Microsoft Expands Zune Music & Video In Europe

Microsoft has announced that their Zune media services are expanding into newer markets internationally. This will bring the Zune music, video and movie rental and subscription service to UK, Germany, Italy and Spain among a list of newer markets.

Speaking of functionality, the subscription service will not let users store any content locally. All media has to be streamed. People in the UK shall be paying £9 a month for access to the service whereas those in the rest of Europe shall shell out €10 monthly as subscription fee.

So what will you get at this fee? Here’s a rundown

Music purchase (U.K., France, Italy, Spain and Germany). Expansion to these markets will enable consumers to purchase MP3s and listen on their Windows-based PC, Windows Phone 7 or any other device that supports MP3 format. Users will also be able to purchase music videos to enjoy on Windows-based PC, Windows Phone 7 and Zune on Xbox LIVE.

Video purchase (U.K., France, Germany, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

Consumers will now be able to purchase movies to download and watch anywhere — on the big screen in the living room with Xbox LIVE or their Windows-based PC as well as sync it to their Windows Phone 7 to enjoy on the go.(9)

Movie rental (U.K., France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, Mexico, Canada, Australia and New Zealand).

In addition to Zune video on Xbox LIVE, consumers in these countries will now be able to rent movies for viewing on their Windows-based PC or choose to sync the rental to their Windows Phone 7.

Halo Reach’s “Hard Drive Required For Co-Op On XBox Live” Bug Temporary

Microsoft created a sensation last week with the launch of the new Halo Reach whose sale numbers topped $200 million inside the first 24 hours of release. If you are one of those who excitedly purchased the new game, you may have been disappointed to see this error message

“One or more players do not have an Xbox 360 Hard Drive. An Xbox 360 Hard Drive is required to play co-op on Xbox LIVE or system link”

Basically, the game fails to load in co-op mode when one of the users in the playing mode does not have a hard drive connected to their XBox 360 console. However, Microsoft has noted that this is a temporary issue that should be sorted out soon. The company has issued a statement that says the company is presently “working to resolve it“.

Hopefully, users affected by the issue can soon get back to co-op on their consoles.

Microsoft Kinect Pre-Orders Overwhelming – Will Blow Away iPad?!

The two may not be in the same segment of business, but this definitely makes for a good headline. According to Kudo Tsunoda, the manager of Microsoft Game Studios, the preorders for Microsoft’s upcoming camera-based motion controller have been pretty strong – strong enough to “blow away” the sale of iPads. Tsunoda says,

“As far as what we’re looking at for Holiday, this is going to be stuff that’ll blow away any of the sales you’ve seen with iPad… The Xbox 360 is already selling better than the Wii and Sony right now. Kinect’s really just going to boost that to a whole new level.”

For a perspective, Apple sold its 1 millionth iPad 28 days after launch. The 3 millionth purchase came within the first three months. Will Kinect connect with people the same way? That’s a bit of a lottery at the moment, but listening to Tsunoda, investors may demand that it better be the case.

Windows Phone 7 Phones On Verizon Not Coming Anytime Soon

Microsoft is working hard to launch a peppier smartphone OS with the Windows Phone 7 in the next couple of months. However, Verizon may not be joining the party until later. In an interview to Bloomberg, Verizon spokesperson Brenda Raney has noted that Verizon Wireless does not have any plans to launch Windows Phone 7 handsets in the near-term. That’s at least till the end of this year. She has said that the relationship with Redmond remains “solid” and so a launch in 2011 cannot be ruled out.

The reasons are not pretty hard to fathom. Microsoft and Verizon burnt their fingers not so long ago with the launch of Kin. Initial reports suggested that not more than 500 hundred handsets were sold in all, though several other reports pointed out that the sale numbers were in the thousands. Either way, the launch was a flop and Microsoft had to halt the Kin project within months of launch.

It is possible that Verizon has chosen to wait and study the consumer reception to Windows Phone 7 and then take a decision on how to go about partnering Microsoft.

USB Tethering On Windows Phone 7 – Without Additional Carrier Fee

If this rumor turns out to be true, Microsoft could be setting the benchmark on what has primarily been a carrier-bullied feature – the ability to tether your device to a PC or another internet capable device without the need to pay additional fee for doing so. Most smartphones today allow USB tethering. But the trouble is that this feature is enabled by the carrier after the user pays an additional monthly fee in the range of $20-$30. Despite paying such a significant fee, tethering does not get users any additional data bandwidth proving to be a costly money-milking exercise from carriers.

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft could be making it easy for users to tether their phone to a laptop or netbook and get started on browsing the internet without having to pay any additional fee to the carrier. According to Richard Dudley, a Windows development evangelist, this is the official word. Nevertheless, it makes sense to wait for the official ‘official word‘ before we get too excited.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta – What’s New?

