciting in their own right, especially the opportunities for browser apps to effectively work outside the browser. But surely Office is going to be the killer Silverlight app.

For all we know, the passing Office-for-iPhone comment may just be the ravings of a bumbling Microsoft president. Or April Fools gag (given the timing). Or just a reference to Safari support. But me thinks not. My Nostra-craigus prediction is that Mary Jo is on the right path, and Silverlight will be a key component.

I’ll be taking the advice of Stephen Elop (said Microsoft president) to ‘keep watching’ :-)

Browser usage behaviours

According to StatCounter, FireFox 3.0 is now more popular than IE7 in Europe.

Here’s the graph based on usage from weeks 4 to 13 this year (we are currently in week 14 as I write this). The green arrow is where Firefox has just overtaken IE. The red arrow down the bottom is pointing at the uptake of IE8 (only small admittedly, but a lot higher than Chrome for example). As Alan Lee rightly pointed out this morning, combined IE still has the edge over Firefox – but probably not for long when you consider the trend up of FF and the trend down of IE7. It’ll be interesting to see the trend of IE8 uptake over the coming weeks.

Firefox more popular than IE in Europe

Looking at worldwide usage however, its a different story. IE7 is still way out in front. But even worse, IE6 is in a solid third place just below Firefox.

IE most popular world wide

The real question though, is who cares?

In fact, why do the vendors even care? What real competitive advantage is browser share giving Microsoft? What additional revenue streams? In many cases all it provides is a soft target for anti-competitive attacks. There’s little value in controlling the browser these days, surely the value is in controlling what content resides in the browser.

Lately I’ve been a little harsh on Microsoft for their mis-guided (in my opinion) browser strategy. But now I’m starting to understand why. They don’t really care. And nor should they. So whilst the masses are clamouring to add their IE9 wish list items, I suspect Microsoft are just content to get a stable browser bedded in and get back to making money.

IE8 and the perception of speed

Perception is reality. What do you see?Perception is a funny thing. I’ve sometimes said that ‘perception is reality’ – meaning that it doesn’t matter what the reality is, all that matters is what people think the reality is.

Take web browsing speed for example. Someone applies a patch to IE8 that they are informed will speed it up. They think it does. And they ‘experience’ faster browsing. In reality nothing has changed. Only their perception has.

Why mention this? Because it reiterates that perception is often more important than reality.

Vista has a perception of being slow, unstable, insecure, whatever. And people hate it with a passion. But the ‘Mojave’ experiment last year demonstrated (not at all scientifically of course) that perception is often far removed from reality.

Windows 7 to benefit

And now we see the perception shifting in Microsoft’s favour. Windows 7 is being touted as a wonderful operating system – so far the majority of reports are singing its praises. The ‘operating system that Vista should have been’ even.

As the world becomes more crowd driven via social media, the importance of perception becomes paramount.

Catching on to Microsoft Surface

Microsoft Surface - your time is coming real soonArs Technica (who I love reading by the way) have a surprising piece on kids using Microsoft Surface. Surprising because it seems as though the writer has only just cottoned on to the fact that Microsoft is making a big push into the education sector.

For those interest I covered some of the Surface developments on my personal blog here back in January. Last year August de los Reyes (he’s the Principal Experience Architect behind the Surface) spoke at Web Directions about the approach Microsoft are taking with Surface. His interview with Sitepoint back in October gives a good overview of where Surface is headed, in particular the embracing of emotion.

Little surprise then that kids are a captive audience. Get children working cooperatively on education tasks and you’ve got a winning combination. 

Quietly, quietly

Microsoft has been quietly pushing Surface, and making it available in more countries is just part of the plan. The Surface is a sleeper, and it won’t start making a big impact until late this year (in my opinion). It’s funny how Microsoft often gets accused of being behind the 8 ball when it comes to things like touch and user interface. But keep in mind that Surface has been around for years now. It’s effect on the technology landscape has been underappreciated.

With only a few hurdles left to remove (ie the whopping $15K price tag for starters, the difficulty of getting access to the Surface SDK for developers for another), there’s plenty of opportunity awaiting those brave enough to jump on board.

Make sure you check out some of the videos on YouTube for examples of what is possible. And the Surface blog for the latest news.

Here’s how to purchase one if you are really keen.