The speech team finally signed off on Vista, which means after exhaustive testing we don't know of any issues that stand in the way of our users productively using speech. Of course, we're one of many teams, so this doesn't mean Vista is ready to ship (yet) but we're extremely close. I'm running the latest bits on my Toshiba Tablet M200 and it sings: it's amazing what kind of things you can still do even on a relatively old (2 1/2 yr old) laptop. Besides speech recognition (of course) I have the new graphic drivers and the wonderful aero interface.
So this is good news. First that a piece is done. Second that even old hardware is supporting Windows Vista - well not so news after all. I too have a Toshiba M200 here and had Windows Vista running with Aero Glass UI. This is good to show to people thinking that Windows Vista will always require new hardware.
The only question really is, will manufacturers release new drivers for the old hardware we have around?
The Zune is a media player device with 30GB (gigabytes) of storage space, 3" colour display and with wireless networking capabilities. The Zune Website is now live, and you will find lots of information there.
With the device comes a new on-line music store, where you will be able to purchase your songs, with DRM of course.
But even with DRM, there's an interesting twist: using the wireless capabilities you can "beam" any music from your device to a friend's device. Create your own mini-community! Share your media! Let the media be free!
There are limits though: a friend can only play a shared song 3 times in 3 days, after which he must buy the song to continue using it. Fair enough.
And a fineprint caught my attention today: "Recipients cannot re-send music that they have received via the sharing feature." This can't be right. How can they expect a viral thing to happen if the "virus DNA" can only be transferred once?
Anyway, you can have your own content there too. the Zune software can import audio files in unprotected .WMA, MP3, AAC; photos in JPEG; and videos in .WMV, MPEG-4, H.264. So all is not lost, yet.
As usual, Microsoft (and other consumer electronics companies) started thinking of U.S. only. The Zune won't be available elsewhere for a while, and unlike Apple iTunes store, the Zune store does not seem to be available outside the U.S. for a while. Reports come in that Microsoft UK have no idea of who their music store partner is going to be, so things will be slow outside the North American market.
Also, MSN Music is closing doors this 14th November, being replaced by the Zune store:
Beginning November 14th, 2006, MSN Music will no longer offer music downloads through the MSN Music store. The "Buy" buttons that you are used to seeing on the MSN Music album and artist pages will change to links that connect you to Zune and Real Rhapsody. See below for information regarding how this change will impact your MSN Music account.
And the recently launched Urge (a partnership between Microsoft and MTV) doesn't seem to be getting any exposure either.
So, what happens with the Windows Mobile Portable Media Center (PMC) now? The supporting MSN Music store is gone. You will have to supply your own content or rely on third party suppliers. If they don't migrate to Zune as well.
Communities are being built around the new device. Check Zune Thoughts and the virtual Zune User Group for detailed content and discussions.
Still, would I consider a Zune? Hmmm. Yes. The geek in me is asking for one. To replace my aging PMC. Will it be a rival for the Apple ipod? Only time will tell.
Some of our Geekzone users around here tried the Vodafone vodem USB device to connect to Vodafone's HSDPA cellular data network with their Windows Vista tablet PC and laptops, and it simply didn't work.
Today I got an official reply from Vodafone New Zealand regarding this issue. The response is
The VMC software for Vista is being developed globally. I can’t give you an exact date for delivery, but it is in development. The upgrade will be available for download from www.vodafone.co.nz. You can register for software updates online.
Microsoft Windows Vista is very close. Consumers won't see it until 2007, but enteprise IT is already planning deployments. I know of at least two large deployment projects in New Zealand. Also Windows Vista will be available to MSDN subscribers seven days after the RTM. So it is possible the final version can be used by business customers and developers as early is the first week of December 2006.
So I guess this settles the question, at least on this software.
The thing was that all services required you to use a Web browser to access the information. But we all know there are more mobile phones in the world than computers. So why not use those devices? The missing element was "voice". Voice activated services, such as text-to-speech and speech recognition are the key to access unified messaging services.
My interest on this subject was mainly because of some of the projects the company I was working for, Unisys, had in progress. Those included voice messaging, unified voice messaging, voicexml etc. I even wrote a sms-to-landline service and our team was involved in deploying a flat menu-based voice mail service. Alas those are things that run on mainframe hardware.
A few years later, I am still curious about those things. Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 now provides an unified messaging paradigm (I wrote about it here and here), but not all companies or small businesses run Microsoft Exchange Server.
Today I got a tip about an interesting service, called ifbyphone. I registered to the free trial using my SkypeIn number in San Francisco (you can register from anywhere, but some services seem to be only available in the U.S.) and gave it a work out.
Ok, the flash introduction is a bit cheesy. But you can go over that. The registration requires a 10 digit number, which must map to a U.S number (hence using my SkypeIn number instead of my New Zealand number) and it's painless. You will be automatically assigned an e-mail address within the @ifbyphone.com domain, with webmail access.
