Kinect, Windows Phone 7, Silverlight Controversy Marked Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week involved the launch of the Kinect hands-free controller for Xbox, an update on Windows Phone 7 sales and some clearing of the Silverlight controversy.

Microsoft's week centered on its newest attempt to dominate the living room: Kinect, the hands-free controller for the Xbox 360, hit store shelves Nov. 4, and early reports indicate robust sales.

Based on that early retail movement, along with preorders and audience awareness, Microsoft raised its estimate of Kinect sales for the quarter from 3 million to 5 million. Formerly code-named "Project Natal," Kinect uses a 3D camera to track 48 points of movement on the user's body, and then translates those movements to an on-screen avatar. Microsoft hopes that a bestselling Kinect will extend the life cycle of the 5-year-old Xbox 360, and attract the same casual gamers who made the Nintendo Wii a hit.

Kinect also offers Microsoft the chance to brighten its somewhat spotty consumer-devices record. Although the Xbox franchise generates revenue, products such as the Kin phones and the Zune HD either failed to attract a mass audience or else outright crashed and burned.

Microsoft's plans for 3D-sensing technology likely extend beyond the gaming realm. The company recently agreed to acquire Canesta, which makes 3D-image sensor chips and camera modules that can be embedded in everything from laptops to vehicle dashboards. With that technology installed, those products can offer gesture-driven natural user interfaces, similar to what already exists with Kinect.

"There is little question that within the next decade we will see natural user interfaces become common for input across all devices," Jim Spare, president and CEO of Canesta, wrote in an Oct. 29 statement posted on the startup's Website. "With Microsoft's breadth of scope from enterprise to consumer products, market presence, and commitment to NUI, we are confident that our technology will see wide adoption across many applications that embody the full potential of the technology."

Microsoft can also perhaps take heart in reports indicating Windows Phone 7, its new smartphone platform, is selling well in international markets. DigiTimes reported in a Nov. 3 article that sales of HTC-build Windows Phone 7 smartphones are "better than expected" in Europe and Australia, while stocks of the HTC HD 7 and HTC 7 Mozart apparently sold out in Germany. In addition, U.K. retailers have reported limited supplies of the devices.

"Early supporters of the new operating system such as South Korea's Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics are also experiencing rising demand from carriers," the article suggested, indicating the sales information came from unnamed "Taiwan-based handset makers."

Unlike the Apple iPhone and Google Android, which rely on gridlike screens of individual apps, Windows Phone 7 aggregates Web content and applications into six subject-specific "Hubs," such as "People" and "Games." Microsoft hopes the phones will prove popular enough to reverse its eroding share of the smartphone market.

Microsoft is reportedly willing to spend hundreds of millions in marketing dollars to ensure the smartphones have a decent chance at success. Inevitably, the company is also engaging in promotional deals such as free app giveaways.

Developers represented another area of focus for Microsoft this past week, as it moved to clear up controversy surrounding its support of Silverlight. Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business, wrote a Nov. 1 posting on the Silverlight Team Blog to assure developers that the company is standing behind the platform.

Muglia felt compelled to write the post after an interview with ZDNet at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, which ran Oct. 28-29 in Redmond, Wash. Speaking to Mary Jo Foley, he reportedly said, "Our strategy has shifted," and that, while Silverlight would remain a sort of cross-platform glue for developers, "HTML is the only true cross-platform solution for everything, including [Apple's] iOS platform." Although that interview's next paragraph featured Muglia assuring readers that the next version of Silverlight is indeed in the works, his words nonetheless set off debate over whether Microsoft would curtail the platform.

"During the conference, I gave an interview where, among other things, I talked about the great work we're doing with Silverlight-in particular, support for Windows Phone 7, which we featured heavily at the conference," Muglia wrote. "I understand that what I said surprised people and caused controversy and confusion."

Silverlight remains "very important and strategic to Microsoft," he continued. "We're working hard on the next release of Silverlight, and it will continue to be cross-browser and cross-platform, and run on Windows and Mac."

Just to ram the point home, he added: "The purpose of Silverlight has never been to replace HTML, but rather to do the things that HTML [and other technologies] can't, and to do so in a way that's easy for developers to use."

With regard to the enterprise, Microsoft also unveiled the final names and pricing for its new generation of Small Business Servers, which attempt to walk the line between on-premises and cloud functionality.