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10/28/2008
01:41 PM
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Microsoft PDC Day 2: Office, Windows, And Live Mesh

Today, Microsoft unveils Windows 7 and talks about the future of Office and Live Mesh. I'm watching the keynote, and will blog about it here. Will Windows 7 be better than Vista? Does Live Mesh matter? Read it here.

Today, Microsoft unveils Windows 7 and talks about the future of Office and Live Mesh. I'm watching the keynote, and will blog about it here. Will Windows 7 be better than Vista? Does Live Mesh matter? Read it here.10:55 a.m. I've got to say that despite the cool demos, I was expecting more on Live Mesh. I thought Microsoft would show off one of its own apps (say, Office maybe?) that has been "meshified." Since it's a big app company itself, why doesn't Microsoft provide proof points of its own? Isn't Microsoft the ultimate "dog fooding" company, using its own technology? Then again, as I mentioned, the demos were cool, especially one shown by the BBC.

BBC showed off a Silverlight media player app, a version of the BBC iPlayer, that runs outside the browser. It can see all the user's devices that have Live Mesh installed, and can sync the media experience among devices. In the demo, that translated to a BBC exec pausing a video on the desktop, opening up the iPlayer on a mobile device, and automatically restarting the video from the pause point, all because that player information was synced between the computer and the phone. Another scenario allowed users to share a news feed that would show friends what movies and shows they are watching. It's clear Live Mesh is much more than just the file sharing many have made it out to be, but I'm interested in how Microsoft itself will use the technology and didn't hear anything about that today.

Update: Though they didn't mention it in the keynote or in my interview yesterday (why, I don't know), the Office Web apps take advantage of Live Mesh to sync content between two users collaborating on a document.

10:15 a.m. Everybody's got to have an API, even grocery stores. U.K.-based Tesco developed a Windows Presentation Foundation application for Windows 7 that allows customers to buy groceries from home. It can do things like scan a bar code via Webcam and use touch to drag cans of Coke from the screen to a virtual shopping cart as part of the shopping experience. It also has a developer API. This was one of the coolest demonstrations I've seen at this conference.

We're in the middle of developer news, and overall, developers in the audience seem pumped. They're clapping more than the audience has clapped throughout the conference, but that may well be expected, since after all this is a Microsoft developer conference. Two of the things the audience seemed to like the most were multimonitor support in Visual Studio 2010 and the fact that VS2010 will be built with WPF.

9:35 a.m. This hasn't come up in the keynote yet, but Office is coming to the Web, and vice versa. I got a briefing on this yesterday, but was sworn to secrecy until today. With Office 14 (no set release date), users will be able to access and do light editing of documents via a browser. They'll also be able to collaborate with one another in either the browser version or the on premises version of Office apps. It's clearly a response to Google Apps, but also an admission that we live in an era where real-time collaboration has become increasingly critical.

Office Online (or whatever it will be called) will be available as a subscription offering for business customers or through volume licensing and can even be hosted as a server app. Consumers will be able to access both a free and more robust subscription offering. A private technical preview will be available later this year.

Basically, the editing mode in the browser includes basic everyday features anyone would need to edit a document and uses the ribbon menus found in Office 2007. However, it's unclear how deep the collaboration features will run, and that leaves many questions unanswered. And since there's no release schedule beyond a scheduled limited private beta, I hesitate at this time to call Office-in-the-browser too much more than vaporware.

9:20 a.m. Windows VP Steven Sinofsky keeps harping on the better than Vista theme. Microsoft isn't exactly throwing Vista under a bridge, but there's no rah-rah Vista going on. He's laid out four things Microsoft's learned from Vista's problems: readiness of the ecosystem, the need to support standards, Vista's security model and "scenarios."

So, Windows 7 doesn't require developers or hardware makers to make any changes to Vista-ready apps and devices. Internet Explorer 8 will include more standards support. UAC gets an overhaul to make it less intrusive and more adjustible. And usage scenarios like setting up a home network become much easier. All in all, again, it's just step improvements.

9:05 a.m. Windows 7 is clearly an improvement on Windows Vista. The question is whether it's enough. More or less, Windows 7 looks a lot like a big service pack (albeit a decent one) rather than an entirely new operating system.

Here's the goods for users: a new taskbar is more flexible, allowing users to do things like manage windows from thumbnails or open recent documents from within the task bar itself. Mouse gestures can do things like set up windows side by side or anchor them to one side of the screen. Start-up and shutdown has been greatly accelerated. A new feature called "Device Stage" gives users a one-stop shop for everything the user can do on the device, so for example a device stage for a phone would show sync capabilities, the help file, and more. Gadgets can sit anywhere on the desktop. The Homegroup feature makes it much easier to set up a local network. Oh, and there's multitouch if you have a touch-sensitive monitor.

In short, nothing (except maybe touch, but that's already been announced) is earth-shattering, but Microsoft has clearly decided to focus heavily on user interface and options end users would actually use.

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