Microsoft

Windows 8 double-fail

I was expecting to jump right into the Windows 8 experience today and do some upgrading and testing this weekend as well as play with my new Microsoft Surface tablet, but it appears that this will not be happening as Microsoft managed to fail twice in just one day…





I had, of course, been testing previous pre-release versions of Windows 8 and like the new features, but when I went to upgrade my home PC to Windows 8 Pro today, the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant failed spectacularly every time I tried to actually spend $39.99 and purchase a downloadable upgrade:

Win8UpgradeFail

Furthermore, there is no back-button and so if this happens and you want to try again - thinking this might just be server overload - you have to re-enter all your information. It is also somewhat discouraging that a company like Microsoft has to rely on a 3rd party company called "arvato digital services, llc." to process upgrades? Why is this not sold through the Microsoft Store? Last, but not least, wouldn’t you think that Microsoft would run a spell-checker on their error messages? "Intializing" isn't' even a word…

So I figured I'd wait with my PC upgrade until tomorrow and was looking forward to instead work with my new Microsoft Surface tablet that was supposed to be delivered today. I had pre-ordered the device on the day it was announced and was promised a delivery today, October 26th. Imagine my surprise when I checked the FedEx tracking info from the Microsoft Store link:

Surface RT FedEx non-delivery

So it seems the pre-ordered Surface that was guaranteed to be delivered today is going to show up on Monday instead.

Great job, Microsoft, making a first impression with Windows 8…

UPDATE: On the fifth attempt the Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant worked, the order completed, and the download progress is now at 32% with 5 minutes remaining…

UPDATE 2: FedEx ended up doing a separate delivery run today, so the Surface also arrived.

Using Altova tools for Cloud Computing

Obviously, cloud computing is one of the major trends of 2010 and continues to excite people. We just posted a brand new detailed article on the Altova Blog about XML in the Cloud that shows how to use DatabaseSpy, MapForce, XMLSpy, and StyleVision to work with an Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) instance in the cloud.

Essentially the Amazon RDS is a big MySQL database in the cloud, so you can use the Data Source connection wizard in all Altova tools to easily connect with the cloud instance, just like you would connect with a local instance of MySQL:

Similarly, in a previous post last summer we showed you how to configure Altova tools to work with a SQL Server Azure instance, if you prefer the Microsoft cloud computing platform. And in another post we showed you in detail how to work with XML data in SQL Server Azure.

Check out all three articles and see how easy it is to use Altova tools not just for your enterprise in-house or classic web development projects, but also for your cloud computing projects!

Microsoft files patent for shape-shifting touchscreen

Every now and then a new technology comes about that has the potential to change the way how we interact with computers in a profound manner. The first computer mouse, the first touchscreen display, the first use of multi-touch – all paved the way for a new generation of user interfaces.

I believe we are now witnessing the introduction of the next such new technology. In a new US patent application 20100295820, which was published last week, Microsoft inventor Erez Kikin-Gil proposes a new way to construct a “tactile feedback” touchscreen. According to this new invention, a shape-memory polymer film is placed onto a computer display and UV light is used on a pixel-by-pixel basis to selectively change the topography of the surface.

While tactile feedback displays are nothing new per se, previous approaches by Nokia, Disney, and others had been using voltages of different frequencies to trick fingertips into experiencing some touch sensations. The huge disadvantage of such vibrotacticle displays, however, is the annoying humming sounds they emit. Which might be one reason why they were never widely successful.

The Microsoft invention completely circumvents that problem and proposes a radically different approach using UV lights and a plastic film that is using shape-memory polymer technology. Here is the abstract from the patent application:

A light-induced shape-memory polymer display screen is provided herein. One example display device includes a display screen having a topography-changing layer including a light-induced shape-memory polymer. The display device further includes an imaging engine configured to project visible light onto the display screen, where the visible light may be modulated at a pixel level to form a display image thereon. The display device further includes a topography-changing engine configured to project agitation light of an ultraviolet band towards the display screen, where the agitation light is modulated at a pixel level to selectively change a topography of the topography-changing layer.

