Microsoft Student 2020 Competition

Here is my answer to Microsoft’s Student 2020 Competition:

1. First, tell us how technology today influences school life and helps you learn. Then, tell us about the future….

Today’s technology has a somewhat heavy influence on my school life. In Physics, we use some digital instruments such as thermometers, stopwatches, calculators, among other tools in our labs. In History, my professor often shows PowerPoint slides to explain events in U.S. History. In English, sometimes I go to to get some summaries of books to help aid with my understanding of the text, or do web searching to help find information I could apply in papers. I even have a computer class called BCIS (Business Computer Information Systems) where we use Office 2007 quite often, and learn other aspects of computer technology to help aid us in our future careers. In Pre-Calculus, we use graphing calculators from time to time. Sometimes, we use the computers and laptops to help with doing research and typing up papers or presentations. Flash drives make it very easy to transport papers from home to school. The school has a website with news, as well as access to students’ digital grades, so we can view our current grades anytime we feel it is convenient. Technology has transformed the way schools have worked into the 21st century. It’d be hard for today’s students, to imagine a life without technology like this.

2. What will Windows Vista, Windows Live and Microsoft Office look like in 2020?

Windows Vista, or whatever version of Windows at that time, will be even more user-centric by 2020. The OS will be more lightweight, to fit on a wide arrange of devices and computers. The built-in dynamic search will get even deeper into the computer, and pull out all sorts of results from varying files, documents, programs, and codes of all sorts. Speech recognition, touch, multi-touch, and other forms of input are going to increasingly get better. As for the look, I hope the OS will be super sleek with just the right touch to every aspect of the UI. I see white text over black background become more prevalent, light touches such as shadows, bezel, a glimmer, better window frames, and then a more interactive graphical UI, that’s pleasing to the eye, yet not too distracting. A redesigned taskbar that makes it more easier to view many open programs all at once with the status bar allowing more simpler things like managing the volume by just hovering and selecting, a trash bin where you can simply drag and drop items into, a USB flash drive/CD/DVD icon shown so I could easily access that, wonderful thumbnail icons rather than traditional program icons, and in general – a more visual-based UI. A visual interface that seems very polished and intuitive.

