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Saturday, December 11, 2004

It's Coming...

What's coming? Well, you'll just have to wait and see. Monday morning, 1 p.m. Eastern, 10 a.m. Pacific, MSN has announced an important conference call. I'll be blogging during it, so expect a post at 1:02 p.m. with the big news. I'm going to need some ominous Brukheimer-movie music playing...

The small details from the MSN PressPass site:
Media Alert: MSN to Announce Important News via Teleconference

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 10, 2004

What: Telephone conference call announcing a significant new MSN® service in the United States.

Who: Yusuf Mehdi, corporate vice president of the MSN Information, Services & Merchant Platform division at Microsoft Corp.

When: Monday, Dec. 13, 2004. Teleconference begins at 10 a.m. PST

Teleconference Information:Call-in number (U.S.): (800) 559-9370
International: +1 (847) 619-6819

When prompted, participants need to ask for the MSN teleconference to gain access to the call.

Members of the press can visit for forthcoming press materials.

Teleconference Replay Information: Audio replays of the teleconference will be available from 11:30 a.m. PST Dec. 13 until 11:59 p.m. PST Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2004.

Call-in number (U.S.): (877) 213-9653 Pass code: 10512165#

International: +1 (630) 652-3041 Pass code: 10512165#

Members of the press also can visit for a transcript of the teleconference.

Oh, and seriously, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably already know what's coming.

Scoble says Channel 9 will have videos.

UPDATE: Scoble, talking on his blog about WinFS, the advanced, searchable file system that is coming for Windows in several years, and asking why we don't have something that "show[s] us patterns in... my hard drive?"
Actually, on Monday, we might just have an answer for that too. The MSN search team is announcing something and they have opened up their teleconference to the public. Also, I'll have some videos up on Monday. The upcoming week is going to be a big week for the search industry.
Do I have to draw a freakin' picture?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Hotmail: Since 1996

Eileen Brown links to the updated MSN Hotmail Fact Sheet, and notes that it says Hotmail has been around since 1996. So, I did some checking, and I've been on the same Hotmail email address since 1997. I had no idea I was an early adopter. I was just trying to use eBay :-). Looking back, its easy to forget that there was a time when Hotmail was just another startup, until it was bought by Microsoft in 1998. I'm feeling kind of sad, realizing all those years of email I deleted due to a lack of storage space.

80,000 Legal Songs?

Scoble says he ran into a guy at the Media Center geek dinner who claimed to have 80,000 songs, all legally acquired, on his Media Center PC. Are there even 80,000 songs to listen to?

Yahoo Announces Desktop Search

Yahoo announced yesterday plans to release its desktop search product in about a month, in early January. Yahoo's desktop search will be free and based on X1's desktop search technology, meaning (a) it's more advanced than Google's and (b) it's not really a Yahoo product, no more than this story is about Yahoo DVD players. Still, its another check mark Yahoo can claim, and in the current phase of the search war the emphasis is on having all the products everyone else has, so I guess its a good thing. It is also a good thing for consumers, since we get a (likely slimmed down) version of X1 for free.

MSN Desktop Search, an in-house product that integrates with the operating system, is expected sometime this month, and leaked info pointed to a powerful product. Google Desktop Search, despite making a big splash in October, has fallen from the public interest as better (but not free) products received major press, free publicity they owe to Google. Will we see a GDS 1.5 upgrade by February? Considering that the MSN Toolbar quickly overtook the Google Toolbar despite not being a better product (and tied to a bad search engine), its a given that MSN Desktop Search will beat Google's if GDS doesn't see a new version.

