Vamshidhar Kommineni

August 22, 2007

Rob Short on "Behind The Code"

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 7:49 pm

Behind the Code

http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=264874 OR

http://www.researchchannel.org/prog/displayevent.aspx?rID=8276&fID=1806

Rob Short is a VP (and a Distinguished Engineer) at Microsoft and one of the people in COSD (Core Operating Systems Division, my old group that works on the guts of Windows) I have a great deal of respect for. Like Peter Spiro, he’s another old line DEC hand with many years at DEC before moving to Microsoft with Dave Cutler to work on NT. The things that were interesting in the talk was his personal history, and how he went from being a technician/tester for DEC in Ireland to working on seminal projects like the VAX 780, Dave’s DEC West team & NT and contributing a great deal to modern computing as we know it.

He has some interesting brief anecdotes of encounters with famous tech people over the years, including the meeting where Dave & him met with Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer and Nathan Myhrvold to discuss building an OS at MS, and a later meeting with Andy Grove where they showed off the prototype hardware they were building along with NT.

Another interesting segment (for me anyway) was the length of time he spent talking about OCA (the system that analyzes customer blue screens sent to Microsoft) & mentioning Vince Orgovan. I worked on the team that worked on OCA data and a parallel system for user mode data, and it was interesting to see that he had taken such a deep interest in it.

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August 20, 2007

Live ID SDK for third party sites (& the fight to host your identity)

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 11:04 am

Saw this go by in my link bag of emails today:

Live ID SDK 1.0 Download

Live ID SDK Documentation

Of course, we wouldn’t be Microsoft if we didn’t have a long name for it: “Windows Live ID Web Authentication 1.0 SDK” :)

Kidding aside, this is a very interesting move that is necessary for Microsoft. Authentication & Identity is one of the few large problems that needs to be solved for the Web. The current notion of everyone having their own sign-on mechanism is simply untenable. Things wrong with it are:

  • Terrible experience for users: How many accounts and passwords do I need to remember? And every site uses slightly different username rules or password rules.  
  • Poor protection of a customer’s identity: Every site now has a chance to lose their customer’s information to malicious hackers. Even if common code libraries are used, they may not be kept patched as vulnerabilities are discovered. Also, making users remember a lot of user/password combinations leads to very low strength passwords that may be easily cracked without security holes in the underlying implementation.

And why do companies like Microsoft, Google, Ebay, Amazon or Yahoo care about this? One answer: “Stickiness”. Next to where you maintain your  data (email, photos, etc.) and your “social network” (for old fogies like me: it’s my Messenger buddy list in IM or email address book; for the new kids, it is Facebook/MySpace style profiles), the notion of who you are on the web is the stickiest piece of information. Build a good enough platform and get enough third parties (i.e. web sites) to build on your platform, and you’ve got a very good customer value scenario as well as a good analytics scenario for serving relevant ads.

It’s why Google went from the simple Search based model to adding on Gmail/Gtalk/Picasa/Checkout, etc based on Google user accounts. I would argue that the value to them is having you be a sticky user of their platform (your identity is tied into them as is your data), and being able to track how you use their services in order to build a better profile of you. The fact that they provide a good email, chat or photo sharing services is simply the value proposition to us as the customer to store our data and identity there versus storing it elsewhere.

Microsoft tried this many years ago with Passport, but weren’t successful for a number of non-technical reasons (at least as I understand it from an outsider’s perspective, I have no insight into that team). Their new effort seems much better, at least from skimming through the SDK and seeing how easy they’re trying to make it for web service developers. For starters, they’ve released the code library to do authentication in Perl, Python, Ruby, PHP & Java in addition to ASP.net which is a huge step forward in terms of language/web dev platform interoperability. They’re also pitching it as a chance for sites to leverage the huge user base that MSN/Live Messenger & Hotmail provide, which is the right thing to do, since the most valuable thing in any of these platforms is the user base that uses it.  

