The Microsoft Cool Factor

9 11 2012

While the long lines waiting outside Apple stores around the country and the buzz around everything Apple would lead most to think that Apple is cool and Microsoft is not, the winds may be changing.

In the Huffington Post Technology vertical today, Jason Gilbert writes that Microsoft is entering a new stage of “cool.” Here’s what he has to say:

Hang onto your pocket protector, Mr. Clippy: That is at least a partial implication of new findings put out by the consumer sentiment firm YouGov, which found Microsoft’s public approval rating — its “Buzz score,” in YouGov’s parlance — surging as of late. YouGov spokesman Drew Kerr said in an email that Microsoft “is experiencing one of its best consumer perception surges of the past 21 months,” thanks to the positive reception of ad campaigns for the surprising Surface tablet, the ambitious Windows 8 operating system and the stalwart joke-punchline Bing search engine.

Against all odds, a hipster exodus to Microsoft might be afoot.

Microsoft advertisements do, indeed, seem to be skewing younger and cooler. A song by indie favorites Eagles of Death Metal (no, that is not a misprint) was featured in the first TV commercial for Windows 8, and the dubstep insta-classic “Too Close” by Alex Clare soundtracks a well-choreographed Internet Explorer ad in current rotation. Microsoft went with a speaker-blasting in-house composition for its Surface tablet that sent YouTube commenters a-squeal.

Windows8

It’s the kind of musical smarts that Apple mastered in its initial run of iPod ads being used to tinge the first impression most Americans have of Microsoft’s entire line of services and hardware. Cool points: Microsoft.

This musical reinvention accompanies a design revolution at Microsoft, too. Windows Phone, Microsoft’s little-used operating system for smartphones, has won heaps of praise for its layout and freshness. So, too, has Windows Phone’s big brother, Windows 8, as well as its most well-known banner carrier, the Surface tablet. Even Internet Explorer — once a microcosmic representation of all that was ugly, overloaded and unintuitive about the Windows operating system — has been cleaned up and is earning applause from critics.

Clean, innovative design is dominating Microsoft in a way that it — clearly, desperately — never had before. Cool points: Microsoft.

If YouGov’s numbers are correct, all that design work and Pitchfork-friendly musical curation is paying off with the public, at least in terms of perception. Whether it pays off in the literal sense — profits, product adoption, rise in stock price — is still in the offing.

Indeed, Microsoft’s rising consumer approval arrives at a precarious time for the company, one in which its decades-long grasp on personal computing seems to be slipping away to rival Apple. Worldwide PC sales are slipping as consumers opt instead for tablets, mostly the iPad. Smartphones, too, are a rising personal computing device, and Microsoft has yet to gain a meaningful foothold with its Windows Phone operating system. With the mega-launch of the last-ditch Windows Phone 8 platform occurring in November, current Windows Phone market share still sits below 5 percent. Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, consistently loses hundreds of millions of dollars each quarter, despite some recent gains against rival Google.

Microsoft remains profitable, of course: Sales of PCs running Windows still bring in tons of cash, and recent major acquisitions of Skype and Yammer have been lauded as good moves for the company. But while profitability has long been stable, public appreciation has not. Apple was always the critical and customer darling, Microsoft the behemoth, unfeeling corporation.

But after nearly a decade of public idolatry and Microsoft-bashing from tech critics and young people alike, we may finally be seeing a thawing of that dominant dogma. Between its overzealous patent litigation, botched handling of the iOS 6 Maps transition and somewhat stagnant design progression, Apple has turned some people off over the past year (see: any article on Reddit about Apple). Microsoft may be in a position to win over those jaded, discontented former Apple fans and take the crown of cool from its longtime rival.

That’s a big, huge, so-many-contingencies-and-variables “maybe,” of course. And, too, all of this appropriation of “hip” music and aesthetic pleasantness may be deemed as too little, too late, to sway the opinion of an America who still associates Microsoft with TI-83 nerdery and Dilbert-ian office drudgery. But maybe — just maybe — if Microsoft sticks to its design-forward revolution and commitment to user satisfaction, it might just find itself winning over some honest-to-God fans, and not just the cubicle-types who are forced to use its software at the local business complex.

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Google Drive to Compete with DropBox

9 02 2012

At Access Computer we have many of our clients using DropBox for file transfers. However, all that might change in the next couple week’s as Google releases the much awaited Google Drive. Here’s a great article in the Next Web by Matt Brian:

 

Google is reportedly close to launching its long awaited cloud storage service Drive, delivering a personal file-synchronisation platform that will allow users to store and copy files between computers and mobile devices.

