See Windows Vista site has been dead for awhile – now replaced by Windows Vista Innovation Cafe

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There used to be this awesome site, before Vista’s launch, called "See Windows Vista". It had this sophisticated looking guy (with beard and glasses) go through all of the cool things that could be accomplished on Vista. These were mainly specific program made for very specific businesses and research, and even education, though they weren’t targeted to everybody. A lot of cool visual stuff, but I didn’t really see anything of real use for ME out of it. I never even see them in real life. But it was VERY cool what these applications could ‘seem’ to do, and that was awesome enough.

But for month, "See Windows Vista" has been down. Probably because none of that stuff happened. Or were described as too wistfully. So they took the whole site down, sadly.

Now they replaced it with something called "Windows Vista Innovation Cafe". I find it quite lame compared to the old site. It’s uses Flash, but it does so in a very slow way, and I find a LOT of lag when going through it. So annoying. It also uses a lame Microsoft-scenario place, where people randomly walk up to this laptop in this cafe, and play around with some interesting programs. Dumb! Dumb scenario. Just show us the neat programs, not the lame cafe background. Ugh.

Well anyways, it has MOST of what was in the original "See Windows Vista" site.

Some of the companies involved are:

Well those are the companies so far.

Notably missing are :

  • AMG-Mercedes – site with test driving Mercedes cars in a "3D-like" experience
  • AREVA – had to do with nuclear energy mapping software
  • 90 Degree Software – Couldn’t remember this one

I thought the site was rather weak. The video demos are pretty slow to load up, you have to click a lot, and some of the demos are pretty confusing. Like I would never get how that would work, or why that’s so complicated. Some of them also lack a nice polish.

I just really hate the lame cafe scene. I mean, goofy smiles on those peoples’ faces? Using the same laptop (no name brand), that’s also pretty ugly? Ok, I mean this is LAME. That’s the best way I can emphasize this.

BUT, at least it shows some neat demos. Demos MOST people will NEVER use, but at least they look interesting. Most use WPF/Silverlight in them. I thought that was neat.

But I still think the whole "See Windows Vista" site was a MUCH more better and entertaining site. Sad to see it go.

So here’s the site : http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/windowsvista/innovation/default.mspx

Have fun.

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Features wishlist for the Xbox 3rd generation

                                                                            

I’ll be honest, I’m not a console gamer. Frankly, I don’t have the time to spend hours wasting away in front of a TV screen. I use those hours on the Internet 🙂

Well anyways, even I did do console games, the Xbox 360 would probably be my top choice.

I find the Xbox 360 puts itself in a nice good all-around gaming console. I mean, really, the Xbox 360 can do a ton of stuff.

Like:

  • Plays the largest # of games, compared to Wii and PS3.
  • Cost effective (variety of prices, though too many choices can be overkill)
  • Nice design
  • Best online platform – Xbox Live – nothing beats that, for now
  • Awesome UI
  • Variety of extra peripherals, that also work with Windows PC’s
  • Does HD-DVD with an add-on
  • Great customer service
  • Large online community
  • Many popular exclusive games
  • Tons of faceplate customization
  • Availability
  • Media Center integration

I could go on and on. Wii is also pretty neat too, for just plain having fun, for everyone. PS3 is my least favorite. Even though it has great specs, the other things are rather lacking. So it’s a non-er for the PS3.

Microsoft usually learns many mistakes from it’s first gen products, and fixes them pretty well in the 2nd gen. That’s nice, though I would feel more confident if they could do so well the 1st time, like Apple does.

