Windows 8 Secrets: Skype App for Windows 8

With tech enthusiast web sites from around the world continuing to leak Windows 8 information, your intrepid “Windows 8 Secrets” co-authors offer a bit of color commentary about what you’re seeing elsewhere and how things will really work. In this new co-post, we look briefly at the Metro style Skype app for Windows 8, which should ship in time for the OS’s general availability in late October. Pre-order Windows 8 Secrets today on Amazon.com and save!

It’s obviously not surprising that Microsoft would be working on a Skype app for Windows 8, given that the software giant purchased Skype last year for $8.5 billion. (Skype is also being integrated into other core Microsoft products, including Office 2013, Outlook.com, and the Xbox 360, among others.)

Neowin recently leaked news of the Skype app for Windows 8. And even in this incomplete, slightly broken first version, called an App Preview, you can see where Microsoft/Skype is headed.

The initial view, or landing page, is a full-screen experience that provides columns for recent calls, favorites, and people.

There’s also a link with your Skype name and profile message in the upper right. If you tap this, a pane expands to show your status (available, by default) and a link to account information. (Tap that and you’re off to the web.)

Tap the large Call button on the landing page, and you’ll find another full-screen experience where you can call or text an arbitrary phone number, access your current payment and balance info, and view your recent calls history.

If you have more contacts that will fit on the landing page, you can view the All People screen to see everyone. As with elsewhere in this app, available contacts will have a green presence indicator and those with customized profile pictures will display that instead of a generic icon.

When you view an individual contact’s screen, you’ll see their profile picture (if any), large green buttons for video and audio calls, availability, a reminder about that contact’s location and local time, and buttons and fields for entering a text message or contacting them via SMS on their mobile phone. (You can also add a contact to your favorites list by displaying the app bar here and choosing Favorite.)

While Skype for Windows 8 will eventually offer a snap interface so you can use this app side-by-side with other apps or the desktop, that view is currently non-functional.

In an actual video call, Skype works as expected. The video is of course full screen, and you can toggle the microphone, the web camera, and pane for exchanging text chat.

Skype does utilize standard, Windows 8-style notifications, and can run in the background. So you can be alerted when a call comes in no matter what you’re doing.

In fact, Skype is one of the few apps that can work with the detailed display status option on the lock screen. (You can also use Skype in one of your seven lock screen app slots.)

That said, Skype doesn’t (yet?) integrate with some other Windows 8 features such as the Share and Search contracts.

The most curious thing about the App Preview version of the Skype app is that it’s so incomplete. Despite references to an app bar, there is no such user interface element on any of its screens except for those that display individual contacts. And a Settings interface is conspicuously absent too. Presumably both of these issues will be fixed before release.

Have you seen any other Windows 8 leaks you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line and let us know!

– Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott

More signs pointing at Windows 8 on next-gen Xbox?

Over the weekend, an alleged next-generation Xbox development kit posed for photographs and sold itself on eBay. Most of the shots were dull and boring but one included a peek at an old build of Visual Studio 2012 with Durango tools wired up. Worth noting was:

  1. The presence of Package.appxmanifest in the solution.
  2. The use of the Windows::ApplicationModel::Core::CoreApplication::Exit() method.

Assuming the shot is real, these nuggets lend more credibility to the rumor that the next-gen Xbox will be powered by a SKU of Windows 8 and that apps will be written to the tune of the Windows Runtime API -- maybe even exclusively, scrapping Win32 access altogether. Interesting stuff.

Hat tip to Windows Blog Italia who wrote about references to Xbox in the Windows 8 kernel a year ago.

A peek inside the Xbox Live Event Player

Like 11.8 million other viewers around the world, I was tuned in and watching, with bated breath, the landing of the NASA flying laboratory on wheels Curiosity. I started watching the stream via what felt like a Rube Goldberg kind of set up. It consisted of my loaner Samsung Series 7 slate, connected to a TV via HDMI out, displaying Internet Explorer 10 with UStream.tv loaded. But a few minutes in, the set up collapsed thanks to Adobe Flash. (The browser experience became unstable; memory usage ballooned until Windows was forced to terminate the process.) So I switched to Xbox.

Interestingly enough, Xbox has what's called the Xbox Live Event Player. It came out sometime in April, according to Wikipedia, but not being an Xbox affectionado this was the first time I heard of it. A quick download and I was off watching the same stream with a beer in hand. Pretty cool stuff.

But I'm a curious kind of guy. It wasn't clear where this stream was coming from or what technology was being used in the player application. And I had to know. So I logged into my wireless router -- running DD-WRT custom firmware -- and dumped out some packets via tcpdump. Poking around, I was surprised to learn the application (likely Silverlight powered) was pulling 720p video from Microsoft via IIS Smooth Streaming tech.

Specifically, the application was pulling live data from:

http://xblevts-p.xboxlive.com/live/ms_nasa.isml/QualityLevels(6000000)/ Fragments(video=253573320000)

And data for the cool 7 Minutes of Terror video I clicked on from:

http://xbox-mbr.xboxlive.com/mgs/liveplayer/production/MarsLander/LongLoop/ MarsLoop_HD.ism/QualityLevels(6000000)/Fragments(video=340000000)

It was the .ism and .isml extensions that tipped me off. A quick modification of the URL to load the IIS SS manifest confirmed it. Itch scratched.

Coder Corner: If you're interested in playing the stream on your PC, you will need an IIS Smooth Streaming capable client. Unfortunately Windows Media Player and VLC both suck in this department. But you can effortlessly whip up a quick Metro-style client using this sweet tutorial from IIS Media Services Program Manager Cenk Dingiloglu.

Windows 8 Secrets: RTM Graphical Assets

With tech enthusiast web sites from around the world now leaking the RTM version of Windows 8, your intrepid “Windows 8 Secrets” co-authors offer a better look at the graphical assets that other sites only hint at. In this new co-post, we look briefly at leaked images of the Windows 8 RTM Start screen patterns, and lock screen and desktop wallpapers. Pre-order Windows 8 Secrets today on Amazon.com and save!

This week, Win8China leaked some of the new default lock screen images in the RTM version of Windows 8. But what they don’t show you is what this actually looks like on the lock screen. Here it is:

Here’s what the full set of default lock screen images looks like:

Win8China.com also leaked the final set of Windows 8 Start screen patterns. You may recall that Microsoft had previously provided a small number of these patterns in previous Windows 8 milestone releases. But in the final, RTM version of Windows 8, we can see that not only are there 20 patterns—up from 10 in the Release Preview—but that many of these patterns are quite colorful.

Here’s the PC Settings interface for personalizing the Start screen in the RTM version of Windows 8:

Earlier this week, TECHIT leaked the default Windows 8 wallpaper, which is a beautiful flower photograph:

Windows 8 also ships with a set of default themes, Earth and Flowers. Here are thumbnails of the wallpaper sets that come with these themes:

Have you seen any other Windows 8 leaks you’d like to know more about? Drop us a line and let us know!

–Rafael Rivera and Paul Thurrott