back to article Microsoft Tag emerges from beta

Microsoft Tag is out of beta, with Redmond claiming companies are dying to start making use of the format. Microsoft Tags are prettier than QR (Quick Response) Codes, being in colour, but embody much the same functionality being linked to a phone number, URL or plain text - though a Microsoft Tag can also contain a vCard. Tags …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "All Tags report back to a single source, ensuring a high consistency in user experience"

    consistently crap? That's the Microsoft way.

    1. John G Imrie
      Gates Horns

      All Tags report back to a single source, ensuring a high consistency in user experience"

      So what happens when this server goes down, or the network to it becomes congested.

      Can you say 'Single point of failure'

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @John G Imrie

        Single point of failure?

        Can you say "Virtual IP" and "DNS"

        1. amehaye

          Sidekick could

          Didn't do them much good now, did it.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Single point of failure happens earlier..

        .. the moment you started thinking about something MS has developed.

  2. Ol'Peculier


    Fine, but what happens if my output format will only be in black and white?

    1. Lunatik

      Still a big, fat fail, but...

      ...they did consider that and yes, you can use b&w tags.

  3. Reg Sim
    Thumb Up

    I remember....

    I think for Microsoft the initial driver behind Microsoft Tab's was a project with the internal code name Milan. I have put a link to a handy source with a video of project Milan in action, also known as the interactive coffie table or Microsoft Surface.

    When you watch the video (which has an irritating ad, bear with it), it will show you items like camera's, phones and cups interacting with the table. These i belive use Microsoft's Tab tech. There is another video kicking around that shows you this in more detail, however I don't feel like looking for it. Enjoy the video link below, and read the article that its embeded in if you want more info on the MS Surface.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Milan

      Exciting stuff (Milan, not Tag), but not related to Tag. Tag was started as a response to the :CueCat (remember THAT one? That pretty much died back in 2001. With all the hype from magazines Wired, Forbes, etc., how could they not get a piece of that action? Though it was started as a game of catch-up, but by the time they caught up, the :CueCat was already floundering into the depths.

      That Tag is out now must mean that MS sees an opportunity to resurrect the project and utilise cameras vs. dedicated scanner tech as the aquisition medium... and keep a hold on the latest(?) craze in advertising as a bonus.

      :CueCat utilised a weak "encryption" to force advertisers to use its service thanks to DCMA. The patents on the device and service are supposedly still viable under LV Partners.

  4. dave 46

    You heard it here first

    January 2013 - Apple changes shopping forever with the Apple iTag!

  5. Anonymous Coward

    I just wonder...

    With all that money cannot Microsoft employ a single person with a bit of business sense..

    This is like that woman that wanted to sell semaphore flags to kids on the apprentice a few years ago...

    Colour adds to printing costs. Who is ever going to be bored enough to start going to random URL's (Security?) through their phone.

    Why would a businesses ever need one of these when they can show a nice URL on a printed document that everyone can use. Alternatively If they want a bar code to identify a product they can use a bar code, which is free and when hooked up to a database and contain an unlimited amount of data!

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Those QR codes...

      I buy an amount of Japanese foods each month, and I've come across the older codes (that look like static to me!) on a number of products. I guess if URLs are complicated, or may contain lettering that some members of your target market aren't familiar with (how do you say "http" in Kana?), it probably makes sense to include it in some sort of coded form for easy access. The idea of photo, recognise, interpret is really quite clever.

      Sad to say, however, that I just don't like the Microsoft one. It isn't pleasingly functional, I wonder how distinctive it will be on glossy packaging and, really, it looks like a level diagram of some sort of '80s platform game. If I hit the zoom up key a load of times, will I see Jet Set Willy running around inside the Microsoft code?

      Still, let them try. They'll have their work cut out to displace an established and autonymous code.

  6. Graham Bartlett


    Hard to see the benefits. If you're a supermarket (or other user), you need your scanner to have an always-on internet connection, and you need to wait for the message to do a round-trip to MSHQ and back, instead of just to the server in the back of the store. Oh, and all your customers need to print their codes in colour, instead of black-and-white. And of course the slight issue that regular QR codes are fully working and have been in widespread use for a couple of years, instead of having only just left beta, so they're competing with an established standard.

