2010: Microsoft’s Highs and Lows

Every year, I plan to blog what I consider to be the high points and the low points of the year for Microsoft. Like practically all of my lists, there’s no specific ranking of any of the items. I try my best to come up with as many good ones, but it’s not easy. Here’s what this year’s highs and lows seemed to be:

High Points:

1. Xbox Kinect – Having a pretty successful launch, Kinect has been reported to have sold 1 million within 10 days of launch, 2.5 million since November 29, 2010, and estimated to reach 5 million by the end of 2010. What makes Kinect super awesome is that it’s somewhat of a revolution for video game consoles, similar to the Wii back a few years ago. Controller-less gaming might be the thing of the future, and with many interesting hacks to leverage Kinect with the PC, as well as Microsoft aiming for a possibility with interfacing with Windows 8, then there will be a lot of potential with the Kinect technology that will go mainstream.

2. Windows Phone 7 – It’s practically the only new smartphone OS to actually bear a unique UI that’s actually good since the iPhone first game out. Taking the advantages of a closed but tailored user experience like Apple does, and the hardware openness like Android has, WP7 might make it to the top if it keeps trucking. Yes, it does deviate from the original Windows Mobile with less hardcore features and software openness, but with continued updates and improvements to the OS, WP7 will prove to be much better than the original and hopefully developers are keen to take advantage of a new and simple market.

3. Office 2010 – A more evolutionary upgrade, than revolutionary, but it further enhances Microsoft’s productivity tools. All of the Office applications now have the Fluent/Ribbon interface that manages to nicely place so many functions in an organized and clean way. Along with extra long-waited features in each app, there is also free Office Web Apps(which replaced Office Live Workspaces) for easy on-the-go cloud editing and viewing. Microsoft has also recently announced Office 365, an innovative online service that brings seamless integration with Office on the desktop, to the web, to the mobile phone.

4. Windows Live Essentials 2011 – Like every new release of Essentials, there are of course big updates, mostly being the Fluent/Ribbon interface in the core apps. Some better integration with existing Live services, as well as better extensions support to other 3rd party services too.

Low Points

1. Microsoft Kin – Despite the quirky market it seemed targeted towards, this is also another Microsoft offering I felt offered some, though limited potential. As a feature phone, it was fairly some very top-notch hardware and software. What features phones can compare with 5MP or higher camera lens, Tegra chips, 4GB+ built-in storage and more? Software-wise, the Spot was a pretty ingenious method of copy-and-pasting on a mobile phone thru clip-drag-and-drop, the Kin Studio being a wonderful way to sync/share/back-up content to the cloud, and the social networking hotspot seemed neat too.

What really hurt it mostly was Verizon’s attached data plans. For a feature phone, paying a smartphone data plan is ridiculous and might have stemmed from some internal bickering between the two companies. Also, for a market targeted towards tweens/teen/young-adults into social networking, no true support for IM (though it was built-in yet hidden), no calendar/appointment application, no spell-check or predicative text, makes it not too great of a socializer phone. To top it off, no app market and a GPS only used for geocoding photos really hurt its chances of surviving.

2. Windows Live Spaces – Sadly disappointed to see Spaces go. I had some small hope that maybe Microsoft might be working on a brand new improved Spaces but I should have known based on Microsoft’s past history with failed Windows Live projects. What made me annoyed was that the team was stagnant for years, released a minor update about more than a year ago, and yet spam continued to be plopped on almost every post, lack of good Spaces gadgets, and a very large community of “person x wants to add you on Windows Live” made me really fed up.

I’m sure if Microsoft had created a new Spaces, offering a clean yet very customizable easy-to-use blog designs, super spam prevention, special paid domain URLs, and especially more social connecting (which WordPress seems to lack) it might have succeeded better.

3. Windows Live Hotmail HTTPS – Seemed very ridiculous for those of us that want to access our Hotmail accounts via both the web or the Windows Live Mail client are advised not to leave the web version on HTTPS (SSL) by default, because it might have synchronization issues with Live Mail. Microsoft can’t send a minor bug fix to Essential users? Guess we’ll have to wait another year for a ‘wave’ to occur.

4. Microsoft PC/Web gaming – Very little has been done outside Xbox in terms of gaming. Microsoft has recently updated the Games for Windows Live marketplace with a new look, slightly better game deals, and more titles and such, but with Steam already having a massive user-base, a highly-liked DRM scheme, as well as a good client and all, Microsoft still has a long ways to go to catch-up. A new Flight Simulator had been announced, but details are scarce. MSN Games seems to be going down the tubes to be replaced with a new type MSN Games that’s very similar to Bing Games, which as I have posted before, currently sucks. Messenger games finally got a new look, but it’s not really that much better. Overall, I’m disappointed.

That’s pretty much it. Any opinions or anything I should have added to either list?

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Bing Games really could use some work

Well if y’all weren’t aware, Bing has a ‘Games’ section where you can play a bunch of free games when you’re not busy surfing the web for other freebies. I found this out through LiveSide when Bing Games launched in November 2010. 

