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Walkthrough the History of the Metro UI

Many users now know the Metro UI design language because of its use in Windows Phone. The inclusion of the Metro paradigm into Microsoft’s mobile platform reboot was both an much-needed and risky product bet. Most people praise Microsoft for their Metro user interface, but in most cases, products using the Metro UI haven’t fared too well in the market. In cases like the Zune HD, which brought about the modern version of this UI, Microsoft built a simplistic, chrome-less user interface which is reliant on typography and easy on the eyes. While an excellent music player, the Zune HD has only garnered a small percent of the PMP market.

Windows Phone then took its cue from the Zune HD, but many may not know how Microsoft got to this point. Starting with Media Center in Windows XP in 2005 Microsoft began applying Metro to their products and now Metro is beginning to show up in nearly everything they do. From its early days in Media Center to the new Windows 8 Start screen, here’s a look back at Metro and how it has arrived to where it is today:

Media Center

Microsoft originally started using the Metro design language in their Windows XP Media Center product in 2005. The idea was to build an interface which relies more on typography and less on chrome and buttons. Vista and Windows 7 improved on Media Center making it an acceptable living room solution for media playback on the television.

Zune PC Software

The Zune PC software has always worked in conjunction with Zune hardware devices and is now the primary method for managing media both on your PC and on your Zune and Windows Phone devices. The original Zune PC software v1.0 (pictured below –  top left) was essentially Windows Media Player 11 with a different skin and not as many features. Version 2.0 (top right) brought about many changes and a complete redesign similar to the modern day Zune software client. The completely rewritten 2.0 software made the process of managing devices and music a much better experiences for users. Version 3.0 (bottom left) took the popular 2.0 experience and added features and even more stability. Zune 4.7 (bottom right) was given its name because of the Windows Phone 7 devices it would now interact with. Internally, 4.7 meant “for seven” as in for Windows Phone 7. The Zune software is now fully mature and easily the best piece of software for managing a media collection. The PC software also acts as a windows to the Zune Marketplace where music, video, apps and podcasts can be browsed and downloaded.

Xbox 360

The Xbox 360 was introduced in 2005 and is the primary competitor to the Playstation 3 and Nintendo’s Wii console. The original interface used on the 360 was dubbed “Blades” (not pictured) and was not Metro in design. In 2008, Microsoft redesigned the Blades interface to a more Metro-like, Media Center design called “New Xbox Experience” or NXE (top left). In 2010, Microsoft redesigned the interface (top right) again to flatten out the menu options into a more Metro-like design. In 2011, at the E3 show, Microsoft introduced the next update to the Xbox 360 Dashboard (bottom center). The coming update completely takes hold of the Metro paradigm and is very reminiscent of the current Zune PC software and the upcoming Start screen for Windows 8.

Zune Devices

The Zune 30 device debuted in 2006 with the first generation of music players coming from Microsoft (Left). The first device was done in collaboration with Toshiba, but the software was Microsoft’s and early Metro in design. Microsoft then followed up with the second generations Zunes (4, 8 and 80) and debuted the touch navigation pad. The second generation devices were introduced along with v2.0 of the Zune PC software. Third generation devices used nearly the same UI, but now played games using Microsoft’s XNA framework and added a few different models to the mix. The Zune HD was introduced in Fall 2009 (right) and featured the first fully touchscreen enabled device in the Zune family. The device was lauded for both build quality and software. The Zune HD is the forerunner to Windows Phone in its Metro UI. Microsoft has not officially committed to continue making Zune hardware, but has publicly backed the Zune services.

Windows Phone

Windows Phone became Microsoft’s mobile reboot in 2010. taking its cue from the Zune HD and the Metro UI, Windows Phone 7 Series as it was originally called infused many of Microsoft products and services into one cohesive unit. The word “Series” was then dropped from the name and leaving the first generation to be called simply, “Windows Phone”. The UI is completely Metro and features a home screen where live tiles point the user to apps and hubs. Live tiles also bring information straight to the forefront so users don’t have to navigate into apps and hubs in most cases. The original update to Windows Phone brought Copy & Paste and various improvements to apps, games and the Marketplace. The first major update is slated for Fall 2011 and is codenamed “Mango”. Windows Phone shipped along side Zune PC software v4.7.

