Live Labs kills Deepfish; suspends Volta downloads

Live Labs kills Deepfish; suspends Volta downloads

Summary: Microsoft has quickly and quietly killed off one of its touted Live Labs projects, as my ZDNet blogging colleague Matthew Miller recently blogged. And another of the Microsoft incubator's projects -- the Volta tookit -- is missing in action.

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What's going on over at Microsoft Live Labs, the incubation unit that mashed up Microsoft researchers and MSn team members to help speed the delivery of  Microsoft innovations to market?

Microsoft has quietly killed off one of its touted Live Labs projects, Deepfish, as my ZDNet blogging colleague Matthew Miller recently noted. And another of the Microsoft incubator's projects -- the Volta toolkit -- is missing in action.

Deepfish, an enhanced mobile browser for Windows Mobile, was discontinued on September 30 (or September 31, as the note about the ending of the service on the Deepfish site erroneously states).

Microsoft's explanation for Deepfish's demise (from the Live Labs Web site):

"When Live Labs began working on Deepfish, we set out to prove our theory that there was an unmet demand for a better mobile browsing experience than what was available at the time we started the project in 2006.  It wasn't our intent to create a full browser for the preview, but rather simply demonstrate that a novel and simple new user experience was the best way to achieve that. The positive reception and incredible demand for the Deepfish technical preview went a long way towards proving that.  And now, thanks in part to Deepfish, many better alternatives are emerging."

I wondered exactly what Microsoft believed has been achieved, user-experience-wise, in mobile browsers since the company launched the tech preview of Deepfish in March 2007. A spokesperson responded with the following statement via e-mail:

"The Live Labs team has discontinued the Deepfish tech preview because mobile browsing is advancing to the point where mobile devices rival the desktop-which is what we wanted to see. User experience advances such as usable touch and intuitive zooming interfaces weren't widely available at the time. Deepfish helped drive that innovation, and now the marketplace has caught up to where we thought it needed to go and continues to advance."

I'm surprised the Live Labs team didn't simply move the Deep Fish team members to a product group inside Microsoft, like it did recently with the PhotoSynth team. Live Labs is an incubator whose goal is to push Microsoft-developed projects more quickly into the commercial channel. The aforementioned spokesperson said Microsoft would "look to implement the key (Deepfish) learnings in future technologies."

Microsoft's elimination of the Deepfish mobile browsing effort comes at a time when the company is struggling to deliver a new version of its mobile operating system.

While Microsoft recently showed off Internet Explorer 6 for Windows Mobile, the company pushed back the release of its Windows Mobile 7 product from late 2008/early 2009 to the latter half of 2009, according to partners with whom News.com spoke last month. Windows Mobile 7 is expected to include touch and gesture recognition, based on information about the product that leaked at the start of this year.

Meanwhile, speaking of Live Labs projects, Volta -- Microsoft's competitor to the Google Web Toolkit -- was removed from the Live Labs site on September 8 and has yet to return. There's a posting on the Live Labs blog that states the following:

"Live Labs' experimental developer toolset, codename 'Volta' (previously available at http://livelabs.com/volta/), is currently unavailable while we make a few changes. We have removed the download and documentation from our site. Your existing copies of the software will continue to function as before, this only affects new downloads. We assure you, the technology will be available again soon."

I asked officials whether Volta is being discontinued and they said that was not the case. But they also had no more to say about why the Volta code was removed or when it will be back online.

Live Labs' list of incubated projects is currently down to three: Listas, SeaDragon and Entity Extraction.

Topics: Software, CXO, Microsoft, Mobile OS, Mobility, Operating Systems, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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5 comments
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  • Volta and PDC

    I'm guessing Volta will show up again at the PDC.
    Dharma Shukla's Live Platform Architecture session
    seems to hint at it with "hybrid client/cloud
    scripting". I also wouldn't be surprised if a stand-
    alone Volta session is added at the last minute.
    odenni
  • RE: Live Labs kills Deepfish; suspends Volta downloads

    I think this article is focused on too much on DeepFish and its believed value.

    First, in my opinion Windows Mobile 7 was not significantly delayed. The WM 6.1 mobile phones have been shipping for only about three months, and WM7 would have come too late this year for phones to use it this season.

    The manufacturer do not have to have release of WM7 to start preparing phones for it, microsoft doesn't have to code freeze WM7 this year. It's good news that WM7 is delayed.

    Secondly, the flagship WM manufacturer HTC has been licensing Opera Mobile, which provides iPhone touch-and-zoom for the HTC Touch Diamond and other sets.
    This lessens the pressure on the Windows Mobile browser. Essentially, they are not using it.

    So what does DeepFish bring to the table. In my opinion, it's easy to build a technical demo, but the hard part would be turning that into a final browser. Why would Microsoft have two teams working on a mobile browser. There is no reason to think that the existing mobile browser team is incapable of building DeepFish ideas into Pocket IE.

    It's wrong for Microsoft to suggest they had an impact on the evolution of web browsing, I'm taken aback that they would say this. As we know, it's the iPhone hardware and safari and the need for competition that's pushed the experience forward. If anything, Windows Mobile has been an hindrance.

    Pocket Internet Explorer is a much reviled product that's been frozen in time. Its only advantage is that it's fast to start. The WM community isn't very excited at the news that Microsoft is updating it to the IE 6 code base, given that IE 6 is ten years ago. Opera and SkyFire are the browsers we are looking forward to for Windows Mobile. So Microsoft needs to do more in WM 7, and I believe eliminating this duplicated effort could be the sign of good things to come.
    fredericr
  • Volta was cool

    I remember playing around with Volta for a bit--it was
    really neat. It let you control the browser directly
    with C# (and with no need for a plugin) by actually
    translating the C# IL into javascript.

    Mind you they "marketed" it totally wrong of course,
    by calling it a dynamic "tier-splitting" solution.
    Frigging buzzwords.
    chaiguy1337
  • RE: Live Labs kills Deepfish; suspends Volta downloads

    The real reason why Microsoft has pulled the Volta project is because they are being sued for trademark infringement. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California
    CV08-05528
    codeDevil93
  • RE: Live Labs kills Deepfish; suspends Volta downloads

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