World Telescope Shown off at TED

telescope.pngMicrosoft’s “worst kept secret” got its predicted airing at TED yesterday. The video of the event is available on the TED website already. Also there is an official webpage for the telescope software. No news yet on when this might be available to the public. However it appears that – despite being a C# app, and thus easy-ish to port to Mono – it will be a Windows-only application.

Update: The beta version is now available to the general public (and very nice it looks too)

Microsoft’s Great Hot Air Launch: Lack of Substance Reaches Heroic Proportions

heroes.pngFor months Microsoft have been playing up their Heroes launch. Yesterday – 27th Feb 2008 – it finally happened. Huge glitz and glamour with fancy website launches and not much else was the order of the day.

VS2008 is now available for retail purchase, rather than via MSDN. Windows Server 2008 is in its late beta stages. SQL Server 2008 might be released some time this year. They are the three main themes to the heroes promotion. In addition, their virtualization tools are still in beta too. Finally there was a bit of a nod toward “open source heroes” with an “open source” package available that mainly consists of trial versions of Vs2008 and WS2008. Um…

Adobe AIR Tour Europe: Free workshops on using AIR

on AIR Tour Europe
With Adobe releasing version 1 of their Rich Internet Application (RIA) IDE – AIR – (TLA cubed!) yesterday, now is a good time to plug their free AIR Tour Europe event. They will be visiting 12 cities across Europe from March to June, offering a day’s free training in using AIR. Registration is a breeze too, so there is no excuse not to be there.

Scott Guthrie shows off Silverlight 2 … on a Mac!

The beta of Silverlight 2 is likely to be released after its been shown off at MIX in a couple of weeks time. But to wet everyone’s appetite, Scott Guthrie – the boss of the team writing Silverlight 2 – has shown some early screenshots of it in action.

scott_using_mac.png

Nothing too exciting except for the fact that they are Mac screenshots! What is the world coming to when a Microsoft General Manager within the Microsoft Developer Division shows off Mac screenshots? I used to think that Microsoft employees were instantly sacked even for saying the word, let alone using one!

At Mix:UK last year, Scott did tell me that he viewed Linux, OS X etc as “arch friends”. Looks like he was serious…

If you thought the MacBook Air was pointless eye candy; you ain’t seen nothing yet

coloured_air.png

As I may have hinted at in the past, I feel the MacBook Air is a classic case of style over substance: all looks and no brains. However it is possible to part with even more cash, to make this product even more pointlessly-expensive eye-candy. Fancy a pink or blue one? Metallic green? How about a glowing orange logo? What about all of the above? Unbelievably this is possible if you buy one from ColorWare, and it can be yours for a mere $620 more than the already overpriced envelope-filler’s basic cost.

Thanks to Trevor Marshall for the link.

Microsoft admit anti-trust defeat and offer up APIs and IP to competitors & open source community

ms_peeps.jpgI listened to my my first “virtual press conference” today given by Microsoft. I certainly picked a big one as my first. I actually got to hear Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, say the words “open source” without spitting, swearing or making any negative remarks! What is the world coming to?

Well the world is coming to its senses and realises that it doesn’t have to be scared of Microsoft and Microsoft is coming to its senses and realising that it cannot own the world (and will just have to be happy with a significant chunk of it.) So the press release was the final fling in a long and probably very painful process of Microsoft opening itself up to its competitors and to the open source community. Today Microsoft announced the launch of its four new interoperability principles:

  1. Ensuring open connections
  2. Promoting data portability
  3. Enhancing support for industry standards
  4. Fostering more open engagement with customers and the industry, including open source communities.

So what does that all mean? Well translated it means:

  • Microsoft have promised to publish the APIs and communications protocols for all their high volume products (Vista, Office 2007, Sharepoint 2007, Exchange 2007, Server 2008). No license will be required to access this information.
  • Open source developers can freely use these communication protocols without having to pay royalties and without fear of being sued. Commercial use must be paid for.
  • Recent forays into open source with collaborations with the Mono, MySQL and PHP teams is due to continue and become part of how Microsoft works.
  • As a start, Microsoft will be adding some 3,000 extra pages of API information to MSDN so that everyone – not just those that have bought trade secret licenses – can access the information.

