Jamie Thomson

Thoughts, about stuff

Archive for October 2010

Windows Phone 7 needs a Location hub

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Windows Phone 7 has introduced the notion of hubs. Hubs are essentially parts of the phone OS that aggregate information pertaining to a particular “thing”; right now those six “things” are:

  • Music & Video
  • Games
  • People
  • Pictures
  • Marketplace
  • Office

I’m of the opinion that there should be a seventh hub – Location. There are many services today that provide location specific data (Foursquare & Flickr are two such examples)although I can safely predict that the number of these will grow exponentially over the coming years. On Windows Phone 7 right now there is no way to present location-centric information in a single place – hence why I believe there is a need for a Location hub.

In this (currently mythical) scenario apps would be able to publish information that is relevant to the user’s current location into this Location hub in much the same way that (e.g.) the SmugMug app currently publishes photos into the pictures hub. The Location hub would display all of that information on a map and the user could zoom in/out to see more or less information as they please. I can think of many apps, or types of apps, that could take advantage of this:

  • Foursquare could publish check-ins
  • Twitter could publish geo-tagged tweets
  • Retailers could publish special offers (“Come to our store on Oxford Street in the next 10 minutes with your Windows Phone and receive a discount”)
  • London Underground could publish an overlay of the tube network, including real-time train information
  • Event sites like Eventful, Elmcity and Upcoming could publish local events
  • OpenTable (who already have an app in the Windows Phone marketplace) could publish information about nearby restaurants
  • Weather apps could overlay current or future weather conditions
  • Transport for London could publish up-to-the-minute information about their “boris bikes” such as which stations currently have bikes available
  • Your friends could share their location which could get published into the hub (this suggestion came from Todd Mcdermid)
  • Apps that provide data about public amenities (letter boxes, public toilets, post offices etc…) could overlay that information on the Location hub

The more I consider this the more I think its a fantastic idea (well, I would, wouldn’t I) and the more I become amazed that Microsoft didn’t provide it straight off the bat. I realise there’s little chance that this little blog post will reach the powers that be and make a difference but still, I can live in hope!

Let me know that you think. What other information could end up in a Location hub?

@Jamiet

UPDATE: Vote for this idea on the Windows Phone 7 Community Wishlist at : New
hub for “Location” data

 

Written by Jamiet

October 26, 2010 at 7:51 pm

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Web Slices on Windows Phone 7

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In March 2008, soon after Internet Explorer 8 was unveiled to the world, I wrote a blog post entitled Web Slice Gadgets in which I opined that a nice feature for web slices would be enabling us to install them as desktop gadgets within Windows. I said then:

Web Slices are a method for packaging up small portions of data from the internet and making them easily available. Well to me, that sounds a lot like what gadgets are for. Doesn’t it to you?

The advantage of gadgets is that you don’t have to open a web browser in order to view them like you do with Web Slices. On the other hand the advantage of Web Slices is that you don’t need to be a software developer in order to build one. Hence, wouldn’t it make sense to combine the two? Let me store Web Slices on my Windows Vista Sidebar

It is not possible to do this today, not even in Windows 7. However, I was browsing through the Windows Phone 7 marketplace earlier today when I happened upon an app built by Lorenzo Barbieri of GenioDelMale called webslicer that brings the power of webslices to Windows Phone 7. The description goes:

With this app you can use the most of the web slices from IE8 and IE9 directly from the Phone. You need the URL of the slice, and you can add it to the favorites for later use.

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Cool stuff Lorenzo. I’ll definitely be getting a hold of this app when I get a Windows Phone 7 (which I can’t right now – rant coming about that later).

Unfortunately there is no way to link directly to the app within the marketplace (not one that I know of anyway) but if you search in the app marketplace within Zune it shouldn’t be too hard to find.

@Jamiet

Written by Jamiet

October 23, 2010 at 9:53 am

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Office goes subscription-based, is Windows next?

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One of the more interesting takeaways from this week’s Office 365 announcement was that Office, the venerable productivity suite that generates oodles of cash for Microsoft, will be available via a subscription-backed-with-cloud-services model. Customers will be able to “rent” the use of Office for as long as they wish to use it.

Vendor CFOs love the subscription model because it provides a predictable revenue stream rather than one with peaks and troughs that is prevalent with the traditional purchasing model for software; for Microsoft it presents the added bonus that they can get customers onto modern versions of software quicker thus reducing support costs for backward compatibility issues. Customers like the subscription model too because it is a predictable cost that rises or falls in line with headcount and moreover they always have access to the latest software.

