Microsoft made lots of news at the MIX 2011 show in Las Vegas this week, including announcements regarding the Kinect for Windows beta SDK, the next version of Windows Phone – codenamed Mango – and a mind-bending prototype that combines the Kinect and WorldWide Telescope technologies.

Kinect for Windows beta SDK. Yet another big piece of news out of MIX was the introduction of more details on the Kinect for Windows beta Software Development Kit. Some of the SDK’s features – due out later this spring – include Robust Skeletal Tracking for high-performance capabilities that track the skeleton image of one or two persons moving within the Kinect field of view and XYZ depth camera for standard color camera stream access and depth data that indicates the distance of the object from the Kinect camera. Read this press release on the Microsoft News Center and this post on the Next at Microsoft Blog for more details.

Xbox 360 is still No. 1! Just in case you missed the news Thursday, Xbox 360 remains the top-selling video-game console in the United States, according to NPD Group, an independent market research firm. The Xbox 360 – buoyed by impressive sales of the Kinect motion sensor – has been the highest selling console in the U.S. for nine out of the last 10 months.

Worldwide Telescope lights up Kinect. If you combine the Kinect motion sensor with the WorldWide Telescope visualization software environment, what do you get? Answer? A powerful tool for virtually viewing the cosmos that would make Captain Kirk proud, and that’s just what the folks down at Microsoft Research have done. The project was unveiled earlier this week at the MIX 2011 Web developers conference in Las Vegas, and Next at Microsoft Blog Editor Steve Clayton was there to see all the action. Take the transporter over to Clayton’s blog to see video of the WorldWide Telescope presentation. Also, be sure to read this feature story on Microsoft Research about Ivan Tashev, a principal software architect (and all-around super smart Microsoft guy) who played a pivotal role in the development of the Kinect’s audio functionality.

What’s next for Windows Phone. On Wednesday, Corporate Vice President of Windows Phone Program Management Joe Belfiore revealed several popular new apps such as Skype, Spotify and Layar coming soon to the Windows Phone platform. He also previewed some under-the-hood capabilities coming in the next version of Windows Phone that should open the door to all kinds of creative new apps. Also, Next at Microsoft Blog Editor Steve Clayton recently opined on some of the Windows Phone’s quirkier personality traits. Last but not least, Geekwire Editor Todd Bishop reports on a “speed test comparing the performance of the upcoming IE9 for Windows Phone vs. browsers on the iPhone 4 and Nexus S (Google Android).”

Bing gains ground. Again. Bing and Yahoo “posted gains in the U.S. search market in March, lifting their combined market share to more than 30 percent,” according to Web analysis firm Experian Hitwise and reported by Geekwire. Yahoo’s search results are powered by Bing under a partnership between Yahoo and Microsoft. Hitwise also reported that “Yahoo! Search and Bing achieved the highest success rates in March 2011. This means that for both search engines, more than 80 percent of searches executed resulted in a visit to a Website. Google achieved a success rate of 66 percent.” March was the third month in a row that Bing gained ground in the U.S. search market.

Bing helps fans score NHL playoff tickets. The National Hockey League playoffs started earlier this week and Bing and FanSnap have teamed up to help fans get tickets to the games. NHL fans can compare tickets from over 50 leading tickets sites, check out the view from the seat and quickly find a broad selection of tickets from multiple providers, directly in Bing.

Internet Explorer 9 via Windows Update. On April 18th, a little over a month after the final release of IE9, Microsoft will be ready to start the rollout of IE9 to our Windows 7 and Windows Vista customers. We will offer IE9 to customers via a gradual rollout and expect the rollout to be largely complete by the end of June. Similar to our approach for IE8, we will use Windows Update to deliver IE9 to users. IE 9 will not install automatically on machines. Users will have to agree to install IE 9.

Live from Atlanta, it’s Convergence 2011. More than 27,000 customers and 1.7 million users worldwide are now using Microsoft Dynamics CRM. This includes tens of thousands of customers that have signed up for the latest release since January 2011, according to this feature story on the Microsoft News Center. Earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Kirill Tatarinov, corporate vice president for Microsoft Business Solutions, opened a sold-out Convergence 2011 to more than 9,000 attendees, demonstrating how companies can use Microsoft Dynamics to maximize the value of their existing technology investments, remain agile as market conditions change and ultimately become dynamic businesses that can win in any environment.

Thanks for stopping by, and see you here next Friday for the next edition of Weekend Reading.

Posted by Jeff Meisner
Editor, The Official Microsoft Blog