Monday, December 31, 2007

Calling it: the Playstation 3 and Wii take 2007

This... isn't... the article I wanted to run. I had a couple other items sitting on the burner that I hadn't gotten around to finishing up. Primary is an update on the systems for sale. However, while browsing news postings I saw that a normally creditable game site is running an article with the title "Calling It: The Xbox 360 Won 2007." Only... it didn't. Not by anybody's imagination, and certainly not Kotaku's.

The first massive problem facing the Xbox 360 is of course the Nintendo Wii. The Nintendo Wii has already completely surpassed the Xbox 360 for total number of systems sold, period. Not just the number of systems sold in a year, the number of systems sold since launch. Over a calendar year later Nintendo can't keep stock in stores. Every single shipment of a Nintendo Wii is selling out, with an average selling time measure in minutes.

The problem gets even worse when you account for the Playstation 3. Okay, unlike the Nintendo Wii, the PlayStation 3 still lags behind the Xbox 360 in terms of overall sales. However, there are several factors that indicate that the PS3 is on track to surpass the Xbox 360, and possibly within the next 3 months. The first factor is of course, Blu-Ray. Now, I still think Sony is making a mistake by pushing the PS3 as a Blu-Ray player. I still think they would have a lot more success just sucking it up, telling Nvidia to add RSX to Nvidia-GLX, and promoting the PS3 as a premium Linux Personal Computer.

However, care to guess what the average selling difference between the Blu-Ray and HD-DVD formats are? Well, if you are thinking 2 to 1, you'd be a little off. If you are thinking 3 to 1, you might be getting closer. If you are thinking 5 to 1, you'd be just about right. Yes, the Blu-Ray format sells on average, 5-1 more copies on dual format discs.

Comparing Exclusive format movies a bit different, since people who want one format will be stuck with that format. However, numbers that can be compared are numbers of nomral DVD's to the their High Resolution Counterparts. HD-DVD loses there too, and by a far greater margin than Blu-Ray.

Where this gets interesting is which devices actually make up the majority of players for each format. The PS3 makes up over 74% of the available Blu-Ray players on the market as of December 5th 2007. The Xbox 360? Nowhere near as close. It is over 33% though, as of December 16th 2007.

So... lets put that in perspective as the consoles go. Because Blu-Ray is built into the PS3, and it is a competent solution, 100% of all PS3's are counted towards Blu-Ray players. Because HD-DVD is an add-on that misses many features on the majority of sold Xbox 360's... It's not even a popular accessory for the Xbox 360 itself.

So, the Xbox 360 lost on the media front. How did it do on the games front?

Well, lets be honest. Resistance: Fall Of Man was the Halo of PS3. It wasn't that great a game, and sorry Naughty Dog, you can't do first person shooters. However, compared to the rest of what the platform offered, Resistance looked pretty good. The fact is, Sony blew their first months in markets. There isn't any way around that. They launched with an outrageous price, and possibly the worst launch line-up since the Gamecube.

Sony also has made some pretty nasty stumbles along the way to now. The former 60gb PS3 is the most sought after version... since all current models use a Software Emulator for PS2 games.

However, Sony finally got their pricing under control, and lets be honest, a 299 price tag in some markets made for an explosive selling system. With 399 and 499 prices in most other markets, the PS3 is not as outlandish as it appears.

In fact, that's the key reason why the Xbox 360 lost against the PS3 in 2007. Everybody knew Japan was a write-off from the start for the Xbox 360. It was a given that the PS3 and Wii would be the most popular consoles there, period.

However, outside of Japan, in the UK and the US, the two other largest markets, the PS3 has steadily closed the gap between itself and the Xbox 360. As I said before, the PS3 is within 3 potential months of surpassing total Xbox 360 sales figures... and the Xbox 360 had a years head start.

Suddenly, 2007 doesn't look that good for the Xbox 360. It doesn't look good at all. Microsoft hasn't been able to maintain a lead against their competitor. Sure, they still have one right now, but the sales ratios between the PS3 and Xbox 360? Are firmly in the PS3's favor.

The Xbox 360 is also made worse by it's releases going into the end of 2007. Aside from Halo, which common, was still an average game, I couldn't tell you what other exclusives the Xbox 360 went out on... and I recorded most of Microsoft's press conference in Santa Monica.

