Live Labs kills Deepfish; suspends Volta downloads

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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