  • A new visual experience – Of course, by 2020, I hope that Microsoft has greatly changed the look of Windows. I wish for more graphical eye candy (useful eye candy), and taking in consideration with drop shadows, shiny bevels, curves, transitions, thumbnail icons instead or typical file icons, snappy and swift interfaces, dynamic rendering, and as much as you can throw to amaze the many people who like fancy-GUI’s, at the same time functional GUI.
  • New Taskbar – The Taskbar is fine for most people, but one of its quirks is that if you have many open programs on the Taskband, it can be difficult to pinpoint which program is which. You usually only have an icon, and a short part of program title to rely on. Sometimes you have to dig through groups of similar windows. It’s all annoying. Instead, I’d love for a nice thumbnail view of each open window on the new Taskbar, instead of the way it is today. You can you your mouse or arrow keys to switch from thumbnail to thumbnail. Or you could launch a fullscreen windows viewer, and have a tiled view of each window where you can spot the window you want by usage, sequential order, A-Z, by searching, and all that. I wish that the Notification Area became a sort of its own Status Bar (which is what it really is today). You’d still have the time, Messenger, connection, and all. But added functionality such as a Trash bin where you can easily drag and drop stuff into, a USB-drive/DVD/CD icon pop-up if it’s plugged in, to quickly access. A load bar can show up if things are download/uploading onto the computer. I don’t want it to necessarily become Apple’s Dock. But think of new ways on how the Taskbar should operate with the rest of the system.
  • Search everything – Hopefully, tons of iFilters will be supported by default, so you can type in the name of an artist, someone’s name, a previous e-mail message, a photo, or anything results will come up instantaneously. Maybe with thumbnails included with the results too.
  • Improved Windows Explorer – In this day and age, drives assigned with a letter should be an antiquated method. Instead, printers connected show up as printers with a Printer icon, USB flash drives show up as their respected USB flash drive icon, etc. Thumbnail icons instead of typical file icons will be used to vividly display most files. Statistics button to find information such hard drive space, computer specs, a log of every program/file used, all in a visually pleasing view. Better search functionality to quickly zip through all the content on my computer and drives, checkboxes next to each file name (like your inbox in a webmail) to better manipulate many items, tabs within Explorer, etc.
  • x64 only – Should be only 64 bit at this point
  • Better built-in applications and utilities – With the reduction of Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, and Calendar out of Windows (to be replaced by Windows Live versions), I really hope any built-in applications are much more better. Like Windows Media Player will be able to play a ton of formats natively, have podcasting ability at this point, better visualizations, and even be more similar to the Zune software. WordPad will be more prominent (most of my friends don’t know it exists!), and hopefully the built-in utilities are more efficient and “wizards” are not so annoying to deal with. I also hope for a document viewer built-in, just in case people don’t have Microsoft Office, they can still easily look at documents sent to them and do simple edits and controls. More tools that will make computer use much better, and so on. I hope that by 2020, built-in Windows applications are much better and stronger than its OS X variants.
  • UAC is more helpful, instead of annoying – UAC in Windows Vista is secure, but too secure. Hopefully, there will be ways to customize what prompts you would like to see, a check box in each prompt that say “Do not show me this message (or prompt) again”, and better prompts that better describes the issue. It also wouldn’t hurt to put in some real anti-virus applications, would it?
  • Less resource intensive – The less resource intensive, the better. By 2020, I hope Micorsoft can find better ways of managing graphical, indexing, and all sorts of typical resource intensive actions, and make it less intensive.
  • Few versions – I really don’t think there should be more than 3 versions. Multiple SKUs have confused consumers, and it’d be much easier to have ONE version than many. If at most, there’d be a Home version (what most users will want and need, OR everything) and a Business version (with more business and office needs built-in and more cheaper than Home).

Windows Live –

  • Better and consistent user interface – I really hope to see a wonderful iconic interface that makes the brand unique and lovable. Nice pretty icons, smooth interface with a nice touch on the graphics, Ribbon-like elements on desktop applications, snappy clean web interface, dynamic search box that pulls up results as you type, AJAX and Silverlight, etc.
  • Better brand name and service/product naming convention – I’m guessing a new and improved (and more catchy) brand name will come up, instead of staying with Windows Live. Also, I hope to see long product names such as ‘Windows Live Photo Gallery’, ‘Windows Live Movie Maker’ to something more quick and snappy like maybe WinLive ‘PhotoFixer’ (or just PhotoFixer) and WinLive ‘VideoFixer’. ‘Quik’  as a brand name maybe? QuikMail, QuikVids, QuikIM, etc.? Anything but ‘Windows Live’.
  • Greater mobile access to services – Hopefully, the services will be available on a wide variety of phones, and offer as much full functionality as a desktop version. Especially on mobile browsers that can handle more of the “full” web (A better mobile browser, Microsoft?)
  • Ultimate search engine – Hopefully, Live Search (or whatever it’s name will be by then) be the ultimate search engine to use. Stuff like site previews, search suggestions, website safety indicators, etc. will be commonplace
  • Focus on offering the most it can to users – Tons of better features than the competition + free + speed + ubiquity = Love from users; This is the formula I hope Microsoft will be using with Windows Live.
  • More innovate ways of doing advertisement – Instead of just banner ads sprawled out on the top of a site in an ugly fashion, how about by 2020 Microsoft can do a much better implementation like a collapsible banner pane on the right side, or old-fashioned well done text ads, location-based ads, friends-based ads, etc. I love the way AdCenter Labs is going.
  • (A real) Social/Community network – Having elements such as being Facebook-like, lots of Profile/Space customizability, offering more services (such as classifieds, dating, chatrooms, groups, among others), and making it much easier to connect with friends (with networks, web IM, threads, etc.), and personalizing your place.
  • MSN is much better or dissolved – I hope that either the current MSN will use a much-need facelift, offer better content with better features, and original content, or just dissolve complete into oblivion.
  • Expand into more areas – like online shopping, more nifty web tools, other search verticals, eBooks, site hosting, etc.