However, the PS3 went into the Christmas Season with Naughty Dog's return to the adventure genre, Uncharted. Ratchet and Clank: Tools of Destruction, which gave us everything we asked for at the end of the last Ratchet and Clank... in half the game.

Thing is, the PS3 is finally getting started on it's game roll, and something else to consider is the high number of console exclusives Sony is providing. Over 15 studios are working on PS3 exclusive games. Sony is rolling more titles out for it's console... than even Nintendo.

As I look back over 2007, I don't really see any successes for the Xbox 360... outside of Halo. Now, I've made it clear before, Halo is a manufactured Hyped Product. The real worry is that once again Microsoft is wading into battle with only one significant star, and a star that even pro-Halo fans are starting to admit, is not that bright. Bungie leaving Microsoft was a huge shake-up among the Halo faithful, who suddenly had to examine the possibility that maybe Bungie wasn't as good as they thought.

However, I'm easily able to point to several retail successes for both the PS3 and the Wii... and sorry Kotaku... that makes them the winners.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The best MMO?

Recently I pointed somebody at the existing post titled World of Warcraft as a Benchmark. After reading the post, I was asked a question. Since I didn't think World of Warcraft was a benchmark for MMO games, what did I think the benchmark was? Well, that question sort of misses the point of the original article. I don't think that any MMO should be held as the gold standard of how to make an Massive Multiplayer online title. Holding up one existing MMO as a standard for all other MMO's to aspire to simple creates copy cat games. I went over in that original article a quick list of existing Fantasy MMO titles and pointed out that the market was effectively saturated. It is my opinion that MMO developers need to diversify, and make drastically different games, so that they appeal to several different people. Okay, there is room for 5 or 6 of the same genre MMO, but there isn't really room for 10 or 12 that don't do anything different from each other.

Okay, so if I didn't think any MMO should be held as a standard, what did I think the best MMO was? Well, this might be surprising, but in my opinion the Best MMO ever... was Phantasy Star Online. Now, I'm not saying that just because the series contained the only games on the Gamecube that were online-enabled, nor because Phantasy Star Online GCN was available before either the Xbox or the Playstation2 went online.

For starters, Phantasy Star Online had a unique look. When you walked by somebody playing the game, you instantly knew what they were playing. It wasn't a game of guessing which generic fantasy title are you playing now? Phantasy Star Online also looked good, and not just for a console game. As I praised UT3, the game had subtle highlights and lighting so that you never mistook your character or an enemy for anything in the background. Even today, the style of Phantasy Star Online is unmistakable in the series continuation, Phantasy Star Universe.

Phantasy Star Online was also optimized for a phone modem connection. Sure, it played great on a cable modem, but because it was built for a 56k, it didn't matter how lousy your connection got. Loading screens were hidden behind clever portals that you could play around with while waiting. Phantasy Star Online's button press sequences hid potential online lag problems behind long animations, so that fellow players might not ever realize you had a lousy connection.

PSO also had a decent banking and trade system, and the loot system wasn't half bad. You could play on the foreign game servers, and there were several pre-translated phrases already available so that even if you didn't speak the same language as the other player, you could communicate what you were doing or what was going on. You also had the option to make your own custom emotes... in a console game.

Another point in Phantasy Star Online's favor is that it did go cross-platform, eventually spawning clients for 4 different platforms: Dreamcast, Gamecube, Xbox, Windows. Granted, none of these versions could play with each other, but you weren't limited to one platform to play Phantasy Star Online.

What Sega did with Phantasy Star Online is they kept it simple. The controls were obviously designed for a game controller first, so it felt right playing Phantasy Star Online on a controller. Players of Final Fantasy XI often get the feeling Squaresoft designed the game using a keyboard and mouse, then decided to fit everything onto a PS2 controller at a later date. Sega had a dedicated goal for what Phantasy Star Online was to be, and they hit that goal on the head.

A lot of Massive Multiplayer Online titles today do not have a clear goal of where the game will be 2 or 3 years down the line. Sega sort of avoided that problem as Phantasy Star Online was developed as a console game. There would not be any real addition of any game-changing content at a later date, leaving the majority of the development team to focus entirely on making the next amount of content and having a relative minority handling the support options for the published product.