So what am I looking for in the 3rd generation of the Xbox platform? Well:

  • Portable version – Not sure how this would work out. It could just be as simple as putting a games section on the Zune, and be an extension of Xbox Live. Or maybe there will be a separate portable Xbox player. Or maybe you’ll find it on WinMo phones. Who knows. Apple does well, because ALL their products are branded Apple, but Microsoft keeps platforms separate, and it can be hard to merge them seamlessly. It will be interesting how this would work out.
  • 45nm chips – I heard these chips would be much more efficient than the older chips currently in Xbox’s. People want that.
  • Better hardware – some of the faults of the Xbox 360 "Red Ring of Death" problems can be contributed to the hardware. Like BSOD’s are related to hardware. Quality hardware would solve that really easy.
  • Slimmer console hardware – Slim never hurts
  • More ports – More USB ports, HDTV, whatever you call them. More ports are cool.
  • HDMI port and include the cable – I hate having to buy the cable separately
  • Built-in next gen DVD format – dual-player? Or maybe just HD-DVD? Either would be fine. Though it might add a hefty price tag…
  • WiFi – Built-in WiFi would be pretty useful
  • internet browser – with Flash and other formats built-in to avoid problems. Maybe it can also sync with IE…
  • killing off of Microsoft Points
  • heavier push for "downloadable" games, instead of scratchable discs.
  • Complete backwards compatibility – if a person’s old games can work on there, and get new games as well, that would be great
  • Just 1 SKU only – please do not give multiple SKU’s. It’s confusing, and destroys the value of the product. Just ONE great version is all we need.
  • Voice recognition
  • Touch controllers
  • Blu-Ray support – BluRay won, HD-DVD died, so it’s safe to pick BluRay. Personally, I’d put this feature on the most ‘elite’ version of Xbox (I and most people don’t do BluRay, period).
  • Hard drive in ALL Xbox consoles – 40GB should be the minimum. And make it possible to go up to 300GB or even store on an external hard drive.
  • Gamerscore and Gamertag transferable to other Xbox consoles – Very important if you want to upgrade to a new Xbox. Make it simple.
  • More better physical design – Make it sleek and sexy, instead of kid-like and playful. I like the Xbox 360 Elite, because of it’s neat black matte finish. Stuff like backlit buttons, more slim, ease in connect ports, and more color choices would be nice too.
  • More support for other devices – If I connect my flash drive, MP3 player, or cell phone or whatever in, I’d like to be able to play any music/video/picture file, and maybe even read documents…
  • Windows Media Center – Make the set-up even simpler, and easy to control with the Xbox controllers. Also, make Netflix "officially" work through it.

That’s the best I could think of. Can you think of anymore? If so, add a comment.

Maybe it will tempt me to buy one. But for now, I’ll just stick to regular board games, or PC games.

Top 10 reasons to use Live Search instead of Google

I use Live Search. I don’t like Google, because it’s SO bland, and I’ve noticed the results are starting to get less relevant in some areas. Other people I’ve heard are thinking the same.

Here’s what I really like about Live Search:

1) Clean, simple page with nice UI – The page is very clean to me. It’s simple, and doesn’t show a bunch of nonsense on it. It’s also aesthetically nice. It just works.

2) It’s speedy – Well, actually, most search engines ‘seem’ to be speedy. But Live Search is also very speedy, and that’s still a positive.

3) Instant Answers – One thing that truly sets it apart from other search engines. Like for example, if you type:

"Houston traffic" or "Houston commute" you get:

 

"2049 + 4322 – 50 X 3" you get:

"Chicago pizza" or "pizza Chicago" you get:

"weather"

"Jessica Alba"

"14th state"

"MSFT UHS TWX stock"

"definition token"

"9th largest country in the world"

"Christmas"

Better stop before I go overboard with this. It’s pretty useful.

4) Related Search – I like related search links to the right.

If I’m looking for something, but I’m not certain, suggested search links might help me narrow it down. It’s not as annoying as Y!’s Search Assistant, and as balloon prompted as Ask’s. I’ve found it helped me in the pass to find specific things.

5) Quick Links to other Windows Live services – If you use a lot of Windows Live stuff, the search page also takes you to other Windows Live sites fast. On the header bar, are links to "Home", "Hotmail", "Spaces" and "OneCare". Unfortunately, the Live Orb only takes you to Live.com, instead of a drop down menu of other services, like you may usually see. Maybe they’ll fix that. It’s all in the header.

 

6) Video Search – One of the best Live Search categories. Video thumbnails actually PLAY when you hover over them. Short clips that is (where is this in MSN Video?). You can filter your results by length, date/relevance, and display them in list or thumbnail view. You can even add a star to the ones I like, and see My Favorites anytime I want. (where this for web search results?). VERY useful. This team deserves 5 stars.

