A Warm welcome to a late comer, will they stay long

Here's a warm welcome to the late comer to the party. We have tried to get in touch with Microsoft, but they have not really responded, seems that they are getting as corporate about things as Apple is. The only difference is that Apple has the support of a new breed of developers, the masses, where as Microsoft has the support of the enterprise developers.
When one mentions Office, how can Microsoft be missing from the invite, unless it was by the American President to all the key IT leaders in Corporate America.
( http://www.google.com.au/search?q=obama+did+not+invite+steve+balmer&ie=utf-8 Australian Mac App Store Link)

Microsoft is synonymous with Office. So with the theme of Office and Productivity, Microsoft did have to feature. Despite our attempts as mentioned earlier, they have not responded to participate in the reviews or even extend the courtesy to respond.

However, with the theme from last month lingering on of Mobile/Game development I did get my hands on a Windows Phone 7 from a close source for testing, It's a Samsung Taylor WP7 phone, As a developer and an avid admirer of all things Apple (from the days in my previous life as a Microsoft Enterprise Developer) I had to try to see what I can do with a Windows Phone 7, the first thing that I tried is to connect it to the iMac, (Like I wanted to do with the Kinect, mentioned in an earlier post) well, It required a sync software for the Mac, For Windows there was a software called ActiveSync that did a real good job when Microsoft launched it around the late 90's with PocketPC 2000 (my first touch based device in 2000 from Compaq - iPaq). Microsoft has a download on their website that allows for connecting to and working with the Windows Phone 7 device, download and install later...NADA!! Nothing! It did not work. Did not even find the connected phone.
A few days later, the Mac App Store had an app from Microsoft, it was the same program and of course, it is and most probably will always still be FREE (unlike how Apple has now decide to charge for Facetime), download it through the Mac App Store, and voila, it works. So for those that have a Mac and want to use Windows Phone 7, this is the App you need. (http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/windows-phone-7-connector/id415571499?mt=12)

In fact the software provides a nice interface, one that looks similar to the iOS/iTunes interface, It lists out the folders from iTunes on the side (However it is crippled in many ways as it requires Zune Music services for full functionality) The last folder lists out all the files available on the device that and the nice UI which tells you about the space free and used on the device is what you can achieve. Tried to copy an MP3 file over to the phone but it failed, it could only be synched with iTunes. Apple allows drag drop of files on the iPhone if I choose not to sync my iPhone. Managing music should be as easy as on a Flash Drive, after all it is not rocket Science, just some entertainment that needs to be refreshed on and off. The music cannot be played when the device is connected to the Mac, well I give up on this quality of Music Player. It brings me no joy with these kind of restrictions. I understand the DRM issues, but not allowing playback if the device is connected for Charging or while developing, is purely insane.

From a developers point of view, Mac is not the right Box to develop for Windows Phone 7, a proper Windows Box with Zune Media Services/Player is required. So a virtual windows box is required if anything serious is warranted out of this device.

"What can the Windows Phone 7 do? Is it any good, is it faster, will it be a kick ass phone? IF Nokia went ahead with it, it must be good." These are some of the questions that I have heard from people. The first thing that strikes me odd about the phone is the locked screen, It is a wallpaper with the date and time on it. The only direction it will move is up, which is not really clear to any user, when I handed the phone to one academic to try, he went berserk swiping in all directions till he managed to get the screen swiped up.

Then comes the Microsoft magic of Metro UI, the tiles based interface, this is quite good In fact this is more like a speed-dial of apps like Outlook, IE, AddressBook, Phone, Calander, etc (Similar to the first page that is set by default on iPhones)

There is a small arrow that keeps animating itself indicating that it can be clicked for more actions, (first signs of intuitiveness) This takes you to a list of all apps on the phone, which is in some ways good and in many ways not so good. The list can be long and managing by scrolling through it is not exactly what I would want to do. When Apple released the folders, it was so good, now I need Folders for Folders :(

Click on the app and the rest of the list items spin away in 3D leaving this one behind (The magic of Silverlight - Microsoft Flash). Now since this is a loaner phone and I just setup my Hotmail account (Microsoft and Hotmail, like Apple and MobileMe) which instantly downloaded the contacts in my Address Book on Hotmail and their pictures and set them up as contacts on the phone. The emails were downloaded via the WiFi connection. The thing that really intrigued me was the Office suite, now Office is not new to the Microsoft devices, PocketPC had it, WindowsMobile had it, The version of Office and the way it is managed it worthy of a mention. Excel for WP7 is as featured as Excel for the PC's would be, it has the whole suite of formulas and functions, formatting as required.