I think this is one of the problems Tabula Rasa is going through right now. Tabula Rasa's basic design is still in a state of flux as character classes are rebuilt and powers are re-engineered. It is quite possible that over 50% of the development work on Tabula Rasa being done now is just in maintaining and reworking existing content rather than developing new content.

It is also why many MMO's run a test server, thus enabling the players to go ahead and look for problems in upcoming patches. That way most of the major game-breaking bugs can be identified and worked out, thus saving development time and effort when a patch goes live.

Going forward though, I think a lot of upcoming MMO's are going to be in trouble. I've talked about Age of Conan and Warhammer Online in some chats before, and my opinion is that anybody who is honestly waiting on them expecting something more than World of Warcraft... are going to be in for some of the biggest disappointments in gaming. It's well known that I don't like World of Warcraft, and that my general opinion of World of Warcraft players and it's communities hovers somewhere just above that of my opinion on Halo players. So... I hope this is taken for what it is: Anybody expecting Age of Conan or Warhammer online to do something different than World of Warcraft that will be worth the money? They don't. Stick with World of Warcraft if you like fantasy genre. If you want to play something truely different in the fantasy genre right now, go pick up a copy of Final Fantasy Online. If you want to play something that could really be different in the future? Wait for NCSoft's AION.

I also think that a lot of MMO's are going to have to follow the model set by Sega and get their games onto multiple platforms. Any publisher or developer that does not have a dedicated Linux strategy for the next 3 years, probably will not be here in 2. Reason why is that all major Original Equipment Manufacturers, nearly all major Original Design Manufacturers, and most of the minors in each are either shipping Linux installed systems right now, have announced that plans to sell Linux Systems are underway, or have announced that they will insure that their hardware is Linux compatible. Whether or not major game publishers like it, Linux as a desktop OS is not going away. It going to continue to grow, and in order to continue to grow their markets, publishers like EA, Blizzard Activision, Capcom, NCSoft and Valve will need to be shipping Linux clients for their games. They are not going to like it, but sorry, that's the way things are going.

Case in point would be the almost privately published Eve Online. I've cheered on Eve Online for working with Transgaming to produce a Linux client. There is, however, one gigantic problem. Eve Online isn't my cup of tea. I'm not saying there is anything wrong, or bad about the game. If I had published my review, it was going to be an 8/10. It's just that I don't like the genre that Eve Online services, just the same as I'm not a big fan of Need For Speed, Madden, or 1080. Sure, they can be great and wonderful games, but I'd much rather have the arcade insanity of Excite Truck or SSX Tricky over Need for Speed or 1080.

What I think many publishers are going to wind up doing is cutting similar deals with private 3rd parties that mimic the deal EA cut with Transgaming. EA contracted Transgaming to bring several of their titles to the Apple Unix platform. Transgaming told EA straight up that their development platform was Linux, and that if they developed the games to run on Apple Unix, they would run on Linux as well using Cedega. Okay, fine and dandy, EA's Macintosh games will run using Cedega.

Sure, it's a sneaky way to get Linux support, and you don't exactly get a big front page post on stating that such and such hot title will run on Linux. However, in order to appease Shareholders and investors that are incapable of understanding Linux or understanding sales at all, that is probably how the next year or so will see more games brought to the Linux Platform.

However, two years down the line, game companies that are not producing official clients are going to be in a tough spot. Publishers producing official Linux Clients will have 100% of the fastest growing PC market segment. Publishers that don't? Well... they won't go away completely. I mean Acclaim is still around... in some form or another.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Interesting comment from CompUSA

I don't know if you've heard or not, but CompUSA is going out of business. Well, we have one here, and I decided to drop by and see if there was anything worth picking up off of the sale prices. Thing is, I used to shop at CompUSA all the time, till I found, then through Pricewatch. CompUSA didn't just have prices 10% to 20% higher than online sales, I found a 20gig drive at CompUSA that was over $70 more than the same exact model offline. Same with all the hardware, CompUSA was easily 40% to 50% higher than online stores.

