Anyone find the search box in Spaces as rather useless?

To me, the search box on the Windows Live header bar in Spaces is very useless.

                                                      

How so? Well…

  • Little integration with your ID and Spaces – Like my Spaces friends don’t automatically come up in the results, I can’t search for my SkyDrive files, can’t search for ‘gadget’ modules for Spaces, individual photos, events, etc. None of the important stuff that directly matters to me is included in the results.
  • No nice Instant results as you type – This ties in with the first bullet. I love how in Facebook, as your start typing into the search box, your friends automatically start popping up as you type, or maybe an application, network, or whatever. Instant results appearing as you type. I mean if Microsoft has to look anywhere at how to do it correct, Facebook does a great job of utilizing the search box.
  • Results as of now are just dumb – The separate verticals are People, Spaces, and Blog Entries. Ok, so aren’t People and Spaces exactly the same? I mean People do have a Live Space, right? Or what does it mean? People can give their Space a title, but it’s still the same person. So they should belong together, instead of apart. As for blog entries, well I’m guessing it only shows results from Spaces with public view, but I searched a few of my own post, and some are there, and some aren’t. Really weak feature. You know what it needs? It needs to be able to search for people by location, age group, school, name, and all that, as well as look up gadgets, Windows Live Events, SkyDrive files, Photos from peoples’ Spaces, and a bazillion other things. That’s the only way it’d be useful.

Well that’s the gist of it. If you use Live Spaces, you know what I’m talking about. I practically never use the search box, because it’s capabilities are at the bottom of the barrel.

Oh, and here’s a picture of 3 exactly redundant results:

                                                                   

What’s up with that? And if I last remembered correctly, those 3 excerpts are from a blog entry. Shouldn’t they be placed in the blog entry section? What exactly does People, Spaces, and Blog entries mean to the Spaces team?

This is just one of the other areas of Windows Live Spaces that makes me look and shake my head. How do you feel about the Spaces search box?

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How to give HDR-like effects to photos using WLPG

Have you seen some those stunning photos, with the brilliant arrays of colors and brightness and contrast, that really seem to pop out of the photo? Yes, I’m talking about those HDR (high dynamic range) photos that are very popular around the web, especially on Flickr. You can create a similar look and feel by editing them right in Windows Live Photo Gallery. It’s really all about the exposure (in the brightness and contrast), and you could tweak it a little more.

                                                                

Here’s how:

1. Launch WLPG (Windows Live Photo Gallery)

2. Find a photo you want to HDR. Double click on it.

3. Now you should see the enlarged photo taking up the space. Click "Fix" right on the menu bar (circled in red on picture)

                                                                                              

4. Now the right pane should open up with a bunch of tools you can use. To do the HDR effects, I’m mostly going to use Adjust Exposure. And maybe a little Adjust Color. HDR is really about the exposure.

                                                                                   

5. Click on Adjust Exposure. Crank up Contrast to the highest you can. Contrast really makes the shades of color pop out more noticeably. You’ll immediately notice the image to be very colorful and vibrant all at once. You can pull the slider back slightly, if you want less effect.

                                                                 

You can also adjust the Brightness, so that the light source can appear really bright, or very dark. I generally prefer to keep the brightness the same, or a bit higher. It feels like a real capture of time. If it’s too bright or too dark, then you don’t really see all the colors, which is why keeping it in the middle is generally good.

6. You can mess around with the other sliders too if you want. If you feel like you want to go back to the original picture you had before, go to the bottom of the Fix pane, and click on the down arrow next to Undo.

                                                                        

You can either go back on a step, or undo it all. Really nifty feature. If you (accidentally) back out of the image view, and right back into the library, the picture will automatically save what you edited. Luckily, if you didn’t mean to, you can double click on the image again, click the down arrow next to Undo, and select Revert to original.

So that’s how I typically give an HDR effect to my photos. Give it a try sometime. Here’s two photos, a before and an after shot.