And here are some of the drawings attached to the patent application to further illustrate the invention and its use in display technology:

Fig. 2

FIG. 2 schematically shows agitation light projected onto a light-induced shape-memory polymer

Fig. 5

FIG. 5 schematically shows a user interacting with an example display screen having a topography-changing layer

It is widely assumed that such shape-shifting touchscreens would at first be used in surface computing displays, like tabletop computers, but it isn’t impossible to imagine smartphone or tablet computers using such technology, too. How cool would that be!

For further reference, see this article in New Scientist Tech, as well as blog posts on Gizmodo and more via Techmeme.

Microsoft e-mail to customers about Word XML patent injunction

I have previously reported on the XML Aficionado blog about Microsoft losing the XML patent appeal in December as well as on the earlier verdict by a Texas court.

Today I received the following e-mail from Microsoft – apparently this is addressed to us since we are using Microsoft Office 2007 as a customer under the volume licensing program:

Dear Alexander Falk,

On December 22, 2009, a United States court of appeals ruled that Microsoft must stop selling versions of Microsoft Word (including Microsoft Office suites) that contain certain functionality that was ruled to infringe on a United States patent.

This injunction only applies to new Microsoft Word and Microsoft Office licenses purchased from Microsoft on or after January 11, 2010 in or for deployment in the United States or its territories. If you are only using licenses acquired prior to January 11, 2010, you do not need to take any action.

Microsoft has updated Microsoft Word 2007 and Microsoft Office 2007 to remove the disputed functionality, which pertains to custom XML tagging. Microsoft has also created a software update for Word 2003 and Office 2003. In the vast majority of cases this functionality is not in use and requires development knowledge to implement. To learn more about the specific custom XML elements removed from Microsoft Word 2007 please read Microsoft Knowledge Base article 978951 at the following website http://support.microsoft.com/kb/978951.

In accordance with Microsoft Volume License agreement provisions, we hereby notify you that any future deployment of Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 or Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 purchased after January 10, 2010 for use in the United States or its territories must use updated software.

If you plan future deployments of Microsoft Word 2003 and 2007 or Microsoft Office 2003 and 2007 based on licenses that you purchase before January 11, 2010, no action is required and you may continue to deploy your existing version of these products. This includes all licenses purchased under any of the Microsoft Volume Licensing programs including all versions of Software Assurance.

Additionally, if you have already deployed licensed copies of these products prior to January 11, 2010, and will be submitting payment later (through the Enterprise Agreement True Up process or the Select process), then you may continue to use those deployed versions. If you are already using copies of these products through a subscription license agreement, then you may continue to use those deployed versions.

Starting January 1, 2010, updated English, Spanish, and French language versions of Microsoft Word 2007 or Microsoft Office 2007 are available for download on the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center. To update other language versions of this software, or to update copies of Microsoft Word 2003 or Microsoft Office 2003, you will find instructions on how to do so on the Microsoft Volume Licensing Service Center download pages for these products at https://www.microsoft.com/licensing/servicecenter/.

If you require physical media, please order through your normal media fulfillment channel. If you are an Open license customer, you may order media directly from the Volume Licensing Service Center.

If you are running Microsoft Word 2010 beta or Microsoft Office 2010 beta or plan to deploy these products once they are released, no action is required with respect to this notification.

If you have any questions about this information, please contact your Microsoft representative or email msftvl@microsoft.com.

Sincerely,

Microsoft Corporation

No big surprises here. As had been previously discussed on techmeme.com, the preparation for removal of the infringing Custom XML feature had been well underway at Microsoft and this is part of their way of complying with the injunction.

Altova at DevConnections

DevConnections in Las Vegas is always a great little conference and trade show. I say little because the show is a bit smaller than PDC or TechEd, but the talks are always excellent and there is a diverse mix of topics and tracks.