As for Yahoo? We'll have to see how it differs from MSN and regular X1 before predictions can be made. Yahoo released a slide comparing it to "the competition", and here's the data:
 Yahoo Competitors 
Relevance Ability to pivot data by any dimension:
recency, creator, recipient, type, etc.
Ranking only by date and relevance
ComprehensivenessAbility to index 225+ data types, email attachments5 data types, attachments not indexed
FreshnessV1.0 Beta: Scheduled in increments
V1.0: near real time
Near real time
PresentationRich native user-interface
Search-as-you-type, previews, post-search actions
Limited to HTML rendering
So, what have we learned?  More ways to search and sort data, more file types, email attachments, an interface, search-as-you-type.  No real-time indexing (and don't expect the final release to be real-time, just smaller increments), no explanation of how it searches the more file types (does it list them, or can it read meta-data?), and I don't like search-as-you-type (unnecessary, slow, and annoying).  Does this list make a better product than Google's?  Yes and no.  It's more usable, but how much more usable is unclear.  It's certainly not as good as Apple's Spotlight, and I expect MSN Desktop Search to be more similar to Spotlight than either Yahoo or Google.  Of course, this info is still very vague, and the product we see in January could be the best yet, making us look at out MSN Search that we installed weeks before and consider switching.

Notice that when Yahoo says "Competitors", its clearly working off of Google's feature list.  I hope this doesn't mean they're only looking to Mountain View for competition, because they'll just get clipped from behind.

Coverage so far:
Financial Times - Like Google's desktop tool, the Yahoo product will initially make it easier to find email and files stored on the hard drive of a PC. The internet company then plans to extend the software to draw in other personal information stored on servers over the web, said Mr Weiner.
Yahoo's search tool is based on technology developed by X1, a start-up created by Bill Gross, head of internet incubator Idealab.
Mr Gross was also the architect behind, which later changed its name to Overture and was bought by Yahoo last year for $1.6bn. By giving advertisers a way to link their messages to relevant internet search results, Overture has been core to Yahoo's effort to create an alternative to search juggernaut Google.

CNet - The Yahoo-branded application, available in early January, will let people search their PCs as well as the Web via Yahoo Search, but future iterations will include navigation for Yahoo's instant messenger archives, address book and free e-mail service.
Associated Press - ... and Ask Jeeves Inc., which runs several online search engines, plans to unveil its
desktop offering next Wednesday.

Washington Post

John Battelle - ... the FT, which I think (inadvertently, I am sure) broke an embargo to publish this (I have seen a demo and was planning on posting late tonight or in the morning)... (By the way, I'm told that Ask will launch its desktop search product next week, Dec. 15th, to be exact.)
Seattle PI

UPDATE: AOL's desktop search, based on Copernic, is coming:
And AOL? The company plans its own desktop search application that is packaged as part of the new AOL browser that's in beta testing. Any AOL member can access this by signing into AOL, then using the keyword "beta" to reach the beta download area. I've just downloaded the beta but haven't had a chance to play with it. But the desktop search is powered by Copernic, another well regarded desktop search app. It was CNET's editor's choice in a recent review of desktop search apps. (Google Desktop was unrated in that review because it was too new but drew plenty of praise).
Andy Beal says X1 is very slow and processor consuming, while Copernic is much easier on the system. Did Yahoo pick the wrong dance partner?

Thursday, December 09, 2004

New Holiday-Themed Faces For MSN Spot Watches

Gizomodo says:
Microsoft has released a few new faces for their MSN SPOT watches—some of them aren't even ghastly! They're 'winter'-themed, with snowmen and reindeer and a New Year's Countdown clock. I want to hate it, but it's a pretty neat, I'll admit. How cool would it be if someone would release a watch that you could upload Flash or SVG faces to? If you have a decent screen you could do so many interesting things.
The link to SpotStop for more info is currently not working, but you can try again later.

InsideGoogle: Is Loyalty All That Matters In Search

I made some points over at InsideGoogle about how MSN's excellent portal (and Yahoo's) pose a serious threat to Google, one that may already spell a significant loss of market share. It is my firm belief that the moment MSN Search Beta becomes the default MSN engine, Google will lose a lot of market share, making the race for search dominance a tight, neck-and-neck three-way race. Historically, in an even matchup between companies including Microsoft, MS always wins, so Google better watch out. If the search was comes down to a few percentage points, Microsoft will eventually win it. Check out the Google side of the arguement.

