The Fire Hose

Covering the news of the day at Microsoft

August, 2013

  • 'Project Spark' lets you build your video game as you go

    Would you rather battle trolls in a moonlit desert or dance with them in a sun-drenched forest?
    Project Spark lets users tap their inner game designer and create their own worlds and stories.

    It all started with a question: “What if people could do whatever they wanted in a video game?”

    Henry Sterchi is standing in front of a large Perceptive Pixel touchscreen, introducing the game his team has worked on for the past two years. On the screen a character stands alone in an empty world, a tiny blip surrounded by a sea of blank pixels.

    Sterchi then starts to swipe his fingers across the screen. Mountains, rivers, and forests spring into existence. He paints a field of flowers and bores a tunnel through the earth for kicks.

    In less than 10 minutes he’s created an impressively detailed world. He then picks up an Xbox controller, plops his character (informally known as “The Creator”) down into the world and starts exploring.

    This is “Project Spark,” a digital canvas that lets users create, play and share their own worlds, games and stories. Players use a powerful set of tools to create and customize worlds for Windows 8 devices, Xbox One and Xbox 360 using touch, mouse and keyboard, or an Xbox controller. What they can create is bound only by imagination, said Sterchi, creative director on “Project Spark.”

  • Work a pain? New Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop keyboard combines looks and comfort

    Lots of people say their work is a pain, and according to a new Microsoft Healthy Computing Survey, most of them aren’t kidding. Of those surveyed, 85 percent said they experience discomfort on a daily basis as a result of their workspace setup.

    The survey coincides with Microsoft’s announcement of the next evolution of its ergonomic products – the Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop – the goal of which was to create something beautiful without sacrificing the ergonomic benefits provided by the industry-renowned Natural Ergonomic Keyboard and Mouse.

  • Here’s what’s new in Visual Studio 2013 and InstallShield Limited Edition

    We know that it’s important for developers to have a no-cost setup tooling solution to deploy applications to the various platforms they target.

    In Visual Studio 2010, Microsoft partnered with Flexera Software to include InstallShield Limited Edition, a free version of Flexera’s installation development solution, with Visual Studio. While designing Visual Studio 2013, we looked for ways to improve the InstallShield Limited Edition extension for Visual Studio in response to feedback from developers.

  • with Skype offers a delicious pairing

    For a lot of people today, email is a constant companion. First thing in the morning or late at night, in the office, at the library or on the beach, email keeps us connected to friends, family and contacts.

    But sometimes, you just want to talk face to face. Now, users of can do that too, with the announcement that the service’s integration with Skype is rolling out worldwide. users just need to install the Skype Web plug-in and they can begin using Skype to video call with their contacts today — right from their inbox. Once updated, the user’s Skype contacts are always just a click away.

    “Email is an inherently personal thing,” says Dawn Martynuik, group product marketing manager for “So we work hard to make sure that works with the things you already use, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google and now Skype. If you love Skype, you’re going to love using for your email and having the ability to video chat with your friends any time.”

  • China’s first privately-held commercial bank improves service with Microsoft

    The cash machine is surely one of the greatest advances of its time. It provides a reliable, secure and convenient way to withdraw, transfer and deposit funds from your checking or savings account from virtually anywhere: Longyearbyen, Norway, to McMurdo Station, and the Dead Sea to the sports bar around the corner.

    But when the actual experience doesn’t live up to the expectation, the consequences can be disastrous — for the customer and the bank.

    For China Minsheng Bank Corp. (CMBC), falling short of expectations isn’t an option. Currently, CMBC is China’s first privately-held commercial bank with nearly $89 million in cash on hand. And in 2011 the bank reported a 58 percent increase in net profit for its shareholders.

  • Developers: Beat the BlueHat Challenge and win custom Xbox Live avatar items (yes, a blue hat is one of them)


    If you’re a developer with a knack for spotting computer security problems, or just want to learn more about computer security, you’ll want to sign up for the Microsoft Security Research & Defense team’s BlueHat Challenge. It’s a series of progressively more difficult computer security problems designed to help you build and test your skills in three key areas: reverse engineering, vulnerability discovery and Web browser manipulation tricks.

  • You can now see Xbox One in person at Microsoft retail stores

    Xbox One won’t go on sale for a few months, but in the meantime you can now lay eyes on one at Microsoft retail stores across the U.S.

  • Xbox Live Gold Members: Download your free copies of ‘Dead Rising 2’ and ‘Dead Rising: Case Zero’

    If you’re an Xbox Live Gold member and into zombies, this is your lucky day. From now until Aug. 31, you can download both “Dead Rising 2” (normally $29.99) and “Dead Rising 2: Case Zero” (normally 400 points) for free. What are you waiting for – the zombie apocalypse?