Microsoft Office – Mostly the same, with better modifications:

  • Most if not all the applications will adopt the ingenious Ribbon interface
  • A great site to share/edit/store Office files online (SkyDrive or Mesh, instead of Office Live Workspaces?)
  • More options to legally obtain Microsoft Office – to A simple free ad-supported web version of core Microsoft Office applications “or” a full web version of core Microsoft Office application with a reasonable subscription “or” one-time fee for one day usage. Maybe even all.
  • Even more graphics/effects/textures/fonts built into Office to better customize your projects with. As well as a completely refreshed ClipArt gallery with more modern up-to-date vector graphics and audio samples.
  • A search box built into the Ribbon that can dynamically (or instantly) search for commands/templates/ClipArt/effects/fonts etc. (Scout?), or text within the document as you type
  • More support for a wide variety of fixed citation styles (bibliographies)
  • Better refinement of the UI throughout the whole program, including dialog boxes (with hopefully support for Live Preview)
  • Cheaper prices – stand-alone apps should go for roughly $30-$70, or other options for getting Microsoft Office like continuing “The Ultimate Steal”.

3. What will the attitude be towards cell phones and smart phones in 2020 classrooms?

I doubt that cellphones/smartphones will still be allowed to be utilized in classrooms, unless for a very specific purpose (like calling a parent for permission) allowed by the teacher. Cellphones/Smartphones don’t offer any direct educational benefit, and monitoring usage in a classroom environment would be difficult. However, I do hope there’s less restrictions on cellphone use throughout the school. Perhaps you can use your cellphone/smartphone in the hallways or any other place outside the classroom, since you’re not learning at that moment, and you could use that time to answer some quick messages, or study real fast from your phone. Just not likely in a classroom environment.

4. How will you go to classes? What will the classroom look like?

From home to school? Most likely the same way: school bus, car, walk, or bike. Maybe if development gets more increasingly urban instead of suburban, we’ll see walking and biking more heavily used. I doubt anything wild like teleportation, hovercrafts or such will exist or be feasible by 2020 in schools.

From class to class? I’m hoping that the layout of the school of the future is built smart. Core courses are divided into its own sector and placed in a specific part of the building. Other electives will most likely be in a logical place as well. Walking from classroom to classroom will most likely stay the same as it’s cheap and healthy. Escalators or elevators might be made for all-student use, depending on how wealthy the school is. The cafeteria, or a main hallway marks the center of the school. Outdoor areas will be created to help encourage a place for students to gather and work (such as a courtyard with a public art sculpture, biology garden, etc.). An underground parking garage or small parking lots will place more appearance on the school, rather than the cars. Lots of trees and shrubbery everywhere.

As for the classroom: I’m hoping that classrooms will be more of a sociable place to conduct class. Instead of individual desks, I hope teachers encourage more group activities (since that’s how the workforce is mostly like), so we’ll see either more tables or desks grouped together to encourage groupwork. I’m also hoping that every student will (in my school of the future) be able to have his/her own touchscreen tablet/laptop. That way, classrooms can be completely paperless for the most part – no bulky textbooks, loose-leaf paper out and about, cluttered desks, stacks and stacks of papers. This will save money in copying, printing, and time to go paperless. Schools will be built more green, so classrooms will have LED lights (a step above fluorescent), more/bigger windows, and environmentally friendly materials. An HDTV (or a regular TV) mounted onto every wall, for viewing digital videos, PowerPoint slides or other documents, high school’s video broadcasts, and software to extend a person’s touchscreen tablet/laptop onto the screen to act as a replace to the overhead or SMART Board. A proper paper recycling bin, and taken out every day by the janitors. There could be more fancy and frivolous things, like doors with metallic frames and a large pane of tempered glass with the room number and a small circular peephole etched into it, upholstered chair for ergonomics, ambient LED lighting, several all-in-one computers (one for the teacher), vibrant wall colors (with maybe school colors?) and framed black & white photos, and a Surface table.

