Jason Baumeister over at SnapStream Blog announced the other day they have opened up a Wiki for the Beyond Media platform. Check it out over at http://code.snapstream.com.
Which begs the question why don't we have one for Media Center?
Our team has been using a wiki internally as a collaboration tool for work on the Windows Media Center Presentation Layer and Media Center Markup Language. I've been pondering whether or not to create one externally, weighing the pros and cons. For example...
Reason Not To: We already have some great enthusiast sites like TheGreenButton.com where developers hang out.
Reply: It's wonderful for discussion, not as efficient for fact finding. You must search, and sometimes dig through lots of posts to find an answer.
Reason Not To: We have a newsgroup for free technical support.
Reply: To be honest, I'm not thrilled with the web interface nor Outlook Express for interacting with our newsgroups. And again, they aren't great for fact finding.
Reason Not To: We try to get everything you need into the Software Development Kit itself.
Reply: Yes, but we can't update that puppy in real time, and folks external to Microsoft have a hard time contributing except during beta or direct partnership with us.
Reason Not To: Do you really want to add another item to your plate?
Reply: What item? This should be a 'set it and forget it' activity where the community, not you, drives the content. Trust them.
...and so on. Typical, big, slow company thinking. Has blogging taught me nothing?!?!?
So, it's time to stop debating inside my head and create a wiki for the Media Center platform.
There will invariably be folks saying we are being copycats. They would be right. I (eventually) know a good thing when I see it.
Seriously, kudos to you, SnapStream, for creating a wiki for your platform. I hope you will see our imitation as the sincerest form of flattery.
I was walking by Michael Creasy's office late last week and noticed he was handling email on a Windows Vista machine. He said it was running pretty reliably, and could go about three days without needing a reboot. That's fairly good considering he wasn't running a build which had been vetted for public consumption like a Community Technology Preview -- just one of the latest builds, which can sometimes be a crapshoot.
So, I'm going to install it right now on my lifeblood Toshiba M200 Tablet PC -- the one I depend on daily. I run a ton of beta software on other machines at work, but keep this one 'sacred' running only released (non-beta) software so I can be assured of not being blocked from getting something done.
I'll admit, I'm a bit apprehensive about the impact this will have on my productivity.
What tipped the scales...?
I was on an email thread with a Microsoft VP the other day and his signature read 'Sent from Windows Vista CTP'. Seriously, if my bosses' bosses' bosses' bosses' boss can tough it out, so can (should) I.
I just presented to some friends on the Movie Maker team. Anybody out here who would be interested in hearing from them? Leave a comment.
I wish I had seen this sooner (my apologies -- if you see this kind of cool stuff, drop me an email directly). Kudos to Colin for putting together GMAPMCE whereby you can browse Google Maps from the comfort of your couch. This is more addictive than I thought. This post explains how to get it available from More Programs in Media Center.
Anyone created one of these for http://local.live.com yet...?
Update: Yes, someone did and I feel just horrible I didn't pick up on it from Ian Dixon (to whom I susbcribe). Sean Mcleod put together an app which can be correlated with your geo-tagged pictures from the My Pictures feature in Media Center. Sweet. The app and details (including some source 'how to' snippets) can be found at Virtual Earth Media Center Add-in (The Code Project). Sean hasn't posted since November 10 -- hope everything is all right.
I had the good fortune of attending the launch party for Robert Scoble and Shel Israel's book 'Naked Conversations' (the venue was absolutely spectacular). What a blast -- I was able to meet many folks I either subscribe to in Newsgator or will starting tonight. I always find it refreshing to hang out with others from the blogosphere, and verbally converse with the people behind the keyboard and wifi.
My apologies in advance for the shameless name dropping here. I thought I would share some of the things I learned tonight (in the order I learned them).
Frank Shaw goes out of his way to use Microsoft beta software. Frank is Executive Vice President at Waggener Edstrom, the company which helps Microsoft handle public relations. My view of PR folks totally changed tonight after speaking with Frank. Before tonight I largely viewed our PR folks as spinmeisters. Frank showed me they can be just as bought in to the vision as me. Refreshing. Robert is right -- he should start a blog.
Stephen Toulouse (his personal blog is here) always has a tough crowd whenever he walks into a meeting at Microsoft. You see, he is part of the Microsoft Security Response Center. When he walks in, pretty much all the oxygen gets sucked out of the room because he might be delivering bad news on the security front (although, increasingly his news is good news). He also works for a team which seemingly gets tons of flaming arrows shot at them on a daily basis from all fronts. I could tell he was passionate about making sure consumers felt confident in our products on the security front.
