SciTechBlog
May 11, 2010

Microsoft's new gaming system goes on sale in October

Posted: 12:53 PM ET

Microsoft's Project Natal - a video game system that reads body movement and doesn't require remote controls - will go on sale in October, according to a video interview posted on the website Gametag Radio.

In the short clip, a Microsoft marketing manager named Syed Bilal Tariq appears to tell the site that the body-sensing video game system will go on sale worldwide in October. CNN was not immediately able to confirm the report.

At the E3 gaming conference last year, Microsoft showed off the Natal technology for the first time. The company later confirmed the system would go on sale by the holiday shopping season this year.

Natal is an add-on for the Xbox 360 console. A camera reads players' body movements and then transfers them into the characters in a game. So you might play soccer, for example, by kicking your leg rather than clicking a button on a remote or swinging a controller, as is the case with the Nintendo Wii.

Natal is part of a new wave of "gesture-based" technologies that are coming to market. The underlying idea is that people should be able to use natural body movements and hand gestures to control consumer electronics, rather than clicking buttons or dragging mouse pointers across screens.

Nintendo popularized this idea with the Wii, the casual gaming system where people swing remote controls and balance on boards to control their digital avatars. Sony has another competitor called the PlayStation Move, which is expected out this year, too.

Look for updates on many of these products at the E3 Expo, coming June 15 to 17.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • Nintendo • Project Natal


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April 14, 2010

Original Xbox LIVE is no more

Posted: 11:55 AM ET
A final salute
A final salute

At midnight tonight, Microsoft shuts down its original Xbox LIVE service for good.

But before you fling your console out the window, the company is only discontinuing the online service for original Xbox consoles and games, including version 1 games playable on Xbox 360 and Xbox Originals. This means "Halo 2" multiplayer and "Battlefront 2" - two of the more popular online games - won't be available anymore.

The original Xbox LIVE service, started in 2002, paved the way for other consoles and services to connect gamers via the Web and changed the way video games are played and designed. While it did not age well (friends lists capped at 100 people), it laid the groundwork for Microsoft to expand features now available in the current Xbox LIVE, including social networking and movie downloads.

There was some fan backlash after Microsoft's initial announcement two months ago. Some gamers felt betrayed for putting time and money into older games only to have them yanked away. Others suggested a separate service for the older version 1 games, but it appears that Microsoft is dedicated to its current Xbox LIVE service.

"This isn't a decision we made lightly, but after careful consideration, it is clear this will provide the greatest benefit to the Xbox LIVE community," Xbox's Marc Whitten said in a recent letter to Xbox LIVE members.

How much were you using the older service? Does this make an impact on your gameplay choices? Let us know what you were playing!

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Filed under: Gaming • Microsoft Corp. • video games


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March 19, 2010

A bad week for Google?

Posted: 03:22 PM ET

By some accounts, this week hasn't been so great for Google.

The first bit of bad news concerns sales of Google's Nexus One phone.

On Tuesday, the market analytics firm Flurry released a report saying initial sales of Google's Nexus One phone have been slim compared to the Droid and the iPhone. The firm compared sales of those those phones over the first 74 days they were on the market. In a blog post, Flurry says it chose that time period because that's how long it took the original iPhone to sell 1 million handsets when it was released in 2007.

By comparison, only 135,000 Nexus One phones were sold in that phone's first 74 days. More from Flurry's post:

As Google and Apple continue to battle for the mobile marketplace, Google Nexus One may go down as a grand, failed experiment or one that ultimately helped Google learn something that will prove important in years to come.

Google responded to that news by playing up the Android Market, the online store where people with Android phones - like the Nexus One and Droid - buy applications, according to Engadget

Google issued a statement to CNN, saying:

We’re pleased with our sales volumes and with how well the Nexus One has been received by our customers. The Nexus One is one of a fast growing number of Android handsets which have been brought to market through the open Android ecosystem. Our partners are shipping more than 60,000 Android handsets each day compared with 30,000 just three months ago.

Not everyone says this news is so bad, though. Concern about the Nexus One's slow start is "more than a little ridiculous," writes Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Google is still a software company dabbling in hardware. And its mobile smart phone software is very, very good.

