Kinect: First Impressions

Allow me to start by saying wow. Kinect is awesome. I’ve played Kinect here and there over the last few months, but never really got to experience it as I have today.

I went to my local Microsoft Store and bought the Kinect Sensor and a second game, Dance Central. The Kinect comes with one game, Kinect Adventures.

Setup was a breeze. Because I have the older Xbox 360, Kinect requires the power adapter (included with the sensor). Plug the sensor into power and then into a USB port, turn the Console on and you’re ready to go. Note that Kinect does require the new Xbox Dashboard update that became available earlier this week. If you don’t have the update, sign into Xbox Live, and you’ll be prompted to update.

Once the Kinect Sensor is recognized, it walked me through a quick setup and calibration process, and once complete, I put in a game and was playing in no time.

There are common gestures such as waving to tell your console that you are there, holding your left hand out to pause a game and / or open the Kinect Guide, and each game has its own set of gestures for controlling the in-game menus and gameplay.

Other features like Kinect Hub and Video Kinect are very cool. With the Kinect Hub, I was able to control my Xbox 360 with my body and start a game, change settings, go to ESPN3, and with Video Kinect, I was able to use Windows Live Messenger to have a video chat.

Kinect gave me a good workout too. I didn’t measure my heart rate when I was resting, but in the middle of my game play I decided to throw on a heart rate monitor, and I definitely hit my target heart rate for exercise.

Kinect is without a doubt, the next big thing in gaming. In my opinion, buying the Kinect was the best purchase I’ve made in a long time. I’ve included some unboxing pictures below.

Internet Explorer 9 Platform Preview 6 Announced Today

imageToday marked the launch of PDC 2010, a two-day Professional Developers Conference held at Microsoft’s corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington.

At PDC 2010, Dean Hachamovitch, general manager for the Internet Explorer team announced availability of the sixth platform preview for Internet Explorer 9.

In September, Microsoft released a beta version of Internet Explorer 9, and today’s platform preview builds on the underlying platform that powers Internet Explorer 9.

New in this release are CSS3 2D Transforms, HTML5 Semantic Elements, and improvements to the overall developer experience.

Today’s release is targeted at developers and is not an update of Internet Explorer 9 for end-users. Microsoft has said that the next public Internet Explorer 9 release will be the release candidate but have not given a release date.

To download the Platform Preview, visit http://www.ietestdrive.com.

Internet Explorer 9 – Review

On September 15th, Microsoft released the Windows Internet Explorer 9 beta at an event in San Francisco.

I’ve been using the beta for a while now and I can say that I’m impressed. Microsoft has made numerous improvements and it really shows through in this release.

The top features in Internet Explorer 9 are Hardware-accelerated HTML5, support for modern web standards, deep integration with Windows 7, and a new UI that emphasizes browsing over browser.

Internet Explorer 9 moves rendering of text and graphics from the CPU (processor), to the GPU (graphics card). What this means is that graphics will appear richer, text will appear clearer and crisper, and video will play smoother. I’ve included a screenshot example below to illustrate the difference between the new DirectWrite rendering engine and the GDI rendering engine that is used in older versions of Internet Explorer, as well as Internet Explorer 9’s Compatibility Mode. (The top screenshot is rendering with DirectWrite and the bottom is rendering with GDI.)

IE9-DirectWriteIE9-GDI

Internet Explorer 9 includes support now for HTML5, the next major revision to the HTML web standard. Features in HTML5 include direct embed support of video and audio, offline storage, enabling websites to become web applications, and drag and drop. Some of these new features work best with hardware acceleration, and Microsoft is taking hardware acceleration to a whole new level with Internet Explorer 9. Because Internet Explorer 9 uses APIs like Direct2D and DirectWrite, HTML5 websites feel less like websites and more like applications.

