Warning: Long post! (Then again, which of my posts aren't?)
As I write this I am on a train coming back from London. It is ten past eleven at night and it is so dark that it is often difficult to tell if the train is even moving. The reason that I am coming back from London, of course, is that I have just been to a Windows Live Session at Microsoft's London building (their central London building, that is, they have another one in Reading, I believe). I was one of about thirty people from the UK (mainly) who were invited to this thing and ever since I received my invite I have spent a considerable amount of time (well, at least a few minutes) attempting to explain to people what'd be going on. Now that I've actually been I have a much better idea of what happened there, obviously. All we were told beforehand was that it was to demo and experience the new Windows Live products. Windows Live, for those of you that don't know, is effectively the new name of all MSN products. Where something may have been MSN *X* before it's now Windows Live *X*. The main way that this affects me is that MSN Messenger is now Windows Live Messenger, as to be frank I don't really use any other MSN/Windows Live products. I am now, however, tempted to at least have a look at Windows Live Local (Microsoft's answer to Google Maps/Google Local) thanks to a few comments made about it at tonight's event.
I realise that I haven't updated this blog for quite a while but I seriously haven't had any free time until now, when I happen to have almost three hours to kill on the train (plus another thirty minutes in a cab but I don't think laptop in a car is a good idea. I spent the two hours (yeah, apparently Cardiff Central TO London Paddington is a shorter journey than the reverse..) on the way into London fixing a few Web2Messenger scripts, by the way, so at least that was a productive journey. I apologise for the lack of updates, but coursework and gaming have kind of got in the way. So did Christmas. Not a whole lot has changed since I last blogged anyway. Christmas was fun and a welcome break from coursework, lectures and so on. It was also mildly interesting having the flat to myself for a week. Having said that I spent most of the Christmas break that I was in Uckfield for fairly incapacitated with the flu so used the opportunity to play a hell of a lot of Xbox 360 games. Yay.
As usual with these things I'll start at the beginning and progress towards the end which, after all, is logical. That method won't work too well with regard to what was actually spoken about, however, so I'll try and just summarise that in a hopefully sensible order.
After my first three lectures (all of them boring as hell, as usual, but that's another story I won't tell due to its lack of interesting plot) I jumped on a train to Cardiff Central, once again without paying for it since for some reason the Treforest ticket office is, like, NEVER open, and the ticket collector dude on the trains has a habit of getting to a few people before me then running scared. I've had one ticket collector totally ignore me instead of making me buy a ticket. Not my fault; don't blame me. As you may have guessed, I had to skip my last two lectures to get to London on time, but I think that "I'm visiting Microsoft" is an excuse acceptable by most lecturers, at least Computing lecturers. Anyway once I got to Cardiff I had a fun thirty-five minutes to spend freezing my arse off on the platform waiting for the train. In fact I was so early for the train that the previous London Paddington train (they're about half-hourly) was still on the platform!
Anyway, as I said, I spent the train journey into London fixing some Web2Messenger scripts that I really should have fixed weeks ago but have been busy with the Xbox, coursework and Neverwinter Nights, but shh, don't tell the Web2Messenger users that it's games that are primarily keeping me from coding stuff ;). Tube from Paddington to Piccadilly Circus was uneventful. Got into Piccadilly Circus at 4:45 or so and then proceeded to wander around the Soho area until almost 7pm trying to find the pub that I was supposed to meet Overdo (and, as it turns out, anonymousjon) in. I never did find the blasted place and it was supposedly "close to the Session venue". I found Microsoft House fairly easily. "Fairly Easy", in this case, is defined as "far too difficult and would have been much easier had I actually used the map that I had printed out". Actually I did use the map I printed, but only after I had walked quite some distance along Regent Street and deciding that I was lost. I had memorised the route I was supposed to take beforehand, but I hadn't counted on there being approximately 681532166 exits to Piccadilly Circus underground station. As such I came out facing a totally random direction, at dusk, not having a clue where I was supposed to be going. The map helped greatly, though, once I decided to use it, and I found the place, along with a load of sex shops which are apparently in the area. I also found what appeared to be the offices of Sony Computer Entertainment - the division of Sony behind the Playstation. Funnily enough they were like one street away from Microsoft House. Coincidence?
After finding the place, I spent until almost-7 (so about two hours) walking around the area - multiple times - and, again, freezing my arse off. My feet were unbelievably numb by the end of that. So as it was then about five minutes to seven o'clock I went in and got my badge (which we weren't allowed to keep, unfortunately - I had the foresight to photograph it first, however):
We all then spent a few minutes talking to each other, meeting people that we've known for a while over Messenger or various Web sites but haven't before met in person. That was interesting and dwergs gave me my own personalised mess.be badge. It's extremely difficult to photograph properly, so take your pick of the results:
That's even cooler than being in Microsoft House, I tell you.
We also got a special "Windows Live Sessions UK/1" badge:
The list of freebies is completed with a (unbranded) pen and a (similarly unbranded) notepad, designed for the purpose of taking notes during this evening's events, which I actually made use of, much to my own surprise. We also received a 128MB USB flash drive containing about 50KB of data (well only actually about 5KB but you know what MS Word is like for bloating files - this was just the biography of the main speaker - Phil Holden - and details of the guy from Heaven.fr which is acting as the "organiser" of these Sessions - Romain Gilbert). I only mention the list of freebies because I know that at least one reader of this is interested.
On with the talk. My notes were fairly illegible, as is to be expected from me, so I just hope that the information I'm about to write is accurate and not a figment of my imagination caused by spidery writing.