  7. Ian Ferguson
    Thumb Down

    Report back?

    So it's a barcode that requires the scanner to have a constant, uninterrupted internet connection?! (Not to mention 4-colour printing on every item).

    I fail to see the advantage in a barcode scanner that can only be used in a fixed location, or with an expensive wireless solution. Part of the benefits of QR codes is that they hold enough information for the scanner to refer to a local database (even downloaded to a handheld scanner in advance), rather than relying on a remotely connected database.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Supermarkets, large chain shops and many warehouses already have links back to central datacentres and already use wireless and wired scanners. Also, as I understand it you don't need to have colour, it's an option.

  8. nemo20000

    Who needs facts when you have a press release?

    "A QR Code can only store 250 characters of plain text"

    Utter, utter rubbish. From here:

    QR-Code Data capacity:

    * Numeric only Max. 7,089 characters

    * Alphanumeric Max. 4,296 characters

    * Binary (8 bits) Max. 2,953 bytes

    * Kanji/Kana Max. 1,817 characters

    1. Basic
      Thumb Up

      And we're currently using them

      We currently use them to store ~~2k of data - they're reliable, the error correction is pretty damned good and all in all, it does everything I'd want from a barcode - including not requiring the scanner to be online.

      Gotta love Microsoft's control freakery

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    How can somthing printed on paper possibly control where the data goes first? It's down to the application and as soon as someone who isn't microsoft creates one then that 'feature' will stop. Unless they are forcing stupid licensing agreements on its use, in which case no one outside of microsoft will use it...

    1. TimeMaster T


      "Unless they are forcing stupid licensing agreements on its use,"

      You just answered your question. SOP for MS.

  10. Thomas 18






    1. Real Ale is Best

      I'd add to that...





      1. Mike Flugennock

        Oh, and not to mention...






  11. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Change the link...

    Or, you could just point your URL to a landing page and then redirect to wherever you want from there... Bit of forethought goes a long way...

    QR codes are much more distinctive and they work pretty well - why do we need yet another format? Sony'll be coming up with one next - they love making new, pointless, formats for things after all....

  12. Ivor

    Less information

    The article a a little misleading here since the example shown doesn't contain more information itself.

    The Microsoft tag only holds 105 *bits* of data, versus your example QR code (which actually would contain 440 bits or 77 alphanumeric characters not 250 as it is a 29x29 matrix assuming the lowest ECC level).

    Yes there's more data available by using a tinyurl style link via Microsoft.... but you could of course do exactly the same with a QR tag.

  13. yairmohr
    Thumb Up

    I happen to like it

    Microsoft Tag is a great solution, mainly for companies wanting to track the efficiency of the tags (i.e how many people scan the tag on a certain billboard, TV-show or newspaper).

    I've tried it in its beta phase, and it's very convenient. I can manage my tag and re-associate if I replace my website etc.

    1. Anomalous Cowherd Silver badge

      Not the tag, it's the tracking

      There's nothing in a QR-Code that prohibits this - encode the URL as or whatever. Plus you get the benefits of an open standard and the cost-savings of being able to run your add in black and white.

      You can also store vCards in a QR-code quite easily - so long as the scanning app recognises it., and many do. NTT Docomo offers a variation on this (me-cards) out of the box on their phones.

  14. JDX Gold badge

    Single point of failure?

    Just like Google then... EVERYTHING goes through them too - click on a link in search results for instance.

    Not defending the system, but it's hardly some evil-MS thing. What I don't buy is what they offer me as a customer of the system? I suppose if they take care of all the server stuff, I don't need to and can just be sent a report, which is a nice service?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Hardly some evil MS-thing ?

      Google's approach works because it is for the public, and we all know that the public has to have its ass on fire before it worries about buying an extinguisher.