Windows Feedback Panel

Microsoft has the Windows Feedback Panel, a program customers can join to provide feedback to the Windows team and help with its development. Chris Pirillo weighs in on it:
Windows Feedback Panel? My first bit of feedback: don't require a download. Second bit of feedback: try listening to the conversation in the blogosphere, too.
Alex Barnett (ominously) responds on his MSDN blog:
Thanks Chris, we're listening.
Interestingly, Alex calls his post "Feedback on Feedback on Feedback". Does that make this "Feedback on Feedback on Feedback on Feedback"?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Microsoft's Company Archives

Ben Armstrong, Program Manager at Microsoft, brags on his MSDN blog about Microsoft Archives, where the company stores vast amounts of records about products and press releases dating back to the early days of the company. He points out these tidbits:
  • Windows 1.0 was demonstrated at the 1983 Comdex, but was never released. Windows 1.03 was the first version of Windows to be made publicly available in 1985
  • Soon after releasing Microsoft BOB, we then released the 'Microsoft BOB Plus Pack'. Hmmm... Don't know what to say about that :-)
  • In 1980 Microsoft actually released their own PASCAL compiler - this was something that I never knew. This compiler was maintained through to 1988.
I wish I could get a look at some of those archives. I'd probably get a lot of cool posts out of them.

Microsoft: Answer Survey, Win Prizes

The SQL Server team at Microsoft is raffling off prizes to the first 500 respondents who fill out a survey about the application development experience working with data platforms. You need to be an application developer and fit the profile to enter. More information at the .net DElirium MSDN blog. The objectives of the survey, which should only take 10-15 minutes, are:
To understand the existing, as well as upcoming challenges that has the potential of hindering optimal performance and productivity of those who develop applications and software components.

To direct software manufacturers and its partners toward building powerful products that enable greater success among software development professionals.

Determine the levels of priorities around improvements in data handling from the view point of developers.
You can check out the survey site here, and forward this info as an email to anyone who might be interested here.

Ken Jennings Turns Down A "Real Job" From Microsoft

All-time Jeopardy champion and new Encarta spokesman Ken Jennings was apparently offered a job as a software development engineer at Microsoft a few months ago, but he turned that down, later accepting the higher paying but less substantial role as a product hawker. Gretchen Ledgard notes on her MSDN blog:
A few months ago, I contacted Ken about a Software Development Engineer role with Microsoft, but he never wrote me back. :( I don’t blame him … being a spokesman for a product is probably a cool job. But wouldn’t he get even more satisfaction from actually developing the product … not just talking about it? :)

Ken (and the rest of you brilliant minds out there), you know where I am. :)
Considering Jennings was a software developer in Utah before hitting it big on Jeopardy, it's surprising that an offer from the world's largest software company, one that was clearly impressed with him, didn't even warrant a reply. When Jennings' fifteen minutes are over, he may wish he had taken Microsoft up on that offer.
(via Seattle PI)

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

MSN Wave 11 Details Leaked

Neowin has details on Microsoft's planned major revamp of MSN, being called MSN Wave 11. The new MSN will feature very tight interaction, creating a community among its users. It will feature a revamped Hotmail interface, one that centers on interaction. The Hotmail interface has three panes, arranging emails in a way that makes it easy to track conversation topics (there is even a "Hot Topics/News" portion). Updates to MSN Spaces will inlude Group Spaces, which are much like LiveJournal communities, while Messenger will introduce Circles, all of which will work together to better communicate among groups of friends.

Messenger will feature user-customizable layouts and lots of little bars that you can add into it that do things like read RSS feeds, file sharing, search, radio, news (headlines, weather, traffic...), and maybe even integrated Windows Media Player. Messenger will also be able to dock on the desktop, or, if your feeling like having some fun, you can minimize it but keep some of the bars and push them whereever you want them to be. Messenger will also feature photo sharing. You can have an "Avatar" on Messenger that can "purchase" new clothes and accessories with points (no word on how you accumulate points).

Finally, there's MSN Marketplace, which is like an Orkut that actually makes financial sense. You can list anything you want to sell, stuff you want, and recommendations, and people who know you or are close enough can bid on them.. Messenger automatically notifies people when stuff you might want is listed by someone you know. It's like a useful Orkut, a more trustful Craigslist, an eBay for your social circle. Neowin describes it as, "It is like eBay except with people that you already know and trust directly (or a few degrees out)".

