Yesterday, Neowin headed off to a Microsoft hosted event in the center of Paris. 15 representatives of community MSN sites were also invited (including mess-france.com, mess.be, msgplus.net, msnfanatic.com, hardware.fr*) to see and learn about Microsoft's latest innovations. Microsoft gave us some very interesting statistics about product usage and the massive growth in use of MSN products (Hotmail, MSN Messenger), especially seen in France/ Europe. They also demoed some amazing future technology; some we've seen at Neowin, some we had not. I was genuinely impressed at the effort and R&D that's going into these products - something that I personally think has been lacking in recent years. Admittedly, some of the stuff is "catch-up", yet a lot isn't. Hotmail and Messenger will be seeing some major improvements/additions in the next year that I think most users will be impressed with.
Microsoft setup the event in a house that they had kitted out with a variety of PCs, screens, and general gadgetry. Described as 'Microsoft's vision on the Digital Decade' (read : the next 6 months until we see something newer?!), we saw some of the new hardware and software that Microsoft have out at the moment. We also saw a great demo of Media Center 2005 - I can honestly say I was quite amazed at how good and how mature the technology in this area now is. TV/Radio/DVD/Audio/Messenger all in one well designed system highlighted Microsoft's digital hub strategy. HP plays a clear role in this, providing a lot of the hardware used.
Microsoft wanted to impress on us the fact that a lot of the new software was about simplicity and ease of use - although it's clearly not a hard fact, Microsoft engineers seem to be aiming to get most operations done in under 3 clicks. They've correctly identified the fact that many people find software hard to use effectively. A good example of where this thinking is going is the little known (and little shouted about) Microsoft Photo Pro Suite. If you use Adobe Photoshop for basic tasks (photo resize, edits, cut and paste jobs) then check this out. It's cheaper and amazingly simple to use. It's also important to note that although it's simple to use, this doesn't mean they've cut down on the features. Pour example, as our french guides told us, you can cut out people from photos in just 3 clicks; the software makes a guess (a very good guess mind) at the background behind them and fills it in. They also showed us a cool copy patse feature that i personally wouldn't have been able to do Photoshop, and probably would have taken the people that could do it a fair while. All in all, I and many of the other journalists attending were very impressed at Photo Pro Suite, and we'll be looking at it in more detail in the future.
Microsoft also showed us where they were at the moment with Encarta. They showed us the very impressive features in the latest version, and highlighted the improvements that are coming when the Longhorn graphics system comes into play. A lot of what they were showing us was how well Microsoft is getting programs to work together; a focus on synergy came across. Thus, to conclude, some very cool gear. However, we've got something else. As well as looking at it yesterday in Le Digital Maison, Microsoft sent us their new Optical Desktop with finger print reader technology for review recently. Here's a snip :
Microsoft's latest Keyboard and Mouse combination has taken a big step forward from previous generations. As well as packing in a variety of useful function buttons, a finger print reader has been incorporated into the device. Bringing finger print technology to the desktop is something new and novel; we take it out for a spin, and see how well it performs...