                                       BEFORE                                                                            AFTER

                                        

See the difference? The HDR effects in the second photo really pop out! Best of all, you don’t need a fancy photo editor or software like Photoshop. WLPG is free to use.

Give it a try. Windows Live Photo Gallery is great to use if you’re not a pro. Now if only Microsoft offered direct photo effects like Picnik does…

Running the Vista Upgrade Advisor

I don’t plan at all on upgrading my computer to Windows Vista, but I’m going to see what the Vista Upgrade Advisor says. Why not? Well because I really have doubts that this Dell desktop of mine will do the job in a smooth AERO way, and I’ve heard that it’s just more easier to get Windows Vista with a new computer instead. Also, Windows XP is still good enough for me.

So here I go. Vista I installed it, and it didn’t take long. Roughly a minute or less. Than I launched it up.

                                                                     

Now it’s scanning. While it’s scanning, I can check out the many different versions (aka SKU’s) of Windows Vista. If I wanted Windows Vista, I’m only either getting Home Premium or Ultimate. I want Windows Media Center, AERO, or have all the benefits of the best one. Personally though, I think Vista should just come in 2 forms : Home and Business.

                                                                      

And after it finished scanning, I went to next, and it said my computer was good enough for Home Premium. Not bad.

                                                                 

There’s only 6 programs that might have issues:

  1. Roxio MyDVD LE
  2. MSN Explorer
  3. Messenger
  4. Citrix ICA Client
  5. Dell CinePlayer
  6. ATI Desktop Component

All 6 programs are programs I never/rarely used. That’s good. Something called SigmaTel High Definition Audio CODEC didn’t have compatibility data from Microsoft though. But the other devices worked. Just press the arrow for more info on what does/doesn’t work.

Some other info: I have 1.00 GB of RAM (2GB is what I’ve heard qualifies a great Vista experience). Intel Pentium 4 CPU 3.00GHz. Also, my video card should be able to handle AERO and my computer can record DVD’s.

I still don’t plan on upgrading to Windows Vista, since I’m fine with Windows XP, and I want a more optimal computer to handle the OS. Have you tried the Windows Vista Upgrade Advisor? Good computer or no? Did you upgrade or buy Vista preinstalled? Share me your thoughts.

Photosynth is LIVE and ready to use! Try it now!

Yes! Photosynth has finally been released! You can go to Photosynth.net and download it for free. It will install a web-browser plug-in, and an application for creating them.

                                                                         

The download took me less than a minute. It was a breeze. I’m checking out the Taj Mahal synth.

                                                                                    

It’s pretty good. The controls are different though:

                                                                                       

                                                          OLD                                                     NEW

The difference? Well the e-mail a view is new on the side of the Photosynth viewer, the camera points shower is removed, the fly-around is also gone, and is now replaced with a more slideshow control, and a choice to go to the next 3D group. I like the old controls better :^(

Some other new options is the report link (to report bad photos), embed, full browser screen, and some synths have an optional web/world logo that links to a Virtual Earth map showing where the synth comes from. You should also check out the Great Pyramid and Sphinx synth. Truly remarkable.

                                                                                      

You might notice that ring right there. You can click on it, and drag it to get a full 3D pan of that point right there. Not sure what the green area is though.  Here’s an embed:

                                                    

As for the software application, I’m not really going to try it out. I don’t have enough data of my own to create a synth just yet. I might make one of my high school though. Which I’ll post later, if I do. Here’s the start prompt after you sign-in with your Windows Live ID:

                                                      

It appears you can only have 20GB worth of data at the moment. Which sounds pretty sweet, considering a free account on Flickr is only 200 photos you can upload. Which makes me wonder, will there be a Flickr and Photosynth integration anytime soon? Yahoo! and Microsoft are competing companies, but things like Y! and WLM users being able to chat with each other, makes me wonder.

So check it out yourself and go to Photosynth.net. It’s free, but you’ll need IE7+ or Firefox 2 or Firefox 3. Sorry Opera and Safari users.

