Harry Potter For Kinect Coming This Fall

Kinect Star Wars did really well for LucasArts. Despite being one of the most critically panned games of the decade, droves of people still bought it. In essence, it’s pretty much like the video game version of the Star Wars prequels. Warner Bros. is hoping to capitalize on that success with their own massive franchise that appeals to pre-teens and dumb parents who don’t know good games.

Warner Bros. Interactive has announced that Harry Potter for Kinect will be a thing coming this fall. It will be similar to Kinect Star Wars in that the game will be a collection of loosely tied together experiences that somehow is able to call itself a game. I expect that it will appeal to the same group of people who went absolutely gaga over Kinect Star Wars with the added audience of college freshmen who think playing Quidditch behind the library on a dustmaster 5000 makes them look cool.

The game does have a few good things going for it though. Unlike Kinect Star Wars which was just a random collection of events from the films and TV series (and dance-offs), Harry Potter for Kinect will take players through all eight films. In a move that should really excite some hardcore Potter fans, the game will scan your face into the game so that you can be a part of the magical wizard world of Harry Potter.

“Harry Potter for Kinect will engage Harry Potter fans old and new by bringing them into the wizarding world as truly active participants,” said Samantha Ryan, Senior Vice President, Production and Development, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “Kids and parents will enjoy recreating their favourite Harry Potter adventures, from flying a broomstick in a Quidditch match, to battling pixies and duelling other wizards.”

The game will diverge from letting you live out your own fantasy of being a wizard as players will also take control of characters from the films. The only activities mentioned so far in the game include visiting Ollivanders, choosing a house at Hogwarts, and fighting Voldemort in the final battle. The screenshots also show that players will be fighting the troll and pulling mandrakes from pots.

As any good Kinect game worth its salt should know, the real money maker comes in the form of mini-games. Harry Potter for Kinect will not be at a disadvantage as it promises numerous competitive mini-games for you to challenge your friends at. Here’s hoping we get an unforgivable curse duel that ends when one player successfully casts Avada Kedavra.

As with Kinect Star Wars, you can expect a game that appeals to a lot of people, but will probably be panned critically. It’s too early to tell though so maybe Warner Bros. will prove that this Kinect thing is pretty good after all.

European Court Rules on Microsoft’s EU Fines

European Court Rules on Microsofts EU Fines

Back in 2004 European regulators ordered Microsoft to provide market competitors with information critical to fair competition. Microsoft didn’t submit to the request and on March in 2004 they issued a fine for non-compliance.

The fine broke a new record for largest fine ever imposed, and regulators slapped Microsoft with a $1.1 billion penalty for taking advantage of their dominant position in the market.

Microsoft’s lawyers were in court last May arguing that the fines were excessive and undeserved. Next month on the 27th, the case will be back in court and awaiting a verdict. Lawyers for the EU claim that Microsoft took a gamble and lost and should be held accountable for the full amount of the fine.

The decision of the court will set a precedent for other companies challenging regulatory fines. Intel is also currently facing penalties in Europe for violating anti-trust laws. Their case dates back to 2009 where they were fined for using anti-competitive tactics to combat a smaller firm. We’ll be watching these cases closely. Check back for more news as the court date approaches.

Chrome Overtakes IE as the World’s Most Used Browser

The dethroning of Internet Explorer has been a long time coming. For years Microsoft’s browser sat at the top of the browser heap, stagnating and becoming bloated. First Netscape, and the Mozilla tried to take Internet Explorer down with good design, modulability, and other modern features. Those browsers never spread too far beyond a core of internet-savvy users, though.

When Google launched its Chrome browser in 2008, its focus was on speed. This aimed right at the weakness of the market’s large, slow browsers. Chrome’s ease of use, combined with its automatic updating features, gave the browser an edge and propelled it into the browser wars with a fury.

Now, Statcounter is showing that Chrome might have overtaken Internet Explorer for good. As seen above, Chrome has gained over a 10% higher share of the market since this time last year, and has done so at the expense of both Microsoft and Mozilla.

This comes at a time when Microsoft has actually improved Internet Explorer. Microsoft’s browser now has many of the features that Chrome and Firefox sport, and its newest version is faster than previous ones. Unfortunately, the company has a hard time getting users to upgrade to newer versions of the browser. Many IT departments don’t bother with the hassle of upgrading browsers on every employee’s computer. Also, many Internet Explorer users are less computer-savvy users who simply use the browser because it came with their Windows installation. Some people still use Internet Explorer 6, an outdated, unsupported browser that doesn’t work with much of the modern web. In fact, according to StatCounter, more people use Internet Explorer 6 than use Opera or Safari 5.1.

Take a look at StatCounter’s statistics below and see for yourself. StatCounter also keeps statistics on operating systems, search engines, social media, and more.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Browser Market Share

(StatCounter via The Next Web)

Kinect For Windows SDK 1.5 Released

Kinect For Windows SDK 1.5 Released

Kinect for Windows has been one of the coolest projects that Microsoft is personally involved with. Windows applications being built using Kinect continually impress me more so than any games that use Kinect on the Xbox 360. It speaks to the power of the Kinect platform as an interface.

With that being said, Microsoft has updated the Kinect for Windows SDK and Runtime to version 1.5. The updates adds a host new capabilities and tools to make building Kinect-powered programs easier. The updates range from new tools like Kinect Studio to new languages in Kinect’s speech recognition.

Starting with the new tools, developers can now play around with the above mentioned Kinect Studio. It allows developers to record and play back Kinect data. This should make testing easier since you don’t have to have the person perform the movements over and over again.

Microsoft has released a set of Human Interface Guidelines that detail best practices when creating Natural User Interfaces with Kinect. On a related note, the Face Tracking SDK is now available. It tracks head position, location of eyebrows, shape of the mouth and more.

The skeletal tracking capabilities have been greatly enhanced with this release. The biggest update is the addition of Seated Skeletal Tracking. One of the major problems with Kinect on Xbox 360 is that it can’t detect movement very well when the person is sitting down. With Kinect for Windows, it can now detect a 10-joint head/shoulders/arms skeletons while ignoring the leg and hip joints.

Skeletal Tracking has also been added to Near Mode. It supports Default and Seated tracking modes. The idea here is that Kinect can be used to track movement in applications that involve displays which people need to interact with on a personal level.

Performance has seen improvements with the mapping of a depth frame being sped up to five times from the last update. The Kinect device will also keep depth and color frames in sync with each other. The RGB image quality has also been increased with 640×480 now running at 30 FPS and YUV 640×480 running at 15 FPS.

Adding in a feature from Kinect for Xbox 360, it’s now easier to build applications that allow users to control 3D avatars. It does this by providing Joint Orientation information for the skeletons being tracked. The Joint Orientation is offered in two flavors – Hierarchical Rotation based on bone relationship or Absolute Orientation using Kinect Camera coordinates.

Kinect is also becoming more internationally minded with Microsoft releasing four new language for speech recognition – French, Spanish, Italian and Japanese. They also released new language packs to support different dialects based on region. This is especially important for English as Kinect has to contend with differences between the U.S., Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.

Finally, the Kinect for Windows hardware is now launching in Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. It will be available in 15 additional countries (mostly European) in the following months. Microsoft is a global company so I wouldn’t be surprised if they had Kinect for Windows hardware in every major country by the end of next year.

It really is exciting to see Kinect for Windows being supported like this. I was concerned that Microsoft would treat it as just a side project to their big money maker – Kinect for Xbox 360. I have been proven wrong, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing support that Kinect for Windows has so far received. To see some of the amazing things people are doing with Kinect, check out the Kinect Accelerator finalists.

To download the latest SDK and Runtime, just hit up the Kinect Developer page. It’s easy and free. You can’t beat that combination.

Bing Search API Now Available With Tiered Pricing Structure

Microsoft turned some heads last month when they announced that the Bing Search API would be heading exclusively to the Windows Azure Marketplace. A lot of non-profit groups like libraries were understandably upset because Microsoft wanted $40 a month just to use the new API. After hearing the criticism from non-profit groups, Microsoft has adjusted the pricing to include a free option.

The Bing Search API is now available on the Windows Azure Marketplace. From there, you can download the API and begin using it in Azure Web apps to provide Bing-powered search results alongside images, video and all kinds of other great search-related queries. The new Bing Search API can also be configured to your liking to return only the most relevant data to your applications.

Microsoft, in a move that will make non-profits love them, are keeping the Bing Search API free up to 5,000 queries. That’s a little better than Google’s Custom Search which only allows up to 100 queries per day which equals out to about 3,000 free queries a month.

For applications that use more than 5,000 queries a month, Microsoft has an easy to understand tiered-pricing system. It goes from 10,000 queries for $20 a month to 2.5 million queries for $5,000 a month. For 2.5 million queries using Google’s Custom Search, their pricing comes out to be $12,500. Either way, Bing Search is obviously the more cost effective option. It’s worth pointing out that Google at least only charges you per 1,000 queries, up to 10,000 a day, where as Bing charges you upfront for all the queries in a month. So you can get away with paying less with Google if you have slow search days.

If you are using the Bing Search API 2.0, Microsoft encourages you to switch over to the new Windows Azure Marketplace version. You can still use the old 2.0 API for free until August 1 which is when Microsoft will switch over to only handling requests for those who are using the Windows Azure version.

To encourage people to make the switch sooner than later, Microsoft is offering a free trial for any subscription tier. You can start processing 2.5 million queries for free as soon as you sign up. If you find yourself needing even more than 2.5 million queries a month, Microsoft can hook you up for a small fee.

If all of this sounds better than you ever could have imagined, check out the migration guide (docx) for moving old Bing Search API apps to the new Bing Search API. In doing so, you’ll be signed up for the free trial. Just be sure to change back over to the free tier before the trail ends unless you can afford $5,000 a month.

As an aside, Microsoft is removing two services from the Bing Search API since they aren’t used all that much. Starting August 1, the PhoneBook SourceType and the RSS endpoint will no longer be available through the API. Microsoft’s translation service will be available only through Microsoft Translator (for a separate fee) instead of the Bing Search API as well.

Xbox 360 Comes Free With Windows PC Purchase

Xbox 360 Comes Free With Windows PC Purchase

I went to the University of Kentucky for five years. During that time, I learned that everybody had a MacBook. They seemed to have bought the computer for one reason – it’s totally the coolest, duh!. Jokes about stereotypical MacBook users aside, it’s a good computer for college. Microsoft has a problem with that and has regularly offered a free Xbox 360 with the purchase of a Windows PC for college students. That offer is back.

Microsoft announced today the return of the promotion that has all new Windows PC purchases receiving a complimentary 4G Xbox 360 Netflix streaming device gaming console. The offer is available to college students in the U.S. and Canada, but the terms are a little different for both countries.

Students in the U.S. can claim their Xbox 360 by buying a Windows PC worth $699 or more at the following retailers: Best Buy, Dell.com, Fry’s Electronics, HPDirect.com, Microsoft Stores and NewEgg.com.

Students in Canada can claim their Xbox 360 by buying a similar Windows PC, but the value has been reduced to $599 for them. Participating retailers for our neighbors up north include Best Buy, Dell.ca, Future Shop, Staples and The Source.

The guy at Microsoft recommends a Dell XPS 13 as his computer of choice. While I don’t advise the purchase of laptops, mostly because I favor desktops, I know that college students need laptops for their needs. The Dell XPS 13 is decent as far as Ultrabooks go. The Intel Core i7 is nice, but the 1.70 GHz processing speed is kind of disappointing. The on-board Intel graphics are kind of lackluster as well, but you’re not using the computer for gaming. That’s what the free Xbox 360 is for.

It’s a pretty good deal, but I feel that Apple is still going to get the majority of purchases for the new school year. It won’t even be MacBooks either. Students are probably begging their folks for an iPad since it’s easier to carry around and can do anything a normal college student requires – stream Netflix.

I’m not in college so I can’t take advantage of this deal, but many young people are just starting out on their journey of acquiring debt education. Are you going to take advantage of Microsoft’s returning deal?

Facebook Gets Huge Oregon Tax Break

Facebook Gets Huge Oregon Tax Break

Facebook has had a huge day! Not only did they have their IPO, but they also dodged a huge bullet today when the Oregon Governor signed a bill today that assesses big data centers for taxes on their local value, not on intangible assets like their national brand. The biil known as the “Facebook Bill” will be signed into law at Facebook’s data center in Pineville, OR.

Now that this bill is going to be signed, Facebook can, and will probably, build a second data center. The new data center will be a “green” data center that uses “innovative cooling techniques to conserve energy.” The big public platform enables Facebook to push its Open Data Center Alliance strategy which is a “consortium of leading global IT organizations with a common view of the requirements and challenges facing next generation data center and cloud infrastructure innovation.”

This bill will also open up the possibility that other big tech companies such as Google and Microsoft will also build data centers in Oregon. This move would be great for those companies saving them a ton of money and bring much needed jobs to the state.

Mix this tax break in with the fact that Oregon has no sales tax and it could be a great place to work for some people. If only their property taxes weren’t so dang high.

Microsoft, Google Working on Competing Cloud Storage

Will Amazon’s popular EC2 cloud soon be facing competition from Google and Microsoft? If reports are true, Amazon’s position as the preferred cloud storage facility for a number of web properties, including WebProNews, could be directly threatened.

Thanks to a scoop from GigaOM, word is both tech giants are hard at work on cloud storage services, and both are expected to formally announce their existence later this summer. Apparently, the willingness of other companies to pay for these cloud storage services plays a big role in the motivation behind these developments:

Although Google declined to comment on whether the offering is indeed on the way, an IaaS cloud would make a lot of sense for the company. It already has a popular platform-as-a-service offering in App Engine that is essentially a cloud-based application runtime, but renting virtual servers in an IaaS model is still where the money is in cloud-based computing… Microsoft clearly got the message on where developers are spending in the cloud, too, which is why it’s reportedly expanding its Windows Azure cloud to compete with Amazon more directly than it already does.

Apparently, a willingness from both giants to compete with Amazon in relation to cloud computing prices. Amazon’s willingness to slash prices for their Amazon Web Services platform has not been lost on Google or Microsoft. In fact, Google has already shown a willingness to reduce prices on their Google Cloud Storage service.

Currently, Google and Microsoft’s cloud services operate under the Platform as a Service (PaaS) model, while Amazon operates with under the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). The difference between the two methods is PaaS offers a computing platform, where the user/customer creates the interface based on tools and programs provided by the company offering the service. While the IaaS model is considered the more basic of the two, is it also gives customers access to storage facilities, all provided by the company instead of the consumer. The following graphic, borrowed from Wikipedia, gives you an idea of how each service functions:

Cloud Computing
With that in mind, GigaOm’s report indicates both Google and Microsoft may be offering the IaaS version to consumers:

In terms of timing, this looks like a case of both companies realizing they got ahead of themselves and the market by centering their cloud computing plans around PaaS rather than IaaS. If Google really does roll out an IaaS offering, maybe it’s also a sign of its newfound maturity when it comes to rolling out new services that fit naturally into its existing business and that it can actually sell.

If Google and Microsoft indeed dive into the arena that’s currently ruled by Amazon’s Web Services platform, does this mean Amazon’s days as the top provider of could storage are numbered?

[Lead Image Courtesy]

Google Releases API .NET Client Version 1.2

Updates are a common thing in the land that Google occupies on the Internet. One of the more rare updates to come from the company, however, are for its Google APIs .NET client library. You can celebrate today as a new version has been released into the wild.

Austin Skyles, a software engineer for Google and Developer on the .NET client for Google APIs, announced the update on his Google+ profile today. The new API .NET client is at version 1.2 now, up from version 1.1 that launched last November. It’s only in beta now, but contains a number of new features.

The new features in the most current release includes media upload, alpha support for visual basic CodeGen and a fix for an asynchronous request processing race condition. You can check out the rest of the bug fixes and general updates on the download page for the new API .NET client.

If you have just started in development for the Google APIs in .NET, you’re going to want to check out Google’s developers resource page. It contains all the information you’re going to need to get started on developing in .NET.

Austin Skyles
Austin Skyles   3 hours ago The Google API .NET Client v1.2-beta is available!

Update from the source repository

http://code.google.com/p/google-api-dotnet-client/source/checkout

Or download from the project download page here:

http://code.google.com/p/google-api-dotnet-client/wiki/Downloads

Significant new features in this release are:
* Media Upload.
* Alpha support for Visual Basic CodeGen.
* Fixed asynchronous request processing race condition

Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition Profitable Within An Hour

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, which is quite possible for Minecraft players, you are no doubt aware of the Xbox 360 version of the seminal indie game that launched this week. The $20 Xbox Live Arcade game sought to emulate the original PC hit and apparently it has done so at least in terms of sales.

Markus “Notch” Persson, head of Mojang and creator of Minecraft, reported on Twitter that the Xbox 360 version of the game became profitable within the first hour of being on sale. I have no idea how much money went behind the Xbox 360 port of the title, but I do know that it has been in development for about a year now. Turning a profit that quickly is absolutely ridiculous.

Of course, we probably shouldn’t be surprised considering that the top games on the Xbox Live Indie Games Channel are all Minecraft clones. Once people were able to get the real thing, they all flocked to it like creepers going after a newly built house.

Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition was ported by master porting studio 4J Studios whose previous work includes the excellent XBLA ports of Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie. It has minor differences from the PC version that are inherent to the limited capability of consoles such as smaller world maps and a simplified crafting menu.

The Xbox 360 version of Minecraft will eventually see all the updates that are now in the PC version of Minecraft including mods and texture packs. This will all be updated at a pace much faster than other games as 4J Studios confirmed that Microsoft is allowing Minecraft to sidestep the patch certification process.

One potential problem that Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition has run into is in regards to its split-screen multiplayer mode according to Kotaku. It was heralded as a feature that gave a massive boost to the console version of the game, but it was found out that only HDTVs with either a component or HDMI connection could take advantage of this feature.

Regardless, it sounds like Minecraft Xbox 360 Edition is an excellent addition to the Minecraft legacy. Don’t look forward to the game coming out on other consoles though. Notch has said that the Xbox 360 is going to be the exclusive home for the console version.

[h/t: TheSixthAxis]