You can configure other external e-mail addresses with both POP3 and IMAP server types supported. The service allows you to call the access number and be automatically identified (if you don't block the Caller ID). After entering a PIN you have access to e-mail, headline news, weather alerts, reminders, notes, even RSS feeds you configure into your account.
You can press a menu option number on your keypad at any time, or simply say a command. Speech recognition is vey good, even with my funny accent.
An interesting feature is the e-mail keyword monitoring. You can setup the service to check your mailbox(es) and call your number if an e-mail arrives with any of the keywords. I tried this and it really works. Nice.
The service still needs a bit of polishing. Like some of the live menus play different voices (male and female). I'd like to have all a single voice style, perhaps being able to select via a menu to have one or another? Also all the menus are a bit confusing, but once you find your way around, it's ok.
Of course you can have some of these features if you use a Pocket PC and a program such a Fonix Voice Central. But then you are not using a simple mobile phone.
So there you go. It's what I was looking for, five years ago. Live now.
On Google Maps (50° 0´38.20"N 110° 6´48.32"W). That's in Canada!
Yes, I know about Good Sync, but I want something that works over the Internet.
After the event I had a meeting with Vodafone New Zealand and Palm. Dion Knill (Vodafone, Business Terminals) and Geoff Anson (Palm, Sales Director) gave me details on some of the work the companies are doing together. All will be revealed soon, but until then, here are some interesting facts I gathered from the meeting:
- Vodafone New Zealand is bringing 16 new "Handheld Business Devices" (HBD) soon, 8 of these being Windows Mobile devices, the rest are Symbian devices. All come with Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync capabilities.
- Palm commisioned a study which showed the uptake of some common activities, before and after users moved to a Treo smartphone: 93% of users browse the Internet on the handheld device, against only 20% who used to do it with their previous device. SMS usage also increased from 52% to 87% and e-mail utilisation grew from 15% to 93%.
- Vodafone New Zealand is offering an one hour "Mobile Mentor" session when companies purchase any of the HBD with a business plan. Dion told me this helped improve the understanding on how these devices work, why use them and how to do it better.
- Vodafone New Zealand is running a "try and buy" programme for qualified customers. You use one of the HBD for a few weeks and then decide to keep it or return it. Apparently the "keep" rates are as high as 85%. How do you know if you are a "qualified" customer? Your account manager will let you know.
There you go. Some interesting mobility facts. More on this later.
One of most interesting things in all those series was the soundtrack. I recommend you visit the official website for Age of Empires III and check the soundtrack accompanying The WarChiefs. It's really cool music. The visual is great, and if you visit the site you can watch the video trailer. As usual great production!
This time gamers will engage in epic warfare in the Americas where they will lead native American civilizations (Sioux, Iriquois and Aztecs) to expand their empire and fight for control of the Americas.
Other game just released here in New Zealand is the Microsoft Flight Simulator X. For you guys who like fliying, this is a must. Check this screenshot:
By the way, if you want some good posts about gaming in general, check geekpulp.
My plan is to fly in and out the same day. Unfortunately I will be arriving about 9:30am in Auckland, so I am going to miss the keynote speaker, Hon David Cunliffe, Minister for Communications and Information Technology, and the session with Andrew Seybold.
I am just looking at the stands layout, and noticed that both Telecom New Zealand and Vodafone New Zealand are not listed. Does it mean they won't be there at all?
Also since the organisation has changed from "New Zealand Wireless Forum" to "New Zealand Wireless and Broadband Forum" I am intrigued for the lack of presence of our local ISPs. The main appearance is from technology providers and service integrators.
Where are the broadband (wired and wireless) providers?
If you are planning to attend the Convergence Oceania 2006 event in Auckland, please ping me, and let's have a chat.
I also just received an e-mail invitation to the Connectivity 06, happening 21 - 22 November 2006 in the Christchurch Convention Centre.
This is its third year and the organisation claims it is one of New Zealand’s top trade shows for electronics and software companies. The schedule of events includes trade exhibits from 50 companies from thoughout Australasia, product demonstrations, industry cocktail function, keynote speaker presentations, and lots of networking opportunities.
Registration for business visitors to the trade show are now being taken through the event’s website at www.esconnectivity.org.nz.
It's a shame I won't be there - great opportunity but my monthly travel budget is not that large, and I have already commited with the tickets to the Auckland show. And I going to miss meeting Chiefie, one of the Geekzone moderators once again.
I have 10 invitations for the MSN Soapbox beta program. If you want to join the fun, leave a comment here. Make sure to use a valid Live ID (Passport account) as your e-mail when posting the comment. No need to post the e-mail, just use it in the appropriate field in the comment section below.