When the show floor opened today, the show certainly didn’t feel little at all: there was a huge rush of people coming to our booth, and the traffic remained fairly constant for over an hour and a half.

photo 

So if you happen to be in Las Vegas at DevConnections, make sure to stop by our booth and get a demo of the new features in version 2010 of our product line.

 photo 2

Also check out the Twitter stream about DevConnections

Get Twitter and Facebook results (and much more) in your search

OK, so the news are abuzz in recent days about Google adding real-time Twitter data to their search results and there is also a lot of blogging going on about Microsoft adding Twitter search to Bing. But the real news has been totally overlooked by the majority of tech blogs and news media until now: earlier this week kikin announced the start of their public beta on their blog by posting “we are live!

KikinLogo I’ve long been following kikin and was lucky enough to be one of their early testers, so I’ve been using the service for several months now – and I wouldn’t know what to do without it anymore. Kikin does one thing that neither a Google nor a Bing native Twitter or Facebook search can do: it gives me personalized and relevant search results from my feeds and my favorite websites right within the standard Google or Bing results and it lets me customize and select those personalized results in a very intuitive manner.

For example, since I shop on Amazon a lot, when I search for “Marblehead” on Bing, kikin will display personalized search results above the normal bing results that are relevant for me – in this case I find a great book by Ulrike Welsch that captures Marblehead in awesome photos:

KikinBingAmazon

As you can see, kikin has added these results above the normal search results, so you don’t have to change your browsing or surfing behavior or use a different search engine. There are several tabs that let you pick from which source you want to see relevant results, for example if I do the same search in Google and click on the Facebook tab in kikin, I see results directly from my Facebook news feed (i.e. only results posted by my friends on Facebook):

KikinGoogleFacebook

And obviously, if I click on Twitter, I can see relevant results only from people whom I follow, or I can even go a step further and only see relevant results that are directly addressed to me on Twitter:

KikinBingTwitter

By default, kikin only takes up very little space, so you still see your natural search results below, but if you want to focus on more results from one of your sources, you can expand the kikin box by clicking on the green plus sign in the lower right corner:

KikinGoogleFacebookLarge

The truly remarkable thing about kikin is that it is non-invasive. If there are no relevant results in any of your feeds or favorite websites, then it won’t interfere and will just display the natural search result. Even if that is the case, kikin still adds tremendous value to that result, because it has a built-in video player enhancement that lets you watch every video you find within the natural search result directly within your result page rather than having to click through to the site:

KikinVideoPlayer

So how does kikin do all of that? Kikin is a free browser plug-in that is currently available for Safari (on the Macintosh), Internet Explorer and FireFox (on WIndows). You can directly download and install the kikin plug-in from their website. Once you’ve installed the plug-in, you can use the Settings page to connect to your Facebook and Twitter accounts:

KikinConnect

In all my recent testing I’ve found kikin to be invaluable in unearthing highly relevant content that is otherwise hidden in my social stream: by augmenting every Google or Bing search with results from my social media interactions, I find valuable information that would otherwise remain hidden, or would only be accessible if I repeated my search in three places.

And it is this deeply personalized addition to the search results that makes kikin so valuable. All those newly announced Search partnerships between Twitter and Bing or Google may be great, if you want to search the entire public stream for information (e.g. ski conditions in Colorado), but the results are not going to be as important to you, as results specifically from your actual friends on Facebook or information from people you follow on Twitter or from other websites you frequently visit. That is the true power of kikin: to augment search results with highly relevant and deeply personalized content.

So is kikin perfect? Of course not, it is just the first public beta version and I’m sure that they’ll iron out some minor issues over the next several months as they get reported by users. My only two complaints about kikin at this point in time are (a) that is doesn’t work with Chrome yet (but they’ve already announced that Chrome support will be coming) and (b) that if you use multiple browsers or multiple computers you have to connect your Facebook and Twitter accounts separately for each installation. I would probably have preferred to create one account on the kikin website, connect with my other social media accounts, and then just provided that one account login for each installation.