The Wall Street Journal cites sources familiar with the matter, which state that Drive will facilitate the storing of photos, documents and videos on Google’s servers, allowing them to instantly share them with other people.

Google Drive is tipped to launch in the ‘coming weeks or months’ and is expected to be free for most users and businesses. As with Dropbox, Google is likely to introduce a paid storage option for users that wish to store large amounts of files.

Google already allows users to upgrade their Gmail and Picasa storage, so it would likely incorporate the same structure into its new Drive service. Prices start at $5 for 20GB, so it would be inexpensive for users if the search giant was to adhere to the same strategy.

In November, we reported that Google was starting to introduce references to its cloud storage service inside Google Docs, which could be unlocked to enable a “Download Google Drive” option within the website itself.

The option looked to only be available to users with the correct privileges, suggesting it could be an option for Google employees, but highlighted an option that could possibly initiate the download of an application that would sync their entire Google Docs archive to their new Google Drive account or vice versa – when it launched.

Google is tipped to launch mobile applications and a desktop app, keeping files synchronised between devices. Whether iOS and Windows Phone users will be able to utilise the service on their smartphones and tablets remains to be seen, for Google to achieve mass-penetration, it almost certainly has to do so.





Vizio’s New PCs

9 01 2012

VIZIO announced today an innovative line of five premium personal computers designed to turn the PC market upside down and accommodate the entertainment needs and wants demanded by consumers. Set to launch with Windows 7 in spring 2012, the elegantly designed PCs will provide an entertainment experience only VIZIO can deliver, complete with top notch 2.1 audio and video quality. The personal computing line consists of two all-in-one computers, two thin + light notebooks and one notebook. VIZIO’s line was developed to raise the bar in personal and home entertainment while also keeping powerful performance at the forefront.


Much like its entrance into the HDTV category nearly a decade ago, VIZIO believes it has identified a need in the PC world for a device that addresses a recent change in consumer behavior. Growing popularity in video streaming services has resulted in the need for personal computers that can stream content for a family movie night and put together an important business presentation the following day. The VIZIO PCs address this change by meeting both the entertainment and productivity demands.

VIZIO PCs will be a continued progression of the VIZIO Internet Apps (V.I.A.) Ecosystem, which provides a seamless, cohesive entertainment experience across multiple screens. As the V.I.A. experience spans across the brand’s HDTVs, Blu-Ray players, tablets and more, today’s announcement represents a natural extension of the experience over to the PC as well. Together with Windows, VIZIO’s PCs will deliver power, mobility and familiar ease of use, ensuring a fast, fluid and immersive user experience that distinguishes them from devices that function and those that are truly entertaining.

“PCs are often associated with productivity and the workplace, routinely lacking the excitement that would be expected with what and how consumers want to use their PCs today – as an extension of their entertainment experience,” said Matt McRae, Chief Technology Officer. “VIZIO wanted to change that. Our new line of VIZIO PCs are truly high quality and consumer focused, delivering enhanced multimedia capabilities while upholding our high standards of performance, style and design.”

Complete with high-performance hardware, the VIZIO PCs boast a clean system image optimized by Microsoft and an elegant industrial design incorporating authentic, high-quality materials that is sure to turn heads both on-the-go and in the living room. Known for HDTVs that boast stunning high-definition pictures, VIZIO engineered its new line of PCs to meet the same high-quality standards.

Always committed to pushing the envelope, VIZIO believes their groundbreaking PCs will alter the way consumers view computing. With entertainment at the heart of the VIZIO PCs, users will find that consuming content will be just as desirable as on their HDTV. With an already high demand for devices that are able to multitask between work and play, the consumer’s choices are limited. VIZIO accepted the challenge and has elegantly bridged both worlds to provide a Windows-based PC that offers a rich entertainment experience alongside tools needed for getting work done.

“We’re excited to see VIZIO enter the PC market and the positive impact they will have on the Windows ecosystem,” said Steven Guggenheimer, CVP OEM Division, Microsoft. “With their expertise in providing connected entertainment experiences and an innovative go-to-market approach, we look forward to working with VIZIO to bring premium consumer PCs to market.”

VIZIO anticipates its entry into the PC category will challenge consumers to expect more from their computers – enabling them to play as hard as they work. Discover more at www.vizio.com/ces#computers.





Microsoft Officially Acquires Skype; Facebook Expands Video Chat with Skype

18 11 2011

From Nicholas Kolakowski on eWeek.com

Skype, Facebook have deepened their partnership with the ability to conduct Facebook-to-Facebook calls from within Skype.