5. What will extracurricular activities be? What new classes will be added to course loads?

I’m quite certain that most of the extracurricular activities we have today, will still remain available by 2020. Maybe more clubs catering to tech such as video games, PC making, tech lovers, or a wide assortment of random clubs. I doubt any new exotic sports will hit the mainstream high schools. If any new classes were to be added, I think I might see more career-oriented classes, to help jumpstart a student’s path to the workforce faster. Computer classes will become even more popular of course, with maybe more courses geared towards certain types of software. Otherwise, the choice of classes will most likely be the same as it is now.

So that’s where I see Microsoft and education going by the year 2020. Though it’s not an answer to any question, I really hope Microsoft revitalizes Encarta from being a simple digital encyclopedia, to being a full-fledged educational tool for students all over the world. By 2020, I hope more schools will issue laptops/tablets to students, and digital learning will become even more relevant. I’d love for Encarta to encompass:

  • Articles on almost everything in the universe – Maybe based on Wikipedia and Freebase, but edited by professionals for accurate information, with wonderful multimedia (great graphics, high-quality images and videos, realistic audio of speeches or sounds, tables/charts/graphs to sum up simple concepts, etc.), and a fantastic article layout. Maybe a partnership with SparkNotes to provide even more in-depth summarizations, quotes, themes, and other topics to help assist in the understanding of literature. Access to a wide plethora of articles from many publishers. As much information on any topic with an outstanding design and layout would be great.
  • Digital Textbooks and other reading material – Microsoft can get in on the growing market of eBooks, and can work with prominent publishers on creating wonderful interactive and in-depth textbooks and reading material. Abilities like inline search, fancy video content over just still images, chapter/unit quizzes and games, annotation, note-taking pane, virtual demos, etc. This IS the future of education, instead of musty old textbooks.
  • Great tools – Besides the Encarta encyclopedia, things such as a fancy digital graphing calculator (a deal with TI maybe?), wonderful Atlas and Planetarium, FlashCard/Quiz maker (buy/partner with Quizlet?), superb dictionary/thesaurus/translator that gives precise results, OneNote integration, educational podcasts from teachers for your Zune/iPod, educational games, among all sorts of tools to assist with educating.
  • School (or District) website hosting and services – Schools can find someone to make a website, but Microsoft can go above and beyond. Doing things such as allowing students/parents to check grades from the virtual GradeBook, see information on test results you got from taking a state’s standardized test or SAT or other professional tests, graphs and data to show what HS credits you’ve accomplish or still need to finish, managing lunch account, a Live Map of the school, Events calendar sharing, teacher’s page with e-mails and whatnot, etc. Microsoft could provide a wonderful professional site hosting and services to bring school websites into the 21st century.

Here’s a wonderful video I found that illustrates something that I think could be in Encarta of 2020:

I would love to see Encarta become the next generation tool for education.

That said, I hope my answers has given Microsoft a good idea where I see education going in 2020, and even where I can see Microsoft and education by 2020. I could even go into more detail on the future of the structure of schools, learning, among other aspects of education. I hope my answers satisfy the questions asked.


I’m going to enter in the Microsoft Future Student 2020 Competition

So please excuse my lack of posts, so I can focus more on the competition (which I’m going to use my Space for this purpose), and I’m not going to add anything else but posts related, until Sunday, October 26.

For those of you who haven’t heard, the competition will award $5000 to people who can answer 5 questions about technology, education, Microsoft in the future. I’d be glad to share some thoughts, and hopefully win that prize. Here’s the questions:

  • First, tell us how technology today influences school life and helps you learn. Then, tell us about the future….
  • What will Windows Vista, Windows Live and Microsoft Office look like in 2020?
  • What will the attitude be towards cell phones and smart phones in 2020 classrooms?
  • How will you go to classes? What will the classroom look like?
  • What will extracurricular activities be? What new classes will be added to course loads?