Windows 8

Microsoft has decided to take the company in a direction towards the Metro UI. In early 2010, Microsoft Window’s Chief, Steven Sinofsky revealed the new Start screen for the upcoming release of the latest Windows OS codenamed “Windows 8″. The new Start screen borrows heavily from the Windows Phone tile home screen and will replace the classic desktop as the primary user interface, although the classic desktop will be present. In moving their flagship product to the Metro UI, this marks the first time that all of the company’s major products are using the same design language and solidifies Metro as the preferred user interface for the company.

Windows Live/Websites

Microsoft has also begun deploying the Metro UI across its other products and services. Both Windows Live and some of the products websites for Microsoft have seen a shift to a Metro-esque style.

As you can see, Microsoft has been deploying the Metro language throughout their products and services for years, but it has really come to people’s attention with the change from Windows Mobile to Windows Phone. The modern and clean design has been positively received across many forums and looks to be the future of Microsoft. As Windows Phone grows in market and mind share, we should begin to see others realize the positive and potential of the Metro design language.


Is the Windows Phone story “starting to come together”?


Microsoft and Windows Phone have taken center stage this week, admittedly during one of the slowest tech news weeks of the year, as quite a discussion broke out about the fate of Windows Phone.

It started with a post by ex-Windows Phone GM Charlie Kindel in his blog post Windows Phone is Superior; Why Hasn’t it Taken Off?  Charlie got things started off by reasoning that since Windows Phone’s business model doesn’t cater to the OEMs and the carriers, while Google’s Android does (easily modified, free to use, etc.), and Apple controls their own whole stack, although it is a “superior” phone, Windows Phone hasn’t had an easy time of it in the marketplace.

The post was picked up quickly by a number of tech news bloggers (see: slow news week), notablyRobert Scoble and MG Siegler, and the meme carried across blog posts and comments (and yes, even on Google +), generating a LOT of interest for a phone platform with 1.5% market share.

Charlie noted on Twitter how much traffic and commentary he had received:

I’ve never had a blog post with so many comments. Kinda surprised at the high-quality of the comments. Figured there’d be more trolls.


Charlie Kindel

And indeed, our own post on the subject (which was picked up for a time on Google News, generating some healthy traffic) garnered 80-some comments, a good number for a post on LiveSide.

The point of all of this, beyond whether or not apps rule or Android sucks up to OEMs, is that people actually seemed to want to talk about Windows Phone.  The commenters here, and on Scoble’s and Kindel’s blogs (and many others), acted as if they were actually interested, beyond the usual “Windoze sucks” mantra we hear from the anti-Microsoft types.  Sure there were some negative comments about Microsoft and Windows Phone, but there were lots of accolades, too, and lots of interest.

We’ve been saying all along that we’ve considered Windows Phone to be in beta, at least up until the release of Mango, and probably until Nokia Windows Phones hit the US Market, sometime early in 2012.  Has that “beta” gone according to Microsoft’s plans?  Of course not.

But Windows Phone isn’t a failure, except in terms of units sold to date.  The buzz about the Metro interface has been positive, the Windows Phone Marketplace has just passed the 50,000 app plateau, Nokia is set to unveil its US Market strategy at CES in just a few days, and, as we’ve seen this week, people are interested in talking about Windows Phone.

WMPowerUser points to a CNET interview of NPD’s Ross Rubin, who says that the Windows Phone story is “starting to come together”, noting the positive vibe, and the number of new smartphone owners who are just coming or have yet to come in to the market.  What do you think, is this just the beginning for Windows Phone?  And if so, can Microsoft survive a late start, perhaps not by convincing Android or Apple users to switch, but by capturing that large untapped market of smartphone owners-to-be?

Windows Phone 8 to feature improved backup functionality and cloud restore

Microsoft is planning to improve Windows Phone backup, migrate and restore functionality in the next version of Windows Phone.

The software giant is currently hiring system engineers to help create the new backup system, according to a recent job posting. The listing, spotted by WMPU, includes hints at an easy way for Windows Phone users to “seamlessly get their phone back to a good state.” Microsoft details its vision to see the company stay head of the competition for disaster recovery of mobile phones:

“Come join the Windows Phone Backup, Migrate, and Restore team. Our goal is to ensure that no matter if someone loses their phone, drops their phone in a lake, buys a new windows phone, or just has their toddler wipe their phone by entering the wrong PIN over and over, a user can quickly and seamlessly get their phone back to a good state. The features we are producing will be new for the next version of Windows Phone and will help ensure Microsoft stays ahead of the competition when it comes to disaster recovery. Come be a part of defining this area.”