So, I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that CompUSA's sale prices... were still above that which I would pay through any vendor, as well as

So, instead of picking up any hardware, I decided to harass the remaining sales staff. I asked one of the employees off the record if he could comment at all on the impact of Vista sales on the end of CompUSA's business, expecting no comment. Afterall, most such retail chains don't want local employees speaking out for the company.

That... isn't what I got. With a glaring look he responded I'd be better off asking about the returns. Returns? Well, the employee asked me to follow him to the back, and he pulled out a cardboard box opening it up to reveal it was packed full of copies of Vista.


Every single one of them he said was returned from consumers... and that they (CompUSA) couldn't ship them back. As he heard, Microsoft wasn't giving credit back for unsold or returned copies... and didn't want the returned figures made public... He wouldn't say that every single one of them exchanged for a copy of Xp, he didn't know if that was true. So, I asked how many boxes did they have. Same glare, followed with a "You do not want to know" type statement.


All in all an interesting trip then... I do need to stress that this is third hand information, that the employee was not a manager, and that he declined to allow his name to be published.

Even so, the implications are staggering. CompUSA isn't exactly a tiny retail chain. Underperforming, yes. Tiny... not really. If what the employee stated was true, Microsoft isn't counting or claiming returned numbers on sold versions of Vista, which cuts far into the current estimated number that I have personally placed somewhere on the wrong-side of 30 million.

This isn't exactly a new practice, it's one Sony was confirmed to be using back when the N64 was catching up to weekly Playstation sales in order to make the Playstation sell better. It's one that a couple other software vendors have neglected to talk about before, and why many retail and online stores have a strict Open-Software policy in place. The idea is that nobody is ever supposed to get a handle on exactly how badly a piece of software does on returns.

It also brings to question how many returns that CompUSA refused to honor... and why so many were honored at the store to begin with... questions I did not receive any answers for.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

High Resolution Digital Video - Redux

Okay, in the previous article I outlined Microsoft's relationships with large media organizations, the history Microsoft has with the removal of user access to digital content, and examined the choice of Microsoft's technology inside the Xbox 360 and the subtle push on the HD-DVD High Resolution Digital Video format made by Microsoft. In doing so I highlighted the relative success of Sony's Blu-Ray High Resolution Digital Video format.

Taken out of context, it would seem that Sony was indeed given a free pass over their behavior in the market, but that isn't exactly true. In an example specific to myself, I've personally lambasted Sony's Technical Support division for the PlayStation 3 since the system does not support an HDMI to DVI cable. I've ripped holes the size of a volcano into Sony multiple times, and not just in this blog. I have repeatedly offered assistance to Sony and given them business plans that would pull them out of their slump and make them the good guys in the public relations market.

So, in the interest of clarification, I am not exactly a fan of either the Blu-Ray or the HD-DVD specifications. I do not like the specifications for video playback that mandate Digital Rights Management that are controlled by licenses variable and viable to the content vendor and not the content consumer. Variable is defined as a license in which the terms can change at any time by the desires of the content vendor, and viable meaning that the terms are only in the best interests of the content vendor. It is my opinion that the first High Resolution Digital Video format to remove the Digital Rights Management requirements will be the immediate successful product with no external qualifications.

I don't think Sony will be that company.

Thing is, Sony's history of shenanigans with consumers is just about as long as Microsoft's. I've gone over it before, both here and on Gamenikki, covering the Beta format, Atrac, the Walkman, and so on. I've covered the history of Sony as a corrupt technology vendor that believes itself a market leader when it is not. On a personal level, I really don't like Sony, and part of me wishes they would either listen to those who are genuinely trying to help them, or just to go away.

That being said, I like Microsoft even less. Let me put this in perspective. Microsoft is a convicted criminal at a Governmental level on 5 different Continents: North America, South America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. The only two continents that I don't think have governmental level crimes lodged against Microsoft are Australia and Antarctica, and if anybody in Australia wants to say that yes, Microsoft has been found guilty of crimes in a court of law, please tell me.

Sony, on the other hand, hasn't exactly been indited in court cases on a level that involves a national or local government. I came come up with several class action lawsuits, patent lawsuits, and civil charges, but I don't think I've ever actually seen a government charge Sony with crimes.