    Unfortunately, I submitted the URL before I wrote the post, but I’m trying to finish it, as soon as I can. So I’ll be leaving that post on top of all other posts, until Sunday, once it’s finished.

    I really think my ideas might be good enough to win that $5,000 CSD. So I better get to finishing!

  • Thoughts on Windows Live Movie Maker (1st version)

    Based on the first looks of WLMM, I’m just not liking the direction it’s heading so far. Even though it’s a beta (though it should be an alpha), and it’s really something different, I think the current version is just cruddy and shouldn’t have been released. Period.


    There’s only a few positive things I like about it, more on the concept of WLMM actually, rather than it’s current condition:

    1) Microsoft’s will give WMM a big update, and now it’ll be constantly updated – Even though the simple apps built into Windows Vista are nice, they never get updated. Not unless a security issue arises, then Microsoft won’t do a thing to give updates to it, until either the next service pack or the next OS release. Also, hopefully as the beta continues, more new features will show up that weren’t previously in WMM before, or at least features got enhancements.

    2) The ribbon/fluent interface – I love how it’s applied in Office 2007, and can’t wait to see how Microsoft implements the ribbon interface into other apps. Though I agree with some people that the Ribbon interface isn’t applicable for every application (only for things that require a lot of commands), that doesn’t mean it’s unusable elsewhere.

    However, after reading the team blog, I’m not happy about how the team is going about WLMM so far. Here’s what I really wish the WLMM team could do by final release:

    1) Fix up the Ribbon interface Add an Insert tab to insert items (instead of the Home tab), contextual menus for quick picture editing, text formatting (in titles, descriptions, etc.), . Bring back the original Orb button and dynamic zoom bar, have ScreenTips, Keytips, Live Preview and Mini Toolbar working, and give the player more WMP-like controls (such as stop, FFW, RW, volume, fullscreen etc.).

    2) Add more features – I would love for more types of fancy graphical effects, more transition and background styles, larger font library, real video enhancements (contrast, brightness, exposure, saturation, etc.), real color and audio controls per specified clips, among other things to get the best experience out of it. Also, a better way to view parts of a video instead of ugly fragmented clips, a better voiceover feature, and overall think of it like this : I want as much iMovie-like functionality that Microsoft can give for free. Maybe even more.

    3) Search box! – A search box is desperately needed. You know, a dynamic search box to quickly find projects, video files, and all sort instantly as you type.

    4) Timeline/Storyboard – I’ll reiterate this again : There needs to be a timeline or storyboard to easily puts items into a sequence. They just need to revamp the timeline so that it’s more easier to smoothly insert something between two clips (graphically plopping a clip right in), offer an enhanced view of the strip (dynamic zoom?), easily establish audio and color control over portions of the clips you choose, hover over sections of the video and see a live video thumbnail play, more WMP-like controls for the video player, a ‘filmstrip’ view of seeing thumbnails in a clip rather than one thumbnail, among other things to help make it more easier to work with the timeline instead of killing it altogether. Also, the ability to have a show/hide button extended on the pane would make it much easier to deal with. I like having the idea of the Timeline/Storyboard in a separate, than tabs on the ribbon.

    5) More file support – I’m tired of everything you export when you’re finished is in WMV. WLMM is sort of working on this, I guess. Put more file support (MP4, MOV, etc.) for working with and exporting would be great.

    6) XP SP2/SP3 support – Even though XP is going to have less support from Microsoft as we head into the future, I just think it’d be really nice to give XP SP2/SP3 users at least the final version of WLMM. Then drop support completely for upcoming versions of WLMM.

    Well that’s pretty much the tip of the iceberg there. So here’s my formula on how MS should make Windows Live Movie Maker : Lots of great functionality + Great (Ribbon) interface + FREE = A wonderful product that people will rave and talk about, and download and use.

    That’s the most I could hope for in a free video editor, or almost any product that utilizes this formula. Give people more power for free Microsoft. That’s what people want.

    Windows Live Writer beta Wave 3 thoughts

    So I’ve been using the latest Live Writer for a while, and though I haven’t compiled too much what’s new, I have found some new things that others have discovered as well as myself. So here’s what’s I like and don’t like.