7) Image Search – Also one of Live Search’s best and brightest. The results have thumbnail pics, and you can practically scroll endlessly without pressing a link to the next page. Hover hover a thumbnail, and you get the options to go directly to the source, add to ScratchPad, and even put feedback on it. You can filter by image size, and by using the slider to view the how big you want to see them. The ScratchPad also works great for saving stuff, and finding them later. Another ingenious thing from Live Search.

8) Book Search – Even though it’s still in beta (as of 11/25/07), it’s pretty neat. The layout is clean, and navigating is very simple to do. Search in books, and search in the books. Download entire books. It’s all perfect, but wished they had contemporary books as well. At least, even a sample of a contemporary book, and a link to buy it somewhere. That would be nice. I can see Microsoft going into eBooks.

9) Extended branch links – Ok, so Google has had this for awhile. But it’s nice for Microsoft to finally put this in. Anyways, it’s a postive feature, and it’s very helpful, and I like it. You see this on a lot of the major sites.

10) Advanced Search & Options menu – I find them to be far better than Google’s. Live’s Advanced Menu appears instantly on the page, instead of a separate page. Though Google’s offers more options, I find Live’s to be quite adequate, and very straightforward to use. Both Google and Live offer the exact same things, in their user options page, but I find Live’s to be more friendlier to use, and Google’s to have a pretty ugly page. Live options are also worded better as well. So Live overall wins in this category as well.

That’s my top 10 reasons why I love to use Live Search. Hopefully, this helps give you some insight, without boring you to death. Sorry for the super long Instant Answers reason, but I thought I should show as many as I could think of, to show the possibilities.

So give it a try yourself : http://live.com/

get.live.com – no real name – is a pretty sucky site and so is Windows Live Betas

Another classic example of how Microsoft just doesn’t "get" how websites are suppose to work.

                                     

That’s the current homepage (as of 11/24/07) of get.live.com. Isn’t that such a blechy homepage? I’ll point out the mistakes:

  1. No Windows Live Orb in the left header – Shouldn’t Windows Live be a more unified search & service? Like how about putting the Windows Live Orb across the header of ALL pages?
  2. Classic "human snapshots" add in – doesn’t Microsoft get it? Throwing some photographs of ‘real’ people will only attract first attention to the people in the photo, than what else is on the page. And then there’s thoughts like "Oh, I can’t believe they actually put her in there" or "What’s the point of these photos?" and so on and so on. Putting a real human is only done well in videos, usually. Otherwise, just use simplistic humanoid icons.
  3. Doesn’t offer ALL the current Windows Live offerings – Where’s Search, QnA, Translator, Maps and all the other Live goodies? Yeah, another pretty pointless page if you can’t "get" all the Windows Live stuff.
  4. Icons! Where’s the icons? – How come only a few of them actually have icons? Icons are pretty important. They’re sort of a visual representation of a program/service a user may want to know. But only a few have actual icons? Sad.

That’s some of the basic stupidities of the site.

Here’s a page for describing Live Hotmail:

         

Mistakes? Well, you have that stupid picture of a girl. Features are lackluster sounding – there’s nothing really eye-catching, just a boring text list of features. Maybe if it said "30 reasons to get Live Hotmail" with screenshots of each feature, and more bolder text with description, and some colors, it would really be representable. And the so-called features list doesn’t represent all the the capabilities of Live Hotmail sadly. I know you can do much more than that. There’s not even a Live Hotmail icon on the page. Really useful, huh?

Oh, and let’s take a look at Windows Live Betas.

Pretty much the same mistakes as the first one. Throwing in a stupid grinning guy on the front page – WRONG. No Windows Live Orb. Relatively little info. And why are there extra link in the box on the right? Couldn’t those betas be dropped on the main page as well? Microsoft just has to make it a few steps further than it should be.

Ok, enough Windows Live ranting. Just had to get that out. Does anyone agree with me? I mean, are these sites just so ridiculously dumb?

WMP 11 and Zune program – putting together the best of both worlds (WMP 12)

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I love both WMP 11 and the Zune program. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.

