Windows Phone 8, Kinect for Windows SDK Powered Microsoft's Week

Microsoft's week included a swipe at Google, the next version of Office in technical preview, and some leaks about Windows Phone 8.

Microsoft€™s week saw the release of its Kinect for Windows SDK (software development kit) and Runtime, a very public broadside at Google over the latter€™s privacy policy, the next version of Office entering technical preview, and the unexpected revelation of some crucial Windows Phone 8 details.

Not exactly the slowest, in other words.

Code-named Office 15, the next version of Microsoft€™s popular productivity software is being distributed to a select group of testers; a public beta will reportedly arrive this summer. It is an ambitious project, expected to incorporate the cloud in a big way.

€œFor the first time ever, we will simultaneously update our cloud services, servers, and mobile and PC clients for Office, Office 365, Exchange, SharePoint, Lync, Project, and Visio,€ PJ Hough, CVP of development for Microsoft€™s Office Division, wrote in a Jan. 30 corporate blog posting. €œQuite simply, Office 15 will help people work, collaborate, and communicate smarter and faster than ever before.€

Despite its position as a key revenue driver for Microsoft, Office faces many of the same challenges as Windows. With users becoming increasingly mobile and relying more on tablets and smartphones in place of traditional PCs, software once meant for desktops and bulkier laptops needs to evolve to meet that changing paradigm. Windows 8, due later in 2012, will address that shift with a start screen of big, colorful tiles linked to applications€”the better to operate on both tablets and traditional PCs.

Given its variety of applications, Office faces a different sort of challenge altogether. According to a Jan. 31 report on The Verge, Office 15€™s first step will be to make core Office applications more touch-friendly. Microsoft is building OneNote and Lync as €œMetro-style applications,€ the publication claimed, while suggesting via an unnamed source that €œplans to build a true Metro-style Windows 8 version of Office have been pushed back€ due to time constraints. Presumably, that means Office 15 will first appear only as a desktop app, with the Metro one appearing at an unannounced later date.

As it progresses into the cloud and mobility, one of Microsoft€™s biggest opponents is Google. This is why, as Google became embroiled in a privacy controversy, Microsoft wasted no time in firing off some choice hits.

Starting March 1, Google will fold 60 of its 70 existing product-privacy policies into one blanket policy. Users cannot opt out. Under the auspices of its new policy, the search-engine giant will also treat any user with a Google account who signs into search, YouTube, Gmail or its other services as the same individual across those services€”and it might share data between those services.

Privacy advocates have argued that Google€™s latest moves trample user privacy rights, all in the name of allowing the company to better compete with Facebook for advertising dollars. Google has pushed back, arguing that its new policy is more transparent. €œOur approach to privacy has not changed,€ Pablo Chavez, Google€™s director of public policy, argued in a Jan. 30 letter to Congress. €œGoogle users continue to have choice and control.€

Microsoft€™s response came through corporate channels.

€œThe changes Google announced make it harder, not easier, for people to stay in control of their own information,€ Frank X. Shaw, corporate vice president of corporate communications for Microsoft, wrote in a Feb. 1 posting on The Official Microsoft Blog. €œIf the news about Google has you feeling frustrated, or concerned, or both, we have some great, award-winning alternatives.€

Those alternatives apparently include Hotmail, Bing, the cloud-based Office 365 and Internet Explorer. In addition, Microsoft is running advertisements advocating these services in major newspapers.

This week, Microsoft also made the version 1.0 of its Kinect for Windows SDK and runtime available for download.

€œLooking towards the future, we are planning on releasing updates to our SDK and runtime 2-3 times per year,€ Craig Eisler, general manager of Kinect for Windows, wrote in a Jan. 31 posting on the Kinect for Windows Blog. €œWe are continuing to invest in programs like our Testing and Adoption Program and the Kinect Accelerator, and will work to create new programs in the future.€

Microsoft€™s Kinect team has tweaked the SDK and runtime since the Beta 2 released in late 2011. Improvements include support for up to four Kinect sensors plugged into the same PC, an ability to see objects as close as 40 cm from the front of the Kinect device, a variety of API updates and enhancements, and the latest Microsoft Speech components.

That was intentional, but Microsoft this week also had to deal with a very unintentional revelation: some early details of Windows Phone 8. On Feb. 2, the blog posted details of the upcoming mobile-operating system, claiming it€™d obtained them from a Microsoft-produced video meant for Nokia executives. Later that day, Paul Thurrott confirmed many of those details in a posting on his Supersite for Windows.

Pocketnow paraphrases Belfiore as saying that Windows Phone 8 will €œuse many of the same components of Windows 8€ and that areas of heavy overlap include €œkernel, networking stacks, security, and multimedia support.€ Developers will apparently have the ability to reuse massive chunks of code when €œporting an app from desktop to phone.€

In his own Feb. 2 posting, Thurrott suggested that Windows Phone 8 €œwill be based on the Windows 8 kernel and not on Windows CE as are current versions.€ Nonetheless, apps developed for Windows Phone Mango (the current version) will apparently continue to play well on the upgraded platform.

According to both sources, Windows Phone 8 will include the same 128-bit, full-disk BitLocker encryption that currently runs on Windows€”the better to appeal to businesses possibly looking for an alternative platform to Research In Motion€™s BlackBerry, Apple€™s iOS or Google Android. A €œData Smart€ feature will give WiFi hotspots priority over using the smartphone€™s cellular connection, in turn reducing data usage.

Microsoft has launched a renewed push for Windows Phone, centered on the Mango software update and new devices from Nokia and other manufacturers. If Windows Phone 8 makes its debut later in 2012, it could help accelerate that strategy. By then, of course, the company will have Windows 8 and (possibly) the next version of Office out in the marketplace. That could make 2013 very interesting.

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