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SteveBall SteveBall SteveBall

Niner since 2005

Engineer, musician, entrepreneur, I am currently Group Program Manager of the (new!) WAVE (Windows Audio Video Excellence) team in the Windows Digital Media Division. I've been hovering around Microsoft since about 1994, and joined fulltime in 1998. I've done four start-ups (Adaptive Networks, Guitar Craft Services, Rockslide, BootlegTV) in addition to spending 1986-1992 in an apprenticeship (studying, touring, teaching and recording) with British guitarist, Robert Fripp.

I have way too...
  • Making Windows Vista Sing: Robert Fripp and the Vista Melody

    "Posted by Massif // Thu, Mar 8, 2007 7:11 AM

    You don't appear to have answered the Personalisation vs. Branding question.

    I can understand the need not to create the most homogenised lowest common denominator sound, but that doesn't mean leaving everyone with a single soundscape.

    Couldn't the same sounds be recorded in a slightly different set of instruments / styles just to give a bit of leeway for users to customise their experience? e.g. using the same micro-compositions throughout, but giving people 2 or 3 versions of each sound using different instruments.

    It does appear to me that Vista's veered too close to the apple "one-size-damn-well-better-fit-all" approach. Strong branding's alright, but I'd like a few more knobs to fiddle with (all around the UX, not just on the sounds front.)"

    Good observation, Massif -- we wanted to provide additional inbox Sound Schemes besides the default set, but in the end, that plan did not fit into ship schedule.    Of course, it is still relatively easy for users who really wish to create their own Personalized sound schemes using their own sounds.  

    In our original Sound Scheme plan, recommended that we ship a 'minimalist' scheme, a 'home' scheme a 'Fripp' scheme, and a 'Classic XP' scheme along side the default Windows Vista sound scheme -- although these sounds and sound schemes exist, it was not considered to a priority to get these inbox relative to the very hard task of sticking to the RTM date. 

    So these remain an available aspiration for future releases.     

    Also, I would not necessarily characterize the default sounds we chose as 'homogenised lowest common denominator.'    IMHO, 'lowest common denominator' would be silence.   As I've mentioned elsewhere, the primary driving influence for the design of the default sounds was to offer a subtle compliment the translucent, rounded, AERO glass UI.  

    I hope this helps provide some context for this default sound UX (and I also hope that we'll find an appropriate ship vehicle for some of the other great stuff we captured in these sessions.)     

    * * *
  • Making Windows Vista Sing: Robert Fripp and the Vista Melody

    "Posted by Minh // Sat, Mar 3, 2007 1:40 PM

    This is a great revelation into one particular aspect of Vista that I find inspirational. I get to see the people who try to put "soul" into Vista. But the thing about the Vista audio experience is...

    There is NO Vista audio experience."

    Thanks Minh - this is actually by design.

    It was our goal for the default inbox sounds to be just noticeable enough that if they weren’t there you would notice, but when you do hear them, they don’t get in your way.  

    Like the the rest of the AERO interface, then new sounds in Windows Vista are glassy, ”rounded” and “translucent.”  The default sound scheme in Windows Vista is much gentler and softer than the more literal pianos and orchestral sounds used in previous versions of Windows.  

    We also tried to get some of these beautiful Fripp soundscapes into the product in other places, but it was too late in the produt cycle to add sonic content so, for example, you could listen to a soothing Soundscape during the install or upgrade process.  In the end, shipping Vista on time was (obviously) the more important goal.
    This also does not mean that we don't have aspirations to do something significant with the additional music and sounds from these sessions in future releases.      

    * * *  
  • Making Windows Vista Sing: Robert Fripp and the Vista Melody

    This video accompanies the first video from first the Nov session: http://channel9.msdn.com/Showpost.aspx?postid=151853  

    This second video was never posted and 'pulled' as suggested above.

    And yes, that's Don Box among a number of other people from across Windows and Microsoft product teams who I invited over to give Robert Fripp an audience of listeners to play to for during these sessions. 

    The presence of an audience for part of the day, among other things, helped us keep the energy up during the session.  

    * * *
  • Windows Vista WAVE - Windows Audio Video Excellence

    Good questiosn gdesroches.

    Sound: I'll be ready for an update early next week on this.  

    Once more for the record, there are also many folks (inside and outside MS) who would have never predicted that this issue would become so violently polarizing and touch such a strong emotional nerve across so many people.   

    'Just turn down or mute your device if you don't want to hear it' was thought to be sufficient mitigation, even with the already well-known constraints around HW controls, laptops, bedrooms, trains, libraries, sleeping babies, etc.  

    This was the prevailing consensus among a wide and diverse range of very smart, sensitive people who have zero hidden (or obvious) agenda to force a branding event down thoats.   

    And, we all said: let's see what the feedback is over the next couple of months.

    So, while I can't announce an official POR until it is approved and reviewed across a number of teams, my feeling is that most will be happy with the current POR for RTM.   

    * * *  

    Regarding 'Resilience' -- this performance is possible for any media apps in Windows Vista that are built on the new MMCSS (Multi-Media Class Scheduler Service.)   I'll provide more detail on this here asap -- perhaps via another set of interviews with Charles?   

    Meantime, my team is 100% focused on keeping RTM on track!

    * * * 
  • Windows Vista WAVE - Windows Audio Video Excellence

    Will do asap. 

    What you want is background on the new MMCSS (multi-media class scheduler service) that enables these 'Resilience' scenarios. 

