Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

How the Hell Do You Kill XBox Live Auto-Renewal Once and For All?

Update #5: Just got a call from a real nice guy at Microsoft who told me that they are going to do a full refund now on my Auto-Renewal. He explained why this happened and how they responded to it. The basic problem was that my renewal was set on Jan 5, but apparently I’m billed on my anniversary date which is why I wasn’t billed until February. By that time my 30 days had been up for a full refund. He said he understood that in cases like mine though that this could cause a problem. Also took the time to hear about my trouble with this and said he’d use this input to try and improve how Microsoft handles cases like this in the future. Thanks to whoever has the clout there and passed this problem along. :)

Some of you may have read my rant last month where I was upset with XBox Live after they stuck me with a charge for autorenewal on their live Gold plan that I did not use and did not want. I had to fight with them for about an hour on the phone to get the $60 charge dropped down to like $7 or so and to finally have them supposedly “cancel” my account. I thought I was done with them but then I find the following email in my inbox this morning.

Am I really going to have to actually cancel my credit card to get Microsoft to leave me alone? How come after I spend an hour on the phone with them trying to stop auto-renewal I now get a new email saying that they are going to ramp up the charging my credit card thing again? What a scam. I wish there was a way I could just start dipping into Microsoft’s credit card and stealing from them every month.

Dear thomashawk22,

Your subscription to Gold – 1 Month for $1 is scheduled to be automatically renewed to Gold – 1 Month on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. Please retain a copy of this for your records. Here is a description of the service:

This membership auto-renews monthly at the then current price (subject to change) until you cancel. You may cancel at any time. For cancellation info, call 1-800-4MY-XBOX or see www.xbox.com/live/accounts. For only $9.99 Plus Applicable Taxes, your 1-month Gold membership allows you to play games online with friends and enjoy Gold-only discounts. In addition, instantly stream HD movies from Netflix* and watch live sports and highlights from ESPN on Xbox LIVE*. Connect with friends and family through Facebook, Twitter, and Video Kinect – right from your TV! Then, tune into personalized music with Last.fm and Zune Pass*. (*Additional subscriptions and requirements apply; see xbox.com/live)

Please confirm that your account and payment information is up to date.

You can update your payment method by visiting https://billing.microsoft.com, and logging in with your Windows Live ID.

Once you have logged in do the following:

1. Click go to personal information
2. In the “Your Payment Methods” section, click “View/Edit” next to the payment method you need to update or change
3. Click Edit payment method information
4. Update your payment method information, or click use a different payment method if you need to switch to a new one.

If your account information is still accurate, there’s no need to do a thing. Sit back, relax, your membership will automatically renew and we’ll see you on Xbox LIVE! For more info, go to www.xbox.com/support or call Xbox Customer Support at 1 (800) 4MY-XBOX.

Thank you for using Microsoft Online Services.

Xbox LIVE Team

Update: What’s even worse is that when I go to the url to try and stop this as indicated in this email, I get the following message:

“Your account has been temporarily blocked

Why are you seeing this?

Someone may have used your account to send out a lot of junk messages or done something else that violates the Windows Live Terms of Service.

What do you need to do?

We’ll send a verification code to your mobile phone. All you need is a phone that can receive text messages. After you enter the code, you can sign in.”

No way in hell Microsoft gets my mobile phone number AND my credit card number. I don’t want to start seeing unauthorized Microsoft charges showing up on my phone bill next.

Why can’t Microsoft make money the old fashioned way, by creating great products at a great value rather than trying to steal from people?

Update #3: After waiting on hold and then spending 20 minutes on the phone with Microsoft I was told that autorenew is turned off for reals now. I was told that they were going to have to charge me $1 on this coming Friday though, but that after that there would be no more charges. I still don’t understand the $1 charge but was told that it was something on their “back-end” and that the last rep that I dealt with “really went to bat for me.”