In the Internet Explorer 9 Product Guide that Microsoft published, they use the phrase “Your websites shine.” I completely agree with this statement. Because of the new user interface introduced with IE9, websites truly shine. IE 9 is, dare I say, one sexy browser. The browser has been simplified by combining the address box and the search box into what Microsoft calls “OneBox”, easier and clearer notifications, and hiding the unnecessary menu items. By simplifying the user interface, the focus is off of the browser and on the website.

IE9-UX

If you’re a Windows 7 user, there is now more to love about Internet Explorer 9. With Internet Explorer 9 you can pin websites to the taskbar for easy access. Pinned websites open in their own browser windows and the browser and navigational controls integrate the site’s icon and primary color, improving the browsing experience.

IE9-PinnedSite

Internet Explorer 9 includes Jump List support for Pinned Sites and makes it very easy to access areas of different websites that the website creator wants to expose.

IE9-JumpList

Other features include tearable tabs, meaning that tabs can be moved to other windows or torn off and separated on their own, a download manager (finally!), and improved overall performance.

I am thoroughly impressed with Internet Explorer 9. The new user interface, hardware accelerated HTML5, and personal favorite, the integrated download manager. In my opinion Microsoft has done it right. Sure, other browsers have had download management and simplified user interfaces for a while now, but Internet Explorer 9 takes it up to the next level. If I was giving it a rating based on stars I’d say 5 out of 5.

If you are on the adventurous side, I highly encourage that you visit the Microsoft website and evaluate the beta today. You can find the beta by clicking here.

Introducing a More Beautiful Web

IE9DownloadBannerToday in San Francisco, Microsoft is officially unveiling Windows Internet Explorer 9, and releasing a beta version to the public.

Microsoft is touting Internet Explorer 9 as a release that is clean, simple, and enables you to focus on the content you care most about.

With Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft is introducing a new interface that puts you and your content first. Clutter has been reduced and the browser controls are being placed into glass. This means more room for content and a simplified browsing experience.

This is the first release to feature the use of the graphics card (GPU) for rendering graphics and text, using Direct2D and DirectWrite APIs. What this means for you the end user is that websites will feel more like native applications and provide for more immersive browsing experiences.

From a security standpoint, Internet Explorer 9 is shaping up to be the safest release yet. Internet Explorer 9 includes a new feature known as Download Reputation that uses reputation data to remove unnecessary warnings for safe files, and show warnings when a file is known to have a higher risk of being malicious.

Microsoft is partnering with renowned digital artist Joshua Davis, creator of the Endless Mural, Davis’ first project created in HTML5. You can learn more and contribute to the Endless Mural by visiting Microsoft’s Beauty of the Web site.

If you are interested in downloading and trying today’s beta release, you can either click the picture above, or visit http://bit.ly/IE9BetaDownload.

Windows Server Code Name “Aurora” Public Preview now available

Dashboard3

Today along with the release of the August Preview build of Windows Home Server “Vail”, Microsoft has released the first public preview of Windows Small Business Server “Aurora.”

Windows Small Business Server “Aurora” is what I’m going to call the younger brother of Small Business Server. Aurora is designed to be the “bridge to the cloud,” with on-premise features such as network monitoring, remote access, PC backup, and cloud features, such as e-mail and collaboration through services such as Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services Standard Suite (BPOS).

Aurora is designed for small businesses with less than 25 users and do not have the resources or budget for an SBS or even higher setup.

Aurora and Vail share the same code base so there is some feature overlap, and in the case of Aurora, the “home” features such as media sharing have been removed. Some of the features of Windows Small Business Server “Aurora” are listed below.

  • Active Directory integration for enterprise grade user and resource management.
  • Remote Web Access to files, computers, and applications created by third parties
  • Integration with Microsoft’s online service offering, BPOS
  • Client Connector and PC Backup of Mac OS X clients (must be using 10.5 or above)
  • Launchpad for quick access to common tasks
  • Drive Extender storage technology, first introduced with Windows Home Server v1, for easy upgrades and management of server storage

While this release is a public preview, it is not recommended that you use Aurora for production use as there is no support and there are some issues around server storage. I’ve listed those issues below.

