Weekend Reading: Dec. 7th Edition – Register Now for the Halo 4 Infinity Challenge & Windows Phone 8 Makes Life a Little Bit Better

In this edition of Weekend Reading, we have stories on how to avoid getting “Grinched” by online criminals, registration opening for the Halo 4 Infinity Challenge, and how from typing to gaming to running a family, Windows Phone is your friend.

Virgin Gaming and Xbox 360 team up to launch the Halo 4 Infinity Challenge. Virgin Gaming, Xbox 360 and 343 Industries are joining forces to launch the “Halo 4 Infinity Challenge” on Xbox LIVE starting Dec. 17, bringing gamers the biggest and most accessible free-to-enter “Halo” tournament in the world. As of Thursday, players can register for the “Halo 4 Infinity Challenge”. Launching on Dec. 17, the free-to-enter tournament will track your personal score in War Games and the number of Spartan Ops chapters you complete on global leaderboards, giving players of different preferences and skill levels all a shot at the more than 2,800 prizes. Head over to yesterday’s post on Major Nelson’s blog for all the details.

Avoid the holiday online shopping ‘Grinch.’ It’s no secret more and more consumers are turning to the Internet to find those perfect holiday gifts. For most, the hustle and bustle of this time of year only makes online shopping even more attractive. According to a recent comScore report, Cyber Monday 2012 marked the heaviest online spending day in history, with Internet sales totaling $1.465 billion, up 17 percent from 2011. In addition, it was the second day this season (the first being Black Friday) where sales surpassed $1 billion. The growing trend in online shopping means increased opportunities for cybercriminals. On Tuesday, Microsoft Trustworthy Computing Communications Director Jacqueline Beauchere shared tips and resources to help you shop safely online this holiday season – see her post on Microsoft on the Issues.

For all of you skeptics…Many of you met our dear friend Eugene for the first time last week; we’ve known him for quite some time now. Of course, if you haven’t had an opportunity to meet him yet, be sure to head over to The Browser You Loved to Hate or watch him in action below. We’re humbled by the positive reception IE is getting these days. You can read all about it in this Nov. 30 IE Blog post.

The secrets of the Windows Phone 8 keyboard. From the day Windows Phone 7 made its debut, we’ve gotten lots of kudos for its on-screen keyboard and intelligent suggestions and corrections. Engadget called it “one of the best and most accurate virtual keyboards we've used on any platform.” Gizmodo declared: “The keyboard is boss.” Even the New York Times loved the “smart auto-suggestions.” In Windows Phone 8, we set out to make our critically-acclaimed keyboard even more intuitive, accurate and personal. In this Wednesday Windows Phone Blog post, Windows Phone Program Manager Jason Grieves talks about improvements in the new release, and also explains some of the science behind our prediction technology. And while you’re there, check out these cool tips for typing faster and smarter.

Best of 2012: Xbox games for Windows Phone. ‘Tis the season of lists—and if you’re curious what the game-loving folks at Xbox might choose as their favorite Windows Phone titles this year, check out their six picks for best of 2012. Did they nail it? Are they crazy? Check out the Xbox teams favorites and tell the Windows Phone team what’s on your “best-of” list for the year in Wednesday’s edition of the Windows Phone blog.

How to use Rooms on Windows Phone 8. Every day at 3:50 on the dot, Windows team member Juliette Guilbert’s daughter sends her a text: “Who’s picking me up at the bus stop?” “Usually, I know the answer,” Guilbert says, “but (I confess) there are times when I’m not altogether sure. So I text my husband. He texts my mom. And then one of us texts the poor kid back to reassure her that the adults in her life do, in fact, have a plan. It definitely takes a village, but our village needs all the help it can get.” Now that Guilbert’s husband has his new HTC 8X, they’ve got it—in the form of Rooms, a new feature in Windows Phone 8. Head over to the Nov. 29 post on the Windows Phone Blog to see how Guilbert’s family went from frantic texts flinging around to a coordinated and in-sync team.

Skype tips from an insider! Skype team member and expert Matthew de Beer realized something recently: He’s been working at Skype as a Product Analyst since March 2010. This means that soon he’ll have been working here for 1,000 days. As you can imagine, de Beer has managed to pick up a few tips along the way about Skype for Windows desktop. He shares those tips with you in this Skype Play post from yesterday. Ever make a really embarrassing typo that you wanted to change fast? Read de Beer’s post to find out how.

A primer on apps for Office in Excel. In Excel 2013, even your spreadsheet can have an app. One of Program Manager Keyur Patel’s areas of responsibility in the 2013 cycle was thinking about integration of the Apps for Office platform into Excel across the desktop and the Web. In a Nov. 30 post, Patel covers how you can make your spreadsheets do things you may not have considered before using an app. Head over to the Nov. 30 Excel Blog post to learn what apps for Excel can do.

Microsoft employees team up with doctors to bring medical care and technology to the Ecuadorian jungle. Last month, a group of 10 Microsoft employees, seven doctors, five nurses, three pharmacists, and 14 other volunteers traveled to Tena, Ecuador for a week to provide medical care to hundreds of patients in the Amazon Basin. The yearly trip happens through a partnership between Microsoft and Timmy Global Health, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit that expands access to healthcare in several locations across Latin America, and empowers volunteers to tackle today’s most pressing global health challenges. For the rest of the story, go to Monday’s post on the Microsoft Corporate Citizenship blog.

And in case you missed it … MSN Money launches moneyNOW and The choice is clear, don’t get Scroogled this year.

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

Posted by Jeff Meisner
Editor, The Official Microsoft Blog

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