So Microsoft charged me $59.99 autorenewal fee on February 4, 2011. I called them the day after I got the bill and on February 16, 2011 they refunded me back $52.25 (apparently they told me that I was out of my “refund window” even though I called the day after I got my credit card bill). Now they are going to charge me $1 additional more on this coming Friday and then supposedly I’m really done. What a PITA. I think what I’m going to do after they charge my card on Friday is call American Express, dispute the $1 and the $59.99 charges on my bill but not their $52.25 credit. This way they can see what it feels like for me to take some money from them for a little while. They can deal with American Express on the dispute and try to sort it all out on their end. I figure all the time I’ve spent on the phone with them is probably worth $60.99 anyways.

Update #4, just got the email below from Microsoft 19 minutes ago:

“Dear thomashawk22,

Your subscription to Gold – 1 Month for $1 will expire on Wednesday, March 16, 2011. To avoid a possible interruption of your subscription service, please renew your subscription by Wednesday, March 16, 2011.

To extend your subscription, just use a credit card online at this site: http://www.xbox.com/extendmembership

You can update your payment method by visiting https://billing.microsoft.com, and logging in with your Windows Live ID.

Once you have logged in do the following:

1. Click go to personal information
2. In the “Your Payment Methods” section, click “View/Edit” next to the payment method you need to update or change
3. Click Edit payment method information
4. Update your payment method information, or click use a different payment method if you need to switch to a new one.

If you have already renewed your subscription, please accept our thanks.

Thank you for using Microsoft Online Services.

Xbox LIVE Team”

Microsoft’s Sleazy XBox Live Autorenewal Credit Card Scam

Yesterday I got my AMEX bill. I noticed on there that there was a charge for $59.99 to Microsoft for XBox Live Gold Renewal.

I’ve been really happy about being able to dump Microsoft’s crappy XBox 360 Netflix tax (they charge you $59.99 per year in order to stream your already paid for Netflix to your XBox 360) ever since buying an Apple TV in December (which streams your XBox 360 for free).

I wasn’t aware that Microsoft was going to autorenew me and charge my credit card, so today, the day after I got my credit card bill, I called Microsoft to ask why they’d autorenewed me without my authorization and to see if I could have the charge reversed out. (I’ve streamed no Netflix movies on the XBox 360 by the way since the auto renewal date in Jan).

First before I called Microsoft I tried to see if I could figure things out online myself. I tried to go to my Windows Live account to look into it but was told that it had been temporarily “blocked.” According to the page “Someone may have used your account to send out a lot of junk messages or done something else that violates the Windows Live Terms of Service.” They wanted my cell phone number to unblock it and so I just said screw it and called Microsoft.

After screwing around with the standard push 2 for this and 1 for that and 3 for this I finally got a real person. I explained to this person calmly and politely about the charge and asked her if she’d reverse it for me and make sure the account was closed. After about 5 minutes with her it was determined that she did not have the authority to do this and that I was going to need to go to some other department. Fine.

So the next guy I got first tried to talk me out of canceling. Do you like “sports” he asked? No, I answered back. These sort of questions went on for a while until he finally offered to renew me at the price of $44.99 instead of the $59.99.

I explained to him that the only reason I had the live account in the first place was to stream Netflix and that now that i could do that for free on AppleTV and the wii that I didn’t need this anymore he finally agreed that there was nothing that XBox Live Gold really offered me that I wanted or used and began the process of trying to help me with a refund.

I explained to this guy that 1. I wasn’t aware that I was on autorenewel. That 2. I hadn’t used the service at all since it “autorenewed.” and 3. that I just got my bill yesterday and called as soon as I saw the charge.

He explained to me that the autorenewal thing was part of the EULA I’d agreed to and so it was in fact authorized. Ok, whatever. He also told me that Microsoft sent me an email (which maybe they did but I never got it. I could have inadvertently deleted it or it could have gone to spam or who knows). But one thing he wouldn’t/couldn’t do was offer me a refund.

Instead he suggested that he cancel my one year account, resign me up for a month to month service. That I could then call back tomorrow to cancel the month to month service and I’d only have to pay $23 instead of the $59.99.

I told him that I found this unacceptable and that I called as soon as I’d seen this charge and that I thought it was deceptive for them to hide an autorenew clause in the EULA. We went round and round about this for a bit until he said look I’d like to be able to refund you, really I would, but the system just won’t let me.

