Microsoft. Depending on who you are, their name alone elicits some pretty strong feelings. Some people love them, others love to hate them. Few people are neutral. However, everyone can pretty much agree that Microsoft has been fighting an image problem lately and one that has started to make them look less like a towering giant and more like the underdog. Those "I'm a Mac" ads didn't help, either. However, some recent innovations make us wonder if the tide is starting to turn for the big blue monster.

Earlier this year, we wondered if the Microsoft was beginning to wake up from an apparent slumber. That post addressed cloud databases and IE8, but perhaps those won't be the turning points for Microsoft's image after all. In fact, given the number of happy Firefox customers, IE8 may still be somewhat of an uphill battle. But some other innovations prove that even Microsoft can still be cool.

Netflix Comes To Xbox

Earlier this week, Netflix subscribers got a nice surprise - they no longer need to save up for that Roku box to get instant access to Netflix movies on their TV. Instead, the new set-top box for Netflix is going to be one that many people already have in their living rooms: an Xbox 360. The partnership between Xbox and Netflix will be bringing a new "Watch Instantly" feature that will appear on Xbox later this fall. In addition, a "Live Party" feature will allow people to watch movies together over Xbox Live. Well, the coolness of that feature is debatable...but still, Netflix on Xbox? Did Microsoft just win the living room from Apple?

Deep Zoom Changes the Web

Bah humbug - another browser plugin. Is that what you think? Well, like it or not the Silverlight plugin is being pushed hard. It's going to be installed on millions of HP computers and it's going to power NBC's Olympics '08 website, so it's going to become hard to avoid installing this one after a while.

If you've been paying attention to Silverlight news, you know that one of the most remarkable things about it is its Deep Zoom feature. It's definitely the coolest. It initially received attention when Hard Rock debuted their Memorabilia website. Then there was the incredible Deep Earth site (which technically didn't use Silverlight's Deep Zoom, but instead uses Silverlight plus a custom-written component created in Visual Studio). Now we have a Silverlight Deep Zoomable image of Yosemite National Park. 70 photographers, GPS-enabled cameras, 10,000 high-res photos. The results let researchers study rockfall activity and help Yosemite search-and-rescue teams with their operations by providing detailed, zoomable maps of the rockfaces. Cool? Yes, definitely.

Live Mesh

This service is rapidly approaching coolness. Mac fans have complained there's no Mesh for them, but that's only a matter of time. In the past couple of days, we've seen Live Mesh open up to all and launch a mobile web site.

Via m.mesh.com you can see your stream of Mesh news, access your Meshified folders, and move your photos, videos, and other content from your mobile device into your Mesh, instantly making them accessible from any computer, anywhere. The Live Desktop (cloud storage) offers 5 GB, but you aren't limited to meshing only 5 GB - you can mesh as much as you want. Data will sync from device to device via P2P connections, but only 5 GB are stored online for access when you're away from a device you own. You have the option to configure which files are part of that 5 GBs. Oh, and it does Remote Desktop, too.

If you haven't been able to wrap your head around Mesh, yet, this video is a killer introduction. Here, Ori Amiga demos the native Mesh feeds, WPF applications using Mesh, a Silverlight client that supports working on and offline, a custom Facebook application that syncs Facebook photos with Live Mesh, and even a Mac client that sends photos to Live Mesh. Cool? You bet.


Ori Amiga: Programming the Mesh

Your guide to this video

  • 10:53: Skip to this point to start seeing the best stuff
  • 19:10(ish): The developer stuff continues until 19:10ish
  • 19:40: WPF demo app Family Show
  • 27:01: Silverlight App PhotoZoom running offline
  • 33:08: Mesh connector for Twitter
  • 34:35: Mesh connector for Facebook
  • 36:45: Mesh running on the Mac - photo from Photobooth synced to Mesh almost instantaneously - to both PCs and mobile!
  • 43:00: Opening/editing files directly from the cloud - the cloud will be a shortcut on your desktop
  • 46:09: Viewing offline RSS feeds synced to Mesh in your RSS reader

Do these innovations change your opinion of Microsoft? Are you impressed, annoyed, neutral, upset, undecided? Let us know what you think in the comments.

Author Disclosure: I also blog for Microsoft's Channel 10. I'm not a Microsoft employee, just a technology fan. This is not a paid endorsement - these are personal opinions.