We sat down with Microsoft to hear the company’s side of the Vista story. What lessons have been learned following the worst Windows launch in the company’s history? Is Microsoft doing enough to regain PC users’ faith?
Way back in January 2007, after years of hype and anticipation, Microsoft unveiled Windows Vista to a decidedly lukewarm reception by the PC community, IT pros, and tech journalists alike. Instead of a revolutionary next-generation OS that was chock-full of new features, the Windows community got an underwhelming rehash with very little going for it. Oh, and Vista was plagued with performance and incompatibility problems to boot.
Since then, the PC community has taken the idea that Vista is underwhelming and turned it into a mantra. We’ve all heard about Vista’s poor network transfer speeds, low frame rates in games, and driver issues—shoot, we’ve experienced the problems ourselves. But over the last 18 months, Vista has undergone myriad changes, including the release of Service Pack 1, making the OS worth a second look. It’s time we determine once and for all whether we should stick with XP for the next 18 months while we wait for Windows 7. But before we answer that question, let’s review exactly what’s wrong with Windows Vista.
Earlier this summer, both Nvidia and ATI hosted press events to unveil their new hardware—and the excitement about GPU-based encoding was palpable. We were promised that our videocards would make Photoshop faster and better and our GPUs would encode video 10 times faster than our CPUs. In fact, someone lacking tech savvy would have left these presentations thinking, "Wow, these GPU things can make common computing tasks run insanely fast, and there are a couple of games that work with them too." Of course, as is typical, the truly big promises (like 10x faster video encodes) were off in the future, when the software was "ready."
Well, the software's nearly ready. Elemental's Badaboom uses Nvidia's CUDA interface to do lots of the grunt work of DVD ripping by using the GPU instead of your musty old CPU. I've been in the Lab for the last few days putting this app through the ringer. Our test bed for this challenge is an Intel Q6600 quad core, running at a stock 2.4GHz, with 4GB of memory and a GeForce GTX 280 reference board.
If you play vidoegames, there's something wrong with you.
No, no, not in the "And your face is dumb and those pants do, indeed, have people mistaking you for a land-walrus" sense; I mean that you're genuinely dissatisfied with some aspect of your life. At the very basest level, you're bored. Life, at the clock tick during which you choose to plop down with a controller, just isn't giving you the pulse-pounding rush you desire. That's a problem, and gaming is your escape.
Thus, we walk right into the term "escapism." The moment you hit the power button and leave a game world's towering doors swinging wide in your wake, your mid-level job, your annoying roommate, and your walrus-pants are all left pounding their fists on the other side.
But that's where our paths diverge.
For instance, my mind wanders when its juices aren't crashing toward one coherent goal. To properly leave my world behind, I need another established world to focus on. I need a game that'll pour so many thoughts into my mind that all of my real world baggage gets crowded out.
However, you might be different. You might enjoy sitting back, relaxing, and turning off all but your basest inhibitory functions. You might be a Nintendo fan. After all, who really wants to think after a tough day in the office?
So, when you're bitter, sore and nursing a severe case of the Mondays, which games help you escape? Do you kick back with something simple and fluffy, or do you absorb yourself in more complex fare?
Well, either way, today's Roundup is nearly guaranteed to slump your tensely hunched shoulders. Unless you're emotionally invested in the well-being of Ensemble Studios, Fallout 3's global censorship, or your inability to ever play Portal 2 as a result of the world's untimely end, this Roundup is like slipping into a steamy bath.
For those who either (A) believe Microsoft's Internet Explorer 6 represents the pinnacle of browser design, heralded as being not only the greatest browser of its time, but of all time, leading to a general malaise towards Firefox 3 and 3.1 Alpha, IE7 and IE8 Beta, and Chrome Beta, or (B) are forced to stick with IE6 because of compatiblity issues, work policy, or any other of a handful of reasons preventing you from upgrading, then Google has good news for you.
Recognizing there are still users who surf like it's 1999 (yes, IE6 was released in 2001 but that wouldn't have set up a song reference, now would it?), the gargantuan search company has been hard at work rewriting Gmail's code base to make it more friendly for IE6 users. This means that if you have the latest IE6 updates from Microsoft installed, you should now be able to enjoy previously unavailable features like colored labels, group chat and rich emoticons, invisible mode, AIM integration, Gmail Labs, an updated contact manager, and remote sign out.
Now if only Crytek would upgrade Crysis' code base so the game would run smoothly on our GeForce 3 TI500 videocard, we'd all be happy campers.
Business executives will soon be able to view porn without fear of mucking up their system with malware, and they'll have HP, Mozilla, and Symantec to thank for it. The three-pronged team has set out to create what HP calls the Firefox Virtual Browser, which will appear on the upcoming HP Compaq dc7900 business desktop.
If the concept of a virtual browser sounds familiar, it's because these solutions already exist outside of the OEM realm, some of which have been covered in your favorite computer magazine (assuming Maximum PC is your favorite rag). Like Trustware's BufferZone, the Firefox Virtual Browser consists of a virtual layer independent from the operating system. This sandbox approach means that any downloaded cruft that manages to spread its contaminates stays contained and can easily be undone by simply emptying the virtual environment..