      This tech is directly aimed at businesses. As such, we'll see just how many of them appreciate the "total Redmond control" aspect of the tech.

      If this thing is a failure, then we'll just have to accept that it was indeed "some evil MS-thing".

  15. Patrick O'Reilly


    I think they mean data density at a certain size. 4296 characters in a QR code would be the size of an A0 poster.

    However I agree, giving total control to Microsoft is stupid. It's laughable they call this tech open.

  16. Steve 41
    Thumb Down


    These are an utter eyesore, but let's face it until Win7 Microsoft never really seemed to worry about how things looked.

    With regards to the comments on needing always on internet connections, a lot of people already have these. Pretty much every iPhone for a start. Although I'm curious to see if you'll get an iPhone App. I don't own an iPhone, don't intend to, and can't be bothered to look to see if there is one. But people do have always on internet connections, and each day it seems more and more are getting them.

    QR codes are not just for mundane uses, and are getting more popular each day. I've seen them on t-shirts worn by band members playing gigs, translating to slogons not repeatable in polite company. I've seen them used in museums and art galleries linking through from exhibits to web pages going into more detail with images and videos. It may be "the next big thing" it may be a passing fad. But either way, a QR code is not ugly, a certain beer company's adverts at the moment look heavily influenced by them.

    The Microsoft ones though? A real eyesore.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Don't forget Data Matrix...

      It's already finding considerable use in the west (in fact, it's getting hard to NOT find a Data Matrix--the USPS uses them now), and it's comparable in overall purpose to QR Code (usage preference is more a geographical factor). Most scanners that can do QR Code can also do Data Matrix. And it's open. So that's TWO well-in-use open standards Tag has to deal with.

  17. JohnG Silver badge


    "Microsoft Tags are prettier than QR (Quick Response) Codes, being in colour...."


    1. Matt Piechota

      RE: Colour

      None of those codes in the mobileinc page scanned properly (using the ZXing Barcode App on Android).

      FAIL, indeed.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    Again nice for business not for customers. Microsoft still is B2B company

    Hopefully they make the mistake not to tell how it works. It would only help adoption on the receivers side which is essential here. That way the reader will be proprietary software and thus I will never be able to be disturbed by commercials, billboards etc

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Telling us how it works...

      ...don't you have to... in the patent application?

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Big Brother

    nice to know

    From their Microsoft Tag Implementation Guide:

    "Microsoft Tag allows Tag creators to identify each mobile phone used to scan one of their tags by using a unique device ID.


    It is an anonymous but persistent number that uniquely identifies a particular mobile phone. Although the device ID is sometimes* based on another device-specific number, such as the International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, it does not correspond to any other identification system."

    *sometimes? What does that mean? The reader just decides on the spot at random? How can it be a persistent number then?

    I'm just waiting for the hack that uses the security through obscurity displayed here to reverse engineer the IMEI number on the spot and then call back the user immediately. I mean you must be using a certain specific GSM mast when you photograph the billboard. So linking the IMEI to a cell phone number must be possible without the help of cell phone provider.

    Just for once Microsoft be clear and honest about what it is that you are doing? With Google you know exactly how they manage to hurt your privacy. With Microsoft you just never know. And that's what makes MS way more scarier.

    Luckily you can still choose not to use it.

  20. Kevin Bailey

    More failure and money wasted

    And how are colour-blind devs supposed to work with and test these tags? (Note to MS devs - colour blind people can't tell if colours match or not as we have a deficiency in our colour perception).

    Also, every single scan reports back to MS - WTF is that about? I can only see this being used by companies which blindly follow the 'Everything is Microsoft' mantra. (Natural selection should be taking these out over time).

    So many people need food/healthcare/education on this planet and MS still has the funds available to waste on these doomed me-to-but-ms-only projects.

    I know Billy G is dishing out billions to Africa - but something isn't right where people are forced to waste their money on terrible software products and the profits are then wasted on such dumb projects.

    BTW - if we still see anything about these tags in twelve months time then I'll 'eat me airedale!'

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Oh please !