At that point I asked to talk to the next level of supervisor up. He told me that I could wait if I wanted but that it was going to be a waste of time and that he was just going to tell me the same thing.

I decided to “waste my time” anyways and talked to the next level up guy. He examined the situation, repeated a bit of what the other guy told me and finally agreed to help me cancel my account without having to call back the next day. He said he was going to charge me $7 though. I’m not quite sure why but I said sure go ahead.

So now I’m officially off of XBox Live. And it only cost me about $7 and an hour of my time. At least I got a blog post out of it.

Personally I think it’s sleazy for Microsoft to hide autorenewal stuff in an EULA. But if they are going to do this and somebody calls the day after they get their bill, they should at least agree to refund them 100% of their money and without all the hassle that I had to go through to get a partial refund.

I’m glad to be done with Microsoft though finally. I moved my Windows phone to an iPhone and then Android phone. I’ve moved my families 3 PCs to Macs. And now I’m finally done with the XBox and can stream Netflix for free now on our wii or AppleTV.

An Evolution from Windows to Mac

mceThe above photo is the very first photo I ever uploaded to Flickr on January 2nd, 2005. At the time it was my home set up for my Microsoft Media Center PC. I’ve stuck with a Media Center PC in the home now for six years, upgrading with each successive version of Windows. Is now the time to switch the last remaining PC in my home to a Mac and try something new? Fortunately for me, my photography has come a long way since 2005. :)

Back in 2006 I wrote a blog post about making my first switch from Windows to Mac after using PCs for 15 years. At the time I was using a Dell laptop as my primary computer. I was tired of all of the stupid little problems I was having with it (I couldn’t disable tap to click on it for example) and I was tired of just all the general errors it seemed to have daily.

It was sort of a difficult move for me to make, as like most people I’d gotten stuck in my ways, and it meant thinking about my computing differently. But in the end I ended up making the switch and moved my primary day to day computing to a MacBook Pro.

I was really happy that I made this change and three years or so later when it came time to upgrade, I replaced my old MacBook Pro with a new 17 inch model. I couldn’t be happier with this decision. Despite a few hiccups here and there, my MacBook Pros have been far more reliable for me than my old Dell laptop (or any previous PC) had been.

And so last year when the PC in the kitchen came down with a virus (even though I try to train my kids not to install things, they were installing crap anyways), after spending about 3 hours trying to fix the PC (this virus was particularly mean and even disabled the DVD drive preventing me from reinstalling the software), I just said screw it and went out and replaced it with a Mac Mini. Again, I couldn’t be more happy with that decision. Only I know the password to the Mac Mini, which means that I get to review anything that’s installed. It’s remained virus free and has performed very well for a computer that is mostly just used to access internet on, email and other light use in the kitchen.

So two of the 3 PCs in my home have now been replaced by Macs.

Now my final PC in my home is going out and I have to make a decision what to do next. Yesterday, for some inexplicable reason, my Media Center PC just started going super, super slow and even freezing. After a while the screen would turn totally black and the only way to get it back was to reboot it. Then I’d reboot it and it would work for a few minutes — but eventually freeze up again. It will last longer when I reboot in safe mode, but I can’t get it to run normally in regular mode at all.

At present I use this PC for three things. I use it to manage my finished JPG photos that I upload to Flickr. I use it as a Media Center PC to stream media to 3 XBox 360 Extender units in the home. And my wife uses it to edit her photos on in Lightroom. My kids also use it from time to time to browse the web.

So I’m thinking of kicking out the final PC in my home and replacing it with an iMac. I’ve been reluctant to do this for a while because I haven’t wanted to spend money on a new iMac, plus I’ve felt like I’ve needed the PC around to read two drobos which are formatted NTFS. (I was able to install Google’s FUSE yesterday and can now access my NTFS Drobos on my Mac — but it’s slow, thanks Tim!)

I bought a new Drobo this morning and two new Western Digital 2TB drives. I think what I’m going to do is to format this new drobo FAT32 and then start my PC in safe mode with networking and transfer all of my files from my main photo archive Drobo over the network to this new Drobo. I should probably have done this anyways a while ago. The old Drobo is a first gen USB2 Drobo and as much as I use these files, it would probably be better to have my Mac Book Pro handle these images with a faster FireWire 800 connection. Once this transfer is complete I can reformat the NTFS first gen Drobo as FAT32 and use it for more archive storage, which I access much less frequently.

I’ve also used this PC as my Media Center and replacing it would involve revisting my home media strategy.

My Home Media strategy is a bit more complicated though. I do like being able to use Media Center on the three XBox 360s. But I think it might be time to replace Media Center with something else. I’ve been disappointed that Microsoft charges me a $60 per year tax to stream Netflix on the XBox 360s and I’ve never been happy with Media Center’s ability to handle my large mp3/photo collections. Having to wait 5 minutes for my music/photos to load at times has really been annoying to me.

But the question is then, what do I replace the Media Center PC / Xbox 360 extenders with? AppleTV? Will it stream my large digital photo / music library through iTunes reliably? Or will I get hit with the same performance problems I saw with Windows Media Center?

Do I wait for GoogleTV to come out? (it’s almost here right?) Will GoogleTV even stream photos and video? And what about watching live TV and using a PVR? At present I use an HD HomeRun HDTV tuner with my Media Center PC and have it record a lot of OTA HD content for me to stream. Can I use an HDTV OTA tuner with an iMac/AppleTV combo? Can I use my existing HomeRun dual tuner? What about GoogleTV? Or should I be looking at something else entirely? Is TiVo even in the game anymore for home streaming?

Or should I just replace the final PC in my home with another PC and *hope* that my next experience with a Media Center PC is a little better. I bought the very first Microsoft Media Center PC the very first day it came out back in July of 2004 and this current PC is my third box running Media Center. Maybe the fourth time’s the charm?

My thinking right now though is that it’s time to kick the final PC out of my home. I’m sick and tired of the unreliability of Windows. Macs can have problems too, I know that. But my experience over the last several years have been that my Macs are far more reliable than my PCs ever have been, and even when I have problems, it is nice to know that I can always set an appointment with a Mac Genius and have someone with a little more know how than me help me troubleshoot things in person locally. So maybe I just do this and then figure out my home media strategy from there.

We’ll see how things unfold in the next few days.

Microsoft’s $60 Netflix Tax/Toll Sucks

XBox 360

I’ve had a Microsoft Media Center set up in my home now for several years. I’ve got a media center PC in the basement which is connected to three XBox 360 extender units. One in my bedroom, one in my sons’ bedroom and one in the living room. These units stream OTA HDTV that I get from a TV Tuner. They also stream my music and photos. I like this functionality with my XBoxes.

I also use the DVD drive in my XBoxes to play movies that I get from my Netflix subscription.

What I don’t do with my XBox 360s is play games. I have no time for video games. I’m trying to publish a million photos before I die. When I’m not spending time with my family or shooting or processing or doing other internet stuff, I’m definitely not gaming. My kids play games a little, but even then they are not *that* into it, they certainly don’t use XBox Live. What we mostly use our XBox 360s for is for streaming media in our home. And while I understand that this is not really the primary reason why this device was created, they work well for this generally speaking.

One thing I *hate* about my XBoxes though is that Microsoft forces me to have an XBox Live Gold account in order to stream my already paid for Netflix content. Sony Playstation doesn’t require an XBox Live Gold subscription to stream Netlix. the wii doesn’t require an XBox Live Gold subscription to stream Netflix. The Roku doesn’t require an XBox Live Gold subscription to stream Netflix. Apparently there are tons of other devices, blue ray DVD players, etc., none of which require a tax to stream Netflix. I’m guessing that the new streaming options on the upcoming Google TV and Apple’s new revamped Apple TV aren’t going to require an XBox Live Gold account either.

It seems like Microsoft is the only company that wants to screw over Netflix subscribers. So why does Microsoft insist on boning me $60 a year to watch the Netflix that I already pay for on their device? They were charging me $50 a year to watch my already paid for content but then two days ago I got this friendly greedy email from the XBox Live Team rubbing salt into the wound letting me know that they were going to start charging me even more:

Dear thomashawk22:

Thank you for being a valued member of Xbox LIVE Gold. We hope you are enjoying the many exciting and exclusive features that are included in your membership. We wanted to let you know about an upcoming price increase for your Xbox LIVE Gold subscription and how you can lock in your current price to continue enjoying everything you’ve come to love about Xbox LIVE, plus all the upcoming additions, including ESPN and Hulu Plus.

Besides launching the new features and titles, we will also be increasing the price of Gold membership on November 1, 2010. The new prices are as follows:

Old Price New Price

1-Month Gold Subscription $7.99 $9.99

3-Month Gold Subscription $19.99 $24.99

12-Month Gold Subscription $49.99 $59.99

If the renewal date on your current subscription is on or after November 1, 2010, your subscription will automatically renew at the new price, charged to the credit card we currently have on file for your account.

In my case, I’m generally happy with using the Microsoft Media Center platform to consume media in my home. But I’m not happy about paying a Microsoft tax in order to consume already paid for content.

So I won’t be renewing my XBox Live Gold account. I want to put my XBox 360s up for sale on eBay, but first I have to figure out a better overall media streaming strategy for my home. I’m hoping that Google TV will actually do a lot of what I’d like to do as my life seems to be moving more and more to Google products anyways.

I might even be able to put up with Microsoft’s lame $60 tax except for the fact that they insist on charging me $60 per year for each unit. Yes, that’s right, $180 per year to consume paid for Netflix content on these devices. This greedy move on Microsoft’s part is short sighted. I’m sure I’m just a blip on the radar and they probably don’t care one iota about screwing over home media non-gamer enthusiasts with their tax.

Netflix Customer Survey

Screenshot1

I just answered an online Netflix customer survey that I was selected for. Among other things I was asked if I’d like to be considered to offer a testimonial in a possible future advertising campaign and was told that Netflix’s advertising agency is currently interviewing customers for this campaign.

The survey also focused on my streaming activity and on how many people were in my family. Netflix was interested both in the devices that I use to stream as well as where I stream.

As a total unrelated aside, I think it’s highway robbery that Microsoft tries to tax me $150 a year to consume my Netflix content that I already pay for on my XBox 360s. The fact that I can stream Netflix *for free* on virtually every other device but get reamed by Microsoft for wanting to consume my own paid for content via my XBox 360 is disappointing. I hope Microsoft reconsiders this horribly customer unfriendly policy. What’s next? Is Microsoft going to start charging me a toll or tariff to listen to my own mp3s on the XBox 360?

If you’d like to see the whole Netflix Survey you can check it out here.

Does Anyone Know How Windows Media Player Writes Your Star Ratings to Your Files?

How Does Windows Media Player Write Your Star Ratings

One of the things that I’ve been worrying about lately is all of the time that I spend rating music and how portable these ratings are. I’ve got over 100,000 mp3s at this point, most all of which I’ve ripped personally myself from CDs over the years, and for the past several years I’ve been using Microsoft’s Windows Media Player to rate these songs on a one to five star scale. Windows Media Player has an option that you can check under the library tab titled “maintain my star ratings as global ratings in files.” I have that option checked and have always assumed that as I rate songs in Windows Media Player that it is in fact actually doing what it is supposed to and actually writing these ratings to my mp3 files. And many of my songs in my music library do in fact have ratings associated with the files.

But lately I’ve been noticing that after I rate a song in Windows Media Player that if I actually go the the mp3 file itself it is not showing that same rating (see screenshot above which compares a song that I just rated in Windows Media Player with the rating shown vs. the same song in Windows explorer where it is showing no rating).

Now there could be a couple of reasons why this is happening. My first thought is that Windows Media Player does not in fact write a rating to a song file immediately. Maybe in order to improve performance it adds these ratings in batches later or when it updates your library. With my very large library maybe I just need to be patient and the rating will in fact show up in a day or two. But then again maybe my Windows Media Player library is corrupt (this actually has happened to me quite a bit and usually I know that it’s corrupted when Windows Media Player will no longer pull down meta data when I’m trying to rip new CDs).

My question is does anyone know exactly how Windows Media Player writes star ratings to your files? I actually like Windows Media Player enough to continue using it as my primary music player, but I’m worried that all of the time that I’m spending rating songs is in fact wasted time and it’s important to me that my song ratings are actually stored in my song files and not just in my windows media player library (especially since that library seems to frequently corrupt and I also want to be able to filter out my just my 5 star rated songs using Windows Explorer to copy them over to the smaller hard drive on my laptop).

Appreciate any insight from anyone who might understand how this actually works.

Update: Ok, I think I may have figured out how this works. Under the tools command is a menu item “Apply Media Information Changes.” I just ran this. The first time it hung at 0% processing giving me a server error for a long time so I googled around some more and saw that you can select to take WMP offline under the file command. After I did this and ran the “apply media information” command again, after about two hours it updated my ratings (or at least the rating on the test file I referenced above). So it seems that when you apply ratings to songs in WMP that they are just applied in the library until you apply the changes with the command to your files. Thanks by the way to Dave, who referenced this in the first comment as well.

Microsoft Doesn’t Think People In India Should Be Allowed to Search for the Term “Sex”

Microsoft Doesn't Think People In India Should Be Allowed to Search for the Term "Sex"

Thanks to sandelion for pointing out an interesting fact to me about Microsoft’s new search engine bing. I blogged about bing earlier this week and have been using it as my default search engine instead of Google all week. Apparently Microsoft has decided that part of their job with the new search engine is to become the world’s new censor.

At first I couldn’t believe this. Why would Microsoft think limiting the information provided in a search engine to be a good thing? But then I tried it myself. You can try it too. Just change your location preference in bing from the U.S. to India and try searching for the term “sex.” Yes, Microsoft has decided in their infinite wisdom that Indians should not be allowed to search for information about sex. In Microsoft’s words, “The search sex may return sexually explicit content. To get results, change your search terms.” That’s right, there’s no, “okay, I’m a big boy, go ahead and show me my results” button next to this Microsoft error message, there is simply a message telling you to change your search term. It’s like an instant trip back to the Victorian age.

Now in fairness, it seems that people in India could always just change their country preference from India to the U.S. to get these search results, but it’s still super lame that Microsoft would deem it necessary for people to have to change their country preferences to look up something as universal as “sex.” And many people of course won’t think to do this.

Google, by the way, has no problem with people searching for the term “sex” in India. I guess that’s all part of that whole “organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful” thing that they seem to be after. Since bing supposedly stands for “bing is not google,” maybe Microsoft should adopt their own mission statement for bing. It could be “censoring the world’s information and making it inaccessible and useless.”

This sort of censorship is a really stupid decision on Microsoft’s part. It’s the biggest reason yet I’ve heard for why I won’t use bing anymore. Censorship sucks Microsoft, don’t you know that yet?

More here.

On Slashdot here.

Why I Don’t Think Microsoft’s New Bing Search Engine is For Me

Microsoft's New Bing

Ned: Phil? Hey, Phil? Phil! Phil Connors? Phil Connors, I thought that was you!
Phil: Hi, how you doing? Thanks for watching.
[Starts to walk away]
Ned: Hey, hey! Now, don’t you tell me you don’t remember me because I sure as heckfire remember you.
Phil: Not a chance.
Ned: Ned… Ryerson. “Needlenose Ned”? “Ned the Head”? C’mon, buddy. Case Western High. Ned Ryerson: I did the whistling belly-button trick at the high school talent show? Bing! Ned Ryerson: got the shingles real bad senior year, almost didn’t graduate? Bing, again. Ned Ryerson: I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple times until you told me not to anymore? Well?
Phil: Ned Ryerson?
Ned: Bing!
Phil: Bing.

For the past two days I’ve been using Microsoft’s new Bing search engine exclusively. I’ve stopped using Google and instead used only Bing. The main reason why I did this was because I’d like to see viable competition to Google in the search engine space — plus I just like to try new things. After using Bing for two days exclusively though, I think I’ll probably be going back to Google. I’m still going to give Bing a couple more days but so far the Cons of using Bing outweigh the Pros.

As it see it, following are the positives and negatives of Bing.

Positives

1. The fact that Bing starts playing video thumbnails when you mouse over them in search results is super slick. This really helps in finding the video content that you are most interested in.

2. I really like image search on Bing. More specifically, I think the results are generally good and I *love* that I don’t have to page — that Bing incorporated live.com’s endless scrolling of search results.

Negatives

1. The biggest negative to me so far is the fact that Bing burries news search off the main page. I do many news queries every single day. Frequently I’ll be searching for something via Google and click on Google news. The fact that Bing makes you click on “more” to get to news search frankly flabbergasts me. This seems so basic that I honestly can’t believe someone at MSFT could not figure this one out. Instead of getting “news” search on the main page you get Shopping, MSN and Windows Live. How is it that MSFT has room for those search items but not “news?”

2. I’m not entirely happy with the search results. A case in point. Earlier today I was trying to find Microsoft’s Bing Blog so that I could leave some of these comments there. So I did a search on Bing for “Bing Blog” Microsoft. What comes up? Lots of less than relevant stuff, but anything but the actual Microsoft Bing Blog. What I was looking for. By contrast, I do a search for “Bing Blog” Microsoft on Google, I actually can find the Bing Blog in the first page search results.

It also feels to me like Google consistently has wikipedia entries higher up the search results list than Bing. I might be wrong on that, it’s just the impression that I got after doing several searches. Frequently wikipedia contains the most relevant info on a search subject and I like seeing them displayed more prominently.

3. The Bing stuff feels sluggish to me. Several times when I tried to load the Bing Blog (and most frustrating after I typed a lengthy comment) the page wouldn’t load. It seems to be hanging on “transferring data from analytics.r.msn.com” and so the community experience has not been good.

4. Microsoft only lets you set your settings preferences to allow 50 results per page during searches (Google by contrast allows you 100 items per search on a page). Paging sucks and the less that I have to do of it the better.

5. Microsoft Maps need a ton of work. I use Google Maps a lot. Mostly to set up maps of things that I want to photograph in various cities. MSFT seems to have a similar way to build your own maps using Bing Maps. They call them collections. I started making a “collection” of neon signs in San Francisco that I still need to shoot, but was really put off that my “collections” list is a huge box that blocks about 40% of my map view (you can’t drag this menu any place but directly over your map). With Google your saved locations sit in a column on the left side of the page and doesn’t block your map view.

Given that I use Map Search so much and that Map Search feels so clunky with MSFT, this is probably one more reason why I’d want to go back to Google.

I’m going to keep trying Bing for the next few days to see if things improve. But most likely I’ll be going back to Google as I doubt that they can improve any of the above negatives very quickly.

Update: It looks like “News” is now on the Bing home page. This definitely was not what I was seeing yesterday on the site. This is good news.

Netflix Watch Now on Your Microsoft Media Center PC, But No Extender Support

Cupcake LoveWell Microsoft probably just incorporated my number one Media Center feature request into Media Center, unfortunately though they have decided *not* to include this support for the Media Center extender. Beginning immediately Windows Vista Media Center users can watch Netflix “Watch Now” programming on their Media Center PCs.

I am a *huge* fan of Microsoft Media Center’s Technology. At present it allows me to consume free OTA HDTV (along with a killer DVR), access my entire music library and playlists, access all of my photos in my library, and access some of my home video files (unfortunately the Media Center doesn’t support video files from the new Canon 5D M2 and I haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to convert these files yet — Apple does support these files in Qucktime by the way). All of this great technology is done on my Media Center PC in my attic. Then, best of all, I can stream all of this content seamlessly to XBox 360s extender units in my living room, bedroom and kitchen (you know, sort of the places where you consume this kind of media as opposed to up in my attic).

Now, a bunch of sites are abuzz this morning about Netflix Watch Now coming to the Media Center PC. But what’s so great about this? Personally, if Microsoft won’t let me consume this content on an extender unit, what good is that? If I want to watch Netflix Watch Now on an actual PC, I can just go directly to the Netflix page and watch it. While it’s probably a tiny bit better to watch it in Media Center (saves me a step or going directly to a website) it’s really not that big of an advancement.

Now Microsoft will probably say, yeah but… you can already stream Netflix watch now on an XBox 360. But there are several problems with this technology as it stands now.

1. Not everyone is using an XBox 360 as an extender unit. Other extender units are left out in the cold.

2. Streaming Watch Now to an XBox 360 requires a lame Microsoft Live Gold membership. I don’t want a Microsoft Live Gold Membership. I don’t do any gaming. I hate the fact that I have to pay for this membership that I don’t want in order to see my Netflix Watch Now service that I’m already paying Netflix for.

3. It’s a pain in the ass to have to log into my Live Gold membership every single time I turn my XBox 360 on before I can get to my Netflix Watch Now Service.

4. It sucks that it is *extremely* difficult to watch Netflix Watch Now on multiple XBox 360s. The only way to do this is to go through a cumbersome processing of reclaiming your existing gamer tag on a new box. Since there is no keyboard with my XBox 360s, this involves me going through about a five minute process of entering in passwords, email addresses, and lots of other information with a little XBox 360 game controller just in order to say watch a movie in my living room instead of in my bedroom. It frustrates my wife even more than me.

Now if today’s announcement also included a promise that Microsoft is still working on extender support and hopes to have it in the near future I’d be very happy. But there is no promise that we will ever see Watch Now support on Media Center extender units and so today’s news in my opinion is worse than no news or feature at all.

My own personal belief is that Hollywood and the studios do NOT want you to have Netflix Watch now in an easy way to consume on your television set at all, ever. They make much more money off of you by showing you TV with commercials or making you watch the content on DVD than they do when they revenue share streaming money with Netflix. By giving you Netflix in Media Center (but only on the PC where you could just as easily just watch it on Netflix’s site) they’ve given you really nothing at all. Without a promise of future extender support today’s news is pretty disappointing to me actually.

You can read the official Microsoft page on this news here. The more interesting conversation though is happening over at The Green Button here — where the hardcore Media Center geeks hang out.

The great promise of Media Center extender technology was that it would bring anything you could do on a PC to quieter, easier devices connected to your television set in the networked and connected home. By crippling this important technology and restricting it from Media Center extender devices this is a step backwards. Heck, I’d even pay Microsoft the same $50 a year to have this on my extender than I pay for the lame XBox Live Gold Membership that I’ve got now.

Microsoft’s DeepZoomPix Viewer is Pretty Cool

PhotoMetadataUrl=http://deepzoompix.com/API/PhotoMetadata.ashx?alias=thomashawk&album=2,Get Microsoft Silverlight

The slide show above is from a new photo viewer by Microsoft called DeepZoomPix. The technology feels a lot like CoolIris to me and I think that you are going to see more and more dynamic ways of viewing photos online like this in the future. The view above is pretty simplistic as an embedable slide player, but you get a far more interesting view if you actually click through to one of my albums. You can check out the more interactive version of the above slide show here.

Use your mouse or scroll pad to increase or decrease the magnification of the photos and to move around and explore a bit.

The player allows you to either upload your own photos to it or to link the player up with either your Flickrstream or your Facebook photos and import photos from there.

I found that it took me several hours to import a little over 400 slides for the slideshow above. For some reason it did not import all 2,000+ of my neon photos, but the average person probably doesn’t hae a 2000 photo high res slide show to put together either.

I think that this player will make for an interesting way to share sets of images from events, vacations, parties, really anywhere where you’d like to put together a relatively quick and easy slideshow.

The service has a fairly strict Code of Conduct which prohibits your using it to display any “nudity of any sort including full or partial human nudity or nudity in non-human forms such as cartoons, fantasy art or manga.pornography, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, hatred, bigotry, racism, or gratuitous violence.”

The offering also is only available through the end of 2009. I’m not sure what happens to your slide shows after that but I suspect that if Microsoft chooses to discontinue the service that the shows could be deleted. Microsoft makes a point of noting that you should not consider this site as a primary place to host your photos and that there are no privacy controls, so anything you publish here will be viewable to the entire world.

According to Microsoft, the primary purpose of this technology is three-fold:

1. Provide an end-user friendly demo around a scenario that everyone can understand.
2. Show designers the capabilities of Silverlight for creating rich user experiences (UX).
3. Show developers how they can use various Microsoft client and platform technologies to easily create compelling and scalable systems.

You can learn more about this new viewer at the FAQ for it here.

Thanks for the heads up Steve!