Awesome Tech – Using Photographs to Enhance Videos

Some researchers of the GRAIL (Graphics and Imaging Laboratory) at the University of Washington, have made a pretty neat software that can take elements of digital photography, and embed those elements right into a video. In a way that’s super easy, and doesn’t require so much manual labor for the user.

For instance, you can do these things with photos of the same location where the video took place, as highlighted in the video:

  • Replacing points of a location in a video, with high-res quality photographs
  • Editing something in a single frame, and self-applies throughout the rest of the scene
  • HDR video, where the camera can’t capture it
  • Stabilize typical video-shaking, by using view interpolation
  • Adding simple effects to photographs shown in picture frames in a video (black and white, reflection removal,…)
  • Adding photo effects to videos (now it’s video effects!)
  • Object removal (like a big ugly parking sign!

They use something called "Spacetime fusion" to make a seamless video stream, so you don’t notice the parts of the video that got fixed. It’s absolutely amazing. It’s pretty much everything an amateur video-maker would love.

The only limitation they noted, was that these fixes only works on videos with "static scenes" (i.e., videos shot with a moving camera but containing no moving objects in the scene). But they’re going to try working on fixing this limitation.

This seems like wonderful work. I really hope to see it come out soon. I’d even pay for it, if it’s really as easy to fix the videos as they claim. Which makes me wonder, how’s Microsoft doing on the upcoming Windows Live Movie Maker? Considering that both University of Washington and Microsoft HQ are both in Washington state, in or near Seattle, I wonder if Microsoft has some connections with UW. Connections enough to bring school research, into an actual product for the masses. Because that’d make WLMM (whatever it’ll be called) into a really awesome video-editing software if they include these video-fixing features, along with your typical necessities for video-editing. A real game changer for MS if it’s free, and works great.

Whatever way it comes out, I’d love to see the features in this video, in a real video-editing software sometime soon.

Here’s a link to the research page.

Windows Live Messenger : 5 Great Windows Live Agents(aka ‘bots’!) we should all know about

UPDATE: Windows Live Agents are no longer active. http://wltbot.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!60040BE340DD32B0!2826.entry?sa=587978100

Windows Live Agents are bots or specifically-made automated responses to a certain topic you pick for. They can ask questions, and your response to the questions, will bring up something. Like if you add a bot designed for chatting about sports, you could ask "How are the Denver Broncos doing?" and it will respond by giving you the latest stats from a certain website or feed it’s getting the info. It’s almost like searching the web for information, but interactive and chatty-like.

                                                                                    

Here’s a quick description on how to add a bot, or any other Messenger contact:

  1. Open Windows Live Messenger
  2. Click on the Add Contact button next to the search box
  3. Enter in the e-mail address of the bot (you can find bots on Windows Live Gallery or Wikipedia) in the box where it asks for the address
  4. Edit as much details as needed or just simply keep hitting Next until you hit OK
  5. The bot should be available on your contacts list (might take awhile) and you can just double-click on the bot and start chatting!

So here’s the 5 best ones I like:

1. SmarterChild ( smarterchild@hotmail.com ) –  He can practically do everything. From things like giving you pretty much real simple answers, games, tools, and even gives you the latest stats on itself. All in one bot. Most people have already heard of it.

                                                                                             

2. Encarta Instant Answers ( encarta@botmetro.net ) – This is all about the encyclopedia. Ask a capital of a country, who wrote what famous books, famous people, and all that. It even loads up the Encarta Encyclopedia on the Activity pane.

                                                                                      

3. Muse ( musebot@live.com ) – If you don’t remember Muse, she was made by Windows Live to help spark some interests into doing what Live Spaces is really more about : Blogging. She’s suppose to give you some ideas to help you get jumpstarted on blogging. She looks very similar to a Where’s Waldo character. She has a 2-post blog. She’s kind of died off though, but her WLM bot still exists. She’ll help you get some ideas with the Though of the Day, and you can even make a blog post in the activity pane.