    If you aren’t a member, here’s what’s up: The Games With Gold program gives Xbox Live Gold Members two free games to keep each month. A new title becomes available the first and 16th of each month.

  • Windows Store Only at Best Buy launches, with apps that help students stay fit as they go back to school


    Wednesday marks the official launch of the Windows Store Only at Best Buy. In celebration of the launch, we are throwing an event in Los Angeles that shows how technology can activate and invigorate a healthier lifestyle.

    With more than one-third of U.S. adults and nearly 18 percent of U.S. children described as obese according to the Centers for Disease Control, technology is more important than ever as a major tool in reversing those trends. Windows 8 apps integrate personalized coaching, nutrition advice and fitness gaming into active routines.

  • Goal! Soccer stars help kick off new Windows Stores Only at Best Buy

    Who better to kick off Microsoft’s new store-within-a-store at Best Buy than kick-for-a-living soccer star Clint Mathis and his fellow Major League Soccer (MLS) players and coaches?

    In June, Microsoft announced a partnership with Best Buy to create the Windows Store Only at Best Buy at 500 locations across the U.S. and more than 100 Best Buy and Future Shop locations in Canada. Wednesday, just in time for the back-to-school shopping season, the first of these Windows Stores will open at the West Los Angeles Best Buy, with a fleet of MLS players and coaches on hand to help celebrate. The soccer players will help show shoppers how to stay fit for back-to-school – from soccer drills on a full-size field in the parking lot to healthy food tips to the latest fitness and nutrition apps for Windows
    8 like Daily Workouts, Fitbit, Endomondo, MyPlate Calorie Tracker, BallStrike and MLS MatchDay.

  • Tweets from Last Night: Windows Store Only at Best Buy LA opening

    Last night in West Los Angeles, Microsoft teamed up with Best Buy and Major League Soccer to celebrate the grand opening of the Windows Store Only at Best Buy. Hundreds of customers and fans were treated to clinics and drills on a custom-built soccer field in the Best Buy parking lot, with a special appearance from U.S. National Men’s soccer star and LA Galaxy legend Cobi Jones, as well as hands-on demos of fitness and nutrition apps like Daily Workouts, Endomondo and BallStrike on Windows 8 devices.

    Later that night, lucky fans were able to meet former U.S. Men’s National Team player Clint Mathis and legendary Galaxy star Mauricio Cienfuegos. Here’s what some of the attendees had to say about their experience, via Twitter:

    LA radio personality @ChueyMartinez turned up the excitement at the event:

  • Own your fantasy football draft with this epic Excel template


    For Lifehacker contributor Peter Ellwood, the key to a successful fantasy football draft is to stay organized. Really, really organized. On Friday he posted the epic Excel template he uses to stay on top of his game – and ahead of the competition – along with his four tips for using Excel to dominate the draft.

  • Final map pack for ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops II’ launches first on Xbox Live

    On Aug. 27, Activision and Treyarch will launch “Call of Duty: Black Ops II Apocalypse,” the fourth and final DLC map pack for “Call of Duty: Black Ops II,” first on Xbox Live. There will be two, all-new multiplayer maps, two re-imagined fan-favorite multiplayer classics and an alternate-reality Dieselpunk Zombies experience that transports players to a World War I battlefield and undead-infested trenches.

  • Phishing scam asks for credit card info to ‘unblock’ email

    Unfortunately, scammers are creative and in seemingly endless supply. And Microsoft often hears of scammers trying to establish trust by using its name. Fortunately, a lot of savvy customers report these experiences. The Security Tips & Talk blog highlights a phishing scam that comes in the form of an email message claiming to be from Microsoft. The message states that the user’s email account is blocked and can only be unblocked with a credit card number. It’s not from Microsoft.

  • Phil Sorgen named leader of Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Group

    On Thursday Microsoft announced that 17-year Microsoft veteran Phil Sorgen has been appointed corporate vice president of the company’s Worldwide Partner Group.

    Sorgen previously led Microsoft’s U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners Group, and in his new role will manage a team of sales and marketing professionals tasked with helping Microsoft’s 620,000-strong partner community to capitalize on news areas of growth in cloud computing, mobility, big data and enterprise social technologies.

  • Hear the difference – Xbox One will use Skype’s audio codec

    One of the things we all have to look forward to with Xbox One is the incredible improvement made to voice chat with the integration of Skype’s audio codec. Not only does the codec have a proven track record of high-quality voice through billions of hours of use through Skype, in Xbox One it also has dedicated audio processing for conversations via Skype and multiplayer party chats.

    Bottom line, Xbox One offers higher quality voice chat with the Xbox One Chat Headset compared to Xbox 360, whether you’re chatting in-game or through party chat with Skype on Xbox One.