The obvious question that arises is “if Microsoft can introduce a cloud-service-backed subscription model for Office, why not do it for Windows as well”? With that in mind its worth remarking that in the last few months a service for cloud-based PC management of Windows PCs called Windows Intune has entered beta which purports to:

help you centrally manage and secure your PCs thru a simple web-based console

I envisage Windows Intune eventually moving to a broader service offering akin to Office 365 where you rent the operating system from Microsoft and they take care of all the maintenance for you. Again the same benefits apply for both parties apply and the promise of always being on the latest version of an operating system would be a tempting one for IT departments I am sure.

Looking even further ahead I can envisage a time where all we have on our desktop is a dumb terminal and a keyboard and the processing horsepower (i.e. the operating system) lives in a datacentre; granted, superfast broadband needs to be far more ubiquitous than it is today in order to support this but that will come with time. The prospect of always-on, always up-to-date, zero-installation-required-is software both compelling and, I feel, inevitable.

This is all speculative but nonetheless I’m sure that the landscape of desktop computing in corporate environments is going to look very very different in, say, ten years time to what it does today. I certainly don’t assume that Windows or even Microsoft will be a part of that future like they are today but I am pretty certain that whoever comes to dominate computing in the corporate arena in years to come will have to adopt a model something like the one I have described in this blog post. if I’m still writing in ten years time, and you are still reading, then maybe I’ll refer back to this blog post and see how close we are to this cloud-based future.

@Jamiet

Written by Jamiet

October 21, 2010 at 9:27 pm

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Office 365 for Office Live Small Business (and Best Friend Pets)

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Yesterday Microsoft announced a new over-arching brand for the stuff that used to be known as BPOS, Office Live Small Business and Office Live&Edu – Office 365. Here’s the announcement video:

http://www.microsoft.com:80/presspass/silverlightApps/videoplayer3/standalone.aspx?contentID=office365_announce&src=/presspass/presskits/office/channel.xml

This is an important announcement for me and my mum because I currently host her business website http://bestfriendpets.co.uk using Office Live Small Business. During the announcement Chris Capossela said:

We’re also delivering a public facing website for small businesses so that they can create their own presence on the internet with incredibly simple tools, just using Sharepoint to edit and publish content on the web

(its about 19:50 in)

In other words, I’m going to be getting my hands dirty with Office 365 and SharePoint pretty soon. Watch this space!

@Jamiet

Written by Jamiet

October 20, 2010 at 8:45 pm

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My thoughts on Windows Phone 7, and why I shall be getting one

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Earlier this week Microsoft announced their new mobile operating system, Windows Phone 7, along with a host of new phone devices on which it will run. They become available in the UK in 7 days time and I shall be getting one, in this blog post I am going to explain why.

Almost five years ago (on 1st November 2005 to be precise) Microsoft released Windows Live; a set of online services -some of which were re-branded from MSN- that were intended to…well…no-one was really sure what they were intended for. The progress of Windows Live since then has been rocky to say the least (including some highprofile departures) although I do believe that the brand now represents a concrete set of products and services that bring value and have a strong future. The change in strategy from trying to be all things to all comers to partnering with best-of-breed services (e.g. Facebook, WordPress, LinkedIn, TripIt, Last.FM) whilst doubling-down on their own popular brands (Office, Messenger, Hotmail) and then building desktop tools to support all those services is both palpable and to Microsoft’s credit in my opinion.

I have been, and still am, a keen follower of Windows Live since those early days (my first Windows Live related blog post was in September 2006) and since then I have endured much ridicule from friends and colleagues who wondered why I bothered maintaining an interest in it when everyone else was jumping onto the MySpace, Facebook and Twitter bandwagons. You can imagine that the phrase “Microsoft fanboy” has been uttered in my direction many times and frankly, given the evidence , its not something I can legitimately deny. They questioned why I bothered with Windows Live and the answer back then was essentially this:

Microsoft’s breadth of products and services that can get unlocked by a single Windows Live ID is greater than anyone else

Four years ago there was no other single organisation that offered (or were going to offer): music and video, gaming, email, instant messenging, online storage, social network aggregation, desktop computing, search, synchronisation & mobile computing (and not forgetting a software platform that I make my living off of) all tied to the same login and it is that simple fact that I always found so compelling. Moreover, even in the face of competition from heavyweights like Apple, Google and Facebook I still find it to be overwhelmingly compelling today. The potential for a fantastic integrated experience incorporating all of the above was always, in my opinion, greater than anyone else could provide but for the last five years that all it has been – potential.

