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Microsoft opening Kinect to PC apps

Posted by arnon_k On February - 22 - 2011 ADD COMMENTS

(CNN) — Software developers will be able to tap into the Kinect gaming system thanks to an application builder that Microsoft plans to release this spring, the company announced Monday.

With this new development kit, Microsoft is hoping its innovative, controller-free camera system will woo more developers to Windows. Many developers have shifted their focus from desktops toward mobile platforms like Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android.

Unlike current Kinect games, which can be played only on an Xbox 360 game console, these apps would run on Windows computers connected to the device.

Enterprising app makers hoping to get in early on some kind of Kinect app gold rush will have to wait, however.

This first version, slated to release by late June, is being offered only to volunteers willing to give their programs away for free. Microsoft has a name for this target audience: “enthusiasts and academic researchers.”

Microsoft says it plans to release a version later for people who want to sell their apps but declined to provide a time frame. Company spokespeople also declined to make executives available for interviews.

Developers have been attracted to the Kinect technology because unlike normal webcams, Microsoft’s gadget has a depth sensor, making it more useful as a controller.

Shortly after the Kinect’s debut in November, developers quickly hacked the device to create unusual demonstrations of its power. Developers have created body-controlled versions of “Super Mario Bros.,” a realistic “Star Wars” light saber simulator and an app that turns your digital reflection into a ghost.

Consumers have taken to Kinect as well. Microsoft sold 8 million units in its first two months on the market, which coincided with the crucial holiday shopping season.

At first, Microsoft was hot and cold about the swelling community of Kinect hackers. At the same time some spokespeople were discouraging tampering, executives were expressing excitement about bringing Kinect to computers.

With an official development kit, engineers will be able to build standardized apps that can be distributed and run more easily than unofficial ones. Currently, someone would have to hook up a Kinect unit to a PC and run code to unlock the device before being able to play hacked games.

Microsoft’s research arm held an event Monday to discuss recent initiatives including Kinect development, a company spokesman said.

These apps will apply to Kinect units running on Windows PCs and won’t work on Xbox 360 systems, the spokesman said. Console makers, including Microsoft, work out royalty deals with game developers that want to build on their platforms.

But Microsoft has used its popular camera-powered device to bridge gaps between the company’s various platforms. CEO Steve Ballmer’s “one more thing” during a recent presentation described an initiative to make Kinect and Windows Phone devices interoperable.

Microsoft previews Windows for tablets

Posted by arnon_k On January - 6 - 2011 1 COMMENT

LAS VEGAS (CNNMoney) — Microsoft offered a first look at a new, tablet friendly version of Windows that will support a “system on a chip” — but the word “tablet” barely came up.

Microsoft demoed the as-yet-unnamed new Windows in a surprise press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday. System on a chip, called SoC, takes the major components of a computer — like the motherboard and CPU — and puts them in a thin silicon chip. That chip can fit into small devices like tablets.

Steven Sinofsky, the president of Microsoft’s Windows division, stressed throughout the presentation that he was not talking about “form factors or user interfaces.” Instead, “this is more of a technical, under-the-covers look at Windows,” he said.

Oddly, the tablet talk lasted only a few minutes — in fact, the word was mentioned only fleetingly. Instead, Sinofsky and a Microsoft press release continually referred to new Windows “supporting a new kind of hardware, SoC architectures, that will power the next generation of devices.”

Microsoft has taken significant heat for its lag in the tablet market.

“No one is sleeping at the switch here,” CEO Steve Ballmer told analysts at a meeting in July. “We have got to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates. We’re in the process of doing that as we speak.”

Sinofsky pointed out Wednesday that system hardware requirements had doubled with each new release of Windows until Windows 7 — which was the first time the requirements dropped slightly.

“That was fine until devices started getting smaller. Even with netbooks, there was a question of whether we’d have to go back to Windows XP,” Sinofsky said. “Now we’re able to cram so much capability into a single, little chip.”

Sinofsky demoed the next-gen Windows running on new SoC platforms from several partners: AMD, Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm, ARM and Texas Instruments.

The demo showed the new Windows running HD video on an HD screen, with hardware-accelerated HTML5 and graphics.

Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) also announced a 2.0 version of its Surface touchscreen, which is now thinner and uses infrared sensors instead of a camera.

In a question-and-answer session, Sinofsky refused to answer several queries about Windows 7 Mobile and what the next-gen Windows means for cell phones.

“Like I said, today we didn’t talk about any form factors,” Sinofsky repeated. “I’m not making any calls on that.”

Microsoft warns on IE browser bug

Posted by arnon_k On December - 27 - 2010 ADD COMMENTS

Microsoft has issued a warning about a serious vulnerability in all versions of its Internet Explorer (IE) browser.

If exploited by a booby-trapped webpage the bug would allow attackers to take control of an unprotected computer.

Code to exploit the bug has already been published though Microsoft said it had no evidence it was currently being used by hi-tech criminals.

A workaround for the bug has been produced while Microsoft works on a permanent fix.

Code injection

The bug revolves around the way that IE manages a computer’s memory when processing Cascading Style Sheets – a widely used technology that defines the look and feel of pages on a website.

Hi-tech criminals have long known that they can exploit IE’s memory management to inject their own malicious code into the stream of instructions a computer processes as a browser is being used. In this way the criminals can get their own code running and hijack a PC.