                                                                                              

4. Poynt ( poynt@live.com ) – This is one of those services you wonder why Microsoft didn’t make one. It’s basically like Live Local for Messenger. You can look up businesses and get an instant map of it. Unfortunately, when I opened the activity pane to check out the map, it wouldn’t work. It said I needed IE6+. I have IE7 and Safari installed, but I guess it doesn’t detect it. I used it before though, and it worked very good. Here’s an image from the company site:

                                                                      

5. Hacker ( hackermessenger@hotmail.co.uk ) – Hacker is yet another multi-utility bot. It can do Live Searching, games, and guides you through what you can do on WLM. Simple stuff.

                                                                        

There’s really not much to say about bots, except the basics. Overall, bots are kind of fun, but if you really want information, just do web searching in your browser. I still don’t find them too intelligent, and even SmarterChild has lost some of his luster. Some bots don’t even function right when you type in a number choice. The only bots I’m personally interested in, are actual conversational bots. I haven’t found any for WLM though. But these bots do a fine job as it is. Give them a try. Just add them.

There’s also another neat bot that recently came about called the Windows Live Translator bot ( mtbot@hotmail.com ). It will be called TBot in your contact list, and it can translate what you type as you talk to it. It takes it awhile to translate though.

Wikipedia has a great list of bots. Though some of them don’t seem to work at all, or with the latest version of WLM.

Here’s the team blog.

5 of the most shortest lived Windows Live marketing and products

I thought I should point out some old Spaces from the Windows Live Team that are still amazingly existing, that barely had any posts, hasn’t been updating for so long (more than a year in some cases!), and how neglectful and spam-ridden they are.

1. Muse – Do you remember Muse? That girl character that the Windows Live team created to promote blogging on Live Spaces? Well she died more than a year ago. Thanks to this fairly recent blog post I just saw, I got a quick remind of this girl. Does she remind you of Waldo? You know, from Where’s Waldo? ? She still exists in Live Messenger (WLM) though. You can even create a blog entry in a Messenger window. Add musebot@live.com in WLM. Here’s her short two-post blog.

                                                                                       

2. Windows Live Messenger Phone – It was a phone that could do Windows Live Messenger, and regular phone calling. Two unit provider, Uniden and Phllips made them. Verizon was the carrier. The concept never took off. Why? It’s probably because home phones are just for calling. Not IMing, or even messing around instant messaging. There’s a reason why home phones are pretty much plain devices. They’re just not meant to be. I remember a splash page featured on MSN that was all about the phone for Verizon. It’s gone now, as far as I can figure. I’m not exactly sure, but I think Uniden still sells them. Or their site hasn’t been updated. Check it out here and here. I really like the background, btw. 1-post blog.

                                                                        

3. Windows Live Barcode – The whole concept sounds ridiculous to me, and I’m guessing it’s dead. Since the links don’t work anymore. Sharing information on a barcode chip? Why not just get an internet-accessible device? It’s suppose to be designed for Windows Mobile, where things like business card contacts can have a barcode that can be scanned onto the phone, where information like address, phone numbers, URL’s, news, and such can get transferred onto. I’d think it just be easier to give them a real contact card, or get an e-mail, and send a message. Wikipedia article.

                                                                       

4. Windows Live Shopping – It was actually pretty interesting. It had stuff like sharing list with users, drag an drop items to a car,as it had stuff like guides you could make, or . It didn’t last long either. MSN Shopping fills this void, but it’s worse.

                                                                        

5. Windows Live WiFi Center – It didn’t even live. It just went on to become MSN WiFi Hotspots, which eventually died half a year later. Compared to other services like Jiwire, Microsoft really had nothing much better to offer. I don’t see what’s the point of creating a mediocre service, when everyone wants the best there is. Or something uniquely good.

                                                                         

It’s kinda interesting to reflect back on failures, and see why they failed. I’ll post some more posts for the Clubhouse soon.