The other potentially troublesome story concerns Google's search traffic.

Microsoft's Bing search engine appears to be making slight inroads on Google, which still dominates that territory. A Nielsen report, issued Monday, found Microsoft searches in February made up 12.5 percent of the search market, compared to 10.9 percent in January. Meanwhile, Google still accounts for 65.2 percent of all U.S. searches.

The Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital blog notes that the shift in the search market is "slow going":

... Bing is clearly whittling away at both Google and Yahoo’s search market share. Of course, the flip side is that with Yahoo in decline, the search side of the Microsoft-Yahoo partnership isn’t showing all that much growth.

What do you think? Is Google, clearly one of the world's dominant tech companies, in any trouble here?

Was its jump into the mobile phone hardware market misguided, or do you think Nexus One sales may still take off? We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Filed under: Android • Google • iPhone • Microsoft Corp.


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March 14, 2010

SXSW: Microsoft Surface, Flavors.me, FunMail and HuddleHub

Posted: 01:23 PM ET

The South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive festival, which is known for being one of the preeminent events for introducing tech innovations, began this weekend in Austin, Texas. More than 100 cutting-edge interactive businesses set up shop along an exhibit hall floor here, in an attempt to attract attention from tech insiders. I braved the large crowds and product pitches to check out what some of the coolest emerging technologies.

Here are four products that most caught my eye:

Microsoft Surface:

What is it? Multi-touch technology that enables users to interact with their digital content on a tabletop surface without a keyboard or mouse.

Microsoft Surface responds to natural hand gestures and real-world objects, helping people interact with digital content in a simple and intuitive way. Think 'Minority Report' meets the CNN Magic Wall on a beautiful table setting.

During a demonstration of prototype software, a tablet reader was rested on the tabletop while magazine content was dragged over from the Surface tabletop to the users' account with a flick of the finger. Microsoft Surface is currently geared for commercial and developer use, but could be marketed for consumers in the near future. It features an open API which allows developers to build apps to work with the product.

Flavors.me:

What is it? A personal identity management Web site that allows users to combine social network profiles onto the same page for a "unified online presence."

Flavors.me provides a clean interface for curating and showcasing your Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and other feeds into a 'one-stop digital storefront.'  If you've longed for a home worth showcasing your many online wares (personal homepages, lifestreaming, splash and microsites, celebrity fan pages, commercial promotion, brand marketing and everything in between), this could be the tool for you. Flavors.me offers free basic service and a premium package ($20 annual) which includes your own web domain name.

FunMail:

What is it? For users interested in adding a little visual spice to their messages, FunMail from FunMobility is a next-generation visual messaging platform that attaches multimedia to your text, tweet or status update.

FunMail uses a learning technology that gets smarter about making insightful connections between imagery and language every time a FunMail is sent. When I typed in "Hated losing an hour of sleep this morning," for Daylight Savings, for example, the search engine found images of people lying in bed, dogs asleep on couches and one very close up shot of a toothbrush.  I chose the toothbrush.

FunMail is currently available for iPhone and Android devices as well as online.  The company hopes to offer a Blackberry version soon.  Just in time for South by Southwest Interactive the company has released FunTweet, a Web service that turns any Twitter stream into visual messages. There's also a Facebook app.

HuddleHub:

What is it? An online management tool for people who 'own' multiple fantasy sports teams.

If you're a fantasy sports geek like me, then you'll want to check out HuddleHub. The service, which just launched, promises to aggregate your player updates, provide live sports and fantasy updates via web and mobile, and - here's where it gets fun - a recommendation engine for advice on player personnel moves via algorithms.  Just imagine taking some of the guess work out of that pending blockbuster fantasy trade.

I asked the company founder if there were any assurances this tool would provide me the competitive edge to earn championship trophies in my future fantasy sports league endeavors. He said it should help, but made no guarantees.

The Web version of HuddleHub is free and available now.  HuddleHub expects to release an iPhone version in June.

What do you think of these products? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • social-networking sites • SXSW • SXSW Interactive • SXSWi • technology • Twitter


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February 16, 2010

Hotmail back up after Tuesday outage

Posted: 06:03 PM ET

Access to Hotmail and several other Microsoft services was restored Tuesday afternoon after a server outage made it impossible for many users to sign in and access their e-mail.