Chris Pirillo reminded me again (in his usual low key, non-passionate, laissez-faire, introverted, quiet conversational style) our products simply have to work for customers. In my opinion, every product group should bring him in to spend just 15 minutes on an alpha quality product -- you will get more good nuggets of actionable feedback (and expletives) in that amount of time than in 4 weeks of usability studies. I also learned Media Center is already more complex than it needs to be, and many wonderful features are undiscoverable, even for bright geeks like Chris. We gotta work on that now and as our features grow.
My next TabletPC might very well be an OQO Model 01+ -- Moshen Chan from OQO was walking around with one and letting folks play. Hooked. I wish my Toshiba M200 Tablet PC wasn't so well made so I would have an excuse to get this puppy right now. If someone there knows the young man from OQO, please let me know so I can give him props. Want to get people to join the conversation? Have a cool piece of hardware in your hands and pass it around.
The mobile space is HOT. Vikram Dendi showed me his tricked out Windows Mobile 5.0 Smart Phone. I'm hoping he will take some time in the next couple of weeks to help me trick out my new i-Mate K-JAM (aka HTC Wizard / QTEK 9100). Actually, I've never seen so many Smart Phones in one place -- I think they erected a new cell tower outside while we were there to handle the volume. Robert and Chris had a ScoblePhone v2 (aka Cingular 2125 / HTC Faraday).
If there is another team at Microsoft as interesting to me as Media Center it has to be Jeff Sandquist's (I mean, seriously, Channel9 + Robert Scoble + Duncan Mackenzie for starters -- 'nuff said). We had the briefest of conversations this evening, but as usual, new things are brewing. It's always something new on Jeff's team -- those guys have way too much fun (if there is such a thing).
Buzz Bruggeman gave me perhaps the best elevator pitch I've heard in the past year. I've heard about ActiveWords for some time now, but have never gotten around to investigate what it is, what it does or how it can help me. So I asked Buzz. His response: "It's software which speaks your language. Install ActiveWords, type or write CNN and boom! you're at CNN." Sold. I've got to work on my elevator pitch for Media Center so it can be this compelling. One word of advice, Buzz -- get the ActiveWords installer digitally signed. Right now it states 'Unknown Publisher' which is typically a show stopper for me, but I'm installing anyway since you did such a good job of convincing me with only two sentences.
And finally, I've got a Robert Scoble autographed copy of Naked Conversations. What did he write...?
"Charlie, Keep the world blogging about Media Center? Thanks & Enjoy, Robert Scoble"
Classy. Thanks again, Robert, for inspiring me.
And by the way, the book has to be good. They weren't giving away copies to be signed as might be expected (Microsoft gives away free swag at these types of events all the time). We had to pay for our copies like anyone else -- that speaks volumes about the value of the content. I'm starting the first chapter tonight.
Please join me in welcoming Aaron Stebner and David Fleischman to the Media Center Platform team.
Those of you familiar with Aaron know he is incredibly passionate about our customer experiences which you can plainly see in his blog -- he is a posting machine! To quote a Group Program Manager, he 'absorbs technical information like a sponge.' In the brief time I have spent working with Aaron so far, it's not just any sponge, but a freakishly large sponge about the size of a compact car. Aaron will be focusing on our Media Center Add In platform.
David Fleischman brings a wealth of knowlege on Project Management to our team. David played a prominent role in helping us get Emerald (long name: Windows XP Media Center Edition 2005 Update Rollup 2) out the door. He ran our daily status meeting for months on that project. Here is the best way to describe what he did for us during Emerald: Chief Cat Herder (CCH). Keeping all the strong personalities focused on shipping a great product is no small feat. David will be focusing on the WinFX platform integration into Media Center for Windows Vista as well as driving production of the SDK (yet another cat herding exercise).
You can expect some great blog posts about our platform over on Media Center Sandbox from these guys in the coming weeks and months.
Welcome guys -- we are gonna have a ton of fun this year!
And that makes 4 of the 6 bloggers who are on the Media Center team (Aaron, David, Michael and Me) a part of the platform team. I hope Peter and Matt don't feel left out.
Chris Pirillo asks...
"I have a PVR and all the premium movie channel subscriptions for digital cable. What I don't have is a service that IMs me and says what movies are playing on TV at that moment. This way, I could either decide to record the movie (if it notified me early enough) or watch it live. Or, better yet, a Media Center program that told me what movies were playing that month on my movie channels - and I could set it up to record them whenever conflicts weren't happening. Charlie, can ya help me with that one?"
You betcha (or at least I'm hoping).
Joe Belfiore demonstrated this feature almost exactly as Chris describes during the Bill Gates keynote at CES this year. Here is the transcript excerpt (full transcript here as well as a webcast of the keynote) from that section of the demo -- Joe Belfiore is speaking...
