Internet Explorer 9
PROS: Standards compliance; hardware-accelerated performance; desktop integration features
CONS: Best features only available in Windows 7
RATING: Five out of five stars
RECOMMENDATION: Internet Explorer 9 is one of the most important products to come out of Redmond in years—from a forward-leaning perspective, it’s even more important than Windows 7. It doesn't just answer all the key complaints about IE, including performance and standards compliance, but it also makes the competition look silly by comparison. Most interesting, IE 9 also includes a slew of useful new end-user features, in sharp contrast with the little-used end-user improvements from IE 8. Key among these improvements are desktop integration features—available only in Windows 7—that make websites look and work much like traditional Windows applications, with their own jump lists, notifications, and other familiar features. IE 9 is just the latest in a suddenly long list of Microsoft successes, but it's the most interesting, too, given the world's transition to web-based apps. Suddenly, the Windows desktop is important again, and the reason, curiously, is IE 9.
DISCUSSION: SuperSite for Windows: IE 9 Beta
Kinect for Xbox 360
PROS: Takes motion-sensing mainstream; enables new interaction paradigms; not just for the Xbox 360
CONS: Performance is a bit slow; facial recognition could be better
RATING: Four out of five stars
RECOMMENDATION: On the surface, Microsoft's Kinect motion sensor add-on for the Xbox 360 is an interesting development in the video game world and a way for Microsoft to simultaneously address the dominance of Nintendo's Wii while extending the life of its own console. And on that note, it succeeds. But the Kinect also points to deeper computer-human interface changes coming down the road, and the implications will be seen in future desktop versions of Windows as well as other products, resulting in a new, more pervasive generation of computing devices. Oddly, the Kinect's biggest gains are in voice command, which has been available on PCs and mobile devices for years but never as integrated and well-done as is the case with the console. It's a quiet revolution for now, but make no mistake: Kinect is a revolution, and one that will impact far more than just games.
DISCUSSION: SuperSite for Windows: Xbox Kinect
Paul Thurrott: "Microsoft Left Kinect Open on Purpose, Has Not Reversed Course"
Paul Thurrott: "Latest IE 9 Preview Offers Fastest Performance of Any Browser, Microsoft Says"
Paul Thurrott: "IE 9 Beats Chrome, Firefox, and Safari on Official HTML 5 Test"