    My likes:

    • Ability to center images – Finally! I’ve been waiting for this feature ever since I started blogging with Live Writer. I used to try my best with pressing the spacebar and pushing the image towards the center, and hoping it was as centered as possible. I like most of my images to be in the center of the post, so it’s clearly noticeable. Now all you have to do is just select the graphic, and click on the toolbar. Nifty.
    • Word count – There’s now a Word count on the status bar at the bottom
    • Ability to upload and insert videos from YouTube – Previously, it was only MSN Soapbox, but now you can upload videos to both Soapbox and YouTube, as well as login to either accounts and select either videos you have posted or your favorites from the Insert Video prompt.
    • Additional border styles for images – There’s now 8 choices, including Reflection, Solid 1 pixel, Solid 3 pixels, rounded corners and photopaper. Still not as much as Word 2007, but it’s a nice selection.
    • Image cropping and tiltingMore image enhancing features. Just select the image, go the sidebar pane > Advanced tab > Actions and select either one.
    • UI Simplification – Again, they removed a lot of the icons (which could be bad or good for some people), and the layout as a result is more to the point.
    • Spell checking in more languages – Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Korean, Portuguese (Brazilian), Portuguese (Portugal), Serbian-Cyrillic, Serbian-Latin, Spanish, and Swedish
    • Tabs for switching blog post views – Now there’s tabs right under the blog editing area to view Edit, Preview, and Source mode.

    My dislikes:

    • The sidebar pane dropped hide/show button – The sidebar pane to the right of Writer, doesn’t have the button to show the sidebar, or hide the sidebar like the previous version. Instead, you have go to view Sidebar and click to open/close it. Takes two clicks and a bit longer to open it. Very inconvenient. I don’t understand why they dropped that. Albeit, you could just click F9, but I was never the type of person to memorize keyboard shortcuts.
    • Wish for Ribbon user interface – I love the Ribbon/Fluent interface in Word 2007, and I was hoping Live Writer could adopt it’s own ribbon. As well as the neat things like the dynamic zoom bar, Live Preview effects, ScreenTips, and all the other beauty that distinguishes Word 2007 as the best word processor yet. Seems funny how something new and amateur such as Windows Live Movie Maker gets the Ribbon update, yet lacks so many features in it’s current state to make the ribbon useful.
    • Ability to tag posts – The ability to tag posts would make posts much more searchable.
    • Dynamic inline search box – You can press Ctrl + F, to launch the inline search box, but I just wish they could put a dynamic inline search box somewhere on the unused space of the toolbar, and start typing and words are instantly highlighted.

    Well that’s generally all I can think of so far. Overall, it’s a nice update. Nothing exactly breathtaking in my opinion, but it’s all right.

    Download the beta here, and visit the post on the team’s blog for more info. on the new features. Anything else I should consider adding on my list?

    Windows Live Tags: Windows Live Writer, Wave 3, Beta, Thoughts

    WLM 9.0 – Now with the ability to record any text conversations!

    I just noticed this as I was exiting one of my chats:

    Isn’t that awesome? Even though it won’t accept handwritten or images in the convo, and there’s no web storing, it’s at least covers the basic. I just wish there was a button for all conversation for windows, for record this chat. As in, only that chat. Most of my conversations are menial, and I only care about saving important chats, so a Record button in each window would be great.

    I also noticed this during my group chat:

    This only seems to work under group chats, strangely. I haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds similar to saving text chats. Have you noticed anything new and cool with Messenger?

    EDIT : Sorry, according to Jamie and Technogran, this feature has already been available from the start. I just didn’t get this pop-up window until now. Anyway, a new feature is a feature.

    Windows Live Messenger 9 (Milestone 3) thoughts

    I’ve been testing out WLM 9.0 Milestone 3, for the past few days, and I have my fair share of likes and dislikes so far.


