Weekend Reading: Dec. 21st Edition – Bing Puts the Spotlight on Images, Xbox Windows Phone Favorites on Sale and the Year in Review on MSN

In this edition of Weekend Reading, we’ve got stories on the new Image Search design in Bing, Windows Phone game deals, and some cool things Microsoft is doing to support global language and help preserve disappearing languages.

Modern image search arrives on Bing. A few months ago, we launched a new more modern experience for Bing Image Search. We cut out the white space and clutter to make room for big, beautiful pictures from across the Web. Since then, we have kept on working to make pictures shine on Bing. On Tuesday, we started rolling out a brand new way to make it faster or simpler to explore imagery on Bing. Take a look at the new design in the “cute puppies” search image below, and see more examples in the Tuesday post from the Search Blog. You’ll also want to check out this post on Kristin of The Cuisinerd, who used Bing image search to gather photos for her snappy Bing in the Holidays gift-buying guide.

Xbox cuts prices on popular Windows Phone games to 99 cents. Xbox is celebrating the New Year by slashing prices on several popular Windows Phone games to just 99 cents. Check out the list on the Windows Phone Blog — there isn’t a dud among them. Windows Phone team member Michael Stroh says his kids love “iStunt2” and if you’ve never tried “Contre Jour,” it’s worth downloading for the visuals alone. Get details and links on Wednesday’s post of the Windows Phone Blog so you can stock up for those long, lazy holiday afternoons.

MSN looks back on 2012. What would happen if Honey Boo-Boo entered a room Gangnam Style and Kim Kardashian tweeted about it? It’d sound a lot like the MSN 2012 Year in Review! Covering everything from super-storm Sandy to the year’s top baby names, 2012’s most influential cats, the greatest photo-bombs of the year, and the year’s top tweets, the Year in Review on MSN has something for everyone. Check out Tuesday’s MSN blog post for a look back at the year’s biggest stories.

Going global: language support in Windows Phone 8. “When will Windows Phone support my language?” John McConnell, a member of the phone’s international engineering team, says it’s a question he once heard nearly every day. Not anymore. “It’s hard to believe that just over a year ago I touted the 22 languages in our last release. My teammates and I were proud of the work—but knew we had more to do,” says McConnell. And you told us as much: Language support was the No. 1 customer request on Suggestion Box for Windows Phone 8. So we kept busy—and now have more than doubled the number of display languages to 50 (you can see them all below). This week, the Windows Phone team shared just how fluent Windows Phone 8 has become. For the complete story, head over to this Tuesday post on the Windows Phone Blog.

The environment art of ‘Halo 4.’ There has been much written about “Halo 4” of late – and with good reason – it’s a truly worthy successor to earlier games in the franchise and had a whopping US$220 million opening day. One of Next at Microsoft Editor Steve Clayton’s favorite stories details how 343 Industries used Windows Azure to help the online gaming scale to hundreds of thousands of requests per second and deal with unknown spikes in demand. Clayton also points to a story about how the development team used Azure to build “Halo 4” and shares a great post from Polycount that provides huge detail about the process of creating the environment art for Halo 4. For more images and the rest of this story, head over to yesterday’s post on Next at Microsoft.

Microsoft adds the Cherokee language to Windows 8. When your speaker base is shrinking and your culture as you know it will be lost forever, what do you do? The Cherokee Nation is no stranger to the concept of language preservation. They have been a leader and exemplary example to all. This wasn’t always the case: a survey taken more than a decade ago found there were no Cherokees under the age of 40 considered conversational. Today, they have a speaker base of about 3,000. On Tuesday, Microsoft announced support for the Cherokee language in Windows 8 as part of the Microsoft Local Language Program. For the rest of a truly interesting story, head to Tuesday’s Microsoft Citizenship Blog post.

Big hits from the Office Webinars. Office 15-Minute Webinars host, Doug Thomas, says your questions and creativity are inspiring. The past year of webinars has shown you quick ways to get the most out of Office (like Excel Pivot Tables and Slicers or What’s Office like on Surface RT devices?), and you always add your own fresh and interesting approaches. Thomas says, “Thank you for a great year – your active participation has made the webinars a regular Tuesday destination.” On Tuesday, Thomas shared a list of some of the year’s most popular webinars, plus links to help and how-to articles, videos, and training. Check them out for some time well spent.

Three top tips to look and sound good on Skype. It’s nearly that time of year again – the holiday season is upon us! For a lot of people, it’s a time to take a break, but for some of us there’s a lot to take care of. There are presents to buy, meals to plan and family members who you haven’t seen since last year’s holidays to get reacquainted with. Here at Skype, we know how crazy the holiday season can be and we also know that many of you will be using Skype over the holidays to connect with loved ones near and far. So, over the next few weeks, Skype team member Matthew de Beer will be sharing tips on getting the best audio and video quality out of your Skype calls. Why should you avoid Skyping with a dark background? Find out in this Tuesday post on Skype’s Big Blog.

And in case you missed it … ‘Minecraft: The Story of Mojang’ to air on Xbox LIVE this Saturday.

That’s it for this edition of Weekend Reading! Thanks for stopping by The Official Microsoft Blog and happy holidays!

Posted by Jeff Meisner
Editor, The Official Microsoft Blog