MSN is focusing the development on these key parts:
  • Me (My Identity)
  • My Relationships (My Social Network)
  • Catch up
  • Publish & Archive
  • Communicate
  • E-mail, IM, & SMS
  • Voice & Video
  • Share
  • Fun (Play Together)
Neowin had some screenshots, but Microsoft requested they take them down (although some intrepid people saved them). I wouldn't mind seeing some (assuming I didn't save them all already)...

I gotta say, I love using MSN (so much to the point that I rarely use Firefox). It does have a very tight interface that manages to dump a ton of features into a single screen in a way that actually works (try finding all the Firefox extensions you need and getting them to work right). I can't wait for these improvements (and wouldn't mind a chance to beta test them *wink* *wink*). I use all the little widgets MSN has, and they certainly make my life easier. Why do I have to wait till 2006?
(via Seattle PI)

Microsoft Pairs With Inline Skater For Good Cause

Krzysztof Dzienniak rolled into Microsoft's Redmond headquarters today, completing a 100-day, 3,000 mile journey that will benefit two sick Polish girls. Krzysztof wanted to help the two girls, one of whom was born with a brain disease, the other lost her leg in accident, pay off over $20,000 in medical bills. He heard of Bill Gates' 2003 trip to Poland and his generous charitable donations, so he decided to skate across the entire United States to appeal to Gates for the money. He notified Microsoft's Poland spokesman Bartlomiej Danek, and headed off on his adventure. Microsoft set up an employee giving campaign, which promised to match all donations, including $1000 that Bill Gates already gave. He left August 28 and travelled roughly 32 miles a day, only taking off his skates when the terrain was impassible on inline skates. Krzysztof wore out three sets of wheels, and hed to beg passers-by for $150 for new skates when his were stolen at a gas station in Pennsylvania. No word yet from Microsoft on how much money was raised, but rest assured it will probably prove worth his effort for those two little girls back home. -AP

Who Owns Your MSN Space?

According to Microsoft's Michael Connolly, you do.

Some bloggers have wondered what Microsoft will do with their content, since the terms of use clearly give MS all the rights:
For materials you post or otherwise provide to Microsoft related to the MSN Web Sites (a "Submission"), you grant Microsoft permission to (1) use, copy, distribute, transmit, publicly display, publicly perform, reproduce, edit, modify, translate and reformat your Submission, each in connection with the MSN Web Sites
Well, Michael assures you that MSN won't steal the photos from your vacation and make a bundle off of them:
Who Owns My Blog Content?

An interesting discussion has cropped up around the ownership of content you post to your Space. Specifically, a few people have dissected the legal language in our Terms of Use, and interpreted it as saying that we somehow own your creative work.

That is not the case at all. You own the content you post. Period.

I’m not a lawyer, but we have one of those guys down the hall. He says that the wording in the TOU is all about granting us the right to post your content and share it out on MSN. Since you own it, we need that right to actually draw it on the screen.

Hope that clears this up. We’re looking at make changes to the wording of our TOU so it’s less confusing.

Good to know.
(via Scoble)

Google Stealing Microsoft's Quality, Not Quantity

The Seattle Times reports that Google has stolen people from Microsoft. Not too many, mind you, but Microsoft says it is losing some very good people. Jim Allchin, group vice president of the Windows platfrom division:
We lost some people who went to Google, who we didn't want to lose.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Give The MSN Search Wheel A Whirl

You may have noticed the MSN Search Wheel. It is part of an ad campaign for MSN Search. You ran the cursor over it and it spun real quickly before settling on a search, which you could check out by clicking the search button. It's one of the most effective web ads I've ever seen, and you can find out more by checking out IMediaConnection's discussion of it. Miss the wheel? It's over here, but the search doesn't actually work.
(via Search Engine Watch)

Microsoft Goes To Great Lengths For Compatibility

From Larry Fosterman's blog
Slavish Compatibility

It's no secret the levels of effort that Microsoft goes through to maintain software compatibility.

However, it's not as well known that Microsoft's hardware division has a similar passion for compatibility

Back in the early 1990s, Valorie worked on printer drivers for Windows 3.1. Her division was led by Steve Shaiman (another person in the division was a program manager named Gabe Newell)

When Steve was cleaning out his office one day, he found a box in his office, and he checked what was inside it.

It was the very first shipment of Microsoft Mice, newly arrived from the factory in Microsoft Taiwan.