      I enjoy a good MS bash just as much as the next guy, but try hitting where it hurts, okay ?

      MS is a private company and its remit has nothing to do with solving world hunger. Neither is that the goal of any of the Fortune 500, nor is it the goal of your friendly baker next door. Get a grip.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More incorrectidies

    As well as QR being designed to be able to hold much more than the Microsoft Tag, QR codes can hold vcards without resorting to the web to look them up.

    Microsoft Tags are just designed to be an ID like RFID which can then go and find the required data on the web.

    Surprising amount if misinformation in this article

  22. phillr

    MS Tag data storage

    The MS tag likely only stores a unique serial number, which is associated with the link by the referral to Microsoft's databases. This would be massively different than QR, which stores all the data in the printed code itself.

  23. Hayden Clark

    Yes, but QR codes are hard

    The Microsoft way requires a colour printer and a web browser, so Mom and Pop Cafe can use it.

    With only one client to install, there's a greater-than-zero chance of one non-geek actually reading the tag.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      @Hayden Clark

      Take a deep breath, close your eyes, and try and imagine yourself standing on a stage in front of a large audience, speaking those words out loud.

      Horrible, wasn't it.

  24. Harry

    Microsoft loves standards

    Typical microsoft. They love standards so much that whenever they come across one, they invent another.

    Anyway, it seems to me that barcode doesn't actually store 250 bytes of data (otherwise you'd be able to read them without microsoft to translate for you).

    Somehow, I suspect the pretty picture is doing little more than storing a shortish ID code of perhaps only a few bytes and MS is using that as an index into a key-value table. So the barcode itself contains nothing of any significance.

  25. Asgard
    Big Brother

    This is sickening...

    I started off wondering why does Microsoft feel the need to keep reinventing the wheel (so to speak) with almost everything they do. At first I thought maybe its so they can claim they originate so many ideas (even though the hidden small print is that its really derived from some previous work they didn't create).

    But I can now see (from the end part of the news article), I wasn't even close to thinking dark enough. :(

    I see now the game plan is for Microsoft to reinvent it into something that puts them centrally in control over it and the only reason they would want such central control, is so that they can then ultimately spy on and then sell user usage statistical data. Its the same business model as search engines. Its also yet another sad sign of the world taking one more step towards an Orwellian level of spying on us all, but as usual wrapped up in the usual Machiavellian two faced Doublespeak we get from these companies who want to spy but pitch it as a service.

    I was going to say the black and white version is cheaper for companies to print, but such a minor technical issue seems totally unimportant in the light of realizing that this is another way to spy on people. Oh sure its user choice, so its stochastically sampling a population rather than sampling everyone but then stochastically is enough to use that data to lie to and manipulate and influence a society. Its another sign of marketers are working to perfect their ability to lie and manipulate societies.

    It looks like so many companies these days are desperately trying to find ever more ways to spy on people, yet as always they don't say its spying, its all covered over in two faced lies to make it sound like services. The service is just a carrot on a stick so to speak to get ever more people to leak data.

    The reason I care is that the more sheeple who fall for all this, the more their actions affect the society I have to also live in. As a result of their ignorance the more this ever more spied on world becomes the accepted norm. What was once considered and feared as Orwellian and fascist gets repainted as the norm. Yet through the cracks in the news, we can see the sickeningly deep growing festering arrogance and corruption of the governments and businesses as they move us hopelessly towards a world ever better at perfecting its ability to spy on and manipulate a society into hiding so much that is going on and so what goes on will get ever worse just as every corrupt society in history, yet this is becoming a global corruption, so there will be no where to run from it all. I'm past caring about how the sheeple of this world will one day pay for their ignorance, but I don't want my family and friends to be dragged into the same hole so many sheeple are blindly taking society into. Just about every week these day the news has ever more warning signs. :(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Just goes to show...

      ... how easy it is to spy on people. This was always the case, but now it takes a whole lot less effort, and it's getting easier and cheaper by the day. Look, even micros~1 is doing it.