"What we have created is a virtual layer where your browser runs and all the downloads, all the clicks, all the cookies and everything is placed within...a virtualized run-time environment," explains Kirk Godkin, HP senior product manager for business PCs. "With the browser, the user only has to click the mouse and it will reset the browser to its original state and all their favorites will remain the same."
Godkin went on to say that the virtual browser will eventually spread to all of HP's corporate desktops by the end of November, but didn't say whether not HP is also working with Microsoft on a similar option for Internet Explorer.
"With great power, there must also come great responsibility" -- Uncle Ben, Spider-Man
"With great power and great responsibility, there must also come walls of text." -- Far too many videogames
It's atrocious, too. Last night, I was forced to read my way through the opening of a game released only a week ago. The game's gloriously rendered prison cell bars would likely have even the rottenest of holding cells in jealous fits, yet mere moments after I moved beyond those gnarled steel beams, I was assailed by a text tutorial of such ridiculous length that it would've benefitted from a rabbit-ear feature.
"This is next-gen?" I wondered aloud.
We can polish graphics to such a sheen that even the most mundane objects wrap their tendrils securely around our eyes and never let go, yet integrating a tutorial with actual gameplay is an insurmountable task? The very thought is absurd, and doesn't exactly get me pumped to play the rest of the game. After all, if gameplay matters so little that the designers couldn't even be bothered to, you know, teach me through interactivity -- a little quirk that I hear makes games sorta cool -- then why should I expect anything better from the rest of their game? It's like popping a Porsche chassis over a Flintstones car; take the thing for a spin and your next stop will be the used-car dealership.
So, which ripe-smelling, antiquated videogame "features" do you think should be given the boot? Are there any that you'd actually like to see stick around?
Today's Roundup is all about the future -- no artifacts from 1993 here. Inside, you'll find only the latest news concerning Deus Ex 3, F.E.A.R. 2 (Yep, that's the name, now), and two separate plans to "save" PC gaming.
NBC's fling with Microsoft's Silverlight platform appears to be over, at least for the time being. NBC had previously agreed to stream the Beijing Olympics to viewers using Silverlight instead of Flash to deliver the content, but now that the Olympics have wrapped up, NBC has turned back to Flash for this week's NFL season opener.
Even still, the short-term relationship can be viewed as a success for Microsoft, who managed to increase its install-base through the apparently time limited partnership. Overall download specifics were never disclosed, but we do know that at one point 1.5 million downloads were being registered per day, and according to a spokeswoman for Microsoft, at one point "more than 50 percent of the visitors to NBCOlympics.com on MSN already [had] Silverlight 2 installed." Having a large install base is important because it makes it easier for Microsoft to convince developers to use its platform.
And for Adobe, it means getting back a major partner, but not without a downside. While viewers were able to watch NFL games with Flash installed, reports have surfaced complaining of unwatchable video quality saddled with freeze frames, blurry action, and skipping back and forth while as the feeds tried to buffer.
It's a good time to be a browser connoisseur. Last week Google unveiled it's beta Chrome browser to the public, and Mozilla has now made available for download Firefox 3.1 Alpha 2. Code named Shiretoko Alpha 2, the new browser is built on a pre-release version of the Gecko 1.9.1 platform. New features include:
Drag and drop tabs between browser windows
New selector to create areas of Aero-style "glass" in XUL
Support for some CSS 2.1 and CSS 3 properties
Improved performance and new preference values for color managment profile support
At a glance, the previously struggling Napster appears to have bounced back and is now doing well. As outlined in the company's fiscal first quarter financial report, the music service can boast a positive cash flow for the fifth straight quarter with revenue holding steady at about $30 million. According to Napster's brass, the company is making the right move and is in a good position moving forward. But convincing investors of that is another story altogether.
Despite the positive quarterly financial reports, Napster's stock hit an all-time low in mid-July and today is trading at less than half of what it went for one year ago. Subscribers are down 7 percent from last quarter, and a group of impatient investors have initiated a proxy battle to win seats on the board.
"It's kind of damned if you and damned if you don't," Napster chairman and CEO Chris Gorog laments. "The bottom line is, five years ago we were number 2 or 3 in the this industry, and five years later we're still number 2 or 3 in this industry."
Hit the jump to learn why Napster remains stagnant.
In a seemingly never ending battle with the FCC, Comcast is back on the offensive. The cable giant is looking to overturn the ruling reached on August 1st which found them in violation of the FCC’s network neutrality principles. Comcast was mandated to immediately cease any packet shaping initiatives and to publically disclose the full extent of its traffic blocking policies. Experts close to the case have chimed in on the issue and it would appear as though news of the appeal wasn’t all that surprising. Comcast has become famous in legal circles for appealing any decision it doesn’t agree with, and this case is no exception. Comcast firmly believes that packet shaping of peer-to-peer traffic is a legitimate and reasonable means of managing network traffic and intends to defend that contention to the bitter end. Despite the impending appeal, Comcast has agreed to abide by the FCC mandates until a new verdict is reached. Comcast’s packet shaping activities have been in the spotlight since late 2007 when the Associated Press revealed proof that Comcast was blocking P2P traffic during peak hours. The FCC case was seen as a test run help to determine if it could enforce its network neutrality principles. I’m sure most Maximum PC readers are rooting for the FCC, but since so little precedent in a case like this; the outcome of an appeal could still go either way.