back to article Microsoft gives up on proprietary 2D barcode, accepts NFC

Microsoft is embracing wireless web bookmarking by allowing its Tag app to pick up URLs using NFC - as well reading industry-standard QR codes and Redmond's own barcode standard, also called Tag. Microsoft's answer to the QR Code came out of beta in May 2010, and since then has resolutely failed to set the world on fire. With …


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  1. Roger Stenning

    There's a damn good reason the MS one ain't flying.

    It's simple: MS's version is proprietary, and we all know what MS are like on licencing - they either don't, or tend to make it costly. QR Code is also, but not only have Denso Wave inc., who invented it, waived any and all licencing fees, it's also become an ISO standard, thus allowing it to propagate wide and far.

    1. SuperTim

      Also, QR only requires a camera to be able to distinguish contrast. MS requires colour recognition and in street-lit conditions, may not perform accurately, as the colour data is completely lost.

      Also, anyone can make a QR code and it will work without the bothersome MS register being needed.

    2. Fibbles

      Re: There's a damn good reason the MS one ain't flying

      The reason is even simpler than that. QR codes can be printed on pretty much anything cheaply in black and white whereas Microsoft's tag requires full CMYK.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        CMYK isn't the issue.

        As most printing applications require CMYK use anyway (basically, if you're using color, you're ALREADY using CMYK printing). Since these were intended to be used on posters and other advertisements that are predominantly color, that's no big shakes. Actually, you CAN use black-and-white Tags (Lowe's uses those).

        No, I think the big problem was the Microsoft encumbrance: going through Microsoft to get the URL. If you ask me, if HCCB (the actual technical initials for the barcode) wants to make a comeback, Microsoft needs to remove the encumbrances and let people use them freely to encode more than just shortcuts. Think full contact information and so on packed into something you can snap with a camera (with HCCB, this is actually feasible--in 8-color mode, it can do up to a few KB/in^2.

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  4. Caff

    Looks like these guys didn't get the memo about too many codes, plenty of ads around Dublin for something called itagged?

  5. Martin Lyne

    Unknown proprietary standard is pulled. Not a single fuck was given that day.

  6. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    Still the middleman?

    "So Microsoft has extended its platform to use QR Codes like everyone else, and added support for URLs embedded in NFC tags too. Redmond will still host a redirection server (so the encoded URL points to Microsoft, who forwards the request while accumulating usage statistics)."

    It sounds like Microsoft's app will still funnel reads of the various tag formats through the mother ship in Redmond. That's not something I'd be happy turning over to The Borg. So, sorry Microsoft. I won't be inviting you into the middle of my transactions.

  7. Goat Jam


    "there is increasing frustration among consumers over not knowing which reader to use"

    1) No there isn't, nobody has ever seen an MSTag

    2) If there was, whose fault would that have been then?

  8. scarshapedstar


    That's... that's just the stupidest looking barcode I've ever seen.

    Also, the colored antiparallel triangles remind me an awful lot of concentration camp badges.

  9. Charles 9 Silver badge

    Meanwhile, in America...

    ...Microsoft Tags actually were put to use here and there. The Lowe's hardware store chain took to using simplified black-and-white versions of the Tags to help people learn more about products in the store. Other companies took to finding creative ways to use the colored nature of the Tags to make more-artistic Tags (sorta like how some people stick art into a QR Code with high error correction, only with greater latitude).

    I personally cannot attest as to why Tag didn't take off so well, but I can posit one possible reason: the Tags themselves do not directly decode to information like a URL but rather return a code that is then interpreted by Microsoft and THEN returned as a URL, while QR Codes (which seem to be taking the lead over Data Matrix) can be used more flexibly. Suitably sized, they can directly encode complete URLs or can instead encode shortcut URLs like those to Plus it is unencumbered (Denso Wave has declared an intent to NOT enforce their patents on the design).

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Who recently pulled their advertising from a TV show because it made muslims look too nice and friendly.

      Not the smartest company out there.

  10. Cliff

    Bit of a shame, but too little too late

    Using colour data increased density, and you could use irregular shapes to make arty codes - this was actually a cool project but about 5 years too late. Shame.

    1. Goat Jam

      "Using colour data increased density"

      It also increased printing costs.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Not if you were using color ALREADY.

        Like on a poster, in a magazine, or on a product package or a web page. Or in a ton of advertising already in existence today. The Tags also directly employed the CMYK ink scheme (note the colores used in the barcode--all subtractive primaries) to make the colors stand out as best as possible when profesionally printed.

  11. Christian Berger Silver badge

    I've seen such a tag code

    I think it was on a advertisement from Siemens, one of the few remaining larger Microsoft-only companies. (which is strange since they had their own systems for decades)

  12. Charlie Clark Silver badge


    Did they hire Frank Bough's jumper designer for this?

    1. dogged

      He also does Jon Snow's socks.

  13. Jaymax

    MS Tag is awesomeness

    At it's a long, long time since I described anything MS as awesome.

    If they'd open-sourced and released HCCB (Tag) license free, you'd see it all over the place by now. Looks like even now they're not gonna give it away. :-(

    Information density and reliability were both through the roof.

