Home Business IT Business Telecommunications Microsoft on the attack for mindshare at REMIX

It might be a world awash in iPad stories and news, even as I type this on an iPad, but Microsoft's REMIX conference in Melbourne makes it clear: Microsoft isn't ceding the battle to anyone but is instead embarking on a massive attack.

 

It's day one of Microsoft's REMIX conference in Melbourne, one that takes some of the best elements of Microsoft's MIX event held in the US, remixes it up a bit, localises it and makes it more relevant to local developers.

The event is about to cloud computing and Azure, natural user interfaces, Windows Phone 7, Foxtel IPTV over Xbox, Tablet PCs, Silverlight, the ease of which developers can leverage all their existing MS dev knowledge to bring stunning apps to a multitude of modern platforms and plenty more, from HTML 5 and IE 9 to Visual Studio and Expressions.

The keynote kicked off with Microsoft's Australian developer evangelist, Michael Kordahi welcoming the sold-out room of conference goers to the event, and quickly segued into a brief presentation by Foxtel's Patrick Delaney. Delaney spoke of an evolution in TV - a bit like the message from Google with its Google TV initiative, but naturally from a Foxtel (and Microsoft) perspective.

After all, Foxtel doesn't want you to buy a Google TV device or box when you could be a Foxtel subscriber instead, so how is the TV evolving as Foxtel sees it?

To start with, Delaney said that TV is more than a delivery medium. It's an "emotional experience", and if you can "deliver than emotional experience and bind it all together, then Foxtel is better off", as its initiatives help to create deeper and even more emotional experiences.

As the question as to whether there is a demise of TV, Delaney pointed to Masterchef - a cooking show - which no-one would have thought a few years ago could be the number 1 show in prime time "every night of the week", but which clearly is the case today. Delaney said that TV is adapting and the web is adapting, delivering deeper engagement all around.

It's also about giving people more control, and with 60% of 1.5 million households having a PVR (personal video recorder) of some sort, and with 800,000 of those being IP ready by December, "that really is giving people control" over their televisual experiences.

Delaney explained that the evolution had gone from broadcast, to satellites and cable, and now to [IPTV] set top boxes, with Foxtel being "device agnostic".

Delaney then spoke of how Foxtel was now available in Virgin Blue's planes, how Foxtel was first to deliver a 3D broadcast in Australia (of the soccer), and how Foxtel had delivered download services - with an interesting finding.

It turns out that most people do not want to watch movies on their PCs (aside from children who will happily watch a two hour movie on a small screen device), but rather on their TVs instead - which was one of the reasons why Foxtel and Microsoft did the deal to bring Foxtel to the Xbox 360.

He then explained that the idea of "snack TV" was "crap". People didn't want to watch snippets of, say, a Seinfeld ep - they want to watch the whole episode! Continued on page two, please read on!

 


 

One example of deeper engagement with viewers and users over Foxtel and Xbox was the "party mode", where avatars of different viewers, in their own homes, were "together" in a "party room", showing the movie or show on a "big screen" in that virtual room, and an audience that was virtually gathered in front to watch.

It's certainly different to "only" having your friends on IM, here you can see their avatars and it looks like it could be a more entertaining experience, but time will tell how successful the party room mode will be. We also heard about how young people watch less TV than older people, and how some shows, which wouldn't be hits on their own, are suddenly much more popular when packaged as part of a channel, with the "Lifestyle You" channel being an example.

Delaney said that some of these shows were "car crash TV" that, by themselves, weren't big ratings getters, but as part of Lifestyle You had delivered an "outrageously" successful new channel launch.

Delaney also spoke of the tablet experience and the 10 foot experience, talked of seeing lot of "cool stuff" that had failed with consumers, and how their were two business models in either owning content or subscribing to it, with the subscription model really now geared to take off thanks to cloud computing and the ability to deliver effectively whatever content you want to any device (well, in the future, at least).

There were lots of other stats and slides, but Foxtel's Patrick Delaney was certainly pumped about the future, not that you'd expect anything different, and clearly looked to be relishing any future Foxtel fight with Google TV or anyone else's soon-to-be-updated TV platform (and yes, Apple, that clearly means you, too).

After Patrick's presentation was over, Kordahi came back to the stage to give us a glimpse of a Microsoft/Foxtel future. We saw Kordahi talking with former Microsoft User Experience Evangelist, Shane Morris, and now CEO of his own user experience company, Automatic Studio, about Foxtel movies over a coffee - and a Microsoft Surface.

Although Kordahi was doing all the talking as part of the demo, we could see that the two were "having a discussion" over movies, with the movies and shows in question appearing on the Surface's, well, surface - based on Morris' preferences.

When Kordahi put down an HTC HD2 phone onto the Surface, out spilled a dial-pad which allowed Kordahi to enter in his phone number to receive details of the movies they had been talking about. Some of the movies also changed to reflect Kordahi's preferences, while still showing some of Morris'. One example was the Matt Damon movie, "The Informant", which Kordahi said he hadn't yet seen.

Tapping on the movie would bring up a trailer, and the info and options to record or download the movie could be simply moved over to the HTC HD2 screen. Kordahi also had a Windows Phone 7 on stage, which had a Foxtel app (clearly demonstrating the Windows Phone 7 platform will have plenty of apps to come by launch later this year), and we got to see a demo of how a future Foxtel app might work.

Continued on page three, please read on!

 


 

Kordahi and Morris took some boxing gloves and pretended to go to a fight called "The Contender".

With the Windows Phone 7 in hand, the Foxtel app knew from location services that the user was most likely at the boxing event, and seeing as the fight was going to be broadcast, if the user wanted to record it on their Foxtel box at home.