Having been integrated into Microsoft, Skype is now moving ahead with new Facebook integration and some new features for its Mac and Windows versions.

Microsoft Skype Deal

The latest versions of Skype for Mac and Windows now boast the ability to conduct Facebook-to-Facebook calls from within Skype. Starting such a call involves connecting the user’s Skype and Facebook accounts, then selecting a Facebook friend with whom to chat.

“This new feature lets you maintain social connections with your Facebook friends and complements previously announced features such as being able to see when your Facebook friends are online,” read a Nov. 17 posting on the official Skype blog.

Skype is also smoothing the video-rendering capabilities of Skype 5.4 Beta for Mac, and has added to Skype 5.7 Beta for Windows a group screen-sharing capability for any Windows users with a Premium subscription.

Microsoft purchased Skype for $8.5 billion earlier this year, turning the voice over IP provider into a business division headed by Skype CEO Tony Bates. Microsoft executives have repeatedly announced their intention to tightly integrate Skype’s assets with Microsoft products, ranging from Xbox Kinect to Windows Phone, although support for “non-Microsoft client platforms” such as the Mac will apparently continue for the duration.

Microsoft ended up paying far more for Skype than its previous overlord, eBay, which had agreed in 2005 to pay $2.6 billion in cash and stock for the then two-year-old company. Four years later, a team of private investors—including Silver Lake Partners and Andreessen Horowitz—took it off the auction Website’s hands for $1.9 billion in cash. Before the Microsoft acquisition, Skype had supposedly been raising money for an initial public offering, but that offering was delayed after the company appointed Bates to the CEO role in October 2010.

Microsoft also has a tightening relationship with Facebook, whose social-networking features (such as the increasingly ubiquitous “Like” button) have been incorporated into the Bing search engine.

Despite the massive Skype acquisition, most of Microsoft’s recent corporate activity has centered on partnerships with Facebook, Nokia and the like. This spares Microsoft, despite its considerable financial reservoirs, from having to shell out billions on potentially risky takeovers; however, it also raises the specter of discordance in strategic aims between partners.

Follow Nicholas Kolakowski on Twitter





Facebook Kills Notes Import

9 11 2011

If you currently import content to your Facebook profile’s Notes app from outside sources via a RSS feed, that will change. Facebook has announced the following “Changes to How You Share Content in Notes”:

You currently automatically import content from your website or blog into your Facebook notes. Starting November 22nd, this feature will no longer be available, although you’ll still be able to write individual notes. The best way to share content from your website is to post links on your Wall. Learn more about notes.

This is another way Facebook is trying to have its users share links the same way they do so on Twitter and on Google Plus. If you were previously importing blog posts to Facebook Notes through a RSS feed, you can use an application like Networked Blogs to automatically post your blog post links to your Facebook page.





Cloud Computing for Non-Profits

25 10 2011

I’m an avid reader of TechSoup and this month TechSoup Global Network is reporting on how cloud computing is being used in different countries in their Cloud Computing Worldwide campaign. The report from the U.S. focuses on how non-profits are using cloud computing. It is a very insightful perspective. Here’s what they have to say:

During the month of October, join TechSoup.org and the TechSoup Global Network for our Cloud Computing Worldwide campaign. Check back throughout the month for blog posts, webinars, and dispatches from around the world on cloud computing for nonprofits, NGOs, and public libraries.

 

This is a communique on the current state of cloud adoption in the United States from me, this time. What we know so far is that U.S.-based nonprofits know that cloud computing is coming, and know that they will probably be paying for their IT services in a different way, but are pretty unclear about what to do about it.

In July 2011, TechSoup.org conducted a survey of nonprofits on their current use of cloud services, their plans for adopting cloud services, their expectations on costs, and their barriers to cloud adoption. The survey project was done under leadership of TechSoup’s Dan Webb. We got 495 nonprofit respondents from 43 U.S. states. They were quite representative of the larger nonprofit sector in terms of budget except that we got a somewhat larger percentage of large nonprofits with budgets over $1 million participating. Here’s what we found out:

Current Cloud Adoption

Nearly half of respondents are not using cloud services (to their knowledge). About a third are using software as a service like Google Apps, or Salesforce.com, or a cloud database. A surprisingly large 15% are using cloud infrastructure services like Rackspace or another hosting service.

The anticipated timing of cloud adoption for most respondents (nearly 50%) is within three years.

Nearly 70% of respondents rate the importance of cloud technology in their future IT landscape as either somewhat important or very important. Nonprofits are very aware that this new way of operating IT systems is on the horizon.

