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RIP Microsoft Tag

So yesterday, Microsoft announced that it is ending support for Tag, (on Facebook?) it's proprietary barcode format. To me, this doesn't come as a major surprise. Here's why:

  1. Tag arrived very late in the game, after QR Codes were pretty much establishing themselves as "the norm".
  2. Tag is a proprietary barcode. No way around it.
  3. Tag is a specific implementation of HCCB, and the specification for HCCB was never released to developers.
  4. Tag requires a data connection to retrieve the data out of the barcode.
  5. Tag requires a Microsoft account to create Tags.
  6. Tag requires a commercial non-free license for using Tags in a commercial space, or for selling products as a result of scanning the Tag.
  7. Tags can only be scanned using Microsoft Tag readers.
  8. Generating a Tag barcode means accepting its Terms of Service. A barcode has a TOS.

Just over a year ago, I gave credit where credit is due. Microsoft had something awesome with HCCB. It's technically superior to most 2D barcodes in many ways. But, Microsoft never made that specification to create HCCB codes available. In fact, I even had an email discussion with a Microsoft engineer regarding HCCB and Tag:

From: Aaron Toponce
To: Microsoft Tag Support
Subject: HCCB Specification

I'm familiar with Microsoft Tag, an HCCB implementation, but I'm interested in the specifications for HCCB. Specifically, I am interested in generating HCCB codes that are not Microsoft Tag. I have an account on, but don't see any way to generate HCCB codes outside of Microsoft Tags.

Any help would be great.

From: Microsoft Tag Support
To: Aaron Toponce
Subject: Re: HCCB Specification

Hello Aaron,

Thank you for contacting Microsoft Tag Support. Could you please elaborate the issue as we are not able to understand the below request. High Capacity Color Barcode (HCCB) is the name coined by Microsoft for its technology of encoding data in a 2D barcode using clusters of colored triangles instead of the square pixels. Microsoft Tag is an implementation of HCCB using 4 colors in a 5 x 10 grid. Apart from Tag barcode you can also create QR code and NFC URL using Microsoft Tag Manager.

For more information

Attached is the document on specification of Tag, hope this will help you.

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please let us know.

Thank you for your feedback and your interest in Microsoft Tag.

From: Aaron Toponce
To: Microsoft Tag Support
Subject: Re: HCCB Specification

I'm not interested in Tag. I'm only interested in the High Capacity Color Barcode specification, that Tag uses. For example, how do I create offline HCCB codes? How do I implement digital signatures? How do I implement error correction? I would be interested in developing a Python library to create and decode HCCB codes.

I am already familiar with HCCB, what it is, how it works, and some of the features. I want to develop libraries for creating and decoding them. But I can't seem to find any APIs, libraries or documentation in encoding and decoding HCCB.

I never got a followup reply. Basically, I'm allowed to create Tags, but not HCCB codes. I'm sure I'm not the only developer denied access to HCCB. I've thoroughly scanned the Internet looking for anything regarding building HCCB barcodes. It just doesn't exist. Plenty of sites detailing how to create a Microsoft account to create Tags, but nothing for standard offline HCCB codes.

So, citing the reasons above it's no surprise to me that Tag failed. Maybe Microsoft will finally release the specifications of HCCB to the market, so people can create their own offline HCCB codes, and develop apps for scanning, encoding and decoding them. Time will tell, and I'm not losing any sleep over it.

RIP Tag.

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