WMP 11 – I love this media managing/playback program. Has a wonderful graphic UI, simple to use, does many functions, supports many devices and online stores, and does supports a ton of add-ons.

Zune program – The newest one is SO easy to use. You don’t even need to be an expert to use it. The UI moves very fluidly, marketplace offers a ton of artist info, and the whole experience is very nice.

However, they both have their flaws.

WMP 11 – doesn’t support podcasts, doesn’t do internet radio, included visualizations are kind of bland and ugly, help files are still an ugly mess and hard to decipher, many online stores are rather weak, and doesn’t support the Zune.

Zune – no 5-star rating, no auto/smart playlists, things are not easily editable, supports far less formats than WMP 11, no official add-on site, no dynamic search, and there’s just not as many ways to customize your Zune player.

So wouldn’t it be awesome of Microsoft would make their next Media Player do the best of both players? And fix the cons of that affect bother players?

Yeah, that would be awesome. So, let’s say that Microsoft did a WMP 12.

So what should be in WMP 12? Well, let’s think of WMP 12 as the best of WMP 11 and Zune. There would be:

  • Merging together the best of WMP 11 and Zune player – they’re both way better than iTunes, that’s for sure. And they both have definite strong features, so why not put the best and the best together? Instead of keeping two separate brands? This would be feasible if the Zune Marketplace was imported to WMP, and all the Zune syncing features, libraries, all just worked off of WMP instead. Just bring the Zune stuff over to WMP
  • Internet radio – A lot of people really do like listening to the radio (even terrestrial). So can’t we have it be able to stream via the internet? I think it is out there, but in a low quality way. How about Pandora Radio integration (they do it on MSN Music)? Or how about getting deals with Sirius/XM radio to make their desktop version work on WMP 12? That’s really bringing it to the next level.
  • Better burning/ripping feature – The burning/ripping feature in WMP 11 works well for the most part. But I’ve heard it doesn’t do as well as for other people. So if Microsoft could enhance the burning/ripping feature as much as possible, that would be awesome.
  • Podcasting feature – this is already here for the Zune program, but WMP needs it too. A podcast aggregator would also be awesome as well.
  • Better help files – The help files for both prove to be rather useless. The ones in WMP 11 are ugly, bulky and hard to navigate and use. The Zune doesn’t have enough. I want help files that work right in the player (not taken to another site/window), have a useful search feature to find help, offer visual elements like screenshots or even a quick video stream, and actually be useful. And if that doesn’t work, a simple phone number for support, or even online chat with a helper would be awesome.
  • Tagging feature – Another extension of the popular web 2.0 feature. I think a lot of people would love to tag specific songs, albums, videos, podcasts and what other media content they have. Makes it much easily searchable if you identify a type of media with something other than what’s there.
  • Support practically every format (VERY IMPORTANT) – Microsoft HAS to support many of the codecs out there, even if it’s not in Microsoft’s best interest. People are going to alternatives like VLC Player, because they have problems with playing their files with WMP, and don’t know about getting codecs from the official WMP add-on site. So sooner or later, Microsoft’s going to lose on this one. So why not just put all the codecs to work on WMP, instead of encouraging users to find alternatives, or have them suffer to find downloadable codecs? It makes no sense Microsoft. Just make it work with WMP from the start, and have built-in native support.
  • Better pre-installed visualizations and skins – Seriously, many (or all) the visualizations that come with WMP 11 are UGLY. Namely the "Battery" series. Thankfully, I found this nice set of visualization pack, called Pyschedelia, from Long Zheng’s post. I think the best one is the "Ribbons" set, and the "Bubbles" come a close second. The included skins as well, really do suck. Although I’m not a really heavy user of skins in the first place, for some reason. You can find some right here. I use the Xbox Live/Xbox ones. I’m really looking forward to where Microsoft pre-installs Pyschedlia by default, and includes even better ones like a lava lamp, a moving strand of light (like in Sprint Speed ads), and so on. Something new. And maybe better skins, none that I can come up with.
  • More better layout views – 5 layout views should be : list (just a simple list of media, preferably similar to iTunes style with different color bars every 1 row), album art + list, panes (similar to Zune browse style), carousel view (similar to CoverFlow, but in a carousel fashion, can improve off of CoverFlow), and Space (random floating album/media art that comes based on similarities to previous media). Those 5 layout views are definitely a must need.
  • Better internet streaming version – WMP 11 in an internet browser is just plain ugly. Sometimes it can be very hard to get it to just work and stream the media. It can feel rather bulky on a webpage, and takes a long time to load. The layout of the buttons is also depressing, compared to the real version. That’s why more people are using Flash and even the latest Quicktime to display video on the web. WMP on the web needs to be less bulky, less slow, and look more simple and easy to use. And all in a way that’s visually pleasing.
  • Bar stacks – I just simply want to see bar stacks (graphics that visually show a string of bars moving up and down, along with the music), in a more larger sense on WMP, than in the small one on the bottom left.
  • Silverlight-made – I don’t know the true capabilities of Silverlight, but I would love to see the next WMP done this way.
  • Custom lyrics support – There is a way to put lyrics for your songs, but it’s so complicated that I can’t even do it. I wish there were a way to easily put lyrics for your songs. In fact, it would be nice if Zune Marketplace offered lyrics with the songs, or MSN Music took care of the web version of that. Just saying.
  • Allow more edit options – give the user the power to edit as much as they can on the track
  • Audio editing – I’m quite sure many people want an official audio editor from Microsoft. Could it come in WMP? I heard there was a project called Monaco, that would beat the heck out of GarageBand, but have yet to seen it. So can we get that ability in WMP?
  • Zune Marketplace and Zune are PlayForSure – Since the Zune stuff is now in WMP, that would make Zune Marketplace and Zune a PlayForSure group, right? I’m quite sure that if Microsoft offers more content and makes it more convenient to use Zune Marketplace, they don’t have to worry about that under the PlayForSure program. Such as offering TV shows, movies, and games, and putting a WiFi Store version of it on the Zune. And the Zune should sell hotcakes itself.