      There was a study not long ago by, if memory serves, a couple of Japanese researchers who could track people with reasonable accuracy around an office building with little more than strategically placed passage sensors. Which just goes to show that, well, a lot of things, really. Think about it.

      If we don't really need (expensive, cumbersome, not all that accurate) electronic face recognition trickery behind ubiquitous CCTV networks to automatically track and even identify someone in an office building, then what does that say about our governments ``flight forward'' towards ubiquitous surveillance with the newest technology they can get?

      Afterward we can resume our habitual bickering about the (un)necessity of tracking everybody at all.

  26. Eduard Coli
    Gates Horns

    Stevie likes it

    Yet another attempt at a M$ lock-in.

    Now they will spread the wealth to make it defacto.

    Wonder how Bill is doing with his new monopoly, Corbis.

    REG: we need an evil Ballmer as Bill has supposedly gone away.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Hard to see the benefits. If you're a supermarket (or other user), you need your scanner to have an always-on internet connection, and you need to wait for the message to do a round-trip to MSHQ"

    Or MS can sell you "MS Tag Enterprise Server" software with associated per-device licensing and an expensive service contract...

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    It's a solution looking for a problem, but hey, that might have been said about Windows, once!

  29. Richard Conto

    Eye-watering-ly bad colors

    Ouch. My eyes hurt just looking at those colors.

  30. raving angry loony

    rear entry embedded system?

    Only short-sighted, history impaired, utterly moronic Microsoft fanbois would even consider using this. Must have permanent connection to Microsoft? Only they get to decode it? Who on Earth other than people who are already firmly embedded on Microsoft's tool would want this?

  31. the bat
    Thumb Down

    Also known as brail/brale for dumb computers

    Also known as brail/brale for dumb computers

  32. Steve Evans


    The M$ system is like putting a shortcode into a current QR code?

    Honestly, I can't see this really taking off. Outside developers aren't going to be interested in a system controlled by M$ (not without some "encouragement"). If M$ had a larger presence in the mobile phone market then there might have been a possibility of almost making people use it, but they don't.

    Even Apple, however much they may hype their sales figures (aka only quoting USA) would be hard pushed. Nokia, despite their own attempts at self destruction, are still the mobile heavy-weight, and if they don't read M$ codes (and why should they, their phones quite happily do QR) it's going to be still-born.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge


      ...Tag Reader IS available for S60, Android, Blackberry, and iPhone--IOW, pretty much all the Phone OS's that matter (just punch a quick URL into the phone's browser), so most web-ready phones are fully capable of reading them.

  33. BuckBrinkley

    It'll Just Get Bigger

    It'll Just Get Bigger and more cumbersome as M$ throws everything but the kitchen sink into it. Then something innocuous will break it and you'll have twenty work arounds to get anything done that requires six API's and a new protocol or two to make it work. People will need 6GB of RAM in their smartphones just to be able to scan it. They'll also need to install a lite version of SQL Server and a shitload of .net crap and IE will be required, Oh, and you need to have the Windows Media Player Suite with full DRM.

    Yes, we've been down that road before.

  34. BarcodeBoffin

    We've seen it before...

    Microsoft is trying to get into a small and already saturated market. Have you seen any of these competing "highly successful" technologies which are apparently "in use worldwide"?

    The BeeTag:

    The ColourZip:

    and EZCode:

    Most of the AIDC industry have long ago realised that success is based on open standards. As has been already stated there is already QR Code and Data Matrix and, indeed, many more besides. In fact the biggest movers in this field, Intermec and Symbol, are much more interested in RFID these days.

  35. Giles Jones Gold badge


    Colour is just too expensive for many people to bother with. There's a reason barcodes were black and white, there's a reason why other tags are black and white, it's cheap to print on a mono laser or inkjet.

  36. Anonymous Coward

    see below

    DO. NOT. WANT.

    So, M$ knows everything you click on - i dont so.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "The Tag system has built-in reporting to let you know how your Tags are being scanned... All Tags report back to a single source, ensuring a high consistency in user experience across multiple devices and platform type."