    First priority today: prep a for DCR (design change request) presentation on feedback about the Pearl Animation (pre-logon) sound. 

    * * *
  • Windows Vista WAVE - Windows Audio Video Excellence

    Good question - this is not a contradiction, not precisely. 

    There is nothing "special"  about the hardware in a machine that gets the logo except that it has been tested.  The logo tests are the only real mechanism we have to set a minimum quality bar for end to end experiences.   

    If you throw a random piece of hardware with a mis-behaving driver into a logoed Windows Vista machine, then all bets are off for glitch-resilience.   

    This new infrastructure delivers better AV performance when there is CPU, GPU, and memory resource contention, but it does not perform miracles on random machines with random hardware configurations. 

    * * *
  • Hakon Strande - High Definition Audio in Windows Vista

    Posted by androidi // Sat, Jul 15, 2006 4:22 AM

     When the video ends theres a trrttrtt noise. If this comes from certain cameras into the recording there might be an opportunity for Movie Maker (or whatever you use to compress these) to look the last second of the video being loaded for editing for suspect noises and offer to strip them out if the user at later point attempts to save an edited part which contains the noise.  "

    Yeah, this seems like a no-brainer for cameras and/or editing apps.

    I admire how Charles and Robert really work to keep their process to a minimum (so they can focus on the people, not production.)  But it's surprising that a tiny bit of automatic hardware intelligence during capture from the camera or during encoding could not catch this kind of transition noise at the beginning and end of clips and just do the right thing?

    We've spend so much time and energy delivering sample-level fidelity from app to hardware, it's (almost) funny that at the end of this HD Audio discussion, a giant sonic @#$^& puts an big brown exclamation point on how we sometimes miss the forest while talking about trees.  

    * * *
  • Hakon Strande - High Definition Audio in Windows Vista

    " this video makes me think it needs to get promoted and "evangelized" like it was a brand new invention (which, to certain extent, it is). "

    Great suggestions (mwirth) -- we're exploring on these kinds of ideas even as we speak.  

    We're also working to be very careful to undersell vs. the traditional "over-promise then underwhelm" gaps that often exists between marketing initiatives and real product adoption.  

    For audio authoring, one common perception is that the Windows platform has been playing second-fiddle to the Mac for years -- but we're finally at a point now where we can begin to raise our head and proudly say we're 'in the game.'  In fact, we have some substantial differentiating features in Windows Vista:  glitch-resilience, low-latency, better device UX, and our fidelity work are each small pieces of a larger story that deserves to be heard.  

    That said, my own hope is that we can simply get Windows Vista users and our strong AV developer community to discover and tell the story themselves instead of "hiring" a paid spokesperson or pouring buckets of marketing $$ into this.   I don't actually believe that musicians or "user generated content creators" (translation: all of us) will buy or move to (say Acid, Vegas, Nuendo, Cakewalk, Audition, ProTools or even Windows Vista) because they saw an ad or a review.  They are more likely to jump if their friends or an influential person shows them what is possible from their own volition.

    Of course, there is still a long way to go in our decade-long 'just works' mission for this space, but the improvements in the platform that Hakon and David discuss in this video are a key part of our long-term, ground up investment.   

    For me, it's also great to see such passion around these 'plumbing' improvements.   Thanks for taking time to listen and offer suggestions.  
    * * *  
  • Steve Ball - Learning about Audio in Windows Vista

    Putting a slider in each app:

    a) is not practical - does not work for legacy apps, and certainly would never be done in a 'discoverable' way in all apps that make sound  

    b) would be confusing because app volume controls are not standardized - where do users look for slider and mute control in 10,000 different apps that make sound? 

    c) does not actually solve the real problem this UI solves: quick mixing of levels between apps that are currently playing sound  -- this design enables two simple problem solving scenarios in one, easy to find, always-on place in the Windows desktop:  set 'Windows Sounds' level relative to the other app that is playing audio, and 'set App A level compared to App B' level.

    * * *

    We occaisionally hear about users who claim to regularly use more than two or three apps at a time that are all simultaneously playing audio.  This UI is not designed for fringe cases where users are playing audio consistently from more than 2 or 3 apps at once (ex. someone who needs a professional mixing console.) 

    This UI is meant to be a quick means of solving common 'desktop' volume problems in real time without requiring apps to 'opt in' or do anything -- Vista does the heavy lifting to make it easy for even novices to quickly customize the relative level settings between apps.  

    * * * 

  • Robert Fripp - Behind the scenes at Windows Vista recording session

    -- I doubt you'd get either one of these fine men to touch a PC running Windows!  --

    Not true - Robert used Windows-based PCs through most of the nineties and into the early 2000's -- before that, he used DOS-based systems.    

    Also, Robert and David Singleton use SADiE (Windows-based audio mastering tool) for mixing/mastering every Fripp/Crimson release over the past (ten?) years.  My experience is that Robert is generally both technology and brand agnostic, but he makes decisions based upon the quality of his own 'user experience' and the quality of the people who introduce him to new technologies and products.

    Jenny Lam, Tjeerd Hoek and the MSX team presented Vista demos to Robert before this session, and his comments were both encouraging and positive.

    That said, I've seen almost every musician in the Crimson camp (and almost every other segment of the music industry) move to Powerbooks for their primary machines over the past few years.  

    For musical road warriors, I believe a combination of excellent out of box experience, ongoing perceived ease-of-use, peer pressure, and Windows virus nightmares pushed many former Windows users (back) to the Mac.     

    * * *


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