Why have they done this? Well clearly the EU can take a lot of the credit with its dogged pursuit of anti-trust cases against Microsoft. The bigger picture though is likely simply a realisation within Microsoft that open source isn’t going to go away. Having won the browser war, they have watched Firefox erode that dominant position for example. That they now own nearly the entire paid-for development tool market has meant that universities now routinely teach LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL & PHP) and Java as they are free development environments. Perhaps the weight of arguably the world’s most powerful political bloc, combined with the quiet determination of the open source community, has finally broken the Microsoft bronco?

Whatever the reasons though, this has certainly been a historic day for software developers, both within the Microsoft fold and without.

Read, watch and listen to full details of the press release here.

Microsoft to demo “world’s worst kept secret” on the 27th February

galaxy.jpgFor a while now, a couple of Microsoft researchers – Curtis Wong and Jonathan Fay – have been beavering away on a project that no one (publicly) knew about. Five days ago, Robert Scoble of Scobleize.com was shown it and blogged about how great it was, but how he wasn’t going to tell anyone what it was until after the 27th. This set of a storm of speculation and caused Wong and Fay no small amount of grief. Also Scoble let slip that the 27th was tied in with TED. The intense speculation continued, someone at Microsoft buckled, and the story got out. It’s probably a fancy new product called “WorldWide Telescope”, that uses Photosynth to allow the user to pan across the sky and zoom in on distant galaxies and the like.

This little story is a good object lesson for Scoble and us all. When you are shown something in confidence, keep your mouth shut! Saying “I know a secret and I’m not sharing” will always get more attention than just telling the secret. As another blog put it, Scoble has over-hyped this product so much, people are going to be disappointed with the reality. It now faces a struggle for survival before it’s even born. Shame really as it sounds quite a cool – if pointless – application.

UPDATE
With the announcement on Thursday 21st February that Microsoft have given in to EU and open source pressure and opened up their APIs and comms protocols, attention may shift from this over-hyped project. No doubt Wong and Fay will sigh a huge sigh of relief if it does.

Mac Users are “self centred, arrogant and conceited”

A couple of people have recently suggested to me that I seem to have a thing against Apple. Whilst untrue, this post will do nothing to dispel that view 😉

TheStreet.com has a light-hearted video that summarises market research into the stereotypical Mac user. Aside from claiming they are self centred, arrogant and conceited, apparently the average (American) Mac user eats organic food, drives a tank (they are called “station wagons” in the USA apparently), buys five pairs of trainers (sneakers) a year and is worried about green issues. I can’t quite square the last one with driving some ridiculously big car, but that’s them “crazy Americans” for you…

Really Weird Optical Illusion

David Arno's Facebook profileAs you may know – assuming you use facebook yourself – there are various fun and amusing little applications available on facebook that, amongst other things, test you in various ways. I recently stumbled across one such application that tested one’s ability to see through optical illusions. Most of the illusions were fairly standard ones, but the last one really caught my attention. I’ve reproduced it below:

Optical illusion

 

Question: Which square is darker?

(1) Square A (2) Square B (3) Neither

The correct answer is (3) Neither. Apparently your brain compensates for the shadow and so square B appears brighter. I answered (1) as square A looks so much darker, I assumed it a trick question (a number of previous questions’ correct answers were that they were the same). So I loaded it up into a graphics program and checked the RGB values of the squares. What amazed me was that not only were they the same, the effect of the brain recolouring square B is so strong, that the square itself looked a completely different colour to that shown by the dropper tool as shown below:

Which all leads to a rather obvious conclusion: do not trust your eyes or brain to show you what is really there!