After seeing this tweet from @innovativeteach AKA Stuart Ball from The Microsoft Partners in Learning Programme-I decided to investigate.


Microsoft Tag is basically a barcode system that can be read by a mobile phone (Free Tag reader here) and linked to text, a URL, V-Card (Virtual Business card) or a Dialler (automatically dials a phone number when scanned).

It’s been around since 2009-a relatively new invention considering QR Codes have existed since 1997.


MS Tag using High Capacity Colour Barcode (HCCB) technology, which makes able to encode more information into relatively small area. Also because of small amount of information, errors can be handled easily for MSTag. For encode 1 byte we need 8 symbols in QR codes, while in MS Tag only 4.

A big difference is that Microsoft Tag is rendered in colour-giving it a ‘patchwork quilt’ look-you can create black and white versions though.

Yes you can ‘create’ colour versions of QR codes but it’s not standard and it doesn’t look as good as MSTag.

Here’s a MS Tag for my website compared to a QR code


Now comes the interesting bit (especially for educational use)  you can render the MSTag with ‘dots’ and put an image in the background to create a ‘custom’ tag image- Here’s the MS Tag to link to my blog again.


This is a really easy process (Instructions) , using powerpoint-to do this with a QR code is difficult, time consuming and beyond the creative skills of most people.

Yet with a MS Tag even kids can do it-How about a space topic MSTag?



Am sure people can think of loads of uses in education-would be great if people would use the comments section to do this!

Further Reading

Written by Julian S Wood -"rel="author"
  • Dughall McCormick

    My only concern with this is the cost if considering printing out the codes/tags. Black & white Vs Colour?

    • Julian S Wood

      Thanks for commenting Dughall.

      I Agree about printing costs-although you can create them in Black and White.

      I think that the flexibility and image customisation of MS Tag out-weighs negatives of printing costs.

  • @AndrewStock1

    I have a pc set up at the back of the class with a web cam and qr reader – works great, and as it stands, with no iPhones etc, is the only feasible way of using qr codes. Can I use this same limited hardware with ms tags?

    • Julian S Wood

      Doesn’t look there are any web cam MSTag reading software out there.

      Can still create but need mobile device to read.

      Thanks for commenting-one for QR codes then!

  • Thearbitcouncil

    “I think that the flexibility and image customisation of MS Tag out-weighs negatives of printing costs.”

    Tell that to a manager doing ROI for launching tagging across 100,000s of prints.

    • Julian S Wood

      Ok I get that-as I said if budget a problem then MSTag can be rendered in black and White.

      In terms of mass produced then surely a 3 colour print run can’t be that more expensive than B &W?

      Thanks for the comment.

      • Thearbitcouncil

        Color (just 1 additional color) vs BW is about 20-30% more expensive based on recent quotes I received.

        THAT +
        1 – no specific advantage over normal QR in terms of data or functionality (both open URL, send sMS etc)
        2 – CUSTOM MS Tag reader app instead of normal reader apps. Many smartphones now come preloaded with QR readers that work great.
        3 – Get locked in to MS system. Who’s to say they won’t stop updating the MS Tag reader app for new smartphones/OSes 3 yrs down?

        The only benefit a MS Tag has, is the additional branding/livery enhancements which is definitely catchier if you’ve got the bucks.

        No offence, but I think the post is more ‘off the hip’ than based on practical experience.

        • Julian S Wood

          No offence taken-good to engage in conversation.

          Completely agree with all points and as you obviously have more commercial ‘nous’ than me-I bow to superior knowledge.

          I’m only an educator-have used QR a lot in class and get frustrated by their lack of customisation.

          As you rightly point out worry about anything MS is what they do with it if it’s successful.

          On the website it says ‘free for now’……

          • Nick Martin

            Julian – thanks for the post! I have talked to a few people in education that are seeing value in 2D barcodes in the classroom! Really cool stuff. Just an FYI – the basic services for Tag will always be free. It’s stated in our terms and conditions so it can’t change. Though, like any business that needs to make money Tag may charge for premium services that have yet to be defined. But all the basic features that are in place today, will be free for the life of the product.

            Online Community Manager
            Microsoft Tag

        • Nick Martin

          Good conversation – I’m the Online Community Manager for Tag. I thought I might provide a couple updates on Tag to help out. To address a couple of your points here:
          1.) There are a couple differentiators beyond simply linking to a URL that Tag has. For instance, with the Device ID feature the Tag platform recognizes if a person scans more than once and can deliver a different experience each scan. For marketers this means you can send someone to a coupon on the first scan, and a video on the second scan of the same Tag for instance. The Real Time Location service is another feature we built in for free. Some QR services offer something similiar, but often times charge for it, and are proprietary as well so you would need to download a separate reader much like you do with Tag.

          2.) I touched on this a little bit in the above point, but if you want the end-to-end free solution you will most likely need to download a new app regardless of whether it’s QR or Tag. Services that offer the robust features like Real Time Location, and other reporting are generally proprietary.

          3.) Tag is committed to run through 2015 and if we were to shut down any of our basic services or shut down Tag completely we are required to give a 2 years notice.

          Thanks for the opportunity to share some of the lesser-known facts about Tag!

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UK Primary School Future Learning Technologist.I am into Experience and Fun Based Learning.I use web tools to stimulate writing. I've been Playing and Learning since 1970. Have some fabulous ideas now & again.. Check out my profile!
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