    This doesn't say that all the work at the back end will be carried out at or by MS at Redmond, it seems to me that it implies that this may be possible, but that you also will be able to run your own back end. MS aren't stupid, they aren't going to prevent potentially big customers who have data privacy concerns from using their system. They will also not prevent small operations from using their system by forcing them to install a dedicated local server.

  38. Asgard
    Big Brother

    The sickening dangers of feature creep...

    This totally Orwellian Internet spying move shows our government ruling elite are determined to continuously spy on us all now, yet this is just the beginning of the nightmare.

    So how long before the music industry draws up URL lists of every URL they want people to be punished for. Such as video streaming services they think are showing videos containing music they own. After all download streaming videos is not much different from downloading a file. It will mean in the future, any of us just viewing a video with music we don't even know is pirated will be enough to get us on a Police State watch list. How about just downloading user videos that you don't know if they contain pirated music.

    Plus how long before the Rupert Murdoch's of this world get this extended to flag URLs which contain news articles they claim are pirated works of their copyrighted news. After all they are copyrighted works so legally the same as a music file. Plus how long before media corporations also use these watch lists to create news stories that harm competitor media companies by flagging URLs as bad (to scare people away from web sites containing a lot of content from competitor smaller media companies) and then of course a URL review process will be need to weed out the shit storm of wrong and false URLs. Of course it will be too late for you once you have been dragged through the stress and fear of being a Police State target, simply for watching something online that seemed totally ok.

    Plus if the government is inundated with people to punish they will simply spend more of our tax money to increase policing saying its a bigger problem. After all it'll become like speed cameras as a new means of making millions in its own right by punishing ever more people.

    Plus how long before this flagging of URLs is extended to flag political news article URLs, so then our government control freaks can stochastically sample all our political views. Also how long before our government control freaks created URL black lists of web sites of political protest groups to flag us as potential political protesters.

    With so many new ways to highlight people as criminals, our control freak elite will have to be selective in who they choose to punish more fully. A fine will do for most people, but once you are picked up for another crime (like being a political protester) then they can check through these lists to find some more crimes to really throw the book at you. After all arresting political protesters and then finding more crimes on them to punish them and brand them as evil criminals to discredit them in front of masses of sheeple who will then stop listening to these criminals.

    Once a government has the power to spy continuously on its people, they will not be able to resist abusing that power. They are control freaks and they want control and this is handing the government control freaks more power to spy and control than at any point in history.

    People will become afraid of whatever they look at online and so fear will become the means to control people. Welcome to our future. A future with fear around every corner. With fear just one URL click or download away. This Orwellian copyright policing move has virtually no end. A texture here a photo there, a bit of music here and some text there. All of it can be potentially copyrighted without you ever knowing it until your criminal record is posted to you and all of it potentially one step away from you being labeled a criminal. Welcome to being controlled by fear. Welcome to our future.

    Throughout history people have fought for freedom from state spying and interference.

    With this move, our Police State has massively moved up a gear in its desire to spy on us all continuously. If they want a revolution against them all, they are going exactly the right way to build up ever increasing public anger against them all, because I consider this Orwellian move so totally against British ideals that the control freaks actions are an outright declaration of war against the people of the UK.

    I really am beginning to deeply fear for our future the way our world is going.

  39. chris 130

    Creepy Big Bruv stuff

    It gave me shivers, no doubt soon to be on all their products too

  40. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

    What 250 bytes looks like


















    A 16 colours, 15 x 14 pixel smiley Windows-BMP file that I drew apparently also takes around 250 bytes (well 230).

  41. Anonymous Coward

    So this Microsoft Tag is just..

    A unique number and contains no data at all!

    the number must then be looked up on a MS reference server to return the data.

    Utterly POINTLESS!

    Black and White printing is cheaper, and has no ongoing subscription costs or lookup server maintainance costs.

  42. Anonymous Coward

    El Reg Merchandise

    where is the El Reg QR code t-shirt?

    or is that just a bit to geeky?

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