That’s the best I can think of. It took me a long while, but that’s my list of features for WMP 12.

I’m quite sure if Microsoft followed a path similar to this one, WMP 12 would definitely be the top-notch media management/playback program there is. For sure.

So it’s really up to Microsoft to see if this all fans out. Hopefully, it will.

The Best of WMP 11

 I can’t believe nobody talks about WMP 11. I mean, it’s the best media management/playback program ever.

There are many reasons why:

  • Tons of add-ons – Microsoft has this official developers site, and you can a ton of things from codecs (including DivX, etc.), visualizations, skins, etc. Find the site here.
  • Works with a ton of players and many online stores – One of the best things about the PlayForSure program. I just checked, and there’s at least 17 online stores to choose from. Amazing. Imagine how many PMP’s actually work with this.
  • Beautiful graphical UI – For the most part, the UI moves pretty swiftly, and graphically. It’s just a beauty
  • Less bloat than iTunes – iTunes takes forever to load up
  • Works fully in the Windows Taskbar – it’s amazing, works in mini-mode on the taskbar.
  • Simple to make quick playlists and auto playlists
  • Has visualizations/bar stacks
  • Media enhancement tools (Graphic Equalizer, SRS WOW effects)
  • Dynamic Search – a must-have feature. Type in a few letters, and results come up instantly as you type
  • Compact Mode is nifty – although I think taskbar mode is much more useful
  • Pane menus – comes really handy for drag-n’-drop stuff
  • Plays DVD’s! – Love that feature.

That’s off the top of my head. Probably more if you dig deeper.

Here’s some of my favorite things on WMP 11:

Playing a song on WMP 11 with gorgeous visualizations. ^^

PayPlay.FM is one of my favorite online stores. It’s so easy to use. And you can choose between a high quality WMA or a DRM-free MP3

Do you see that Color Chooser box on my player? That’s one of the many neat tools you can use to display the audio and video parameters. Pretty neat. It works really well. Click on the arrows for more choices.

This is Taskbar mode. As you can see, it works fully functional right from the taskbar. You can even view a video with it. Comes in handy when you multi-task and surf on the web.

Large Video thumbnails ^^

List view. I so wish I could show you Dynamic Search. Finds media instantly.