    First of all, here are new changes and features that I love:

    • Simpler main client – A lot of stuff that used to be on the main client, has been dropped off for a more simpler interface. They pulled down the toolbar, the Live Search box, and tabs are hidden by default. Some elements from the toolbar got hidden elsewhere, while Hotmail now sits not so far from the status message. They did add a What’s New feed (updates of what your friends are doing) and the Favorites category, which you can easily disable or delete. And the advertisement at the bottom is still generally the same size. The team did a great job of cleaning up the client interface.
    • New status icons – Remember the little green messenger icon that represented your status? Well now it’s replaced with a much better system; colored dots or “chiclets”. Green = Available; Red = Busy; Orange = Away, White = Offline or Appear Offline. Each colored dot represents one of those statuses, and I’m glad they reduced the number down and making it more legible to see from a glance. You can also have the option to show the display picture for online contacts, instead of just the status icon.
    • Downplaying the tabs – (The tabs on the main client) At the moment, they’re not enabled by default (which is a GOOD thing) and when they are enabled, they’re near the bottom of the client, above the graphic ad. Instead of opening directly in the Messenger client, they open in a small mini-window and you can do what you want there and close it (but it’s still basically an interactive ad or a way to get you to use more services). Still some of the same crud though. I couldn’t find an option to pick certain tabs, so I’m disabling them all.
    • Favorites category – You could make your own categories if you want, but WLM comes with the Favorites category so you can place your top contacts at the very top. By default, they show up in their display pictures. BTW, Groups are a specialized list of people that you guys can communicate all at once together, while categories is just simply a list of people of similar qualities.
    • What’s New – It’s a feed of what your contacts have been doing. If you’re friend are active on Messenger or Spaces often, chances are you’ll see they’ve been doing. Stuff like recent comments, recent pictures added, new blogs, changed display pictures, status messages, etc. It’s really useful, if you have a lot of WLM contacts that use Messenger, Spaces, and SkyDrive often enough. If you’re the type of person that really doesn’t care to see what all your contacts are doing, then you can disable the What’s New feed in Options.
    • Hover effect – Just a really minor feature, but it’s a nice simple feature nonetheless; if you hover over a contact in the client, a dark grayish menu appears where you could choose to Send an Instant Message, E-mail, Call Mobile, View contact card, and View Profile. So simple, and pretty clean and useful compared to the bazillion options shown by right-clicking.
    • Less clutter in chat windows – You have the ability to close up the display picture pane AND the toolbar menu (the bar with the activities). This gives less visual clutter, allowing you to focus entirely on the conversation.
    • Smoother extending of bar between text input and conversation window – Now it seems much smoother to make your text input box bigger, or your conversation window bigger with the improved divider. It just flows better than before.
    • Better photo sharing – This feature hasn’t been enabled yet, since this part of the beta, but based on screenshots, it’s suppose to be much better. I wouldn’t say superb, but much better.
    • Any photo can be a background scene!Any photo can be a background scene in Messenger. Just drag-n’-drop an image to the top portion of the Messenger client and there it is! Your new background scene! Takes customization to a new level. When your friends are chatting with you, they’ll see your background scene, and you’ll see their background scene.
    • Customizable sound clips – WLM comes with a neat bunch of sound clips you could use, and you can change the sounds for individual contacts, yourself, alerts, nudges, incoming/outcoming voice and video calls, and new instant/e-mail messages. You can even choose a sound file from your computer and get a short 5 second clip of it and add to your choices. Though the tool could have been more intuitive at first. I didn’t realize you could drag the music note background behind the slider, to capture a different part of the sound file. Also, if you bought music with DRM, you can’t make a sound clip with those.