The Windows Live ID service, which includes the free Hotmail service, instant messaging and new Xbox Live accounts, went down at about 12:30 p.m. ET, according to a Microsoft statement.

The problem was fixed in about an hour, Microsoft said, although customers were locked out for a while afterward.

Arthur De Haan, a Windows Live spokesman, said a server failed, increasing the load on other servers. A new server was brought into rotation, but it took a while to resolve the logjam of attempted sign-ins and to redistribute that load among the working servers, he said.

“As with all incidents like this, we will fully investigate the cause and will take steps to prevent this from happening again,” De Haan wrote on the official Inside Windows Live blog. “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused you, our customers and partners.”

Hotmail is one of the two most popular e-mail services in the world, along with Yahoo! Google’s Gmail is third.

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Filed under: computers • consumer tech • e-mail • Microsoft Corp. • technology


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February 12, 2010

Bing wows crowd with live-video maps

Posted: 04:50 PM ET

Microsoft Corp. on Thursday unveiled updates to its Bing search engine - and they seemed to wow the crowds here at the TED Conference in Long Beach, California.

First, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, architect of Bing Maps, demonstrated a live-video add-in to to the search engine's mapping feature. He zoomed into 3-dimensional images of streets in Seattle, Washington, and showed off a feature that integrates live video feeds into those images. Microsoft says this might be useful, for instance, if you wanted to see how long a line outside a restaurant was on Valentine's Day.

Check out a video demo here. It's pretty impressive.

Next, Microsoft's research lab announced a maps app that lets people, virtually, stand on the street and look up at the sky to see constellations.

And finally, Microsoft says it's zooming back from page links to give people pages of image results that can be categorized and sorted like index cards. In a demo, a company representative shuffled through TED Conference presenters, organizing their digital cards by field of study, year of their speech and other categories.

Check out some of the demos here.

Let me know what you think. Is Bing's "decision engine" making headway on Google - which is still the powerhouse in that market? Google also won some fans here with a Nexus One smartphone demo in which a rep spoke into his phone in English and asked the phone to translate his voice into Spanish. Then the phone spoke for him.

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Filed under: Google • Microsoft Corp. • TED2010


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December 23, 2009

Court bars Microsoft from selling Office 2007

Posted: 10:23 AM ET

A federal appeals court has ordered Microsoft to strip custom XML support from Word 2007 by January 11, effectively banning the sale of Microsoft Word and Office (which includes the Word software) in their current form.

Microsoft may be forced to stop selling Word 2007.

Microsoft may be forced to stop selling Word 2007.

The injunction stems from a patent infringement lawsuit filed by the small Canadian firm i4i in 2007. The suit claims i4i owns the custom XML editing technology that is included in Microsoft Word.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas agreed, slapping Microsoft with a $290 million fine and ordering it to remove custom XML capabilities or stop selling the infringing software.

Microsoft appealed, but the lower court's ruling was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals. And now the software giant has precious little time to re-release Word and Office 2007 before being barred from selling the profitable office software.

In a statement issued yesterday, Microsoft's Director of Public Affairs Kevin Kutz expressed confidence in the company's ability to meet the injunction date.

With respect to Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007, we have been preparing for this possibility since the District Court issued its injunction in August 2009 and have put the wheels in motion to remove this little-used feature from these products. Therefore, we expect to have copies of Microsoft Word 2007 and Office 2007, with this feature removed, available for U.S. sale and distribution by the injunction date. In addition, the beta versions of Microsoft Word 2010 and Microsoft Office 2010, which are available now for downloading, do not contain the technology covered by the injunction.

While speaking with Stuart J. Johnston at Datamation Microsoft analyst Rob Enderle admits the ruling "shows the increasing hostility of this market," before adding, "For Microsoft, I think it's going to be an increasingly expensive way to do business, with a lot more patent vetting."

Regardless of whether new versions of Office 2007 will appear in time to meet demand, this significant legal decision will only further the cutthroat approach technology companies apply to protect their patents.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • Microsoft Office • online news


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December 7, 2009

'Dead Space 2' vows to 'scare the daylights out of you'

Posted: 01:38 PM ET

It was only a matter of time.