Check out the documentation for the SDK and see what you think about it or where the general identity issue is headed. An alternative to a company driven identity platform is OpenID, which any company can implement support for. It’s an interesting alternative, but a very big loss of control for any of the big web platform companies. Microsoft seems to be taking the lead here, with a commitment to support OpenID 2.0 in Vista with CardSpace. I don’t know the details of this any more than you do.

Note: I’m almost certainly confusing a bunch of specific concepts together in this post, like identity vs authentication, etc. I tried to write this post purely from the 10,000 foot level for customers or companies, rather than use a very good semantic framework.

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April 19, 2007

Visual Studio Advertising

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 11:46 am

Via Microsoft Watch, here’s a banner ad for Visual Studio Express Edition that apparently was on the main Microsoft site:

Inspired Gates

Along with the Battlestar Galactica ad, that’s one marketing group in MS that is actually coming up with cool advertising ideas. Kudos to them (whoever they are).

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April 18, 2007

Daily Show and Colbert Report on XBox Live

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 9:29 am

http://news.com.com/2061-10802_3-6176800.html?part=rss&tag=2547-1_3-0-5&subj=news

Nice. You can’t be a "real" content provider for the younger demographic until you have the Daily Show and Colbert Report as part of your portfolio of shows. To a lesser extent, Battlestar Galactica is another important show to have for distribution.

$2/show (160 Microsoft point) for each show (the same as iTunes if I remember correctly) but with better resolution (one area where the XBox Video marketplace has shined since inception) that looks just fine on a large HDTV. I noticed the first episodes go up last night on the Video Marketplace.

The XBox 360 is a credible competitor to Apple TV while allowing you to do much more. The other player in this space is Tivo + Amazon Unbox.

It’s early days yet in the TV & Internet convergence space and I’m sure we’ll see plenty of changes in the on demand TV and movies space over the next few years. It’ll be a fun ride.

One of the things that needs to be sorted out is the business model for TV shows. $2/show is much too expensive especially for the 16 shows/month of the Daily Show. One should be able to work out a "season pass" for the Daily Show for $5-10 a month to make it really compelling.

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March 26, 2007

Start++

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 10:04 am

Brandon Paddock, who works at Microsoft has written this extremely nifty tool for Vista’s start menu that brings back much of the shortcut functionality that was available in MSN desktop search. For instance being able to type "w Microsoft" into the start menu to launch a browser and go to the Wikipedia article on Microsoft. Or my favorite: "sudo cmd" to launch an elevated command prompt (works with other binaries as well of course).

The latest version (0.4.5) adds update checking functionality so you can stay up to date with the extremely quick releases that Brandon has been putting out over the last month or so. Check it out; any techie user will appreciate the added flexibility of the keyboard extensions.

Start++ Wiki Page

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January 25, 2007

Bill Gates on the Daily Show on January 29

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 10:54 am

From http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/301067_msfthype25.html :

"Comedy Central confirmed Wednesday that Gates will be the guest on the popular "Daily Show with Jon Stewart" on Monday night, the eve of Windows Vista’s launch."

It’s just one more measure of Jon’s increasing popularity and influence among the late night shows. I’m sure he’s going to have some interesting things to say beyond just talking about Vista :)

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January 23, 2007

Data Centers for everyone!

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 10:06 am

Well, at least for Microsoft and Google. This announcement was made on Thursday about Microsoft building a $550 million data center in San Antonio, Texas. Local news in San Antonio covers it. Don Dodge has some interesting commentary on data centers coinciding with the announcement. It made Slashdot as well. A number of things in this space are interesting:

  • Google and Microsoft are in an escalating race to build out data centers which probably won’t let up anytime soon
  • The capital costs of these data centers is immense and puts them out of reach of most startup companies (though Amazon’s EC2 and S3 might provide an early preview of how smaller companies lease space in these larger data centers)
  • Placement of data centers is primarily motivated by cost of electricity, land cost and (to a lesser extent) by their proximity to fiber
  • The depreciation on these data centers is staggering. Consider that most of the hardware that gets put in them will be obsolete in 3 years and possibly need replacing. As hardware and power optimal data center design improves, the data centers themselves might need to be refurbished to stay in service
  • This new breed of data centers will slowly require distributed services (or more likely, their underlying software infrastructure) to be truly aware of geography of data (rather than simple redundancy/co-location of copies of data) and result in big changes

Other data center news:

Google in North & South Carolina: 1, 2, 3

Microsoft in Quincy, Washington: 1

Google in Dalles, Oregon: 1

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December 24, 2006

Live Maps features: Pushpins, Drawing and Area Marking

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 1:32 am

I’d like to use an example to illustrate some of the features of Live Maps and how it goes well beyond just mapping and driving directions.

Let’s say I want to show you how to get from the Pike Place Market to the Space Needle in Seattle.

Normally, I would search for Pike Place Market, the Space needle, ask for driving directions (using the "Drive to…" and "Drive From…" links on the places of interest) and end up with something like this:

Driving directions from Pike Place to Space Needle

That’s useful in itself and a fairly well implemented feature. But what I really want to do is direct you from the parking garage in Pike Place to parking for the Space needle while taking you on 4th Avenue (there’s a ton of construction on Western, and it can be a bit slower than taking 4th). So I can use the nifty pushpins feature (second from the left in the screenshot below) to mark the parking locations along with the attractions:

Pushpins with parking

I then use the drawing feature (third from the left on the screenshot above) on the scratch pad to end up with the route on the same map:

Parking and correct route marked

You’ll notice that a nice feature of the drawing tools is that it shows distance on the route that you are drawing. Very useful for marking things like hiking/biking/jogging trails as well as measuring in city distances.

Finally, I’d like to mark the boundaries of the Seattle Center for you to wander around and see what else is in the Space needle complex other than the Needle itself. For this I use the "Mark an area on the map" to outline a region and fill it in, which leads me to the final link that I will email to you:

A trip from Pike Place to the Seattle Center

Obviously, I’ve over complicated the example above to some extent. The final link takes less than a minute for me to generate. Combined with the Bird’s eye view feature (I wrote about this earlier) or the 3D view feature, you could literally drive the entire route prior to getting there. I could also save this link as a "Collection" to share with other people looking for similar information. I’ll leave the collections feature for a different post.

The utility of these 3 features is quite good. I can add arbitrary push pins all over the map (to indicate locations for an apartment hunt for instance), draw routes (bike paths come to mind as a useful thing) or outline regions (outlining neighborhoods, zip codes, school district boundaries, etc.). Collections using these features can be extend local knowledge of an area to people fairly easily.

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December 21, 2006

Microsoft Robotics Studio

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 6:53 am

About a week ago, Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft Robotics Studio:

The logic behind the release is interesting, i.e. that Robotics is in the same place today as software was 30 years ago and Microsoft is trying to consolidate the software efforts with a consistent programming model and IDE. I have mixed feelings on that. On the one hand, we use "robot-like" stuff all over the place, from the obvious heavy manufacturing industries like car production to your homes (the Roomba vacuum for instance). I have no doubt that the proliferation on the consumer end will continue to happen, but I’m not sure how much the studio will help it. It probably won’t hinder it, but I think this is still very much the early research/hobbyist phase rather than an attempt to monetize and productize on Microsoft’s part.

It looks very interesting though, it’s free for personal use and at the very least it’s a nice incentive to buy a Lego Mindstorms NXT kit and futz around with it. Though that’s really just an excuse to buy more electronic toys :)

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December 20, 2006

Live Maps Bird's Eye feature rocks!