  • There is a QFE available along with this build that addresses an issue where saving files to an Aurora server may fail when a large amount of data is present on the server. It is advised that this QFE be installed immediately after installing Aurora.
  • Storage Check and Repair is broken in this release, as under certain conditions, there may be data loss.
  • If a hard drive goes missing from the storage pool and you attempt to remove that missing hard drive from the storage pool, the removal wizard may inadvertently remove the wrong files from your server.

For the build number curious amongst us, this is Build 7657 and is available from Microsoft Connect today. The CRC and SHA1 hashes for the ISO have been posted below along with steps to check the integrity of the downloaded ISO.

Hashes for today’s release:

Volume label: GR0SAAxFRE_EN_DVD
CRC: 0x15C92BAA
SHA1: 0x83D7341DB9916145749A02B010981494227F1166

To run MSCDCRC against an ISO file that you have downloaded follow these steps.

  1. Download MSCDCRC to the same folder that you downloaded the Vail ISO to. (Click here to download MSCDCRC)
  2. Open a Command Prompt window and navigate to the folder from Step 1
  3. Type "MSCDCRC InstallDVD.iso" (without quotes)
  4. The integrity check will take a few moments to complete. After the check is complete compare the CRC and SHA hashes to the hashes posted below
  5. If the hashes match then you have successfully downloaded the ISO

Full PC Restore from Windows Home Server Vail with a USB Flash Drive

The August Preview of Windows Home Server Vail is the gift that keeps on giving.

In this release, there is now a feature that enables you to plug a USB thumb drive into your server and create a bootable drive that contains the necessary software to perform a full system restore of a client PC.

The nice thing about the process is that the thumb drive is created for both 32 and 64 bit PCs meaning that you only need one thumb drive to restore any PCs in your house.  Steps to perform a restore after the creation of the flash drive are largely unchanged from past releases or even WHS v1.

I performed a test restore of my netbook and I’ve included screenshots below of the restore process and the creation of the restore thumb drive.

Windows Home Server “Vail” August Preview–Screenshot Galleries

 

 

 

Windows Home Server Vail now with Mac OS Support

Screen shot 2010-08-14 at 1.21.21 AMWith the exception of having Windows Media Center on the same PC as Windows Home Server, having Mac OS Support has been a top feature request of mine since the announcement of Windows Home Server back in 2007.

Today, this request has been fulfilled. In the August Preview release of Windows Home Server Vail, the Client Connector for Mac OS has been included.

From what I can tell, there is going to be support for backing up a Mac OS client to Windows Home Server by means of Time Machine. (Backup has not yet been implemented in this release.)

Just like its Windows counterpart, there is a Launchpad component that enables users to manage backups, access Remote Web Access and shared folders on the server.

What’s not clear yet is if there will be any method for accessing the Windows Home Server Vail Dashboard on a Mac OS client. Another thing not yet clear is how restores of Mac clients will work. I’m confident that in time we will find out the answers to these questions.

If you are a Windows Home Server Vail beta user and have Mac clients, I highly encourage you to download the August Preview and test the Mac OS Client Connector.

Windows Home Server “Vail” August Preview now available

GreenVailLogo

Today Microsoft has released an updated preview build of Windows Home Server “Vail.”

This build has some very welcome changes and some cool new features. Among these changes and new features are the following:

  • Ability to enable or disable Add-ins at will from within the Dashboard
  • Improvements to the Getting Started tasks
  • New color scheme for the Dashboard, Remote Web Access, and Connect Computer website
  • Client Connector for Mac OS (Yes, you read that right, Mac OS!)
  • Alert Viewer now allows for alerts to be organized based on computer name or severity
  • Server Folders and Hard Drives now includes a summary tab
  • There is now the ability to create a bootable USB flash drive that can be used to restore a client computer
  • Official support for Windows 7 and Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1 Betas

However, there are some issues and changes in this build that need to be mentioned up front.