The interface is done quite well, it is responsive and perhaps this is what gives the impression of the Windows Phone 7 being a faster phone. In many instances disjoint squares popping up or down on my screen providing me with more information was not a pretty sight, Minimal is fine, but there needs to be a better windowing to these popups to make them look like a add-on not something that just shot out of the app when it hiccuped.

On the device there are more buttons that one could require (I did mention I am more at ease with the iPhone type device) There is a On/Off button, a Camera button, three physical buttons the Back, Menu and Search and the ringer buttons.

While working with an app, you have to remember that the back button will take you to a screen previous to the current one, I guess I prefer Apple's Method of a navigation Bar with a software back button (if required).

I did want to talk about the Office suite available on Windows Phone 7, it is a bit disappointing that despite having done such a good port of Excel to Silverlight and having a full hi-res touch screen, it is not possible to select a section of rows and columns on the screen, (maybe that has to do with the new update where the Copy/Paste functionality is introduced)

On another note, I wanted to mention about Office for the Mac 2011, A couple of years ago when I got my MacBookPro, I had to go out and buy Office 2008 which was the worst investment ever. It was a version that Microsoft just did not get right, they messed it up so bad that I had two minds about using Microsoft Office on a Mac anymore. This year around, with the release of Office 2011, Microsoft have done a turn around. They have made available one of the best looking and feeling product in fact it is better than the Windows version of Office 2010.

The best move by Microsoft was to get rid of Entourage and introduce Microsoft Outlook for Mac Users. However things are always done half either to leave a market for 3rd Party developers and partners or just out of sheer laziness. Microsoft Outlook 2011 does not work with OST files, for a person that spend a decade managing and developing a workflow on Exchange apart from other things, that is horrible. I ported a PST file from office 2007/2010 version to Office 2011, it did take the text across but the attachments are all missing. This has to be just plain oversight on their part.

There were also some other issues like on the 27"iMac running a PowerPoint presentation is a bit buggy it crashes. There is no Powerpoint Canvas (Introduced with Office 2007 and only for Windows versions) For Excel, there are some new inline graphing options like sparklines (which were managed till date only by 3rd party add-ins)

The only thing that the Microsoft Team need to do now, is port Visio over to the Mac. Omni Graffle is good and does the task but Visio has some really nice clip-art and graphics that make Network Diagrams stand out.

This review has turned out to be more of a rant than a review as the direction that Microsoft is taking is a bit strange, at one end they want developers to like their platforms and start developing for their devices and at the same time, they have first killed Visual Basic (exists in Visual Basic for Applications) then introduced the DotNet framework, which is a good thing, but makes windows seem to me like a Java virtual machine. Everytime that Microsoft releases a new software, they do some really cool stuff but they never post that code or allow/provide the users to use that. When ribbons were introduced by Microsoft, there were third party developers that made ActiveX or component versions of Ribbons available for development. On the other hand, when Apple introduce something, they put it out in the guidelines for interface design and expect that the users follow that (the only exception is the horrible placing of the iTunes chrome buttons, now vertical) Apart from the UI design issues, Microsoft has changed and made it near impossible to work with their development tools. Expression Blend and Visual Studio work well together, which is a good thing but then the overheads of managing two resource hogs in memory is not exactly productivity. Lastly, with Silverlight, the language of choice is supposedly C# or VisualBasic.Net but in reality it is XAML. You can write a fully featured app in XAML without writing a single line of code. This is good news, but for an old developer like me that started and loved Microsoft for the simplicity of Double Click the control to invoke the code editor, not knowing where to write the code or struggling with an IDE is not good. When I started with xCode, I was wondering why the Interface Builder did not do anything like code behind, now with xCode4, Apple is moving towards a unified system, where as Microsoft is moving away from what they had and what makes it easy to use to a more difficult system.