    Of course, there’s some things I felt that should have been added or weren’t fixed:

    • Lack of tabs – Is it really that hard to put this in? People have long wanted this feature since the old MSN Messenger days. I’m certain a lot of Messenger users sometimes have a lot of conversation windows open, and having an easier way (than the dreaded Taskbar) to handle all conversations in one window would be great. Sort of like how IE8 manages to handle each tab as its own separate process. I’m sure the UI gurus on the team can figure some way to make tabs work.
    • Lack of consistency with the other Windows Live apps – Which may actually be a good thing. But the inconsistency among the Windows Live apps (especially WLMM), seems bizarre. I’m glad though that WLM has kept it’s visual icons, instead of making everything boring text. Also, backgrounds in Messenger are currently called scenes, while elsewhere it’s called themes. Heck, even Zune just simply calls it a background! We need a bit more consistency here.
    • Outdated emoticon library – We need a new fresh emoticon library to come with WLM! I find the current ones rather dull and not as expressive as the ones in Yahoo! Messenger, which are more visually pleasing, kinda cute, and perform a little movement. Someone should really think of updating Messenger’s current library of emoticons.
    • Lack of way to customize the text input toolbar – I’m talking about the toolbar that you use to help create messages to send to your buddy. The lack of customization is really not cool. I could do without the winks, the Voice Clip, and maybe even the conversation window background buttons. Instead, I would like to see text formatting buttons on the toolbar instead of in a separate ugly dialog box (buttons like font size, font type, Bold, Italics, etc.). Those should be put forward on the toolbar, instead of an ugly cumbersome dialog box. Maybe the team can create a better centralized store for getting add-ons for customizing the toolbar and Messenger.
    • Option to record certain (or any)chatsMicrosoft could go above and beyond by having a way to record chat conversations, especially certain individual ones. I use a 3rd party one and it works fine, but the more that Microsoft brings to the table, the better the product.
    • Need for Messenger games with 3+ people – Whenever I’m chatting with a group of 3, I really wish we could play games together. Unfortunately, WLM doesn’t have any games built-in that do 3+ players. Only 2. If the team could work with MSN Games, and the Xbox team to get stuff like card games, popular board games, among other neat games onto Messenger, then maybe Live Anywhere could become a reality. Wouldn’t that be nice?
    • Lack of visual graphics effects for webcam chats – Come on, Microsoft. Apple’s iChat has the neatest array of graphical visual effects to use in webcam chats, while WLM is still just getting improvements to better viewing and audio quality. Graphical visual effects are an extra, but a lot of people really want that feature built-in. Microsoft has always been known to be poor in the visual graphics department (well until Zune that is), and maybe there should be some guys working on making Messenger (and maybe Windows) more visually graphical in a superb way. Yahoo! even did this already with WPF (a Microsoft technology) on their Yahoo! Messenger for Vista.
    • A direct way to get rid of advertising – I don’t want to have to find a 3rd party to do it. Isn’t there a way for a Windows Live user to skip ads in Messenger? Maybe for those who use Hotmail Plus they could also skip ads in Messenger? The ads aren’t annoying to me, but I’d like a direct option from Microsoft for a way to have Messenger without the ads.
    • Spell check – Practically every application has this feature nowadays. Though of course a lot of people don’t mind spelling errors during chat, some people do. It’d just be nifty to have spell check included. Or if Windows could have a system-wide spell checker, that’d be even better.
    • No web-based Messenger yet – The next version of Hotmail (which will come in beta sometime soon) is suppose to include WLM functionality. Though from some screenshots, I’d say going to Meebo would be a better choice. I just really hope that most of the important things (like emoticons, text formatting tools, etc.) are still there.
    • Lack of mobile version – Even the current one is already bear bones in comparison. How about giving Windows Mobile users a super Windows Live Messenger? AIM for Windows Mobile is excellent in comparison with the outdated Messenger for Mobile. Why can’t Microsoft get their act together with the mobile division?
    • Voicemail capability – Yahoo! Messenger has had this feature for quite awhile. Also, now that Windows Live Video Messages exists, why not just integrate that directly into WLM? That would save me an extra step, though it’d be useful to see it available on another computer. Seeing offline text messages is nice, but now is the time to offer voice and video messages.
    • VOIP capability – Reason why people love Skype. Maybe if Microsoft could charge a nice cheap fee, I’m sure a lot of people would go for it.

    Anything else I should add to my list? Comment me.

    Here’s some snapshots to get a general feel of what the new Messenger’s like, for those who haven’t tried it yet: