Microsoft starts cleaning up the Windows Store by removing apps that don’t comply with latest guidelines

windows_store
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Microsoft announced today that it will now more strictly enforce app certification policies in the Windows Store. The company says it will identify apps that are not following its guidelines, inform developers of the issues, and remove apps that don’t comply.

Throughout its rather short three-year life, the Windows Store has been criticized again and again for the various poor apps that plague it. While it has many high-quality apps, it is also a spammer’s paradise full of questionable and scam downloads.

The specific guidelines being targeted are under the 10.1 app certification policy (“Distinct Function & Value; Accurate Representation”) for both new and existing apps. Microsoft says the goal is “to ensure customers can easily find high-value, high-quality apps when shopping in Windows Store.” This effort spans four areas.

First off, Microsoft wants to eliminate app clutter by removing redundant apps. This includes apps that can’t be distinguished from others in the store, apps with similar icons and titles, app icons and titles when they don’t match the app content, and in general listings that don’t properly represent the functionality of the app. “We may also remove apps that do not offer unique content, creative value, or utility,” Microsoft added.

policy1

Secondly, Microsoft wants to ensure appropriate app pricing. Developers will retain sole pricing discretion, but Microsoft says “they should price apps based on their app’s value and functionality” and cannot utilize irregular or unfair practices that violate the Windows Store Code of Conduct. If an app is priced significantly higher than other apps in its category and Microsoft determines that users might be confused and incorrectly believe that the higher price is warranted based on superior functionality or value, the store will remove it.

Third up, Microsoft wants to distinguish informational apps (guides, tutorials, instructional content, reference materials, and so on). The company doesn’t want users accidentally buying an informational app when they intended to purchase a functional app (think game guide vs. actual game). Informational apps must distinguish themselves by displaying a text or banner labeling them as such — those that don’t will be removed.

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Microsoft also wants to ensure relevant app titles and keywords. An app’s description or title should not state that the app is similar to, or better than other apps, unless they are comparable. Developers also cannot use popular and irrelevant keywords to manipulate an app’s placement in search results or overall ranking. If an app has a title, description, or keywords that are not relevant to its purpose or include keywords that are not related to the app, it will be removed.

Microsoft doesn’t say when exactly it will start removing apps. That said, Windows 10 is launching this summer in 190 countries and 111 languages, so we’d wager the company wants to get its ducks in a row before then.

Indeed, Microsoft reminds developers “to make sure your account contact email is accurate in Dev Center, as this is the email the Store uses to begin a dialog with you if we locate any problems with your apps.” Otherwise, your apps might suddenly disappear right before Windows 10 arrives.

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Microsoft integrates its How Old face-recognition tool into Bing image search results

VentureBeat editor in chief Dylan Tweney, estimated to be 58 in this picture by Microsoft's How Old Do I Look? bot.

Microsoft is now approximating the gender and age of people who appear in images in search results in its Bing search engine. This is a new implementation of the face-recognition technology that Microsoft first showed off last month at its Build conference.

To see how it works, just search for a person’s name in Bing — take our editor in chief, Dylan Tweney, as an example. Hit the images tab, click on one of the pictures, and then hit the little gray button floating in the middle of the picture that says, “#HowOldRobot.” Then you’ll see a little box around the face and then an age and gender estimate.

“Sorry if we didn’t get it quite right, we’re still improving this feature,” Bing says in a pop-up that appears when you roll your mouse into the box around the face.

Microsoft in fact does seem to be improving the service, which depends on Microsoft’s Face API. Last week, soon after Microsoft had rolled out a version of the How-Old app for Windows Phone, I uploaded to the web app the same photo of myself that I uploaded when Microsoft debuted How Old Do You Look? at Build. It said I looked 37 — better than the 40 estimate I received when the app debuted a few weeks earlier.

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the use of How-Old service in Bing.


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Microsoft partners with LG, Sony, other OEMs to sell Android tablets featuring Office, OneDrive, Skype

Office Android tabs
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Microsoft announced today that it’s signed up 20 more hardware partners to sell Android tablets with its Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive, and Skype apps included out-of-the-box.

The news follows Microsoft’s announcement in March that it had gotten Samsung, Dell, and several regional hardware makers to sell Android devices packed with those same Microsoft apps.

“Today I’m excited to announce that 20 additional global and local OEM partners, including LG, Sony, Haier, Positivo and Wortman, will make Microsoft productivity applications and services available on their Android tablets. These 31 partners will offer Android tablets pre-installed with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, OneDrive and Skype in the near future,” Nick Parker, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s original equipment manufacturer division, wrote in a blog post today. “They will be available on a new LG tablet, and Sony will include them on their Xperia Z4 tablet in the next 90 days.”

The announcement shows how committed Microsoft is to getting its apps preinstalled on mobile devices that aren’t running Windows. That’s been a clear theme for the past several months — consider, for example, the company’s push to bring free Office apps to iPad, iPhone, Android tablets and phones.

The timing is interesting — it’s coming just a few days before Google’s I/O developer conference.

In addition to LG and Sony, here are the other new OEM partners in the Microsoft Android tablet deal:

Developing….








Windows App Studio now lets you build Windows 10 apps

Microsoft sign Redmond campus Wonderlane Flickr

Microsoft today updated Windows App Studio, its free web-based tool designed to let anyone create an app, with support for the Windows 10 Insider Preview. The company also redesigned the Windows App Studio beta site to make it consistent with the Windows 10 look, and added a slew of new features.

The new beta is able to generate apps for Windows 10, as well as for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1. In December, the tool dropped support for Windows Phone 8.0.

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Is Skype a telecom operator? That’s one question a Belgian court wants answered

Skype - Telecoms
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Is Skype a telecom operator in a similar mould to AT&T or Verizon, or is it a software company that simply permits the transfer of communications over the Internet? That is one question a Belgian court wants answered as it looks to force the Microsoft-owned firm to hand over customer data.

The case in question is an interesting one. On the one hand, the court in Mechelen, north of Brussels, is seeking call and message data to support an ongoing criminal case — something it says all telecom companies operating in the country are legally required to do. On the other hand, Skype has failed to pass on the requested data, which has now led the court to summon Skype to appear, as reported by Reuters.

“The judicial question is whether Skype is also a telecoms operator,” a court spokesman said. If it’s established that Skype is indeed a telecom operator, then the company would have no option but to divulge the data, and it could also be fined.

The saga continues

This question has been raised by telecom companies and regulators for years, and it’s a common gripe whenever newcomers arrive on the scene to “disrupt” an existing industry. We’re seeing the same happen with Uber and taxi firms — Uber frequently argues that it’s not a taxi company and thus shouldn’t be subject to the same laws, but the incumbents disagree.

It’s estimated that telecom companies will lose $386 billion in revenue between 2012 and 2018 to emerging technologies, and there is a growing tide of resentment against the likes of Skype, WhatsApp, and other so-called “over-the-top (OTT)” services. But the tension extends into the broader Internet realm too, with some mobile networks in Europe reportedly considering plans to block online ads by default, forcing companies such as Google to share their revenues to help support the network infrastructure required to enable their respective online offerings.

Regardless of any technological distinctions between how Skype and, say, Deutsche Telekom or France Télécom operate, the very fact that they serve near-identical functions could be enough to bring parity to the legislative framework. It could also mean that Skype would be required to offer emergency calls across the board, something it has only ever offered on a very limited basis.

Back in 2013, it emerged that French regulators were pushing to have Skype investigated over its non-registration as a telecom operator, as required by local law. The case is on-going, but If Skype was to register as a telecom company, it would then be subject to similar tax obligations and even phone-tapping when requested.

It’s a similar situation elsewhere in Europe too, including Belgium. Microsoft doesn’t want Skype classed as a telecom operator, but it seems inevitable that it will eventually have to share the same legal burden.

The overarching problem rears its head whenever local legislation can’t keep apace with technology — but change is slowly happening. The European Commission (E.C.) is currently drawing up plans to overhaul rules in Europe by 2016. It’s all part of building a so-called “digital single market,” which includes applying a more equal regulatory canvas to companies that compete in the same space.








Kinect educational game five times as effective as its mobile version

Kids using a Kinect-powered learning game about elementary physics.
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Experts predict that the learning-games market will grow to $2.3 billion by 2017, with the mobile space leading the charge. But new research shows a lot of value exists in giving kids access to technology-driven learning experiences that extend beyond the screen.

That’s the message coming from a recent study that used Microsoft’s Kinect motion-sensing camera to power an educational game about elementary physics. Researchers from the Human-Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, found that using physical objects along with Kinect improved the effectiveness of learning by nearly five times compared to an equivalent screen-only experience.

The study got groups of kids to build real-world block towers that could withstand a shaking table. The researchers then gave each group one of four different interactive learning experiences using the same format and offering the same educational message — one on a tablet, one on a laptop, and two using real-world objects with a projected screen and a Kinect camera for sensing. They then reassessed the kids’ tower-building skills and understanding afterwards.

The kids that used the Kinect-powered game — with the camera monitoring real-life towers and triggering feedback when they collapsed — learned far more effectively than those using the tablet and laptop games. They built more stable towers afterwards and liked the game significantly more, with one child reportedly asking, “Can I steal your computer and set this up at home?” Integrating physical controls into the screen-only version of the game — where kids shook the tablet to simulate the effect of a shaking table — had little effect on results or enjoyment.

The study concluded that “mixed-reality games that support physical observation in the real world have a great potential to enhance learning and enjoyment for young children.”

The research team is now looking to repeat the study in different educational contexts, with the goal of creating a “scalable, mixed-reality platform connecting virtual and physical worlds via affordable depth-camera sensing” that can improve children’s science learning and enjoyment.

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Salesforce stock spikes on report of failed $55B Microsoft acquisition

A 2014 photo of Benioff and Nadella from Benioff's Twitter feed.

Salesforce stock just jumped up by about 3 percent following a report today that Microsoft and Salesforce were in talks over an acquisition that ultimately fell apart because of differing views of how much Salesforce was worth.

The stock was trading at $74.79 at 1:41 p.m. Pacific, up 2.58 percent.

Microsoft was open to paying $55 billion for Salesforce, but Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff wanted Microsoft to pay as much as $70 billion, according to the report today from CNBC.

The talks have not resumed since they fell apart this spring, CNBC reported.

This is the third time Salesforce stock has popped following reports about a possible takeover, potentially by Microsoft.

The companies compete in the customer relationship management (CRM) and business intelligence software categories, but elsewhere there are places where Microsoft could get new capabilities by buying Salesforce.

As of March 31, Microsoft had $7.4 billion in cash and cash equivalents and $88 billion in short-term investments, according to its latest quarterly earnings statement.

Here’s the stock chart, by way of Google Finance:

Salesforce stock jumped up today.

Above: Salesforce stock jumped up today.

Image Credit: Screenshot

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Microsoft releases How Old face-recognition app for Windows Phone

The new How-Old Windows Phone app.
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How Old Do You Look?, the experimental web app that Microsoft executives showed off at the Build developer conference last month to show off its age and face recognition capabilities, is now available as a native Windows Phone app.

Simply dubbed How-Old, the free Windows Phone app received an update to its user interface on Wednesday. All you have to do to use the app is upload a picture from your phone’s library, and in response, the system will guess the age and gender of every person it can spot in the picture. From there, you can share the results in an email, or on Weibo or WeChat.

It’s interesting that Microsoft poured resources into bringing How Old Do You Look? to Windows Phone. The app went viral and started trending on Twitter shortly after it was demonstrated at Build. But some people found the app to be surprisingly inaccurate and even laughable.

Case in point: the app thought that former Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer looked 89 in one picture. He’s actually 59.

Then again, Microsoft has sought to improve the technology underlying the app — like the Face application programming interface (API) — and the new native Windows Phone app provides an excuse for people to try it out again.

Just for fun, I did that just now — I uploaded to the web app the same photo of myself that I uploaded when Microsoft debuted How Old Do You Look? at Build.

And indeed, the results were different — last time it said I looked 40, but this time, it said I looked 37. That’s closer, but it’s still wrong, I’m afraid.

Nope -- still wrong. But getting warmer.

Above: Nope — still wrong. But getting warmer.

Image Credit: Screenshot

Anyway — you can find the app in the Windows Phone Store here.

(H/T: WinBeta)

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Microsoft’s cross-platform clipboard app OneClip leaks for Android, iOS, Windows, and Windows Phone

oneclip_beta_windows
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After unearthing Microsoft’s new chat-email app Flow earlier this week, Twitter user h0x0d has done it again today with the discovery that Microsoft is developing OneClip, a cross-platform clipboard app. Furthermore, he leaked the current beta release for Android, iOS, Windows, and Windows Phone on the file hosting service Mega.

OneClip is very simple, and its tag line says it all: “Copy once, paste anywhere.” OneClip is currently in internal beta, according to the Windows Phone Store listing. Thanks to h0x0d though, anyone can give it a shot:

We grabbed the Windows version (pictured above) and got the following description from the About page:

With OneClip, it’s easy to get back to the stuff you’ve seen and used. It might be a photo you took, a screenshot you made, a phone number or address you copied on your PC (and really really need now while you’re on the run) or just an important piece of text. OneClip makes this available to you automatically, on your behalf, on all your devices. A cross device, secure, intelligent clipboard in the cloud. Why didn’t anyone think of this earlier?

OneClip starts working immediately. Just in the process of writing this article, it filled up with text and screenshots every single time I hit Ctrl+C. You can view all your copied images and text, and it even puts websites, phone numbers, and addresses in their own categories.

You can also filter by when you copied the text or image. I was given the following options: All Time, Today, Yesterday, Wednesday, Tuesday, Last Week, and Last Month.

oneclip_ignored

In fact, the app even lets you filter by the app from which you copied text. Interestingly, it has an app ignore list which is already populated with a list of password apps: LastPass, KeePass, MetroPass, PassKeep, 1Password, and Password Safe.

It’s a very powerful clipboard app even before you choose to pair a device. To do that, you have to generate a new pairing code for every new device.

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Once paired, you can copy on one device and paste on any other one that has OneClip. The app proudly states “There is no limit to the number of devices you can pair.”

For an internal beta, OneClip works surprisingly well. We have contacted Microsoft for more information about a possible release and will update you if we hear back.

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