So what has all that got to do with Windows Phone 7? For me, Windows Phone 7 is the first embodiment of that latent potential. I didn’t think it would take five years to arrive at this point but arrive we have. And how. The reviews have generally been very positive (anything from Microsoft that gets Stephen Fry and Jemima Kiss singing its praises must be worthy of a second glance at least) and at the centre of it is Windows Live; not plastered over the top as it was in previous incarnations of Windows Mobile but actually woven into the core of every Windows Phone 7 to the extent that it powers everything from the Facebook-heavy people hub to the online accompanying service at http://windowsphone.live.com.

So to sum up, why am I getting a Windows Phone? In a nutshell its not because I’ve been waiting a few months for this thing, its because I’ve been waiting for four years and I’m not going to turn my back just as we enter the finishing straight. I will be getting a Windows Phone in 7 days (I am as yet undecided about which one though it will probably be the HTC HD7) and I’ll tell you all about it right here.

@Jamiet

Written by Jamiet

October 14, 2010 at 8:00 pm

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Announcing the Sunbury-on-Thames hub on Elmcity

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Ever heard of the Elmcity project? It is an effort by Jon Udell (blog | twitter) to do for calendars what Google Reader has done for blogs. Put more succinctly it is a calendar aggregator. Elmcity will search out publicly listed events for a given location and aggregate them all in a single place and (more importantly) to a single public calendar feed that anyone can subscribe to in their calendar program of choice (e.g. Hotmail Calendar, Google Calendar, Outlook, Apple iCal).

Regular readers of this blog and my more technical work-related blog will know that I have particular interest in subscribable calendars and calendar aggregation from my past blog posts:

and so was eager to get involved with Elmcity; hence I have created an Elmcity event hub for my hometown, Sunbury-on-Thames. I was impressed by the ease with which I was able to set this up (go read the Elmcity FAQ to find out how to set up an Elmcity hub for your own home town) and was pleased to see, via my hub, that indeed people do add events to Eventful & UpComing for the surrounding area. Here’s some stuff coming up in the first few weeks of November that I would never have otherwise known about:

image

If you want to view the hub then go to http://elmcity.cloudapp.net/services/jamiethomson/html or, if you want to make it really useful, subscribe to the calendar using this URL: http://elmcity.cloudapp.net/services/jamiethomson/ics in your calendar program of choice (Hotmail Calendar, Google Calendar etc…

Now that the hub is up and running the challenge is to make it seriously useful by getting local organisations like schools, clubs, local authority groups etc… to start publishing their calendars in a way that I can get them into the hub. That wont be easy but I shall be endeavouring to publicise the hub and this blog post is just the start of that – I hope to report some success in the coming months.

In the meantime, if you are a Sunbury-on-Thames resident and have stumbled in here I would really love to know what you think of this little experiment so please let me know what you think about the Elmcity hub and perhaps let me know about local events that I can add in. I can be reached on Twitter or via email.

Thanks for reading

@Jamiet

Links:

Written by Jamiet

October 14, 2010 at 6:15 pm

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Windows Live Mesh made significantly less useful in version one than originally promised

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Windows Live Mesh was first released in Tech Preview form in Spring 2008 and I have been a very vocal advocate of both Mesh and the underlying developer platform ever since. As you may or may not know Mesh finally reached full v1 release status 4 days ago on 30th September 2010 and in the intervening period many changes have taken them place – not all of them good ones. In fact I would go so far as to say that the product that was released four days ago is significantly worse than what I first experienced two and a half years ago.

Here are the main complaints that I have with the service from a consumer perspective:

  • In Mesh Tech Preview we were able to share folders as read-only. That option is no longer available:

image

Here we see a screenshot from the original Mesh tech Preview showing that this was indeed possible:

Windows Live Mesh Tech Preview permissions

Why on earth would they take away this genuinely useful feature?

  • There is no activity stream any more (i.e. no information on what has changed in your folders) and given that folders cannot be shared as read-only this is an important feature – one needs to know when shared files have been changed, who has changed them and where there are conflicts.

Here is a screenshot from the original Tech Preview demonstrating this activity feed (back then it was called the “News Feed”):

Windows Live Mesh Tech Preview news feed

 

There are a lot of things I like about Windows Live Mesh v1 over the original tech preview but I am distinctly unhappy about the absence of these two particular features. If you agree with me I would encourage you to register your displeasure at http://feedback.live.com and hopefully we shall get these features back one day.

@Jamiet

Written by Jamiet

October 4, 2010 at 5:48 am

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