Yes, Sony has been a right old buzzard with it's malicious root kits and some of it's nastier promotions. Sony has run afoul of various regulatory agencies by paying for graffiti to promote the PlayStation Portable and for questionable ad campaigns.

Yes, Sony purchased Connectix Virtual Game station then outright lied about having made the purchase, until I personally burned them by sending copies of the court statements and the public receipts for the purchase.

Sony ain't innocent, period.

However, Sony does have a clear market goal with Blu-Ray. It is a technically sound solution, and it is one consumers have appearently chosen. It's also one that I chose, I have a PlayStation 3. Okay, I don't actually have any movies for it... and I only have one game (Ratchet and Clank)... and it's actually booted into Yellow Dog 95% of the time...

The point is that what Microsoft is doing now, Sony wants to do in the future. There is no question that the content vendors see big money in down-loadable content wrapped in layers of Digital Rights Management that the vendors retain control over. There is no question that Microsoft is seen as a major player and figure to enable that dream...

I think Sony's close enough to the edge though they might actually start listening to the consumers, and have an unprecedented opportunity to become the consumers best friend and deliver a smashing blow to the rest of the Media Cartel and Microsoft.

I also don't think Sony would ever figure it out on their own.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

no, Michael Bay ain't crazy.

Been sitting on this for a while since I've been trying to figure out how to approach this topic. Some time ago I saw an editorial comic that portrayed Michael Bay, the director of Transformers, as a raving lunatic over his comments about the different High Resolution Digital Video formats. Michael Bay has gone on record saying that Microsoft is attempting to corrupt the High Resolution Digital Video format market so that neither of the leading formats win, and so that Microsoft is in a position to implement a DRM-laden download solution through it's Vista platform.

Several reputable tech sites have rubbished Michael's Bay claims... and all those who did most certainly lost any credibility the second they did so. Thing is, Michael Bay isn't that crazy, at least not on this topic, and anybody who has bothered to do any research would quickly realize he's on to something.

Now, I sort of broached this topic last year when I posted the contents of my Sony Marketing Research. My first listed shock was that Sony intended to license their games. This is what I said back then:
The first shock is that Sony now intends to license games instead of selling games. This is actually what Microsoft does with Microsoft Windows, and what the Recording industry does with music. You do not actually purchase the content. What you purchase when you "buy" Windows Operating System or a RIAA member music CD is a license to use the product as the legal /owner/ dictates. That is why people who copy RIAA member music cd's are susceptable to being taken to court, as well as being jailed and or fined. The fact is, once a consumer agrees to a license, they are held to that license.
Now, take a look at that second sentence again:
This is actually what Microsoft does with Microsoft Windows
You don't actually buy Microsoft Products. You agree to licensing terms from Microsoft and Microsoft alone. Now, keep in mind that Microsoft can and has used the license terms to install software through Microsoft Windows Update that users have no legal recourse against. Microsoft can, and has, disabled installed versions of Microsoft products that were legally bought and legally installed, and the customer has no recourse but to give Microsoft another set of monies in order to receive operational products.

Now, lets toss some more factors into this pile. First of all, something I brought up last year in December 2006 in a post talking about the poor market share of the Microsoft Zune. Here is a quote from that posting:
There are several reasons why the Zune isn't selling, the least of which being the terminology associated with the unit, the restrictions placed on sharing music, and the ugly design. The fact is, the Zune competes directly against "Plays for Sure" devices. Microsoft, as far as I see it, turned on their own sales partners and is reselling a "Plays for Sure" device without the "Plays for Sure" support. In addition, the Portable Music player field is littered with entities that have come and gone. Sony who used to dominate with the Walkman can't beat Apple. RIO, who created the market, is where now? Creative, who owns the high-quality home consumer sound market for computers, hasn't been able to dent Apple.
Note the bolded part, then check out a post I made again on this blog about Palladium:

Microsoft's links to the RIAA, the MPAA, and other freedom removing organizations is also generally overlooked. A lot of users have read about the Palladium and Janus technologies. A lot of consumers were adamantly against any such restrictions being placed on their purchased hardware. However, with a few name changes, and some creative marketing, and very few consumers realized that Janus technologies formed the basis of the Zune sharing system. Even in many of the tech site reviews I saw, very few put two and two together and figured out that Zune was using the failed Janus technologies.