"What I want to show you to expand your thinking on this is how the service [Windows Live] can offer lots of different ways of interacting that fit with the personality and care of the particular user who is using it. So, switching over to the beta, a beta of Windows Live Messenger, you can see I have my buddies in here. One of the buddies that I have is a TV service. So, think of this as me interacting with a smart agent that's part of the TV service that I signed up for. So, here I am, and if I'm like some of the people in my family, addicted to instant messaging, then this is an incredibly comfortable and natural way for me to communicate with the service. So, I'll say hello, and it looks like our service might be offline, the risk of Internet based demos. So, I will close that and give it one more try. Let's see, okay, TV service are you there? Hello. Here we go.
Hi, Joe, would you like some help figuring what to watch. The TV service is inviting me to start a TV service activity. This idea of activities is new to the Windows Live Messenger, and when I click accept you can see over here it presents me with a bunch of interactivity. The service says, these are the shows your friends like. That's kind of an interesting thing. Immediately the idea of community becomes something that's factored in and the service can use to do a better job of helping me find things that I like. It knows who my buddies are because I've signed up with buddies, and as Bill described, if I choose to share information about my preferences, and what I like, then that could be used to make everyone's experiences better. So, these are shows that my buddies like. I can just move over there and choose one of those to record.
That's not what I want to do, how about what's on tonight? So the TV service is finding out what's on tonight, it switches over to a grid based guide, only reminding me that I'm here with you instead of watching the Rose Bowl, that's OK, because that's not actually what I want to be doing. How about showing SciFi. I like SciFi. OK, well, here's what's on in SciFi tonight. It further filters the list to show me that. And even better it says, I have a strong recommendation for you and a trailer to watch, cool. The trailer is for "Battlestar Gallactica," would you like to watch the trailer? Yes. Show me the trailer.
And instantly, the service can find promotional material, trailers, background information on content I might be interested, and it starts streaming it to me directly so that I get better information up. It says, if you like this trailer, would like to record it let me know. OK, record it. It finds my Media Center PC, sets up the recording, and now in the future I'll have this show available to watch when it's convenient for me."
I don't know when (or even if) this will ship -- I'm pinging the 'folks in the know' to get you a definitive answer Chris.
I'm pretty amazed that folks continue to 'discover' the great content available via Online Spotlight.
For example, Scott Hanselman (love DASBlog man!) found XM Satellite Radio for the first time today and it drove up his spouse approval for plunking down the change for his XBox 360. While Scott found XM Radio for Media Center via Download.com, it's been available for him all this time in Online Spotlight.
And if XM Radio isn't your audio thing, check out Napster, Live365, AOL Radio (Audio), AOL Music on Demand (Music Video), MTV Overdrive (Music Video), National Public Radio (NPR) or the thousands of podcasts and videoblogs available using Newsgator Media Center Edition.
Hey Scott, since I know you are a geek (major understatement of the year), what do you think about the new application platforms available for Media Center in Windows Vista? If you think these apps are pretty cool now, what until Windows Vista ships!
Things are getting interesting with the recent announcement from Apple about the MacBook Pro and iMac with Intel processors. According to Michael Kanellos over on Apple Notebook Not For Bargain Hunters, Part II the price difference between the MacBook Pro and a comparably equipped Gateway notebook is somewhere between $355-$380, all things considered. Michael also states 'Historically, Apple has generally maintained a $300 price premium.' As always, there is a lot of discussion on both sides of the fence on the 'these are comparable' debate.
It's been hard to compare Windows to MacOS because the hardware delta has added to the number of variables for consumers to evaluate. I've actually thought having dissimilar hardware was a smart approach for Apple because it allowed them to dismiss hardware as a much less important factor in recent years (they long ago gave up performance comparisons). Until their move to Intel hardware it was difficult at best for customers to compare the hardware apples and oranges.
In other words, the Apple pitch (and I've heard it stated this way first hand at their stores) has been 'they've got hardware, we've got hardware and hardware is hardware -- let me show you why our software is better.' It seems they aim to keep this approach since the Apple home page reads 'What's an Intel chip doing in a Mac? A whole lot more than it's ever done in a PC.' It will be interesting to see if this pitch still holds water now that the MacOS runs on (theoretically) identical hardware to Windows. It becomes much more easy for consumers to compare the real costs / benefits of the operating systems and available software.
Chris Pirillo is predicting "Apple's OS Comes Bundled with Windows on All Dell Machines!" in a mock headline.
I think he is smoking something or is perhaps too young to remember Apples foray into licensing it's operating system to third party hardware builders.