With Windows Phone 7, the social media is abuzz with information on how Microsoft is happy to allow their employees to put apps on the marketplace and that 90% of the apps on the Marketplace are created by Microsoft Employees not developers. There is a lot of push to the student community and casual developers to adapt to this, the tools are made available freely, the only catch is when you want to upload an app, you need to register, in fact if you find a contact at Microsoft, you could even get a Ticket (this will allow you to upload your apps) You must also have known that Windows Phone 7 run Silverlight Apps, XNA Apps and HTML5 apps. This in plain words would mean it supports FLASH - Silverlight, WebApps - HTML5 and XNA - DirectX/XBOX Live

So in an attempt to piece together this fragmented rant about Microsoft and the questions that people had about WP7, here's my take,

1. With Nokia, Microsoft have a dedicated hardware supply chain, like Apple have for themselves. This shall provide them with the possibility to penetrate markets that were untapped by any other handset manufacturer, Nokia has one of the best supply chains in the world like Coca Cola.

2. The phone seems fast, as the interface is minimal and runs flash, it is a shame that the same Silverlight when run on a very powerful computer does not perform to even half the speed.

3. Yes, it looks slick and nice, but the novelty will soon wear off. The WP7 is not exactly a looker when it comes to the UI and there are basic Human Interaction Issues with the way the interface has been setup. Microsoft needs to revisit this one again

4. What can the phone do?
It can do a lot of things for you. Despite the fragmentation caused by the vendors, the core specs of the device are the same.
a. Music Player - The phone is a a Zune Music player, it has a similar relationship as the iPod has to the iPhone.
b. Productivity - The phone has Microsoft Office built in to it, which translates to no more "Documents to Go" or other variants and this version works well, very well. However with the iPhone4 and iPad using the TV Out, presentations can be projected on to a large screen/projector, with the WP7, I am yet to hear of such an announcement.
c. Contacts and Calendaring are redone from the ground up and do a good job, but somewhere the minimal interface started to wear me down, I guess like the taste/flavour of steak is in the fat, if you have a low fat steak, you are better off having a piece of cardboard, It wouldn't taste any different.
d. Camera - The unit that I had was a 5MP camera and a powerful flash, it is a bit strange how the Camera button works, it synchronises the phone when connected, but takes pictures when not connected. I wanted to take pictures while the phone was connected, unfortunately I cannot.
e. GPS - With both the WP7 and the iPhone polling for my current location from my Home Office, I found that Apple was dot on the mark where I was on the house, where as the Microsoft GPS was jumping between the blocks.
f. Games - The good thing about the Windows Marketplace is the ability to download an App in trial mode before deciding to purchase it.
g. THe only thing that I really lpove about the Windows Phone 7 Interface that make s it seems so amazing is the Panorama App, it is so cool to shift between columns of data with the background scrolling slightly. I guess I might actually use it as a parallax scroll in some of my apps soon.

Here are some pictures of the Windows Phone 7 running a few apps, the Web Browser was strange, it started off with rendering this reviewme site properly and then on completing the load, it made all the panels transparent rendering it impossible to read. (images taken with an iPhone4 in poor lighting conditions)


In the past, the vision that Bill Gates held for Microsoft were amazing, he was ahead of his times at each and every cornet of innovation, the products were not followed up like in the case of what Apple does. Now with Bill away from the helm, it can be seen right from the most powerful man in America/World the liking that people have for Steve Balmer.

Microsoft shall remain as a company with innovation and products, where as Apple shall remind us all of a company that went ahead to just make money and did a good Job out of it.

The culture that is creeping into the upper echelons of Microsoft are visible and for all to speculate. Microsoft is trying hard to woo developers, one things that we cannot stress enough to Microsoft is that maybe you are doing it wrong. Deep pockets do not necessarily mean deeper brains, I say that in regard to a horrible advert run by Microsoft when they were planning to promote the Web Development Kit add-on, A lot of money was spend on this campaign and they did to themselves what they did not want others to do. These ads must have been visible to developers or users on sites that had Code listings and MSDN. It mentioned "Do not make an Ass of yourself" - real mature of Microsoft...

Microsoft ( http://www.microsoft.com )