The current state of Windows Phone backup is rather lacking. Microsoft’s Zune client includes the functionality to backup and restore devices fully but the feature is only triggered during device updates. A number of Windows Phone developers have created third-party applications to trigger the feature and create independent backups but Microsoft does not officially support this just yet. However, Microsoft has shipped a backup and restore feature as part of its Windows Phone Connector for Mac. The Mac client allows Windows Phone users to hit a button to simply backup the device or restore it based on the latest backup.

Microsoft’s future backup plans will likely tie-in to the next major Windows Phone update, codenamed Apollo. It’s clear from the job posting that the company wants the experience to be seamless to end users in future. The company will likely utilize its Windows Live cloud storage to support backups of data and applications for Windows Phone users. Microsoft has already started seeking customer feedback for its Windows Phone future releases. The software giant is curating feedback from end users to record the most requested features for future versions of Windows Phone. The feedback is recorded and publicly viewable for others to rate and comment on over at Microsoft’s suggestions forum. Top requests include enable all (bing)features for non US-countriesDevice Backup and Turn-by-turn GPS.

The 10 sexiest Microsoft business teases for 2012

This past year, 2011, was one where Microsoft officials played up almost exclusively the company’s consumer-focused products and services. Just look at Microsoft’s own year in reviewlists and notice how many of the listings are for consumer products sold at retail. Part of this emphasis was due to Microsoft striving to position itself as a consumer-goods company. And part, I believe, was due to the fact that 2011 was an in-between year for Microsoft, as they had relatively few business-focused products ready to ship.

Despite the shortage, as Corporate Vice President of Communications Frank Shaw himself noted recently on Twitter, enterprise software can be sexy, too. (Scoble 2.0 doesn’t think so, but plenty of my readers do.)

In 2012, if the Redmondians stick to their own roadmaps, we should hear a lot more about products of interest to business users. Based on hints from 2011, here’s my Top 10 list for business products and technologies to watch for from the ‘Soft in the coming year.

1. Windows Server 8: Windows Server 8 has hundreds of new features, just like its client counterpart. But the server features, not too surprisingly, are far more business-focused. PCMag served up a good list of some of the new Windows Server 8 features that could appeal to business customers, with shout-outs on the Hyper-V and PowerShell updates coming with this release. Windows Server 8 includes across-the-board improvements in storage, networking and clustering, too.

2. Windows 8 client: While most of the interest around Windows 8 on the client is (at least so far) focused around the coming tablet experience, Microsoft is touting its coming tiled and touch-centric operating system as ideal for PCs and laptops, too. Business users have a LOT of questions about Windows 8’s interface, its security and management components, not to mention exactly how (and if) Microsoft will allow non-Metro apps to run on Windows 8 on ARM (on PCs and/or tablets). In fact, some are already writing off Windows 8’s potential appeal to business users. (I’m taking a wait and see what the late February 2012 beta looks like, myself.)

3. Windows Phone 8: The Windows Phone 8 operating system, codenamed “Apollo,” has been a deliverable targeted for late  2012 since word of it leaked in December 2010. The (increasingly plausible/probable) rumor is that Microsoft will be switching out the Windows Embedded Compact kernel in Windows Phone for a Windows one — in the form of MinWin, perhaps — with Apollo. Will this help Microsoft deliver enterprise capabilities (hello, encryption!) and apps that are sorely lacking with the almost entirely consumer-focused Windows Phone 7 platform? (If so, maybe that will help grow Microsoft’s installed base by bringing the  the long-suffering Windows Mobile user base that hasn’t already abandoned Microsoft over to the Windows Phone platform.

4. Office 2012 servers: New versions of on-premises Exchange, SharePoint and Lync unified communications servers are all in development as part of Office 15. I continue to hear Microsoft will ship them before the end of calendar 2012. A public beta should be out by mid-year at the latest. Next to nothing has leaked, in terms of new features coming with the next wave of server releases, but it’s a safe bet that some of the enhancements in their cloud counterparts that aren’t already in the on-prem versions could find their way into the Office 2012 servers.

5. Identity management: Expect to hear more in the coming year about the five pillars of Microsoft’s identity-management platform — specifically Active Directory Services; Active Directory Federation Services; Certificate Services/PKI; Active Directory Rights Management Services and Forefront Identity Manager. These services are at the crux of Microsoft’s attempt to make single sign-on key for its private and public cloud offerings.