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 1:06 am

There was much publicity and excitement about the high detail oblique imagery that is exclusive to Virtual Earth, Live Local, Live Maps (http://maps.live.com). I loved the imagery when it came out and it was head and shoulders above any other satellite imagery offered at the time. However there were two limitations:

  1. Regions with bird’s eye imagery were very limited
  2. Navigation in bird’s eye view was really hard. Rather than the smooth scrolling in the aerial, road or hybrid views, the interface was more than a bit clunky requiring clicking on tiles to move from region to region.

I’m happy to report that both of these issues have been largely addressed:

  1. Coverage is dramatically enhanced.
    Regions in the US that have bird’s eye imagery
    Regions in Europe that have bird’s eye imagery
  2. There is a temporary fix ("Pseudo Panning") to allow nearly smooth panning of bird’s eye imagery. The interface is still a bit unwieldy, but way better than the old interface. Turns out this is actually a hard problem. Read about the details straight from a dev’s keyboard.  

I’ve followed the Virtual Earth team on their internal feedback alias with great interest, and they are among my favorite Microsoft teams for how fast and well they are executing. I hope they continue to do so. I’ll have to do a couple more posts about my other favorite features on Live Maps (collections, drawing, etc.)

Check out Bird’s Eye Tourist for some neat Bird’s Eye view images.

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December 11, 2006

MSDN Wiki

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 10:23 am

Via Soma’s blog:

MSDN released the RC of a way to add on "Community Content" (essentially a wiki) to official msdn pages. Currently, the articles cannot be edited directly (probably a good thing), but additions/corrections, etc. can be added at the end of the article. I think this is pretty cool and should serve to quickly add examples, correct errors, point users to better pages for more information, etc.

The MSDN Wiki Blog

The MSDN2 site with wiki content enabled
You can tell which pages that allow additions by this little icon on the top bar (with rating, printer friendly version, etc.):

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December 1, 2006

Zune a complete failure?

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 1:04 am

Well, at least the Chicago Sun Times thinks so. From the article:

"Avoid, is my general message. The Zune is a square wheel, a product that’s so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity…Microsoft’s colossal blunder was to knock the user out of that question and put the music industry in its place. Result: The Zune will be dead and gone within six months. Good riddance."

This article has in turn garnered a lot of press including being slashdotted (naturally). It’s interesting that the author doesn’t write about the device capabilities or pros/cons in a balanced fashion. He sees fit to rant and rail in a fashion befitting a blog rather than a (semi) respected newspaper. I particularly love the last statement. I would love to see us maintain a commitment to improving and have this guy and others like him eat crow over the next few years. Even the Zune, which people have seen fit to write off, has one interesting ace up it’s sleeve: upgradable firmware and a willingness from the team behind it to add new features. I believe that stuff that is missing can and will be added over time.

A more balanced review of the Zune is here:

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1558,2061973,00.asp

By the way, to offer a non-Microsoft choice, I also really like the Sansa e200 series of players, particularly if you’re looking for a smaller player for working out and such. The iRiver Clix is another interesting player. And I don’t really hate iPods. I think they’re well designed devices with a typical (good) Apple eye for design. The only turnoff for me is the lack of subscription based music. I listen to a lot of random bands that I usually hear first on KEXP, without necessarily wanting the commitment of buying all the music.

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November 21, 2006

SysInternals TechCenter

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 12:09 am

Microsoft’s acquisition of SysInternals and Mark Russinovich with the company is old news. A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft started hosting a section for SysInternals on TechNet. It is a good launch point for people who want to learn about their tools and use them.

Process Explorer and the new Process Monitor (replacement for RegMon and FileMon) are absolutely vital tools in some form or another for all developers who program for Windows.

As a side note, the single most vital tool (in my opinion, you can disagree and choose VS :) is Windbg/cdb/kd, the debugging tools package produced by Microsoft. Some great engineers (Drew Bliss, Andre Vachon, Pat Styles and a few others) have worked on the debugger over the last few years and transformed it from an unusable mess (or so I’m told, I never used the old debuggers) into a truly great debugger.