But more interesting was the ability for the app to display interesting info about the fighters and the boxing match - in real time, as the fight would be proceeding - while also giving users the ability to tap into a "live instant replay" feature of a 15 second rewind, something we saw Kordahi and Morris demonstrate.

Later on, we could see that a PC, Tablet PC and/or Foxtel-equipped Xbox (and presumably Windows Phone 7 devices with a Foxtel app too) could see a TV section that showed recorded content - and a section for the boxing match - one which would display the live instant replays viewed earlier.

Aside from one on-screen Tablet PC button-pressing hiccup that wouldn't press, the whole experience was very fluid, created in a very short time specifically for the demo we were seeing, and was an example not just of isolated "experiences" but was instead part of a "journey" that transcended individual devices and specific screens.

It was also a demonstration of a meaningful way for Foxtel to be involved in the entertainment experience beyond simply giving you the ability to remotely record shows, and pointed to a far more connected future with apps and technologies that were a far more invisible and natural part of our lives than many technologies are today.

Kordahi went through other demonstrations with the Top Model show, with another "app" that was Top Model specific, giving information relevant to the actual episode being watched, keeping a user more engaged with that particular show, rather than having their attention splintered by general web surfing - and all, of course, if that's what a user wanted to do.

Kordahi also explained that Windows Azure was in the background handling it all - the infrastructure, the scale, along with Silverlight handling a lot of the presentation layer.

At this point we learned that Silverlight is now on 60% of the world's PC base, showing significant growth with naturally more predicted to come - while also showing how far Microsoft has come in its own battle with Adobe's Flash.

Kordahi said that "Phone 7" is significant for developers who can leverage all of their Expression skills, Visual Studio, C#, XAML, etc etc" and that "you can download the tools for free", meaning that if you are an existing Microsoft developer, "you are already a Win Phone 7 developer", with the promise that "the tools will stay free".

We also learned, as previously mentioned, that the demo we saw was built in "just days" and built in the Win Phone 7 emulator, as the Win Phone 7 only arrived "4 days ago", to clearly demonstrate the power of Microsoft's dev platform.

Continued on page four, please read on!

 


 

Kordahi then said that "Microsoft marks the generation of new natural interface that devs can write to" and to "think about Surface as a starting point for thinking about how you should interact with technology".

He also said that it's "all the web" now, as even though many apps were rich clients running on a desktop or other device, they were richly interacting with data online - though port 80!

Kordahi finished this part of the presentation by explaining that "As devs we build destinations, awesome sites, what we saw was a step beyond that - what ms has archicted was a journey... Coffee table, movies, phones, movie info - there was no major switch from app to app, it was just a continuation of the journey... Do meaningful stuff across different devices, not just switch from screen to screen."

At this point the keynote couch session veered into a session with John Allsop of "Web Directions" who explained that HTML5 in the new AJAX, with the only quote I captured from his longer discussion with Kordahi being that "HTML5 is what you need to write in to target all platforms if you don't want to learn Silverlight or Objective c - the fact the web is still so 'primitive' is a strength."

We then saw a brief demo of IE 9, billed as Microsoft's "HTML5 release", seeing great performance, hardware based rendering, an Acid 3 score of 68 out of 100 (up from 50-something in the previous build of 8 weeks ago), a CSS 3 rating of 578 out of 578 tests, and Sunspider tests that showed a huge improvement over IE 8 and scores that were "comparable to other browsers" out there today.

We also learned that there are new builds of IE 9 every 8 weeks, with devs able to go to Microsoft's site to download a copy for dev and testing work - clearly the builds are meant for devs and not yet the general public (beyond those who love testing the latest stuff no matter what, presumably).

Microsoft data evangelist Graham Elliot then came onto the stage to explain data's new significance online, saying that it was a first class citizen on the web, showing us a very interesting demo of Microsoft's Live Labs "Pivot" technology in use at the Wine Cellars website, available from GetPivot.com, demonstrations of the Silverlight toolkit for Windows Phone 7 based apps, how projects could easily be handed over to Visual Studio and other dev things that clearly spoke to actual developers at a much greater depth than they did to me.

It all concludes on page five, please read on!

 


 

As you can expect at a Microsoft developer conference, we were told that it is a "really exciting time to be developing for windows phone" with "dev tools available free online and devices in the market by Christmas".

At the end of the presentation we were also reminded how REMIX was not meant to be the MIX conference in just two days, with all of the MIX content available for developers to view at www.visitmix.com, with volumes of content and exact info on how to build Windows Phone 7 apps and much, much, much more - something that MS devs will clearly appreciate, whether they were able to go to MIX or REMIX, or not.

So, despite many headlines being iPad based, and despite next week's headlines set to be all about the iPhone HD or 4G or iSteve or whatever Apple will call it, Microsoft has clearly been very, very busy, positioning itself with developers, with Surface and Windows Phone 7, with touch technologies, with IPTV and more.

Google, Apple and others have certainly made waves but the Microsoft juggernaut is on the march to stay as relevant as ever in the lives of consumers, developers and businesses, and from what was on show, it's all looking pretty damn good - despite the fact I am typing (and posting) this article on an iPad and seeing just how different an experience it is to a regular Windows PC.

Which, if you want to know in short (more detail is coming in a different article) - I am certainly missing my PC, Microsoft Word and all the muscle memory that two decades of Windows usage has me accustomed to, while at the same time relishing the challenge of using the iPad, Pages and BlogPress in an actual real working environment.

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is attending REMIX 10 in Melbourne as a guest of Microsoft.

Posted (and formatting initially borked) using BlogPress from my review iPad - fixed on a Windows 7 netbook (which I brought as a backup) on Firefox.

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

 

 

 

 

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