Next week marks the start of March Madness, that time of year when productivity falls through the floor as people are glued to the television and Internet to see how their favorite teams are doing. Microsoft has a few offerings to keep college hoops fanatics satisfied – check ‘em out below.

Meanwhile, here’s the latest roundup of all the stories you may have missed while you were filling out your NCAA brackets:

Half a million Xbox 360s, give or take. Kinect hits 10 million. February was a blowout month for the Xbox 360 and the Kinect. Microsoft sold 535,000 consoles last month, according to NPD Group, an independent market research firm. That makes February the best non-holiday month ever for the Xbox 360. Oh, and not that we’re bragging or anything, but apparently the Guinness Book of World Records has noted that the 10 million Kinects sold since launch last holiday season is a new world record in the consumer electronics industry. Not that we’re bragging…

March Madness. Microsoft understands that everyone gets a little crazy at this time of year as college hoops fans gear up for the 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament. To stay updated on the latest developments, subscribe to the free March Madness calendar in Outlook and keep track of all 67 games once the tournament kicks off on March 15th. College hoops fan should also check out the $1 million Fox Bracket Challenge on MSN, now in its second year. Simply sign up, make your picks and without spending a dime you could win the $1 million grand prize for a perfect bracket, or other prizes including 60-inch flat-screen TVs and a trip to Las Vegas.

Bing continues to grow. For the second month in a row, Bing gained a larger share of the U.S. search market, according to Experian Hitwise, a global data analytics company. GeekWire National Editor Todd Bishop reported the news Thursday that the “combination of Microsoft Bing and the Bing-powered Yahoo search engine rose to 28.48 percent market share in the U.S. in February, up from 27.44 percent in January.” TechFlash reporter Greg Lamm also covered Bing’s gains in the search market in this story.

The Beauty of the Web goes live on March 14th! The beta and release candidate versions of Internet Explorer 9 have already been downloaded by millions of people, but the final version of the new Web browser will be available for download at 9 p.m. PT on Monday, March 14th. IE9 promises safer and faster downloads and a clean, quick user experience. It’s been a long road in developing IE9 and with the launch of the final version just a few days away, the IEBlog team has put together a great summary of the blog posts chronicling the last year in the new browser’s development.

Windows Phone 7 Updates. We’ve gotten a lot of questions regarding updates for the Windows Phone 7 mobile platform, and in this March 10th post on the Windows Phone Blog, Eric Hautala, general manager of customer experience engineering on the WP7 team, addresses some of those questions and concerns.

TechFest Roundup. TechFest is a big deal here at Microsoft – it’s a chance for the super-smart folks in Microsoft Research to show the company some of the new and exciting technologies currently in the works. Next at Microsoft Blog Editor Steve Clayton covered TechFest in a series of posts on MirageBlocks (a research project which uses Kinect to be instantaneously digitized and represented in 3D), Fuse Labs and this demo of face recognition in video:

That's it for this edition of Weekend Reading. Thanks for stopping by, and see you back here next Friday!

Posted by Jeff Meisner
Editor, Official Microsoft Blog