Among the most important cloud services respondents said they plan to adopt are to get good cloud data backup in place. Of somewhat less importance are to begin using collaboration tools. The majority (69%) said that they expect to pay for those services, but of course want them discounted. Only 13% are currently paying for them. A significant minority (31%) said that they will use such services only if they’re free.

Top Cloud Adoption Inhibitors

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Our findings here are very interesting in this area. Across the board, nonprofits have concerns about not having IT staff able to transition them to cloud services, being able to afford monthly fees that cloud services will require, how secure their data will be, and not being entirely clear on how all that will work for them. Here’s the stats:

Nonprofit Comments

Of course we got lots of comments in the survey, mostly from people who are looking for better clarity on how to proceed in to mists of cloud computing. Here is a sampling:

  • “We look forward to this becoming a reality.”
  • “Thanks for being proactive about offering what non-profits need to keep up in the digital workplace.”
  • ” …a source to help us develop and implement a cloud-based strategy is what I have been looking for, so keep going, please.”
  • “Thanks for staying on the cutting edge working to further nonprofit work for the common good.”

For more information and hopefully some better clarity on cloud computing, check out TechSoup’s Cloud Computing resource page. We have put up what we hope is a pretty good set of online resources on cloud computing for nonprofits and libraries, but sincerely welcome your suggestions on what more you’d like to see from us.





Want an Ice Cream Sandwich? New Android Unveiled

19 10 2011

From Jason O. Gilbert on the Huffington Post:

Summer may have ended, but Android users are getting ready for some Ice Cream Sandwich.

In a joint event in Hong Kong with Samsung announcing the Galaxy Nexus smartphone, Google also unveiled the newest update to its Android operating system: Android 4.0, code-name “Ice Cream Sandwich.”

“While people like Android, and while people need Android, people didn’t love Android,” said Android Director Matias Duarte while introducing the OS, which features an aesthetic overhaul to make it more visually pleasing overall.

Among the major changes coming to Ice Cream Sandwich are:

– A new font called “Roboto,” which is a semi-circular, more rounded font than usual.
– Home, back, menu and search buttons being moved onto the touchscreen, especially important as the Samsung Galaxy Nexus has no physical hardware buttons.
– General overhaul of the user interface. Expect much larger pictures for contacts, the ability to resize widgets on the homescreens, a favorites tray that is always visible at the bottom of the screen for quick launch of contacts, apps and webpages.
– The ability to swipe right or swipe left on any screen. Much like on Windows Mango, Android will now give users the option to swipe screens to the side to switch between panes.
– The ability to take screenshots by simultaneously pressing the power button and the home button.
– A new data usage view. In the settings, a data monitor will show how much data the user has eaten up in the month; this monitor will give the user an option to set a threshold where the user will be warned or where data will be shut off. It will also give the user the ability to view how much data each app is using over time, including in the foreground (while it’s running) or in the background (while any other app is running), giving the user the option to always turn off data for a given app while it runs in the background.\
– Camera from the lock screen. A camera button has been added to the lock screen for quick access.
– Easier photo sharing. Pictures can now be shared to any app, like Facebook, Google+ or Twitter, that hooks in to Android’s PhotoShare platform.
– Photo editing tools. After taking a picture, users will be able to crop, remove red eye and perform several other edits, including add Instagram-like filters to their photos (Android still currently lacks the Instagram app that is so popular on iOS)
– Native panorama photo-taking capability. The camera has the ability to instantly take seamless panorama shots.
– Timelapse video. Native to the video app will be a timelapse option to make super sped-up videos.
– Take photos while recording a video.
– Zoom while recording video.
– A new people app, which integrates the contact information from several social networks and aggregates updates from those networks into a single feed (also familiar to Mango users).
– “Quick Response” to phone calls. If you receive a phone call and don’t want to answer it, you don’t just have to ignore it anymore; you can send a canned response text message to the person telling them why you are busy.
– Android Beam. With NFC-enabled Android phones, two Android users will be able to share any content by simply pressing the backs of their phones together and pressing the “Beam” button.
-Face Unlock. There is an option to unlock the phone using facial recognition: If your phone recognizes your face, it unlocks; if the phone does not recognize your face, it stays unlocked. For what it’s worth, this technology did not work on stage, much to the presenter’s chagrin.

This big update to the Android platform will be available for users with Gingerbread devices on October 19 or soon thereafter, according to Engadget.

Check out the cool new features available on the upcoming Galaxy Nexus smartphone, and then look at many of the features detailed above in our slideshow: