Archive for January 2009
Earlier today Long Zheng published a blog entry called RSS-powered Windows 7 desktop slideshows where he shows how in Windows 7 it is possible to create RSS powered slideshows for your desktop using Windows 7 Themes. He provided 3 examples, each of which took an RSS feed of photos from Flickr and displayed those photos at 30 minute intervals on the Windows 7 desktop.
Pretty cool stuff, but I figured I could use Windows Live FrameIt to do something a lot more useful than just show photos. For those that don’t know, Windows Live FrameIt enables you to display photos from the internet on a digital photo frame in your home although at its core all it does is output an RSS feed of visual content so there’s no reason why it can’t be used in other places as well.
I live near London so I have created a London themed FrameIt collection which you can see at
; it currently incorporates up-to-date Weather information and a BBC London news feed (I’ll be adding more later I’m sure) and this results in a collection of pictures showing London-related information.
Once you have your RSS feed the trick is to incorporate it into a Windows 7 theme. This is done by building a .theme file (instructions are here for the tech savvy people that can be bothered to read it) and including the following section within it:
The interval is measured in milliseconds; here I’ve set it to be 60000ms which means the image on your desktop will change every 60 seconds. “Shuffle=1” means it will pick an image at random and the RSSFeed property points to the URL of my Windows Live FrameIt feed. For those that are interested in seeing London-related information on their desktop I have made the .theme file available on my Skydrive at
Download that file and double-click on it to install the theme. Bear in mind what Long says at this point:
The first time you double click to install the theme files you might find yourself enjoying nothing more than the default “beta fish” wallpaper, this is due to a number of bugs related to this feature. First of all, this feature utilizes the Windows RSS Platform which automatically refreshes and download feed enclosures in the background. Because this is a background process, it will take considerable time to download the high-resolution photos within the feed. But once the photos are downloaded, the theme does not automatically refresh to queue the new photos in the slideshow. A logout/login should be sufficient, but more simply you could open the theme control panel and toggle between two themes to force a manual refresh.
Once you’ve done all of that then, voila, you’ll have the latest BBC London news and the local up-to-date weather displayed on your desktop:
If you want to use a different Windows Live FrameIt feed in there all you have to do is open the .theme file in Notepad and edit the RSSFeed property as appropriate – you’ll probably want to change the DisplayName property to something more appropriate as well.
The really cool part about this is that if I want to go and see something different on my various desktops I don’t have to go and change the theme on each machine, I just have to head to
to make the change and it will automatically flow to all of my devices. Software plus services in full effect!
Now, just think of the possibilities here – literally anything that is available as an RSS feed (currently with a few caveats – as pointed out by Long) can now be displayed on your Windows Desktop. I’m not even leveraging the full power of Windows Live FrameIt either which is far more feature-rich than I’ve talked about here. Talk about bringing the information to you! I’d love to see this available on Windows Mobile as well!
Do you think this as cool as I do? Let me know if you create your own FrameIt feeds for your desktop and share some screenshots on your own blog as well if you have one.
UPDATE: I’ve added London traffic updates to
…now that Mesh is moving into the Windows engineering team will it be used to synchronise your clipboard across multiple computers?
Only joking! (Though many a true word is spoken in jest!!)
Mary-Jo Foley is reporting that Windows Live, Office Live and Live Mesh are now part of the same organisation:
- Microsoft moves Live Mesh under Windows chief Sinofsky
- Microsoft to merge Windows Live and Office Live
These are interesting developments and forebode what we can expect from these various offerings in the not-too-far-off future.
One of the chief complaints about these various offerings has been that Microsoft now offer too many ways to store all your documents online; Office Live (in the shape of Office Live Workspaces), Windows Live (in the shape of Skydrive) and Live Mesh all collectively offer online storage totalling over 30GB but the problem has been that they are all disparate and disconnected. To illustrate the point:
- its not possible to use Office Live to edit documents stored on Skydrive or Mesh
- its not possible to sync the contents of your Skydrive to your own computers
- its not possible to upload your photos from Windows Live Photo Gallery to any Microsoft property other than Skydrive
- its not possible to email your friends a link to a file that is stored on Live Mesh like you can with Skydrive and Office Live Workspaces
- Live Mesh has a soon-to-be-public API underneath it which will enable developers to use Microsoft’s online services in their own offerings whereas Skydrive and Office Live Workspaces do not.
Any unification has to begin at the infrastructural level and in the case of Windows Live/Office Live/Live Mesh that means offering a single place for online storage; once everything is stored in the same place then each of the features mentioned above will be available for any file. I believe that that place will be Skydrive and here’s why:
- Skydrive is a fully released product whilst Office Live Workspaces (its still in beta) and Live Mesh (still beta) are not.
- Skydrive’s raison d’etre is online storage. That is not true of Office Live Workspaces whose key feature is collaboration around Office documents and neither is it true of Live Mesh whose key feature is data synchronisation.
- Skydrive is more of an established brand that is well understood and I would argue that that is because (as we say in the UK) it does what it says on the tin. I also perceive Skydrive to generally be a well-appreciated service –I see evidence of many people around the web using it- so Microsoft won’t want to lose the goodwill that the brand has built up.
- Other services already rely on Skydrive for storage (i.e.
Unifying these three services will have ramifications though:
- Office Live Workspaces has the notion of a workspace being a focal point for storage and collaboration. A workspace is somewhat similar to a folder that we are all familiar with (and which Skydrive and Mesh both have) except that there are no sub-folders; a workspace is essentially a flat list of files. How can the notion of workspaces be kept without compromising the underlying storage? Solving that one will not be easy thus I suspect that a Workspace will morph into something akin to a “virtual view” across a subset of the files in your Skydrive, exposing them as a single unit of collaboration just like a workspace is today. And if this is the case, will the notion of a workspace be extended to places other than Office Live as well?
- The Live Framework is the API I mentioned above that underpins Live Mesh and is clearly going to become the means by which developers will, if permitted, be able to get access to all the data that Microsoft hold about someone. This is emphasized in the Live Framework overview diagram which I have talked about before (Live Services move into the Live Framework); I have highlighted in red some of the personal information that is envisaged to be available:
becomes the window to your online storage what happens to the Live Desktop at
- Office Live Workspace offers an Office toolbar addin that enables one to save Office documents directly to the cloud. Will this go away with the advent of synchronisation offered by Mesh?
- I have a Windows Live profile at
and an Office Live profile at
. Will these be combined into one?
- Probably the biggest question of all, will the Windows Live, Live Mesh and Office Live brands disappear only to be consumed by something else?
I wonder if we will ever get to the point where a single portal is offered that offers access to all of the features of these services (and possibly others) in one place. Google do exactly that at
whereas with Microsoft
seems to be the place where we go today, but will that be true in the future? Would
(which currently redirects to
) or even
make more sense?
There are lots of questions still to be answered about this unification of services and I’m glad I’m not the person that has to answer them. I must emphasize that all of this is pure speculation, I don’t know what is going to happen with Live Mesh, Windows Live and Office Live any more than you do.
Interesting news coming out today regarding Windows Live Agents (aka Messenger bots). UK broadcaster Channel4 has teamed up with Microsoft to build a Messenger bot for its upcoming teen drama Skins (for which previews are currently getting very heavy rotation in between Hollyoaks, Celebrity Big Brother and Friends re-runs). From New Media Age:
Channel 4 has launched a Windows Messenger tool for the new series of teen drama Skins, which starts on Thursday.
The new series will be accompanied by a Windows Messenger bot, which will release messages and content, including cast & crew interviews and the bonus videos not aired on TV, as the show is broadcast.
Information about tracks being played as users watch the show will also be released in real time, while between episodes users will be able to see previews of the next episode, access the track listings for the previous show and find links to video diaries and behind-the-scenes footage.
Going after the teen audience is exactly what Microsoft should have been doing all along with Windows Live Agents given that audience’s predilection for instant messaging and its great to see that new bots are still getting released even though Microsoft have all but given up on them. I’ve said before in my blog entry I believe that Agents are our future… that I thought Windows Live Agents had huge potential and I was disillusioned when Microsoft announced that they would be ceasing support for them. Perhaps this new Skins bot is one last hurrah, I live in hope that the Windows Live Agents fire could be rekindled.
Have you ever seen something like the following:
on a Windows Live blog entry and wondered what they are? Those are trackbacks; when you post a blog entry that has a link to someone else’s blog entry on Live Spaces then you can create a trackback from your blog entry – this will automatically create a trackback link on the other person’s blog entry back to yours.
Question is, why might you want to do this? Well, there are three good reasons actually:
- The author of the original blog entry that you are linking to would not otherwise know that you have linked to them
- Anyone reading the post that you have trackbacked to will see a link back to your post. It tells those people that there might be some information that may be of interest to them. Hence – it will drive traffic to your post
- Search engines understand trackbacks to be a specific type of link and treat them accordingly. Search engines use links between pages to decide on page rank; more links you have, the higher the page rank; the higher the page rank the higher up the list of search results your post is likely to be. Again, the benefit should be more traffic.
Of late I have started to create trackback links when I reference mine and other people’s posts and I’m regretting not doing it sooner. Unfortunately the process of creating trackbacks today is manual and really rather laborious but if you have the inclination to create them then its well worth the effort. I am rather surprised that Live Spaces doesn’t create them automatically so I have added that request to my Laundry list of wants for Windows Live wave 4.
Other resources pertaining to trackbacks:
- What’s all this, then? – by Greg Edwards
P.S. The screenshot near the top of this blog entry came from What can you do with your Windows Live ID? By the time you come to read this there will be an extra trackback link on that blog entry, from the one one that you are reading right now.
[In this series of blog entries I’ll be exploring what else you can do with your Windows Live ID other than access Windows Live products and services. See the complete list here.]
Ever fancied building your own computer game even if you know nothing about computer programming? Well there is a way, its called Popfly and it exists at
Of course, I wouldn’t be talking about Popfly in this series of blog posts if it didn’t have some sort of tie-in with Windows Live IDs and so it won’t surprise you to learn that login to Popfly is indeed via your Windows Live ID.
Not only can you create games but mashups too and the really great thing about Popfly is that you can take those games or mashups and embed them in your own web pages. I can’t show one here unfortunately because Spaces doesn’t allow us to embed the particular type of code that Popfly requires, still if you’ve got your own page elsewhere you should be good to go.
Here’s a screenshot from one of the games, Crayon Cannon:
Short one this.
Dave Winer is complaining about Google URLs:
He’s absolutely right. I’ve had similar quibbles myself about Windows Live when I wrote:
To continue Dave’s theme about profiles, to get to my profile on Windows Live one would have to go to
be so bad?
[In this series of blog entries I’ll be exploring what else you can do with your Windows Live ID other than access Windows Live products and services. See the complete list here.]
As recently announced by the Live Search team, you can now get news alerts sent directly to the email inbox associated with your Windows Live ID.
to try it out!
Note that at the time of writing this feature is currently only available in the USA <sigh>.
Mary-Jo Foley is reporting that Live Mesh is going to move under the head of Windows and Windows Live, Steven Sinofsky. This is really great news, moving Live Mesh into the biggest profit centre in the company must mean that Live Mesh has a big future and is going to become a core part of the biggest platform Microsoft offer. I’d love to think that we were going to see Windows 7 leverage some of Live Mesh but I suspect that the timescales aren’t going to match up; hence I predict we’ll see lots of Live Mesh features in Windows 7 SP1.
In November 2007 I published two blog entries (Early impressions of Windows Live Calendar & More Windows Live Calendar ideas) that listed some nice-to-haves in the Windows Live Calendar service which was, back then, a very early beta. Below I examine how many of these nice-to-haves were added to the service prior to its post-beta launch yesterday.
- Right-click doesn’t do anything. For example, I’d like to share a calendar simply by right-clicking and selecting ‘Share…’. Or right-click on a day and select ‘Create Event…’ No, can’t do that yet.
- More Live Event disappointments. You can add a Live Event to your calendar but any changes to that Live Event (such as a time change, or URL change) won’t get reflected in your Live Calendar This has not changed as far as I’m aware.
- The URL for one of my shared calendars contains my name. What’s the point in that? Rather than
why not just
.Or, even better, simply make it
. No this hasn’t changed which I find disappointing. I don’t see why my public calendars have to have my name in the URL.
- You can’t choose an exact timeslot when dragging and dropping an event from one day to another. You can now drag an event to the nearest desired half-hour slot. This is more than sufficient.
- Double-clicking on a time slot creates an event in that time slot but this doesn’t seem too intuitive to me. I would expect double-clicking to have a drill-down effect where if I double-click on a day when in ‘Month’ view I am taken to a detailed view of that day. Once I am in ‘Day’ or ‘Week’ view double clicking would create an event like it does now. This is a debatable point of view though so I won’t push it too much. The behaviour here hasn’t changed but I don’t really mind.
- Why isn’t my agenda exposed on
This still isn’t there
- Windows Live Calendar is supposed to be a RESTful service. I suppose that’s kinda true because
will take you to one of my calendars. However, I kinda expected more than that. I was hoping that I could enter something like
and it would show me everything for that particular day. But not so. It would be really cool to have this. Being able to go straight to a particular day without having to navigate to it would be really valuable. However, even MORE valuable would be the ability to post new events to my calendar using any HTTP client. For example, I could send an HTTP POST to
with the details of the event in the HTTP payload and it would create that new event at 01:30PM on November 8th, 2007. As far as I know this isn’t yet possible. I would expect that the ability to do this will be exposed by the Live Framework API which is currently very much in beta.
- I’d like to be able to search for events on public calendars that match some search criteria. For example, show me all music gigs or all events in my local town. Or (even better) all music gigs in my local town. Even better still would be an RSS feed of all these events so that I know when new ones get added. Not really a Calendar feature to be fair, more a Live events feature. Regardless, its still not possible.
- Live Calendar enables us to subscribe to other Live calendars (such as this one or this one). However, you can’t subscribe to webcal calendars such as this one on iCalShare. Sure you can import, but that’s not the same as subscribing. Subscribing means that you know when the original calendar gets changed, that doesn’t happen if you import it. Yes, they did this. Thankfully so, this is a key key feature.
- There is no searchable directory of shared Live Calendars. I would like there to be one. This would be similar to
which is a directory of collections created on Live Maps. No, this hasn’t been done.
- There is no client app that allows you to synchronise with your Live Calendar(s) and thus look at them and add to them when offline. There should be one and it should be integrated into Windows Live Mail. Yep, they did this. And how!
- I’d like to see a Live.com/Live Spaces gadget that displays my Agenda from Live Calendar. I take this one back. It was a stupid idea – I don’t want to publish my calendar for all and sundry to see.
- I’d like to see my Live Calendar(s) synchronised to my mobile phone. One day I’d like to see it synchronised to other places like my Zune. This has not been done yet. As I’ve said before, this is high on my list of desires for wave 4.
- If our friends have birthdays coming up then we can see them on our Live Spaces ‘What’s new’ page. I would like to have the option to display them on a Live Calendar as well. Done. Thank you, this is a cool feature.
- I would like to see the Live Spaces ‘What’s new’ feed displayed as a Live Calendar that I could overlay on all my other calendars. No, this hasn’t been done. I’m not sure if I still want this to be honest, it would turn Live Calendar into a diary service rather than a calendar service.
- If I have photos on my Live Space that have date and time metadata attributed to them then I would like to see those overlaid as a Live Calendar so that I can see them against all my other calendars. Almost like creating a timeline of my life using my photos. As above, you’d expect something like this from a diary or a journal, not from a calendar.
- I’d like to see all my blog entries on my Live Space exposed as a Live Calendar so that I can see them over time and also see them against all my other calendars. Ditto, you’d expect something like this from a diary or a journal, not from a calendar.
- I would like to see statistics on how many people are using a calendar that I have created. This hasn’t been done – I still want it.
- If someone adds one of my publicly shared calendars to their own collections of Calendars then I’d like to be told about it via my Live Spaces ‘What’s new’ page.This hasn’t been done – I still want it.
- If one of my friends creates a calendar, show it on the What’s New feed on my Live Spaces home. This hasn’t been done – I still want it.
- I would like my agenda to be displayed on
This hasn’t been done – I still want it.
All in all that’s pretty good. Of the requests there that were relevant to Calendar many have been delivered and, most importantly, they’ve delivered the two most important requests; offline sync and webcal subscription. Good work.
I remember having a conversation with someone (and yes, I remember who it was) after the beta was released who described Live Calendar as “awful”. I asked him why he used that adjective and the he, fool that he was, was incapable of explaining himself; I’d like to think he’d have a different opinion of Live Calendar right now.