A lot of users don't realize that Microsoft has a hand in the quoted Trusted Computer Platform which explicitly removes the users control over the hardware and leaves the control in the hands of the vendor.

A lot of users don't realize that Microsoft has a hand in creating restriction technologies that allow vendors to retain control over audio and video content and remove the users control over the content.

A lot of users simply don't see two and two being put together, and don't understand that Microsoft is a convicted criminal that is still engaged in multiple criminal activities. Such users have been in the boiling water of Microsoft for so long, it makes no difference.
Notice a pattern emerging in the highlighted sections? Those however are not the end of the story.

Consider the Xbox 360 for a moment. The console ships with a standard DVD drive, which actually isn't that odd. The Playstation2, original Xbox and Nintendo Wii also have fairly standard DVD type drives. However, Microsoft has generally put it's weight behind the HD-DVD High resolution Digital Video Format. Now, I happen to know that HD-DVD was production ready to be placed in the Xbox 360 as the default drive, and that Microsoft did have the funds available to absorb the impact of releasing the Xbox 360 at the price points it released at.

Why then, did Microsoft choose to use a standard DVD type drive? Sure, back on the Playstation2 and original Xbox the standard DVD format was fine. With existing compression technologies and streaming engines a single DVD easily could hold enough artwork, music, geometry, and animation data for massive titles like Jak II and the Grand Theft Auto series. Also, according to many developers, the Nintendo Gamecube's use of hardware compression allowed it's 1gb format mini-disc to contain more raw game data than a PlayStation2's standard DVD format.

With the Nintendo Wii, well, we all know by now that I was completely wrong about the graphics that would be inside of it. It's not a monster that can keep up with the ATi chip used in the Xbox 360. It does, however, have around approximately twice the rendering power of the Gamecube, uses fixed function shaders, and contains updated versions of just about all of the various hardware level compression technologies found in the original Gamecube. So, lets get over it, the Wii is the Gamecube 2.0. But while the power approximately doubled, the resolution and fill rate requirements doubled, the size available on a single Wii disc quadrupled from the old 1gb to a normalized DVD 4gb+ on a single sided disc, and can push higher than 8gb+ on a dual layer disc, presuming the Wii will ever use them. So, for the Wii, the standard DVD drive actually made a lot of sense.

With the 360, the same argument doesn't exactly hold up. The Wii's version of surround sound is delivered by Doubly Pro Logic II, which means that the average audio source files don't have to be that large. However, the Xbox 360 delivers audio using Dolby Digital, which contains 3 separate additional audio streams. Even in a compressed format, the audio requirements for surround sound on an Xbox 360 are far in excess of that of a Wii.

Then there is the whole aspect of the type of graphics that are used. In order to fill it's targeted 720p resolution the Xbox 360 is looking to push far more geometry data and texture artwork than the Wii. So the source files for an Xbox 360 title will naturally be larger than the Wii's source files. Suddenly, 8gb+ on a dual-layer disc doesn't really seem like that much when you look ahead. Suddenly, Sony's decision to run with Blue-Ray makes a whole lot more long term sense.

Yes, it was more expensive up front... but even in today's games developers are already making use of it. For the extremely short Heavenly Sword title on the PlayStation 3 the developers managed to shove all of the audio for all of the regions onto one disc print. According to the Semi-Official Sony Blog Threespeech, 10Gb of compressed audio were included in the Heavenly Sword print. So, with audio compression and high quality audio, Heavenly Sword bolted past the limits of a typical dual-layer DVD. Okay, yes, had the audio been separated into different regions, the amount would have been a different story. However, by being able to fit all of the audio onto one disc the developers saved on localization costs and on manufacturing costs.

So, why then did Microsoft choose to not include HD-DVD as the default drive for a console that is expected to last 5+ years on the retail market?