Full screen mode. ^^

Compact mode – much better than the iTunes version, but I still find myself using Taskbar mode more.

I also have a neat download that EVERY WMP 11 user should install.

It’s called Psychedelia. It’s pretty much a package of visualizations, but they are far better than anything you’ll find in WMP 11 by default. They have a Vista ‘aurora’ look to them, with swirling colors and ribbons and all. It’s much graphically better, and if you like that stuff, you can get it right here : http://www.istartedsomething.com/20070831/psychedelia-wmp-visualization/

You can see some of the screenshots on Long Zheng’s site and download it there. I love it. Best visualization schemes ever. Same as the ones I used in my screenshots above.

It’s a wonder why Microsoft didn’t include that in the first place.

Well I thought I should share with you some of my favorite things about WMP 11.

It’s by far the most best media managing program out there right now, and if Microsoft could just tweak it some more, it would be the best.

What’s a ZunePass? What’s a (online) music subscription service?

                                                                     

I thought I should explain this to newbies, to get it straight. Since the Zune team isn’t effective in communicating this.

So basically, a music subscription service is paying a flat monthly fee and "renting" the music for that time period.

So if you don’t pay the next monthly fee, then you lose the music tracks you downloaded. Because you’re renting them for a limited time.

Newbies (iPod users) get confused on how the system works.

Just because you downloaded them, doesn’t mean you can’t keep them forever. You’re just merely renting them for awhile. Once the time is up (usually a month for these services), then you can’t use them anymore. There is the option to pay the next monthly fee (or even more), and you still get to keep the tracks.

What are the benefits? Well…

  • It’s great if you’re cheap – not in a bad way. If you can’t spend a lot of money to (legally) purchase tracks, the next best thing is to rent them. That way, it’s still legal, and you have ‘almost’ practically the whole ZMP library to download, at your choosing.
  • You can ‘discover’ more music better – Listening to 30 second samples doesn’t really give you a clear knowledge if you really like it or not. I mean, it’s not as good as listening to the ‘whole’ track. So with ZunePass, you can listen to the ‘whole’ track, and download it if you like it. Maybe some other day, you can purchase it to keep. You just really discover music better this way.
  • Almost like an all-you-can-eat buffet – It’s almost exactly the same thing. In one of those all-you-can-eat buffets, you pay one flat fee, and you can eat all the music you really want. Same thing for ZunePass – Pay one flat (monthly) fee, and you can have (almost) any music tracks you want. It really works good that way.

But there are some disadvantages:

  • You can’t keep them – NOT unless you continue paying the $14.99 monthly fee. Otherwise, they’re wiped right off.
  • You don’t get the ‘whole’ library – Sorry, but there are some restricted tracks. You can’t download DRM-free tracks (duh!), you can’t download songs if an artist/recording company won’t allow you to (even if it’s DRM).
  • You can’t copy them on a CD – sorry, but obviously NO online store would allow you to download hundreds of songs for a measly $15 just to basically keep them all.

That’s really mainly the things anyone should know.

Overall, a subscription music service is nice. It’s cost-effective, and you can download almost anything. You may not be able to keep them forever, but just keep paying the flat monthly fee, and you’re ok.

But there can be improvements to the ZunePass system, like:

  • Make it cheaper – compared to other online stores, ZunePass does come up a few bucks more on subscription. I’d suggest making the ZunePass cost $10-12 monthly.
  • Promote it better – some people still don’t get it’s a ‘music-rental’ system. You can’t keep it, really. Explain it better and show the benefits that I told about a subscription music service. Also explain the Zune supports ‘a la carte’ AND subscription, the best of both worlds. Instead of just only-‘a la carte’, or only-subscription.
  • Allow ALL DRM songs be available for subscription – If it has a DRM tag on it, why can’t it be allowed in the subscription service? I found some songs that wouldn’t let you do that. If it has a DRM, nobody can really steal it. So allow it legally in the subscription service.

That’s really all there needs to be.

So I hope anybody new to this format, understands that a subscription music service, is really a music-rental system.

But personally, I still prefer ‘buying’ my music, than ‘renting’ it.