6. System Center 2012: Microsoft will launch in the first half of 2012 (probably at the Microsoft Management Summit in April) its full suite of 10-plus systems management offerings. Some of these disparate products will be able to manage iPads, iPhones, Android phones and other non-Microsoft devices for the first time. Early word is that Microsoft may attempt to sell all of its System Center 2012 wares as a single, integrated suite and not as a bunch of individual point products. (The Softies aren’t confirming this suite concept; it’s just what I’ve heard from my contacts.)

7. SQL Server 2012: Microsoft’s next-generation database is due to launch in the early part of 2012. We already know the SKUs — including a brand-new BI one — and the pricing (which ismoving to more of a per-core model). SQL Server 2012 includes components for providing more high-availability, self-service and analytics functionality.

8. Skype (+ Lync, + Outlook + more): Microsoft’s $8.5 billion acquisition of Skype is supposed to result in lots of new Skype apps and integration for many of Microsoft’s products, ranging from Hotmail to the Xbox. (The first of the deliverables, a Skype app for Windows Phone still has yet to materialize as promised in calendar 2011.) But there are business-side Skype integrations coming, too, including Skype integration with Lync, Skype integration with Exchange/Outlook and maybe even built-in Skype integration with Windows. It sounds like Microsoft is planning to keep some basic Skype services free and charge for others that may be of more interest to business customers.

9. AzureHadoop (or is it HadoopAzure?): Microsoft made available the preview bits for the Hadoop distribution for Windows Azure in December 2011. The final release is slated for March 2012. (Microsoft and partner Hortonworks are also working on an on-premises Hadoop on Windows Server distribution.) Hadoop on Windows Azure is interesting because it combines Microsoft’s big-data plans and products with its cloud platform. The idea Microsoft will be pushing in 2012 is that Hadoop on Azure will give users of Microsoft’s analytics tools, including plain-old Excel, a way to make use of the growing number of data sets stored on Windows Azure.

10. ERP in the cloud: Microsoft Dynamics NAV, codenamed ‘NAV 7,’ due in 2012 will be the first cloud-enabled ERP solution from Microsoft. Microsoft officials have said they  plan to move all four of their ERP products to the cloud (meaning hosted on Windows Azure). Dynamics CRM Online also will be moved to Azure at some point, though the Softies have not said when this will happen. For now, CRM Online is Microsoft-hosted, but not Azure-based.

That’s my list of 10. What’s on yours, Microsoft business users out there?

Windows Phone app gains another 100,000 FB users in December


Facebook have updated their Monthly Active User numbers for the built-in Windows Phone 7 Facebook app, the numbers reveal another significant increase in the number of Windows Phone 7 users.

While the graph shows a clear acceleration from the slower growth periods earlier in the year, it still suggests less than 1 million Windows Phones were sold over the holiday period, which is somewhat disappointing given the massive promotions seen in Europe earlier this month.

It seems something fundamental will need to change for Windows Phone 7 to escape the 1% club.

Microsoft: Five things to look for in 2012


Next year is one of those years that can’t come soon enough for Microsoft.

It’s not that 2011 was a particularly difficult year. The company posted record revenue for the fiscal year that ended June 30. And its 2-year-old PC operating system, Windows 7, hit 500 million copies sold, further embedding it as the most widely used operating system in the world. But 2011 had few big product launches at the company, Office 365 and Internet Explorer 9notwithstanding.

Next year will be altogether different. Microsoft is prepping the big kahuna of its product arsenal,Windows 8. The company hasn’t set a date, though most analysts expect the flagship operating system to debut before the end of the year, and perhaps in time for back-to-school shopping. From that product, much else from Redmond flows.

So here are five things to look for from Microsoft in 2012:

1. Windows 8 tablets

Windows 8 is one of the boldest bets Microsoft will make, radically changing the interface on the operating system to the company’s tile-based Metro look, first used by Windows Phone 7 last year. The familiar desktop photo covered with application and file icons will be available to PC users who want it. But Microsoft is pushing the new touch-friendly interface to convince consumers to buy tablet computers that will run it.

It won’t be an easy sell. Microsoft will be coming to the tablet market more than two years after Apple iPad launched and quickly became a commercial success. And this holiday season, Amazon debuted its Kindle Fire, which became the first non-Apple tablet to gain a meaningful foothold. Market analyst Forrester recently reported that consumer interest in Windows tablets is waning.

As the core of computing moves beyond the PC, Microsoft needs Windows 8 tablets to succeed. It’s all the more pressing as PC growth sputters and the tablet computer market soars.