    QR-Code bugs me because it very much relies on being square, which is ofter not layout friendly. Tag was too, but could have easily been extended in a single dimension to increase the package size, for usage beyond URLs

    Hard copy information automation (things like form processing, ticketing, ID badges etc) are going to be stuck with PDF417, which is relatively archaic, when HCCB should have totally taken over those usages.

    Microsoft should out HCCB out for adoption, rather than just locking the unwanted child in the cupboard under the stairs.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Information density and reliability were both through the roof."

      Try scanning one without a data connection. MS Tag doesn't encode the data in the tag, the tag gives an ID to a MS hosted URL that has the data.

    2. Tim Parker


      "At it's a long, long time since I described anything MS as awesome."

      If this can induce awe I can only wonder what state of cataleptic stupefaction might be provoked by something like, say, a stapler.....

      "If they'd open-sourced and released HCCB (Tag) license free, you'd see it all over the place by now."

      I doubt that. I really, really doubt that.

      "Looks like even now they're not gonna give it away. :-("

      ....blimey, perhaps every cloud *does* have a silver lining after all...

  14. Ian Ferguson

    Has anyone seen a QR code in the wild being actually used for something OTHER than curiosity...?


    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      @Ian Ferguson

      There's a burger shop in Berlin apparently having Bitcoin IDs on QR codes so you can pay via Bitcoin.

    2. Tim Parker

      @Ian Ferguson

      "Has anyone seen a QR code in the wild being actually used for something OTHER than curiosity...?"

      Yes, lots of them, and used some of them.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Ian Ferguson

      One of my customers prints QR codes on all the properties they're advertising in the newspaper. Someone recently pointed out to me that all the QR codes were the same, and pointed to the agent's web front page. I'm not sure they've quite got the idea...

      AC just in case someone from work happens to read this :)

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      ...look at the history of the QR code (it was also once propriety used by Toyota) and you will see what it was and still is used for.

  15. Red Bren

    Embrace... Extend... Etcetera...

    Next, bundle a free QR reader with WinPhones that uses codes that are slightly out of spec, while deliberately mis-reading the competitions' compliant ones.

  16. Jaymax

    May I provide linkage?

  17. Anonymous Coward


    pookie snuck'ems not going to win at Monopoly this time?

    my heart fuckin bleeds

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    NFC for Nokia

    Microsoft would be adding NFC support to a future WP7.x in order to avoid making Nokia look like bigger dumb asses than they already are, so it was surely inevitable that the proprietary Microsoft Tag would go the way of the dinosaur.

  19. Al 4

    Color is bad

    One thing I learned years ago when it comes to something that needs to be easily decoded, color is bad if it is exposed to sunlight since it will change color values into unknown color values based on the types of pigments used in the color. Black will just turn into a gray but until it fades completely won't be white.

    1. Tim Parker

      Re : color is bad

      Agree completely - and you also have to be very careful with the colour of the illumination. Yes - the information density is potentially much greater (although there are lots of thing that get in the way of that in practical terms) and they can sure luke purty - but IMO the biggest single problem with this, as it stands currently, is the requirement of a single vendor redirection service.

      This is also the first i've ever heard of MS Tag - was it well known before it's obituary ?

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    While NFC might be the way for the future, I don't see QR Code fading away anytime soon. The fact that QR Code is black & white and that is can be printed by normal printers means that you can find them anywhere and everywhere. Newspapers, magazines and perhaps in books.

    While the NFC tag is cheap and can easily be embedded into a large advert, it won't be so cheap when embedded into a newspaper advert; where each copy and each advert will need its _own_ tag. Plus, QR Code add nothings to the "thickens" of the paper it is printed on. I am not sure if the same thing can be said about the NFC tab.

  21. David Kelly 2

    This looks like one...

  22. Neoc

    Stupid idea

    Bottom line - colours fade. And if you're in OZ, the sun will make them fade even faster. QR codes have the advantage of retaining their contrast well beyond .mobi tags.

  23. Mage Silver badge

    Colour was a fail

    Colour printing is so much slower and more expensive.

  24. Kevin7

    How much money does Microsoft waste on proprietary tech that never catches on? And we all know who pays...

  25. Tom 7 Silver badge

    It did work

    but if you changed the printer ink or paper it was printed on ..... only 5 times more ways of going wrong than the other - and that's before you get to readers.

  26. Ian Ringrose

    The best does not always win…

    I think MS Tag system = beta max

    QR Codes = VHS

    And that QR codes where just about good enough and used by a lot more people so won.

  27. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

    Seen plenty in the wild

    I've seen quite a number of Microsoft Tags - mostly in magazines, no doubt as part of some US-only push by Microsoft.

    I've never bothered trying to use one; but then I've never bothered trying to use a QR code, either. Of course I know how to type, so I don't really see the point. If a URL isn't worth typing, it's not worth visiting.

    (That's not to say that QR codes and the like aren't useful for many automation purposes. I just can't get excited about their customer-facing applications.)

    And there are more than two 2D barcode systems in production use: Data Matrix, Aztec, Maxicode, Bee Tag, etc. Some of these may be largely defunct, but that doesn't mean they aren't still out there and being used by someone. (For example, the website seems to be all about the QR these days, with nary a mention of Bee Tags; but a few months ago I saw a presentation about a recent community arts project using Bee Tags. Once this stuff gets out there it takes a while to disappear entirely.)

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