He kept one for himself, gave one to Valorie, and sent the rest to the Microsoft archives. Valorie, in turn gave the mouse to me, since she knew I had a collection of Microsoft mice hung up on my office walls.

Fast forward ten years, it's now 2001. I'm working in the Connected Home Business Unit, which was (at the time) located in the same office area as the Microsoft hardware group.

Just for grins, I showed the device compatibility tester for the hardware division (the entire wall of his office was covered in mice).

So what's the first words out of this guys mouth?

"Hmm. I wonder if this thing works with our current drivers? No reason it shouldn't.."

He removes the mouse from the packaging, plugs it into the serial port of his Windows 2000 machine, and the mouse driver on the machine detected the mouse, and started using it.

So the current Microsoft mouse driver even supports the very first Microsoft mouse ever delivered.

Now THAT'S compatibility.

Ken Jennings Becomes Encarta Spokesman

Record-Smashing Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings has been picked up by Microsoft to be the spokesman for Encarta. Jennings, who won $2.5 million in 75 consecutive victories on the quiz show, will embark on a nationwide media tour called "Quiz the Whiz", challenging news desks to stump him with questions from the new Microsoft Encarta Reference Library Premium 2005. In an "interview" with Microsoft PR, Jennings said:
Jenkins: The Internet can be an incredible resource, but the scary thing is you never know what's out there or whether the answer you will find will be accurate. In fact, out of curiosity I searched for myself once and turned up all sorts of erroneous information. One seemingly reputable and authoritative page even had my name wrong! That's why I really enjoy using Encarta: all its content has been reviewed by a team of editorial experts and all the Web sites include approved content.
No one told Microsoft the irony of misspelling Jennings name Jenkins in that paragraph and 14 other times on that page. Oops.

PR goofs aside, this is just a great idea. Jennings is the reigning king of the quiz, and fits Encarta so well. We're going to be seeing him on news shows for a while anyway, at least with this quiz it'll be fun. And you can be sure that if some hapless local broadcaster stumps him, it'll be all over the blogosphere within twenty minutes.
(via Microsoft Watch > BetaNews)

Create Custom Emoticons In Messenger 7

Did you know you can create custom emoticons in MSN Messenger 7 Beta? Eileen Brown explains on her MSDN blog:
  1. In the main MSN Messenger window, click the Tools menu, and then click Create Emoticons.
  2. On the My Custom Emoticons page, click Add.
  3. On the Add a custom emoticon page, type the file name of the image on your computer you want to use.
  4. Click Find Image to locate the picture.
  5. On the Select a custom emoticon page, click Open.
  6. Type a keyboard shortcut for the new emoticon.
  7. Type a name for the emoticon (optional).
  8. To add the image to your list of emoticons, click OK.
Take that, SuperBuddies! This is a very cool feature, and I'm impressed with MSN for just giving it away while AOL Instant Messenger nickel-and-dimes everybody. Good move, guys! Take a look at my lame-o attempt at creativity.

Why MSN Spaces Censors

Dare Obasanjo, a Program Manager working on MSN Spaces, has a post explaining the whole MSN Spaces censorship situation. Apparently, this is creating quite a stir on the net and at MS; the Boing Boing post is the number one result for MSN Spaces on Google (not on MSN Search, though). He links a post by Mike Connelly (Spaces Group Program Manager) on his Space that explains:
We block a set of specific words from being used in 3 areas: the url you select, the title of your Space, and the title of your blog entry. These three fields are reused and displayed in a variety of areas, like search results, so we thought it would be a little thing we could do to cut down on the obvious cases that would most easily offend.
He also explains that there was a bug where the filter was turned on for comments, and since it wasn't designed for long blocks of text, it reported false positives (that's been fixed). I can't agree witht the filtering of blogs, since it limits their ability to be used as a legitimate news source. Perhaps MSN could find a way to censor the search results, so while there could be anything in your Space, searches would show a bunch of *******. Doorway pages as a form of parental control? Could work, could work.

Spyware: Good For You?

Now I've heard everything.

Wired News has an article that basically says that, to some people, spyware is a good thing, the price of downloading software. These people? College students who would rather have the spyware that comes with file-sharing software than not.