The market muscle of Microsoft and its partners will help propel Windows tablets at their debut. But unless Microsoft can convince developers to create tablet-specific apps that users can’t live without, the devices will have a hard time making a dent in iPad’s massive lead.

2. Xbox moves farther into live TV

Even in its earliest days, Microsoft’s video game console business was pegged as a Trojan Horse to bring the company’s technology from the office to the living room. But the brains behind Xbox knew they had to make a great gaming experience job No. 1. Now, leading the United States in console sales in 2011, Xbox is pushing in earnest beyond gaming.

Microsoft just brought the first hint of live TV to Xbox consoles with an updated look to its Xbox Live service earlier this month. In addition to introducing the Metro-style look to Xbox, it also let customers of Verizon’s Fios cable television service choose from 26 different live TV channels–Comedy Central, HBO, and Nickelodeon. A handful of other partners are offering live programming through Xbox as well.

That’s clearly just the start for Microsoft. The company is moving toward the goal of getting consumers to fire up their Xbox whenever they flip on their TVs, not just when they want to play a game. Next year will see more live television content come to Xbox Live. It’s a foundation that Microsoft will build out as it readies the next version of the Xbox console, something a source on the Xbox team says will happen in 2013.

3. Windows Phone: We’re No. 3

It may be a measure of the decade-long struggle to succeed in mobile telephony that, for Microsoft, a victory would be grabbing the third place spot in terms of smartphone market share for its Windows Phone software. While the company has wrestled to arrive at a winning formula, rivals Apple and Google have introduced mobile-phone operating systems that have seized business that Microsoft had hoped to grab.

Microsoft rebooted its phone effort at the end of last year, introducing a passel of new phones from partners running its brand new operating system, Windows Phone 7. The slick-looking software, refreshed in September with an update dubbed Mango, has won plaudits from reviewers for its animation and app integration.

While the technology is catching up with rivals, Windows Phone’s market share hasn’t. According to market research firm Gartner, just 1.5 percent of the smartphones worldwide run Microsoft’s operating system. And rivals aren’t standing still. Apple’s new iPhone 4S has outsold every other mobile phone since its debut in October. And despite the market fragmentation of Google’s Android, with different handset manufacturers running different versions of the mobile operating system, it continues to pull ahead in the marketplace.

There’s little doubt that Windows Phone share will grow, if only because of the marketing push Microsoft and partners, particularly Nokia, will make, coupled with the tiny toehold it currently has. But it’s most likely to grab customers from Research In Motion’s foundering Blackberry business rather than established Apple and Google customers.

4. Patent litigation aggressor

The ground Microsoft hasn’t been able to take away from Android in the marketplace may well be covered by the revenue it’s able to generate through the threat of litigation. The software giant has persuaded several handset makers–including HTCWistron, and Compal— to pay it a vig for each Android device they sell to settle allegations that the mobile operating system violates Microsoft’s patents.

The Android device makers that don’t pay? Microsoft’s taking them to court. Two high profile cases will move toward resolution next year– Microsoft’s suit against Barnes & Noble, whose Nook e-reader runs Android, and a separate suit against Motorola. (Google is in the process of acquiring Motorola Mobility.)

The tactic has proven so successful that in 2011, Microsoft started collecting fees from companies that make devices running Google’s Chrome operating system as well, including Acer and ViewSonic. Expect Microsoft to continue to press device makers that use its rival’s technology. Likewise, count on those manufacturers, particularly the smaller ones, to pay up rather than face Microsoft in the courthouse.

5. Growing search through social

Like the mobile-phone business, Microsoft has bounced from one strategy to the next in a bid to be more relevant in Internet search. It’s re-branded its search engine a few times, added key partners, and cycled through senior executives, and still significantly trails market leader Google.

There’s one Microsoft partnership that could start to pay off in 2012, and it’s not the deal to handle search queries from Yahoo. It’s Microsoft’s deal with Facebook. In May, Microsoft beganincluding recommendations from Facebook friends into its Bing search engine, creating customized results by elevating the ones that receive a “like” from someone in the searcher’s Facebook network. So when someone is looking for a Thai restaurant in Seattle, for example, a spot that earned a like from a Facebook friend will rise in that person’s particular search rankings.

Google is on to the same formula too, creating its Google+ social network to infuse its search results with customized answers to Web surfer queries. But in social networking, Facebook remains king. Using Facebook “likes” are just the first step. Microsoft clearly plans to add more social signals to Bing in 2012. And while that won’t topple Google, it does offer the opportunity to grab a large slice of the search business by providing more relevant results.