I’ve poked around the site a good deal (when I should have been focused on my finals!) and this really sums it up: A waste of time! Well, to be fair, there are a lot of time-wasters on the web, but I was less satisfied in my time spent on Bing Games than most stuff. Why?

Let me break it down through a nice organized list in non-specific order:

1. Low-quality games – Ok, I’m not expecting fancy popular state-of-the-art titles and engaging gameplay, or super smooth-as-silk graphics, but the games available on Bing Games are mostly crud. Even compared to other low-quality Flash-based games and quick entertainment sites, Bing Games brings little to the table in competitiveness. You want to know what kind of games they mostly have?

  • Limited trial levels of most popular arcade/puzzle franchises that end too soon
  • Random-type games where they seem cobbled together in less than a day
  • Generic games that could already be found on other dedicated flash-gaming sites
  • Games that seemed ported from the 90s with the worst looking interfaces possible image

Well that sums up the vast majority if not all games. Hard to think of one ORIGINAL game from Bing Games that actually intrigues me.

2. Small library of games – 80 games as of December 27, 2010. That’s relatively tiny compared to other similar sites. There are several categories of games not available in Bing like shooting, webcam (like Kinect/Eyetoy), racing, physics-based, etc.

3. Video ad rolls – Practically my #1 dislike with that site. Indeed, the games are monetarily free and it would be fair for Microsoft and those publishers to be compensated. However, video ads through the web are practically the worst medium, because they waste up precious seconds of your life making you watch something you’ll probably never buy. It’s expected with free web TV or traditional TV, but not the web. At least with text/graphic ads, I probably do see them, but they do not get in the way.

4. Some games require you connect with Facebook – Wow, if I really wanted to play social games on Facebook, then I probably wouldn’t be playing this game through Bing now, would I? Someone should contact the Department of Redundancy Department pronto!

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5. Poorly designed site – The navigation is too basic, it’s all based on categories and clicking through pages, though I guess 80 games isn’t much to deal with though hopefully going by rating or by publisher or more will exist if the library ever does get much larger. Also many games take up a small space where sometimes details can’t be seen too well unless you zoom, while the unnecessary leaderboard and social friends’ gaming stats take up a ridiculous amount of space around it.

More features are definitely needed: Stuff like user-based ratings/reviews, stats with how many currently playing or total views or publisher info., and a Favorites list within the site would be super helpful, and more viewing options like in fullscreen, dim page around the game, or even an isolated pop-up window of just the game. A detailed full leaderboard section would be helpful too.

6. Forgotten about MSN Games? – I just stumbled upon the new MSN Games site today and they completely REDID the entire site and dropped a lot of things and is now in essence a primped up version of Bing Games with a design probably targeted to middle-aged women. Anyway, I initially was going to point out it seemed very redundant to be offering both sites to users, and how Bing games seemed like a poor imitation of the original MSN Games but that’s kinda lost now.

BTW, the original MSN Games site offered a LOT of arcade/puzzle type games, and even offered full PC downloads of them either by paying individually or going for a GameSpring subscription. Must really suck for the MSN Zone fans back in the day to see the state MSN Games is in now. Well at least it has a Favorites list unlike Bing Games. Tsk. Tsk.

I could go on and on, but you pretty much get the picture I hope. I like Microsoft expanding to other areas, but only if they are actually doing an adequate job and bringing something new but Bing Games really just doesn’t cut it.

For those interested in fun Flash-based gaming sites, I’d definitely recommend Newgrounds.com and OMGPOP.com from experience.

Back to blogging!

Yes! I’m finally back to blogging! I will definitely be posting some more stuff soon, though I’m wondering if I still have any readers left because of the move to WordPress and more importantly, me not doing posts for quite a long time.

Here are the types of things I’ll probably be posting:

  • Thoughts on recent developments of various Microsoft projects (consumers-side of course)
  • Wishlists of things I wish Microsoft would do of various types of software/services, etc.
  • In-depth reviews of all things Microsoft that I use
  • Occasional experiences (or frustrations!) I’d like to share with certain Microsoft things
  • Linkposts, where I post a bunch of interesting links I found regarding all things Microsoft, with a quick description of what seemed so intriguing
  • Future-type posts, where I focus on a certain aspect of our lives and how I envision it might change in the near future (usually with a Microsoft angle of course)

Plus maybe even more. But I’ll definitely be focusing on those things like I have in the past.

I’ll also be working on trying to make this an even better blog than the previous one hosted on the now defunct Windows Live Spaces, Microsoft and the Future, by updating much more often, trying to add some humor, and being less formal than I was before (though not too informal!).

So yep, this is pretty much a new start for me, and I’ll definitely see that I do a much better job on this blog. People have liked my previous blogs in the past, because I’m very descriptive, I pretty much hit the right points, so I hope I still got that mojo in me.