On the heels of "Dead Space's" successful debut last year, Electronic Arts has officially announced that the game series' storyline will continue with the creation of “Dead Space 2.” Hero Isaac Clarke will return to battle necromorphs with new weapons.

Visceral Games will be producing the new saga, which had been rumored for months. A press release from EA says that survival won’t be the only thing on Isaac’s mind in "Dead Space 2" – "this time, he calls the shots."

Released in October 2008, the original action-horror game won nearly 100 industry awards and received a score of 89 percent from gamerankings.com. Earlier this year EA released “Dead Space: Extraction”, a prequel story that was exclusive to Nintendo's Wii system in an effort to win over a new audience.

Executive producer Steve Papoutsis said, “Expect plot twists that will surprise you and a huge cast of twisted, disgusting monsters that are sure to scare the daylights out of you.”

“Dead Space 2” is being developed for the PS3, Xbox 360 and the PC. No release date has been announced.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Microsoft Corp. • Sony • video games


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December 4, 2009

Mixed bag for early holiday console sales

Posted: 09:28 AM ET


As the holiday shopping season ramps up, video game console makers are keeping a wary eye on early sales.

Sony, maker of the PlayStation 3, claims it got off to a rousing start during the Black Friday week ending on November 29.  Patrick Seybold, Sr. Director of Corporate Communications, said the company sold more than 440,000 consoles, which was an “all-time high.”

Those sales numbers are up from October (320,600 units sold) and Seybold believes Sony's software will help sell its hardware.  “We have no doubt the momentum and demand will continue,” he said.

By contrast, Nintendo said it sold 550,000 consoles during the same Black Friday week.  It also announced its DS Lite and DSi portable gaming devices combined to sell more than 1 million units during the week.

In September Nintendo cut the price of the Wii for the first time, by $50 to $199.99.  Last year, the company shipped 800,000 Wiis to the U.S. for Black Friday week.

Microsoft has not made any announcements about sales of the Xbox 360 during the intense shopping week.  Aaron Greenberg, Director of Product Management, posted on his Twitter account that the Xbox 360 had its biggest sales week of the year.

When asked about hard numbers, Greenberg tweeted that Microsoft was waiting for the official industry numbers before commenting.  The game review site, Gamespot, extrapolated previously reported numbers from October to come up with approximately 124,850 consoles sold during this past Black Friday week.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Microsoft Corp. • Nintendo • Sony • video games


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November 17, 2009

Status update: Dude, I'm shredding this video game

Posted: 10:57 AM ET

UPDATE 2:13 p.m. ET: Facebook also will be accessible through the PlayStation 3 after the console's next firmware update. According to a posting on the PlayStation blog, PS3 users will have the option of automatically updating Facebook news feeds with trophy and PlayStation store activity. There is no announced date for the firmware release.

In an effort to blur the line between gaming and social networks, owners of Xbox 360s will have the chance to bash zombies and then post Facebook updates about it without leaving their consoles.

Microsoft announced that several social media and audio/video services can be accessed through the Xbox 360, starting today. The new features will be part of an automatic update, so when users turn on their consoles and the update kicks in, all the features will be ready for use. Most of the services are limited to Gold members, but a few are available to Silver members.

Facebook and Twitter have signed up to allow connectivity through Xbox LIVE directly from the console. All current features of the social networks will be available, and gamers will be able to share their favorite gaming moments (in supported games) with their friends.

In addition to watching movies from Netflix, as part of a previous deal, Xbox users also will be able to stream high-definition video through the Zune media player - coincidentally, also made by Microsoft. The Zune Marketplace, which includes the Zune Video player, is available to Silver members.

Also, as of today Last.fm joins with the new Xbox LIVE music channel, allowing for access to streaming music directly from the Xbox 360. The updated music channel lets users listen to personal recommendations from Last.fm’s dedicated menu on the console’s dashboard.

All Xbox users will be able to check out the new features during a “Free Gold Weekend” Friday, November 20 through Monday, November 23. Silver members will be able to try out everything that comes with Gold membership, including Facebook, Twitter and Last.fm.

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Filed under: Microsoft Corp. • video games


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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