Some other resources for SysInternals:

Mark Russinovich Blog – Updated infrequently but always has great, useful and detailed posts.

SysInternals Blog – Launched along with the TechNet site

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November 9, 2006

Done!

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 12:24 am

JimAll says: "It’s Time" to herald the RTM of Windows Vista. Business launch on November 30 and Consumer launch on January 30. Office 2007 RTM’ed as well a couple of days ago.

Watch Jim’s interview on Channel9 released today as well. I will be sorry to see him retire. Admittedly I don’t know the entire history of Jim at Microsoft, but I have great respect and admiration for him from what I know of him. I’ve never met anyone that high up in management who has such a firm technical grasp of things. He used to come to the Feedback and Reliability Team’s status meeting (my team) about once a month, and it always struck me how quickly he understood the arcane details of what we were presenting and asked the right questions. I had the privilege of presenting my work with Jim in the room 3 times over the last 3 years, and thankfully I didn’t get yelled at too much either of those times ;).

I don’t know how Windows Vista will be received by customers and only time will tell. We made our mistakes for sure as a company, but I feel we also recovered better than anyone might have hoped (we had lot’s of angst around LH reset time that I can’t talk about).

On a personal note, being a developer on Longhorn (that’s the real name darnit :), has been a great journey for me. This was my first job out of college, and I’ve learned so much about building production software over the past few years. I was lucky and privileged to work with a great set of people on meaningful projects and have almost no regrets about my time here thus far. Very few software companies in the world allow a new grunt like me to make an impact on so many people in the world and with so much freedom. I’ll try to spend some time writing about the features I worked on during Vista (Hang Reporting, Windows Memory Diagnostic and Autobug) as well as other features from my team over the next few weeks as we take a break and wind down through Christmas.

By the way, if you watch Jim’s Channel 9 video, from about 29:00 – 30:10, he talks about and shows off the Reliability Monitor (Relmon). The backing feature for this is called RAC (the Reliability Analysis Client) which is a feature from a part of our team. The UI for Relmon itself was developed by my colleague and good friend, Todor Jivakov (aka the crazy Bulgarian programmer :). From about 32:30 – 35:30, he talks about the Windows Recovery Environment which is a feature from our team developed by another good friend, Praveen Patel. He also briefly mentions one of the features I worked on, the Windows Memory Diagnostic at 35:00 or so.  What better way of showing off our features than having JimAll mention them?

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October 12, 2006

The coolest Microsoft ad yet

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 12:47 am

Observed at scifi.com in the banner ad on the right (thanks to Jason for forwarding it to me):

\Users\vamshik\AppData\Local\Temp\msohtmlclip11\clip_image001.png

If only the rest of Microsoft’s advertisements could be this sharp and funny. Granted, this only addresses the Galactica watching software geeks (which should be all of them), but so very, very cool.

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October 7, 2006

Zune release on Nov. 14

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 6:29 pm

Lot’s more details since my last Zune post. Release date is Nov. 14. Pricing is as follows (from Engadget):

  • Device: $249.99
  • Songs: 79 Microsoft points (80 points = $1)
  • Zune pass (subscription music): $14.99
  • Zune Home A/V Pack ($100 – dock, remote, AV cables, extra battery, sync cable, adapter)
  • Zune Travel Pack ($100 – Dual Connect remote, premium headphones, bag, cable, and adapter)
  • Zune Car Pack ($80 – FM tuner, car charger)
  • AV cable ($20)
  • AC adapter ($30)
  • sync cable ($20)
  • car charger ($24)
  • dock (with AV output, but no AV cable for $40)
  • wireless remote (for control of zune dock, $30)
  • Dual Connect remote (for inline control and splitting the audio out for two people, $30)
  • Zune FM Transmitter (with autoseek, which finds the optimal station, $70)
  • gear bag ($30)
  • … and premium earphones (sound isolating canalphones for $40)

Nothing too surprising.