Apple makes it's profit largely on the hardware (iPod anyone?) while Dell has quite a reputation for squeezing every last drop out of a bill of material for the hardware, and dropping the price lower than anyone else. For example...
- Apple's cheapest computer is the Mac Mini starting at $499 -- with no keyboard, mouse or monitor.
- Dell's cheapest computer is the Dimension B110 starting at $349 -- including keyboard, mouse and monitor. After rebate, that drops to $299.
If there were polar opposites in the technology industry, it's Dell and Apple. Neither one of them have anything to gain from this type of partnership and everything to lose: Dell's computers become more expensive than the competition and Apples profit margin on hardware would be in serious jeopardy.
Chris, let's make a pact to check back in on the state of things in two years.
Watch it happen -- not.
Via an email from Robert Scoble I learn Ross Rader has asked us in An Open Letter to Microsoft to ship a standalone upgrade SKU of Windows Vista containing Media Center...
"I would very much like it if you made it easy (not free, just easy) for me to upgrade this older, but still quite functional, personal computer from Windows XP to Windows Media Center. Think of it – potentially millions of people adopting a Microsoft product in a way that will be really important for you. If you make it available, I promise that my current desktop will move from my home office to my living room about 30 seconds after I install my shiny new Media Center software.
So whaddya think?"
I think it's a great idea, Ross. If it were up to me alone it would have been done a long time ago (and I have ardently supported the MSDN Subscription install-it-yourself approach for the enthusiast community for a while now, even if it isn't available to Joe Consumer in retail).
But lowly little ol' me doesn't make these decisions. We need a bunch of people making a bunch of noise to make this happen.
If you think it's a great idea too, leave a comment here to vote your support of this offering. I promise to make sure your voice is heard by those who decide our SKU strategy. The more comments, the better our chances.
Let's all make Ross' 30 second dream a reality!
Yes, I know what you are thinking: Yet another geek who is enamored with all things Star Trek -- what else is new?
Yeah, it's true. I'm still pretty much flat on my (injured) back for hours each day which has allowed me to watch several (many) episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation which is now available on both G4 Videogame TV (2 Episodes Per Day) and Spike TV (3 Episodes Per Day).
Stunning plot lines aside (this comment could go either way depending on your perspective) the Star Trek franchise continues to hold a very tight industrial and user experience design aesthetic in my opinion. Gene Roddenberry and his collaborators were absolute visionaries whose inspirations are seen even today with Tablet PCs, Pocket PCs and smart phones (among many other devices).
Star Trek: The Next Generation continues to be my favorite series. The Library Computer Access and Retrieval System (LCARS) user interface introduced with ST:TNG designed by Michael Okuda continues to capture my attention whenever it appears. His designs for Star Trek (commonly referred to as 'okudagrams') have quite a following. The LCARS user interface has continued to be used in subsequent Star Trek franchises and movies since it's inception.
There is even a volunteer LCARS Standards Development Board which...
"...was formed with the specific purpose of developing a standard LCARS system. On the internet, there are literally hundreds of websites using LCARS as the navigational system, however no one has ever taken the time to develop a method of using LCARS as it was meant to be used."
I think it would be an interesting project to create a Media Center application in the Windows Vista timeframe with our new Windows Media Center Presentation Layer which uses the LCARS look and feel.
What would be fun to implement in LCARS...?
I'll be presenting various Media Center technologies, design and development at Mix06. Joe Belfiore has been announced as one of the keynote speakers. The Mix team has an RSS feed, just posted a session outline as well as agenda.
What's Mix you might ask? You might think of it as a more targeted version of the Professional Developers Conference specifically for the web with specific tracks tailored for designers, developers and business folks.
'Media Center' Puts Microsoft Ahead of Rivals
By ROBERT A. GUTH
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
January 5, 2006; Page A13
Microsoft, the technology industry's perennial late-to-the-game player, finally finds itself with a lead in home-entertainment software. It's up to a high-energy engineer named Joe Belfiore to keep it that way.
Unfortunately I injured my back over the holidays and am not able to stand or walk for any reasonable length of time (which is bad at CES because that's pretty much what you do for many hours on end).
However, I'm holding the home fort down up here in Redmond while all my colleagues are taking in the sights and sounds at CES. Matt and Aaron are there and know *almost* as much about Media Center as myself (I'll probably pay for that comment later) and they have posted their schedules so you can track them down to talk.
Anywho, I posted a Media Center News Summary from CES 2006 over at Media Center Sandbox. I'm also working on a post outlining the three developer opportunities (yes, that's THREE, not two) which will be available in Windows Vista.