  • The ambassador’s tale: From a Kenyan village to a diplomatic mission, expanding educational opportunity for the next generation

    Johnson Weru, ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, supports technology that offers rural students educational and economic opportunities they never imagined.

    When Microsoft introduced the Microsoft 4Afrika initiative to African leaders tied to the European Union at an event in Brussels in June, it was only natural for Johnson Weru, the Kenyan ambassador to Belgium and Luxembourg, to attend. He wanted to show his support for 4Afrika, and for the technology projects that were equipping schools and villages in rural Kenya with touch-screen tablets and broadband Internet. But as the attendees watched a video, Weru was transported back to his childhood, to the rural village where he grew up — just a few miles from where the students on the screen were getting their first glimpse of computers and the Internet.

  • Award-winning PC game title ‘Warface’ is coming to Xbox 360

    Crytek and Microsoft Studios announced Thursday that “Warface,” the award-winning PC title, will arrive on consoles for the first time on Xbox 360 in early 2014.

    True to its pedigree, “Warface” will feature vivid graphics and gameplay for intense, first-person shooter action, enabling players to engage in competitive and cooperative battles with others around the world.

  • Skype celebrates 10 years, 300 million users and 1.4 trillion minutes of voice and video calls

    Back on August 29, 2003, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis founded Skype, which was to become a key way to communicate for more than 300 million people worldwide. On Wednesday, Skype celebrated hitting the 10-year mark, and looked back at accomplishments and milestones.

    More than 1.4 trillion minutes of voice and video calls have been made using Skype. To put that number in perspective, it’s the equivalent of more than 2.6 million years of conversations – made in in just 10 years’ time. See the infographic for a decade of fascinating people, places and behaviors Skype has inspired.

  • Worried about malicious apps? Here’s some good news from Windows Phone

    A release from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about malware threats on mobile phones sparked some anxiety for smartphone users. As long as there are unscrupulous characters out there, there will be malware. However, that doesn’t mean you have to be a target.

  • Super developer leaps Instagram app in a single bound

    Rudy Huyn has two lives.

    In life one, he works at an office. In the other, he is a prolific and popular Windows Phone developer. (Contrary to comic book belief, he does not change in a phone booth or shed his glasses when moving between lives.)

    In his spare time, Huyn has developed more than a dozen apps for Windows Phone, apps that together command more than 1.1 million users. He created the uber-popular Wikipedia app, a Vine app called 6Sec, TVShow, and he has just launched the highly anticipated 6Tag, an Instagram-like (and apparently Instagram-blessed) app. Oh, and it’s free.

    This (non-caped) crusader of Windows Phone, who lives in Rennes, France, won Nokia’s competition The Next App Star competition in January. Despite his accolades and ever-growing group of users, the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) is humble.

    “When I go to conferences, it’s a very strange feeling to meet people that know and follow me,” Huyn said. “But I’m not Jessica Alba, I’m only a developer that loves Windows Phone.”

  • 10 ways companies boost their business using Skype

    When most people think of Skype, they picture friends and family members bridging long distances to share a moment together. That’s an accurate image, but it’s missing a key aspect of Skype: it’s a powerful business tool too.

    As part of commemorating its 10-year anniversary, the Skype team on Wednesday posted 10 cool ways companies use Skype. Some use it to take prospective customers on a virtual tour, others to deliver training, while others use it to give customers a real person to talk to when a problem arises. Head over to Skype’s Workspace Blog to find out all the ways that made the top 10.

  • App of the Week: Foursquare now available on Windows 8

    Our latest App of the Week is Foursquare, now available on Windows 8.The popular social app, which has over 35 million users worldwide, lets you find and “check in” at interesting places around you, as well as share photos, reviews and tips about your personal favorite spots.

  • Help prepare kids to go back to school with these Windows 8 apps that work well on Surface RT


    Surface Senior Manager Kristen Batch just moved to Seattle from Chicago with her family, and in a post on the Surface Blog she explains how helpful the Surface RT has been in acclimating her two girls to the upcoming academic year in new schools.

    Batch writes, “Since I’m sharing my Surface with two pre-teens I’ve set up separate user accounts to prevent sibling warfare and give them each a sense of independence. The rule is for every 3 games you load, you have to add something educational. It puts them in the driver’s seat of their self-guided summer tutoring sessions so they’re less likely to complain about ‘mom’s picks.’ The separate accounts also give me peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about grabbing my Surface and facing a home screen that suddenly looks like a princess invaded my device.”

  • Catch an exclusive early peek at Crackle original film ‘Extraction’ on Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Xbox Live


    If you’re already watching free movies and TV using the Crackle app on Xbox Live, or your Windows Phone or Windows 8 device, you’ve got another perk: an exclusive early pass to the world premiere of the new martial-arts-packed thriller starring Danny Glover and Sean Astin, “Extraction.” You can watch it for free now, a week before anybody else.