I wish they had matched Yahoo’s prices for the subscription model (Yahoo charges $9.99 per month when billed annually or $11.99 when billed months). But the real challenge with the model will be getting the collection of music and the user experience correct (Yahoo’s music client is a major impediment to their service).

The accessories are a bit pricey (the three packs together cost more than the player) given that Zune is the challenger in this market. I guess time will tell how it does.

Another interesting thing is the use of MS points a la XBox, instead of real $. I guess they didn’t need to re-invent the micro-payment model the XBox team came up with, and it makes giving and receiving gift certificates that much easier for both entertainment devices (a number of retail and online stores already have points cards for sale, and points are tied to your Live ID account rather than something XBox specific, so it would be easy to share across devices).

Definitely getting one of these before Christmas this year as well. I’ll try to put up a review once I’ve had a chance to play with it.

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HD-DVD on the XBox 360

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 6:12 pm

It’s been out in the news for a while now, but the HD-DVD add-on to the XBox 360 is coming in mid November for $199 in the US. I’m really looking forward to try this out. As a 360 owner, the price of entry to the technology is pretty low regardless of how the BluRay vs HD-DVD format war plays out. From other sources around the web, it seems like the price has received similar reactions from other 360 owners.

Some information on this:

XBox.com
Major Nelson’s posts on HD-DVD
Engadget (of course :)

As an aside, it looks like Netflix has a great implementation for the new formats. You pick which format player you have and they promise to automatically to send you an HD version instead of a DVD if the title has been released in that format. No confusing selection of DVD or HD-DVD for each movie you add to the queue.

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September 24, 2006

Zune Mania

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 6:32 pm

It is heartening to see the building excitement around Microsoft’s upcoming Zune player. Hopefully, the product will live up to the hype.

Here’s a few interesting links about the Zune:

Coming Zune – The zune marketing site. A little light on details right now

Zune Insider – Seems to be posts about all things Zune by an MS employee working on Zune

Engadget – Music bloggers flown out to see the Zune react to it (via Engadget)

Seattle Times – Only included because of this little tidbit:

"Zune marketing will trade on Seattle’s prominent place in the music industry. Stephenson mentioned partnerships with Seattle’s Sub Pop Records, which recently signed CSS, and local independent radio station KEXP-FM (90.3)."

I can only hope and pray that they do a good job of integrating content and programming from the world’s greatest indie rock station into the Zune service. I was a little miffed that Urge and MSN Music have no mention of KEXP. Things that would be great are archived playlists of each DJ that would contain every track that they just played which are available via Zune’s all you can eat subscription service; best of tracks and other integration points.

I won’t have any original things to say about the Zune till it launches and I can get my hands on one. But it is fun to be excited and waiting for it…

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September 1, 2006

Windows Vista RC1!

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 11:52 pm

RC1 shipped today. One step closer to RTM.

Linked from the Windows Vista Team Blog. The blog which proclaims itself "The official and authoritative resource on Microsoft Windows Vista" seems to be run by Nick White on the Vista launch team.

Once RC1 is available for download to the world, maybe I’ll start posting some screenshots and feature explanations for the features produced by the team that I belong to: Windows Feedback and Reliability.

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August 31, 2006

Testing Live Local integration with Live Writer

Filed under: Microsoft — Vamshi @ 12:53 am

Live Writer comes with pretty interesting integration to Live Local. So I can do this (note the pushpin):

Or this (aerial imagery):

And even insert the bird’s eye imagery from Live Local:


The Needle!!!

Pros:

  • Very easy Live Local Map integration
  • Re-sizing inserted map image brings in more tiles from Live Local automatically into the static image that is generated
  • Easy way to point people to a map with multiple explanatory pushpins on it
  • Just cool…

Cons:

  • Inserted image is static rather than a Live Local map control that you can zoom/pan around in, etc.
    • Probably the biggest weakness for an otherwise great implementation
  • Push pin support is nice, but the push pin details can’t be resolved without clicking on the link and going to Live Local
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