Microsoft and one of Asia’s leading discount airlines teamed up on Wednesday to promote the use of a new software program, or desktop gadget, to access Internet information on the Vista OS.
The AirAsia Vista Gadget is the first such software program ever made by an Asian company to run exclusively on Vista, according to Microsoft. The company hopes it will start a trend in the region, where it has made available developer tools and engineers to give them a push.
The AirAsia Vista Gadget, a small software application or widget, allows users to manage travel itineraries and access other information and services on AirAsia’s website. The widget sits right on the Vista desktop, allowing users to find Internet information without the need to open a browser.
AirAsia hopes it catches on as a way for customers to keep up with fare sales, something the company is known for.
On Wednesday, for example, AirAsia started the “craziest sale in town”: 99 percent discounts on a half-million plane tickets for travel between April 1 and July 1. And when it opened five years ago, the budget airline promoted US$1 fares to users who booked tickets online.
“Internet booking was new in Malaysia when we launched,” said Kathleen Tan, an executive vice president at AirAsia.
The stunt helped turn AirAsia’s website into one of the top online destinations for Internet users in the region. The company now sells 70 percent of its tickets over the Internet.
Microsoft aims to promote the use of such software in the future. The company has made available about 2,000 software engineers globally to aid developers, in addition to providing information on its website.
“There’s been a tendency to think of the Web as something you browse on, but it’s becoming more popular to pull Internet information to the user,” said Dilip Mistry, general manager of developer and platform evangelism in the Asia-Pacific at Microsoft.
Instant-messaging software is one example of a program similar to the AirAsia Vista Gadget, as are RSS news aggregators, Sudoku games, and widgets that put stock quotes, weather forecasts, time zone clocks and other Internet information right on a user’s desktop.
Vista makes better use of such gadgets because it was made with them in mind, said Mistry. A Windows XP user, for example, might have to find an update on Microsoft’s website in order to use some widgets, but they shouldn’t have to with Vista.
One drawback for the AirAsia Vista Gadget is a lack of Vista users in Asia. The consumer version of Vista just launched, and many local languages in Asia are not yet supported. Mistry said Vista is available in about 20 languages now, and users will be able to find it in 99 languages by the end of this year.
Security has also been noted as a potential problem with desktop gadgets and widgets, due mainly to their rising popularity. The fear is that some people might put malicious code into the applications, or create poisoned applets.
The price of Vista is also an issue that may hold back users in some parts of Asia, particularly users who want access to information from a budget airline. When asked if Microsoft might follow AirAsia’s example of crazy discounts, such as a possible US$1 Vista promotion, Mistry declined to answer.
There are about 80 gadgets and widgets for Vista available in Asia today, excluding China and Japan, according to Microsoft estimates. The company predicts the figure will quadruple over the next few months, since it takes just a few weeks to create one.
In Europe, French national railway company SNCF is using a Vista gadget to steer customers to its online travel agency, Voyages-SNCF.com, while electronics and entertainment store FNAC.com will offer its customers a gadget to simplify comparison shopping.
-Dan Nystedt, IDG News Service (Taipei Bureau)
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