So as you know, Microsoft has unveiled its latest IE 9 beta browser. The new IE 9 for Microsoft Windows brings a lot of performance improvements to the internet browser. But what’s more significant is the number of features that have been removed, hidden or realigned in order to make the web experience much more comfortable. Here’s a roundup of all that you have to expect with this new browser version

Minimal Branding – Microsoft has simplified the title bar to remove all its  branding efforts and the result is rather impressive. The entire browser is given a sober look in order to bring more focus to the website itself. Dean Hatchamovitch, the General Manager of the Internet Explorer division explains the philosophy as, “How can we quiet the browser so that the site shines?

Warnings & Notifications – Unlike the earlier versions of the Internet Explorer, the new 9.0 version relegates the notification dialogs to the bottom corner of the window so that the user can attend to them at their convenience.

Tab Management – Managing tabs has been simplified and similar to what you see on Google Chrome, users can simply click and drag a tab to a new window, merge a tab with an existing window or dock them to the side of the pane.

Private OneBox – Another area where Microsoft seems to have taken inspiration from Google Chrome is the new private OneBox. The new version of Internet Explorer no longer contains a separate search box on the top right of the window. Instead, users may simply type a URL or search query on the address bar to get started.

Pinned Shortcuts – Users may now access their favorite websites via a new feature called pinned shortcuts. To pin a shortcut, simply click on the favicon of your favorite website and drag it on to the TaskBar of your desktop. You will then be able to access your favorite websites in just a single click.

Microsoft Office 2011 For Mac Being Shipped To Apple

Microsoft has announced that the company has completed its final testing of the 2011 version of its Office for Mac software and that it is ready for RTM (Release to Manufacturing). This would mean that the software shall now start being shipped to customers and to Apple for installation in its production units.

The latest Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac brings a number of tweaks and though it will bring many more features that were hitherto available only on the Windows version, the experience is said to be more Mac-like. This includes the duplicating Apple’s ‘ribbon effect‘.

The actual date of release is still under wraps though we heard not so long ago that the product is expected to officially start shipping from October 26. That is also in line with speculations from earlier this month over an October release.

Check out the “behind-the-scenes” video released by the Macintosh Business Unit.

New Microsoft XBox 360 Kinect Dashboard Revealed

Microsoft is on to something big with respect to the gaming segment with the launch of the new webcam based motion controller, Kinect. While they are at it, it looks like the company is building a lot of other interesting things as well. We have just got hold of what looks like the new XBox 360 dashboard interface that could be available to gamers pretty soon. As you can see from the video, the interface is more seamless and uncluttered though Microsoft has retained the existing look-and-feel.

This is of course just a minor improvement when you consider the bigger things that Microsoft is up to. But for gamers, this is definitely something to look forward to. There is no word on when exactly this new design is set to make it to the consoles, but there are indications that we may be seeing it before the end of this year. Possibly, along with the launch of Kinect in November.

Microsoft Zune HD 2 Launching This Year?

Microsoft may be working on a new hardware for its Zune HD. While the company has stayed mute on this subject, the rumors have all along indicated that Redmond may build one sequel to its Zune HD player before merging it with the emerging line of Windows Phone 7 products. So where are we getting the latest bit of information from? Well, a recent job opening at Microsoft is seeking applications from senior mechanical engineers who will join the team that built the original Zune HD to build “the next generation of portable entertainment and communication devices“.

Though this is all speculation, it will be interesting to see what Microsoft is planning to do with a hardware refresh. There are rumors that the company could incorporate the Windows Phone 7 platform to Zune HD to bring the device closer in utility to the iPod Touch and thereby make the product more attractive. That would really be terrific. Just that we still do not know if this is all going to be true.

Google Vs. Bing Could Be Interesting With New HTML5 Interface

Google launched its new Instant search interface this week that will see the company integrating its home page and search results page in such a way that typing keywords shall fetch results much quicker than ever before. Quite evidently, this has received a lot of rave reviews from a wide spectrum of users. However, it is not just Google that is looking at revamping the search engine interface that has been pretty much static over the past decade. Microsoft’s Bing too has been experimenting with newer interfaces – just that it has not received widespread publicity as it should have.

Earlier this year, during Apple’s WWDC conference, Microsoft demoed a new version of its Bing search engine where it has made a beautiful use of HTML5 to bring a very dynamic search engine experience. Unlike the existing interface, the new interface will make seamless transition between the various search engine sections like Web, Image, Weather, Maps, etc. The new Bing interface is expected to be launched by first quarter of next year. Check out the video below for a demo of the new Bing.