The program in question is called Marketscore, and it comes bundled with IMesh. By all accounts, Marketscore is a nightmare of a program. It installs without warning, reports everything you do, and can read encrypted data such as passwords and credit card numbers.

To most people this would be a bad thing. But according to posters at IMesh's forums, spyware is good, because "without spyware there's no such thing as free software", and "you have to support spyware if you're going to have free file-sharing applications". Really? I've been using BitTorrent forever without any spyware. I have a ton of open source applications that have no spyware. Even all of the good anti-spyware programs are free, yet seem to not need spyware. Spyware is not the price of doing business; its the price of doing business with sleazy companies.

As the article continues, it explains how some college campuses, realizing Marketscore has been installed on a huge number of campus machines, have blocked the Marketscore ports to prevent the spread of the program and the incredible security risk it poses. Because Marketscore hijacks over your internet connection, those who have it lost their connection, and are complaining that they want the university to stop blocking it.
"This sucks," said a Pennsylvania State University student in an e-mail interview. "I can't surf the web and I can't trade files if I uninstall the spyware. Why can't the college let me do what I want to do with my computer? The school computer security guys are being way more annoying than the spyware was."
Really? The campus security guys, who don't want everyone's credit card info being handed to a company that has already done malicious action just by putting the software on your PC and hijacking the HOSTS file, they're worse? Buy a clue.

I wonder if these moronic proponents of spyware realize that it is slowing down their computer? That the reason they can't play a decent game of CounterStrike is because Marketscore is ""routing your internet activities through our service". That the reason a nearly new 2.0 gigahertz computer runs like my old Cyrix 150 MHz because the spyware has turned it to molasses. That irresponsibly installing this stuff only hurts yourself in the end, and that no amount of stolen music can justify letting some company yank your credit card out from under you.

Oh, and that at some point, the RIAA is going to realize that Marketscore has the names, addresses, and Social Security numbers of everyone it needs to sue. Yeah, that'll be a pretty day.

Still worth it?

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Steve Ballmer Remembers His Roots

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has never forgotten where he came from. Ballmer spent part of last week at Focus: Hope, a civil and human rights organization based in Detroit that offers machinist and technology training. Thanks partially to Balmer, who is from Detroit, more than $7 million has found its way to Detroit charities, $5 million of it to Focus: Hope. Ballmer's father worked as a manager at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn. His mother was raised in Detroit, near Focus: HOPE's headquarters on Oakman Boulevard. The most interesting thing? After he was done with the philanthropy, the $12 billion dollar man morphed into the tech support guy.
After announcing the donation, Ballmer toured a computer classroom and became the ultimate help desk for students.

He offered a few troubleshooting suggestions to a woman whose computer often crashed while shutting down, promised a Microsoft technician would visit a man whose pop-up blocker wouldn't stop risque ads from appearing and gave out his secretary's phone number when he couldn't immediately solve another woman's e-mail problem.

Who Knew Microsoft Could Be Funny?

Microsoft a few months ago instituted some cost cutting measures, including knocking down the availability of supplies and number of supply rooms. Since there has been a lot of complaining, some members of the Exchange team made this video (WMV 8MB) to show the extent of the problem. Hilarious stuff. The video even has some auditions that just didn't turn out right. Clearly, not having supplies to make paper airplanes, MS employees have had to find something to do with their free time. Some screen caps (taken, of course, with Windows Movie Maker):

(from KC Lemson's Exchange and Outlook blog)

How To Capture Video With Print Screen

I had such a hard time pulling this off, I figured I needed to post about it. We needed a screen cap from a video for an article (layman's terms: I needed to use Print Screen to get a picture from a video). Problem is, when you play video, it's not actually part of your screen, its being played over your screen, so Print Screen just ignores it. Paste it into Photoshop, and all you see is a black square, or weirder, the video, still playing. Luckily, there's a stupid hack that fixes this. Open your video in Windows Movie Maker, go to the part you want, and hit Print Screen. Voila! I recommend hitting the button to go to full screen so you get a better quality shot. I got the idea to use Movie Maker from this post at SitePoint Forums (athough that tip was only a starting point, since it didn't work). Presumably, other image editing tools might work, but this is the one most Windows users should have. Have fun!