  • For users of a previous release of Vail, you will have to migrate data off of your test server to another PC or external storage device before reinstallation as Drive Extender has undergone more changes making DE drives from previous releases incompatible with the August preview.
  • There is a QFE available along with this build that addresses an issue where saving files to a Vail server may fail when a large amount of data is present on the server. It is advised that this QFE be installed immediately after installing Vail.
  • Storage Check and Repair is broken in this release, as under certain conditions, there may be data loss.
  • If a hard drive goes missing from the storage pool and you attempt to remove that missing hard drive from the storage pool, the removal wizard may inadvertently remove the wrong files from your server.

For the build number curious amongst us, this is build 7657 and is available from Microsoft Connect today. The CRC and SHA1 hashes for the ISO have been posted below along with steps to check the integrity of the downloaded ISO.

Hashes for today’s release:

Volume label: GR0SHSxFRE_EN_DVD

CRC: 0x7D6C61AD

SHA1: 0x051BBC9A1EEF7BEFD9DADD5584EEEB0C81F07AF2

To run MSCDCRC against an ISO file that you have downloaded follow these steps.

  1. Download MSCDCRC to the same folder that you downloaded the Vail ISO to. (Click here to download MSCDCRC)
  2. Open a Command Prompt window and navigate to the folder from Step 1
  3. Type "MSCDCRC InstallDVD.iso" (without quotes)
  4. The integrity check will take a few moments to complete. After the check is complete compare the CRC and SHA hashes to the hashes posted below
  5. If the hashes match then you have successfully downloaded the ISO

Imagine Cup 2010 Wrap-up

(I totally meant to have this posted right after the Imagine Cup finals, but due to some blog issues, and work, the posting schedule slipped. –Tom)

Wow, what a week! I’ve just finished attending the 2010 Microsoft Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals in Warsaw, Poland. I’ve had the opportunity to interact with students from all over the world, meet the top executives for Microsoft worldwide, have lunch with education ministers and dignitaries from all over the world, and see some some incredible projects at this year’s Imagine Cup.

At the World Festival on Thursday evening, Jon Perera announced that the 2011 Imagine Cup Worldwide Finals will be held in New York, New York. After Perera’s introduction, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to this year’s finalists via video, and congratulated them on their accomplishments, and talked about how excited she was that the Imagine Cup will be in the USA.  This is incredibly exciting to see the Imagine Cup travelling to the United States. I highly encourage all tech students to compete in the Imagine Cup competition. I’m not sure when the Imagine Cup website will be updated with information for next year’s competition, but keep checking www.imaginecup.com for updated information.

I want to take a moment to thank the City of Warsaw and the government and country of Poland for their wonderful hospitality. Warsaw is such a beautiful city. Throughout the week there were events at different venues within Warsaw. We were at the Palace of Culture and Science, the Warsaw Opera House, a castle in the beautiful town of Pultusk, and several hotels in the city center. The event concluded with an awesome party at the Platinum Nightclub, and after partying into the wee hours of the morning, I returned to the hotel for a few hours of shut eye before heading off to the airport.

One of the biggest takeaways from the Imagine Cup is that no matter how young or how old, students have the power to create innovative solutions to the world’s problems through software. I was totally blown away by how awesome these projects were. Quite a few of the projects are already being looked at by world governments and the private sector. Most of the teams that made it to the final round of judging said that they are working on plans bring their projects to market, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for that.

I want to thank Jacek Murawski (General Manager Microsoft Poland), Jon Perera (General Manager Microsoft Education), the entire corporate Microsoft Imagine Cup team, and the team in Poland that worked to pull off an incredible event. I also want to thank everyone at Microsoft and Waggener-Edstrom for making this trip possible. I had a great time, and I look forward to the 2011 Imagine Cup.