Microsoft Word injunction: court grants motion to stay

As reported on The Microsoft Blog, the court has granted Microsoft’s motion to stay the injunction in the i4i patent case until the appeal process is complete. Also, Microsoft’s request for an expedited appeal process has been granted already on August 21, so this will continue to be very interesting to watch.

See also my previous coverage on the i4i vs. Microsoft patent case on the XML Aficionado blog:

More on the Microsoft and i4i XML patent issues

Rick Jelliffe published two great posts on the O’Reilly Blogs yesterday and today that deal with an in-depth technical reading of both the patent that Microsoft received recently and also the i4i patent that it was sued over. Rick’s analysis contradicts some of the perfunctory statements in various news media and other blogs:

I highly recommend reading both…

Injunction to prevent Microsoft from selling Word due to XML

It appears that there are just a handful of truly ubiquitous PC applications out there that exist on almost every single computer on the planet and Microsoft Word is certainly among that bunch. So it is an interesting twist that a Texas judge ruled yesterday in an injunction that Microsoft can no longer sell Word (version 2003 and 2007) starting in 60 days because they can handle XML data.

In a lawsuit filed in 2007 i4i (based out of Canada) said that Word violated its 1998 patent No. 5,787,449 on a method for reading XML.

If you are like me and prefer to read all the legal details yourself, here are the relevant links (thanks to The Microsoft Blog for the PDFs):

Needless to say, Microsoft will either appeal the injunction, try to invalidate the patent, or – most likely – settle and write a big check to i4i, but this just shows yet another aspect of the broken patent system when it comes to software patents especially in relations to standards such as XML.

It is interesting to note that the patent appears to deal primarily with representing any document in XML, which appears to be slightly ludicrous given the long history of SGML prior to 1998. Also interesting is that the injunction doesn't just talk about XML, but rather specifically mentions .DOCX (i.e. Open Office XML), which is used by Word 2007 as its default storage format.

More coverage on techmeme.com

Project Natal: the Wii is dead

Finally, the end of the Wii is near. Microsoft unveiled Project Natal at E3 today: full-body motion control for the XBox 360 that doesn’t require a controller of any kind.

I’ve always been unimpressed by the Wii’s technical capabilities and the only real advantage of the Wii has been the controller. With full-body motion control w/o any controller, gaming is going to be taken to a whole new level.

I can’t wait for this to evolve from just games to useful productivity tools for next-generation workstation UIs. Think Tom Cruise in Minority Report…


Here is a video demo that shows Natal in action in a variety of different gaming and entertainment scenarios. Pretty cool:


Bing: first impressions

Last Thursday, when Microsoft announced their new search engine, bing.com, they were being ridiculed by many, because the website wasn’t ready and Google stole a bit of the thunder with their own announcement of Google Wave.

Today, it appears that nobody is laughing (unless they are ready the Onion coverage) as the positive comments keep rolling in. It turns out that – like in so many other cases – Microsoft usually gets it right on the 2nd (or 3rd) attempt.

But I’m talking about the technology, not the name. Whatever were they thinking, when they called it “Bing”??

In any case, I’ve been testing bing.com today, and I must say that there are indeed a few new and innovative things in bing.com that could convince people (myself included) to start using it instead of Google:

  1. Preview of search results
    For every page in the natural search result you get a short preview of the content of that page, or a short excerpt with other helpful links, for example when I hover over the entry for our XMLSpy XML Editor, a little window pops up to the right of it with some details:
    XMLEditorOnBing
  2. Automatic categories and web groups
    If you are searching for a fairly generic term, or if you’ve entered a keyword phrase that can be interpreted in different ways, the result will include a list of categories or “web groups” on the left side and the overall result list will also be organized with a few entries per such group, for example a search for “xml” will yield separate groups for “Specifications”, “Tools”, etc.:
    BingCategories
  3. Preview of video results
    Finding videos in search results is nothing new, but a live preview of the video just by hovering the mouse over the still frame is really cool:
    BingVideos
  4. Integration of reference materials
    Whether you are searching for people or for treatment for medial issues, one of the interesting things that sets bing.com apart is the integration of reference materials. For example, searching for poison ivy and then clicking on “Articles” on the left side, produces a full article within the bing.com platform that has been imported from Wikipedia. Similarly, I just found that when I “bing myself” there is a photo and a link to another reference article at the bottom of the search results – the information again appears to be imported from Wikipedia:
    BingAFalk
  5. Cashback when you buy items online
    OK, this one almost sounds like from a cheesy commercial, but when you think about it for a moment, it is really quite brilliant. When you register with bing.com you can set up a cashback account, which you can link to your bank account or PayPal, and then – whenever you search for items online and actually go to a vendor to purchase them – you get a percentage of the purchase price back. Especially in tough economic times, that can be a big incentive to start your next online shopping trip on bing.com instead of the “other” search-engine:
    BingCashback

To find out more about all the new features, I recommend reading the Bing Reviewer’s Guide that is part of the official press kit or taking this tour of bing.

HD View from Microsoft Research

I've recently developed a liking for panorama photography, and already created quite a few panoramas for my other blog on our house restoration project. But the real problem with these panoramic views is that while they were created in Photoshop using several high-res source images, viewing them on a website isn't that exciting, because I needed to significantly reduce the image and add a simple scroll bar to make it even fit within the confines of a blog.

So I started experimenting with the HD View technology from Microsoft Research this weekend. Their new Beta 3 adds exciting features for HDR (which I described in a previous blog post) and fisheye lens effects. And being an XML Aficionado I am, of course, very excited that HD View images are described using an XML manifest document.

To create an HD View image you have several tools available, including a Photoshop plug-in. I used this approach to create a new panorama from 20 individual source photos shot in 10.1 megapixel using a Sony DSC T-700. Click on the following image to open a new window with the HD View browser plug-in (you may need to install the plug-in first - and it is available for IE and FireFox):

Click to open HD View

This is a view of the Atlantic ocean from Beach Bluff Park at Preston Beach - right at the border between Marblehead and Swampscott. The house on the left is our restoration project. The seawall on the right collapsed in a Northeaster in April 2007 and the Clifton Improvement Association is presently raising funds to rebuild it this spring.

The above panorama only had 55 mega-pixel of data, since it was created from just 20 images. But the HD View technology is scalable up to giga-pixel images created from thousands of individual shots. Take a look at these examples created by Bernhard Vogl in Austria...

New Microsoft 2D barcode released at CES

In a surprise move Microsoft released a new 2-dimensional barcode format today at CES. Yes, a barcode. The lines that are on the bottom of your milk carton, when you scan it at the supermarket checkout. And no, today is not April Fool's.

Two-dimensional barcodes are nothing new, and are most often seen on attendee badges at conferences or trade shows, but Microsoft's format is the first to use color and to be aimed at a specific reader device that most people already own: a cell phone with built-in camera.

The system is called Microsoft Tag and the idea is that you can encode URLs, vCards, phone numbers, or any arbitrary text in such a tag. The user then needs a reader application on their cell phone - and those are available already for all major cell phone platforms, including Symbian, iPhone, Windows Mobile, Android, and Blackberry - and once they scan the barcode, they get the encoded contact, are redirected to the website with the specified URL, or can call the encoded telephone number, without having to enter that number or URL or contact info into their cell phone manually.

MissionKitBarCodeFor a quick demonstration, download the beta version of the reader from http://gettag.mobi and install it on your cell phone, then use it to snap a picture of this barcode on the left and it will take your mobile browser to retrieve product information about the Altova MissionKit for Software Architects from our website. Clearly, it doesn't make sense to use these in a blog, but imagine reading an article about the software in a developer publication and being able to go directly to the website without having to type in a URL...

Btw, if you are using an iPhone, you can get the reader application through the familiar AppStore on your iPhone by searching for "Microsoft".

Microsoft envisions that such tags could in the future be printed on business cards, shown in print ads,XMLAficionadoBarCode on billboards, or even shown on TV, and the system is supposedly so flexible that it can deal even with out-of-focus or tiny versions of these barcodes. Hmm, so I created a new tag already for the URL of this XML Aficionado blog, and now I need to think where I should affix this to - maybe I'll print a T-Shirt with this new design and will wear it at the next conference I go to...

Further information and other blog reactions can be found on TechMeme.

TechEd, Open XML, and HDR Photography

While being at TechEd in Orlando, FL, last week, I had lunch with Doug Mahugh and we talked about the upcoming ODF support in Office 2007 SP2, the new features in the Open XML SDK, Altova's new support for Open XML diff/merge in DiffDog, creation of Open XML from StyleVision, and data integration and mapping for Open XML in MapForce, as well as various other XML-related topics.

We also talked about some other industry topics and finally came to chat about HDR (high dynamic range) photography. Doug sent me a few links to some of his recent photos, and this one impressed me the most.

I couldn't help it and had to get the software the same day. However, as I had left my Canon SLR camera at home for this trip, I wasn't able to test-drive HDR imaging until I got back home today:

1X5F2686_7_8

Obviously, this isn't a particularly exciting scene - I just shot from our balcony towards the end of the cul-de-sac. I used an automatic exposure bracketing of ±2 and loaded all three images into Photomatix and then played with some settings in the tone-mapping to create some vibrant and surreal colors.

But I still like the result quite a bit - it makes me want to go out and take some HDR photos of Marblehead harbor and experiment with other local scenes where the high dynamic range can come into play nicely.

Creating Open XML (OOXML) Spreadsheet Documents

As Office Open XML (OOXML) gains more wide-spread adoption and popularity - and since it is now an ISO standard - developers will be interested in how easy it is to create Open XML documents directly in their applications, e.g. spreadsheet documents that are compatible with Excel 2007. Most approaches require quite a bit of hand-coding and worrying about the actual OpenXML specifications, but what I want to show you today on the XML Aficionado blog is a way to use MapForce to auto-generate all the source-code (for example in C#) that will produce the desired .xlsx document so that you can integrate it into your applications (and use it royalty-free within your organization).

I will use a very simple example to demonstrate how you can turn some raw sales data in an arbitrary XML format:

SalesDataXML

into a pretty business graph in Excel 2007:

SalesDataGraph

For such a simple use-case you could, of course, simply open the XML file in Excel 2007 directly, but I am only using a simple example to illustrate the process. The true power of this approach is that you can easily work with very complex data in a visual and intuitive manner - and that you can auto-generate the source-code to implement this as part of your application to automate such processes.

So let's open MapForce and insert the XML data file into our working surface where we are going to define the mapping:

MapForceXMLfile

Next we are going to insert an OpenXML spreadsheet document into the work surface of our mapping project - we can either insert an empty spreadsheet, or we can use an example document that we have previously created in Excel to indicate what sheets and what data ranges or labels should be receiving our data:

MapForceExcelTarget

Now it is time to define how the source XML data should be mapped to the target OpenXML document. This particular mapping is just one example - MapForce lets you map between any combination of XML, relational database, EDI, flat-file (e.g. legacy text files), and OpenXML spreadsheet documents. In our case we are going to convert from start-date/end-date ranges in the XML source to months in the OpenXML document and from states to regions:

SalesDataMapping

Once you've defined the whole mapping, this is how your project will look in MapForce - note that underneath the blue-gradient working surface the "Mapping" tab is the one that is presently selected, because I've just defined my mapping between the input and output files:

MapForceScreenshot

To test my mapping - before I auto-generate my program code, I can click on the "Output" tab underneath the working surface, and MapForce opens up Excel 2007 embedded within the same application frame to show me the result that is produced by my mapping:

SalesDataExcelOutput

This Excel table is then used to produce the graph that I showed earlier.

Now I want to auto-generate code in C# for my data integration project that will automate this generation of Excel 2007 OpenXML documents, so the next step is to check the code-gen settings to ensure that I generate it for the correct development environment - in my case Visual Studio .NET 2008 - but MapForce supports many other environments and can also generate code in C++ or Java in addition to C#.

CSharpSetting

OK, now we are ready to generate code. All that is required is using the corresponding command on the File menu, and all the source-code files are placed in a designated output directory, and the corresponding solution file for Visual Studio is generated as well:

MapForceCodeGen

The auto-generated source-code can now be integrated into any application and can be used royalty-free within your organization to automate the creation of Open XML (OOXML) spreadsheet documents.

If you would like to experiment a bit more with this example yourself, you can find all the files used here in the MapForceExamples directory when you download the free 30-day evaluation version of MapForce.

Also, keep in mind that you can use Excel 2007 files (or any other OpenXML spreadsheet documents) in MapForce both as input and output files, so you can create data integration applications and mapping or conversion code for any possible scenario that involves OOXML spreadsheet data, XML, EDI, or relational databases.

WorldWide Telescope - pretty, but not revolutionary

Microsoft Research has launched a public beta of the WorldWide Telescope (WWT) this week, which has generated considerable buzz in the blogosphere - mainly because über-geek blogger Robert Scoble stated that it made him cry when he saw a preview earlier this year.

I just downloaded the beta version myself and it is indeed pretty. Think of Google Earth, but looking outward at the universe rather than at our planet here. You can scroll and zoom and explore and see the night sky in much more detail than most people have ever experienced in a planetarium. It has a detailed database of astronomical objects, including stars, planets, constellations, and galaxies. You can use a search function to find any celestial object, or you can use the locator pane that points out noteworthy objects in your current field of view.

And it comes with great guided tours - slides, pictures from different wavelength images, and narration - that give you expert insights into little corners of the universe you didn't know about. And it allows you to control your actual telescope to zoom in on the same object you are viewing on your computer. And it's free. So it's a nice educational tool, no doubt.

But does it make me cry?

Hardly, if you consider that it has all been done before. For the avid hobby astronomer such features have already been available for quite a while. Starry Night Software does exactly what the WWT does, i.e. it lets you explore the night sky and provides guided tours to various astronomical events, controls your telescope, and it has far more features than the WWT. The only difference is that you have to buy Starry Night on a CD/DVD and install it on your computer, whereas you use WWT like you are using Google Earth: with a thin client viewer and all the data resides on the web.

The one thing I do like about the WWT is that any tours created in the software are, of course, stored in XML format. Microsoft hasn't yet published the specifications or schema for them, but I was able to create a short tour myself and then edited it further with our XMLSpy XML Editor.

So what is so innovative about the WWT that it warrants such a buzz? All it does is apply the thin client viewer plus cloud database approach to an astronomy application. That is certainly not revolutionary - I'd say it's not even original. Why you need a research lab to do it, is beyond me. It sure is a pretty application, but it simply doesn't deserve the hype and attention.

Open XML is now an ISO Standard

The official press-release came out of the ISO offices on April 2nd and Open XML (OOXML) is now an ISO Standard with the official designation IS 29500.

Microsoft issued a press release today, and states that 86% of all voting bodies and 75% of P-members approved the standard - both measures being above the needed thresholds of 75% and 66.7% respectively.

See also the following blog and media reactions today:

There is also an interesting story floating around that Norway allegedly seeks to reverse its Open XML vote to No - but that seems to be irrelevant given the high margins that the tallied outcome has over the minimum requirements for approval as a standard.

To get an early start working with Open XML (IS 29500), check out Altova's support for Open XML in our XMLSpy XML Editor.

You are also invited to read all previous articles on Open XML on this XML Aficionado blog - especially my January 30 tutorial post on Content reuse with Open XML and XSLT.