Microsoft has produced updates that improves memory management but security researchers discovered that these protection systems are not used when some older parts of Windows are called upon.

In a statement Microsoft said it was “investigating” the bug and working on a permanent fix. In the meantime it recommended those concerned use a protection system known as the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit.

Installing and applying the toolkit may require Windows XP users to update the version of the operating system they are using. But even if they do that some of the protection it bestows on Windows 7 and Vista users will not be available.

“We’re currently unaware of any attacks trying to use the claimed vulnerability or of customer impact,” said Dave Forstrom, the director of Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, in a statement.

“As vulnerabilities go, this kind is the most serious as it allows remote execution of code,” said Rik Ferguson, senior security analyst at Trend Micro, “This means the attacker can run programs, such as malware, directly on the victim’s computer.”

He added: “It is highly reminiscent of a vulnerability at the same time two years ago which prompted several national governments to warn against using IE and to switch to an alternative browser.”

Microsoft today unveiled a new range of smartphones it hopes will rival the phenomenal success of Apple’s iPhone.

The company wants its new operating system, Windows Phone 7 (WP7), to put its mobile business back in the running against not just Apple, but also Google, which makes the Android phone software, among others.
Speaking at a launch event in New York this afternoon, Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer said: ‘Everybody should be able to take a look at a Windows Phone and say it can represent me.’

The world’s largest software company is hoping that the new phones, from handset makers Samsung, LG, HTC and Dell, will propel it back into the mobile market, which many see as the key to the future of computing.

The new phones, initially available on the T-Mobile network in the UK and on AT&T in the U.S., are much closer in look and feel to Apple’s iPhone, with colourful touch-screens and ’tiles’ for easy access to email, the Web, music and other applications.

Some analysts say they represent Microsoft’s last chance to catch up with rivals in the smartphone market who overtook it in the past few years.

‘I’ve been looking forward to this day for some time,’ Mr Ballmer said, showing off nine phone models.

Mr Ballmer, who has admitted that his company ‘missed a generation’ with its recent unpopular phone offerings, said the new phones would eventually be available from 60 mobile operators in 30 countries.

Meanwhile, at a simultaneous launch event at London’s Institute Of Contemporary Arts (ICA), Microsoft announced that WP7 will be coming on the Dell Venue Pro by Christmas.

Dell’s Venue Pro will join five other WP7 handsets – three from HTC and one each from LG and Samsung – in the UK market in the coming months.

The Venue Pro will offer something a little different to the market, with the other five all touch-screen tablet type phones, but the Venue Pro offering a slide-out QWERTY keyboard.

Technology fan – and ardent Apple aficionado – Stephen Fry was at the ICA event and even took the stage to praise the WP7.

The comedian said: ‘I am genuinely thrilled. I never thought this day would come to stand on this stage and praise Microsoft for doing something they can be proud of…

‘I have felt enormous pleasure using this phone. Will I be using my Windows Phone 7? Yes’

In the U.S. the first phone from AT&T – priced at $200 – will be available on November 8.

Microsoft has a market share of only five per cent in the global smartphone market, according to research firm Gartner, compared with nine per cent a year ago.

Google’s Android system has a 17 per cent market share, jumping from only two per cent a year ago.

The market for multi-feature phones that allow users to email, surf the web and play games, as well as have access to music and video, is set to expand massively.

Gartner expects almost 270million smartphones to be sold around the world this year, up 56 per cent from last year.

In comparison, Gartner expects only a 19 per cent increase in worldwide PC sales to 368 million units this year.

Microsoft shares were up five cents at $24.62 on the Nasdaq this morning. AT&T shares were up 18 cents at $28.40 on the New York Stock Exchange.

But Microsoft has hurdles to overcome.

In the second quarter, Windows Mobile, Microsoft’s existing phone system, accounted for only about five per cent of smart phones sold worldwide, compared with 41 per cent for Nokia’s Symbian system, 18 per cent for Research in Motion’s BlackBerry phones, 17 per cent for Android and 14 per cent for iPhone.

The iPhone and Android are popular in part because of the tens of thousands of tiny applications – or ‘apps’ – made by outside software developers.

But those developers may not want to devote the resources to build programs for another smart phone system until it gains traction with users.

In the past, Microsoft focused narrowly on building phone software, giving handset makers and wireless carriers lots of leeway to adapt and customise their products.

In the wake of the iPhone’s phenomenal success, Microsoft has adjusted its strategy, retaining more control over the way the phones look and work.

The iPhone prompted a generation of lookalike smart phones, with screens filled with tiny square icons representing each program.

Microsoft has tried to avoid an icon-intensive copy, instead relying more on clickable words and images generated by content.

For example, a weather program might show a constantly updated snapshot of weather conditions, while photo or music libraries would be represented by a recent snapshot or the cover of the last album played on the device.

Windows Phone 7 borrows its aesthetic from the company’s Zune media players, and the entertainment ‘hub’ on the phone is based on the Zune the same way the music on the iPhone is filed under the ‘iPod’ section.

Many other Microsoft programs and services come built in on the new phones – there’s a mobile version of the Bing search engine, for example, and a games ‘hub’ that can connect to Xbox Live, Microsoft’s online gaming community.

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