This is a service that allows users to enter their various contact details then "broadcast" them to people. Other users have to subscibe to your details to receive them, and you do, of course, have control over who receives those details and also, I believe, who receives which specific details. There are already a slew of other such services around, I think, however a service from a reputable company who won't go asking for your Gmail/Passport login details and then go about spamming your contacts to death isn't a bad thing. Do people not realise how much I hate receiving those sodding Hi5/WAYN emails?! Ditto chain mails.
Live Favourites is a feature of Live.com that will allow users to synchronise their Internet Explorer or MSN Favourites (or Favorites, if you prefer the American spelling - I'll persist in using Commonwealth English from now on, for obvious reasons, not least of which is me being British) on multiple computers. While a lot of people still only ever use one PC, a growing number of users are using an array of PCs, whether it be home/work, desktop/laptop or even a handful of PCs at home, and as such keeping configurations consistent between those PCs is difficult. Trust me - I know. I just have to switch between my desktop, my laptop and my university account and find that I have three different installations of Firefox, each with different settings, different bookmarks, different extensions, and so on. Live Favourites will help to alleviate this problem slightly by keeping IE's favourites the same across PCs. Of course this means that you have to be using Internet Explorer which may not be a problem for most users now, but Firefox and Opera (and other alternative browsers) are gradually eating away at IE's marketshare. Having said that, I do believe that Firefox has an extension that achieves the same result, and no doubt Opera can do similar.
Media Centre PCs (UK spelling, again)
This was only briefly touched upon, however it was suggested that soon it will be possible to stream recorded programmes from Media Centre PCs across the Internet via Live.com, as well as telling your Media Centre PC to record certain programmes remotely.
Live Mail has fairly recently acquired AJAX spell-checking, whereby it will check the spelling of emails you're composing on the fly and underline mis-spelled words with the standard Office wavey red underline. It's pretty cool and a good use of the technology, but since I don't make a habit of mis-spelling words, and spelling rarely matters in emails anyway I don't think it's a huge feature for me. Gmail (my current email provider) can spell-check emails, but I have to click a link to do so. I'm sure that they could make that automatic if they wanted, but I deem it unnecessary.
Live Mail is also focusing on colour-coding things to make using the product even easier. An email that is thought to be spam is marked with a yellow heading, and an email that the Mail servers believe to be phishing is marked with an orange header. Dwergs must be pleased.
Fremont is Microsoft's in-development classifieds service. Due to its development stage it is currently only available to Microsoft employees in the USA, but it should soon be opened up to other businesses around Microsoft, then the USA and eventually the rest of the world. The important thing about this service, I think, is that it should be entirely free of charge, with all revenue being made from advertising. The version we were shown had no advertising and so we don't know exactly how large or offensive the adverts will be, but hopefully they'll be tasteful enough to not disrupt the use of the product.
There were two features of the service that I made note of: a "Completely Random Listings!" section that does exactly what it says on the metaphorical tin - show totally random listings of items that you most likely have no intention of buying, but it's a good way to waste a few hours, apparently. Knowing how often I've wasted entire evenings reading archives of websites (comics, especially) I'm inclined to agree. The other interesting feature is an "Add to my Space" link that will publish information about your newly listed item on your Space for your readers to see. It's part of the notion that people are more likely to buy things from friends or at least people they know to some extent. For the same reason you can choose how many people will be able to see your listing - a choice of everyone or just your Messenger buddies.
Very soon (I believe the timeframe was given as "in the next 24 hours or so") an update will be made to Spaces that will add approximately 100 new design templates, which should be cool, not that I use Spaces, as you've probably noticed.
Windows Live Phones (I think the title is right, I could be slightly off)
Saving the best 'til last, this is Microsoft's entry into the VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol - making phone calls over the Internet, basically) market. However it's a very cool entry, as it is with a dual-purpose cordless telephone being manufactured by Philips. Its base unit will plug into both your PC via a USB port and the standard phone line, and you can then use it for making standard landline calls and for making VoIP calls via your PC. In addition to this, it connects directly to Windows Live Messenger and then lists your contact list on its colour screen. You can then scroll through this list looking for the contact you wish to call, and then select to either call their PC (if they're online) or their landline/mobile if they're not. I imagine you can choose to call their landline/mobile if they ARE online, too. No range was given, however the price was quoted as being estimated to be "under $100". Fingers crossed that translates into a sub-£100 price as I consider this to be a very very cool product that I would almost certainly purchase if I actually ever made phone calls.
Microsoft have a large plan for VoIP, apparently, and due to time constraints it will be discussed in a future Session.
Oh yeah, speaking of which, apparently today wasn't a one-off event. They are planning to hold these things every month or so, with the next planned for late February or early March. Stay tuned, it seems.
After that reasonably talk we ended up hanging around for a great deal of time and chatting with various employees of Microsoft and each other and generally had a fun evening.
There wasn't much discussion about Windows Live Messenger itself, which was most unfortunate considering the administrators of mess.be (etc - 5 people from mess.be were there if you include myself) were attending. However we put this down to the fact that we already know a hell of a lot about Messenger anyway - we're all beta testing it, after all. Hopefully we'll get more information about what's coming in the future.
Overall it was a highly enjoyable evening that optimism_ is seemingly rather jealous of me for. Don't university exams interrupting things like this just suck? :P
Oh and finally the room that we were in was called the Pool. It really did look like one, too, with blue tiles on the walls and blue water-effect carpet on the floor. Take a look at the photos I took of it if you don't believe me:
Addendum: Having just got back I find that a lot of people have been talking to me:
Posted at Fri, 27 Jan 2006, 11:33:49
Warning: Long post! (Then again, which of my posts aren't?)