Now, your asking the kind of questions that Michael Bay has appearently asked, and the evidence isn't exactly compelling in favor of Microsoft being innocent. Yes, the Xbox 360 did eventually include an add-on HD-DVD drive, which was released in response to the relative success of Sony's PlayStation as a Blu-Ray player. However, because of the method in which the HD-DVD drive is attached to the Xbox 360, you don't actually get full resolution on older Xbox's. Thing is, HD-DVD's require HDCP, which I've been over countless times before, in order to run the movies in their best quality. You can get that on an Xbox 360 now, but what about the millions of Xbox 360's that went out the door? Then there are the problems reported by Ziff Davis's Extreme Tech Site. Okay, I have the opinion that Extreme Tech caters to whoever hands them the largest paycheck, so when they went after the Xbox 360 saying it was a horrible DVD and HD-DVD player and provided proof... And then stuck to their guns just mere days ago on December 5th...

It is sort of obvious what picture is being painted. You are not going to get an excellent HD-DVD playback experience with an Xbox 360. You are going to get an excellent Blu-Ray playback experience with PlayStation3. So why then is Microsoft continuing the push the format? If Microsoft was truely interested in remaining neutral in the High-Resolution Digital-Video market, why is there not a Blu-Ray drive attachment already available for the Xbox 360? Every time I check disc sales figures, Blu-Ray doesn't just skunk HD-DVD with a 1.5-1 or 2-1 sales lead, but averages a 5-1 sales lead. Why is Microsoft not supporting the obvious winner of what consumers appear to be buying?

So, lets say that Michael Bay is right. Lets say that Microsoft is deliberately trying to keep HD-DVD on some form of life support so that Blu-Ray doesn't ever really become the dominant format. Why would Microsoft do such a thing? Why would Microsoft continue to avoid supporting Blu-Ray, but continue supporting HD-DVD while claiming to be neutral?

Well, just read up on the examples I listed earlier. Microsoft is a convicted criminal organization. That is established fact. Microsoft has assisted with helping the RIAA and MPAA lock down content. That is established fact. Microsoft has abused it's own upload and download systems in it's released consumer operating systems to load and unload applications without the users knowledge or permission. That is established fact.

So let me pose this question: Given Microsoft's history, who do you think the RIAA and MPAA would turn to in order to distribute content if High-Resolution Digital-Video's weren't selling? What Operating System could possibly provide a vendor-secure enviroment into which rented content could be loaded and delete without ever having the users permission or interaction in the process? Which vendor has the technological means in place to do something like that... today?

Yeah. Michael Bay ain't crazy. Not by a long shot. Here's hoping he's got the guts to stick to his own guns and not back down.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Space: It's a brick wall.- Updated

I just recently completed a couple more hardware reports for the guide site... and found that one of them just wasn't uploading all the pictures. So, I checked the site...

Disk Space Usage 982.54 Megabytes
Disk space available 17.46 Megabytes
Oh... goody. A little bit of history here... MepisGuides originally started on Fateback, a free hosting site, specifically here :

When I slammed into the hosting limit for Fateback, Cblue at Mepislovers moved the site to her servers, where it's basically been since. Now... I've slammed smack dab into the space limit for the Mepislovers hosted site... and now I'm having to seriously examine options to continue expanding Mepisguides.


update on this. Have a potential solution in mind, but it actually won't be happening until next year. One of my clients has a static pipe that is currently being relatively unused, and are willing to finance a Cpanel license to bring their existing site "in-house," if I furnish the hardware to run it.

Part of me goes... "not really a big deal" since I've done the whole "don't update for freaking months thing before." However... having learned this the hardway, non-consistent updates means less donations, means less visibility, and means less chances to sell systems. So, I'm a couple months out on attempting consistent updates for MepisGuides / LinuxGuides.

That... actually doesn't mean I'll be less than busy. Hopefully the new artwork will be in the next Mepis, at which point I'll start working on the install books to be published through Lulu. It might be mid-January before I have the books in a condition I'll be happy with.

Also, don't forget, one of my AXP systems is still available and would make a nice Christmas Present.

Update on System for sale:

Okay, running an update on the system that I mentioned was up for sale. The pictures I took were from an Athlon64 2800 mounted on a DFI LanParty UT. However, I think the powersupply that I mentioned before has had a detrimental affect on the motherboard. So... while it runs, I couldn't sell it.

However... I do have a system that is ready to go out the door in time for a Christmas Gift. I've got a hardware report up for it here:

Quick specs are Abit's NF7-S 2.0 (the good one), coupled with an x1600 Pro and AMD's Xp 2500+ Barton running as an AthlonXp 3200+. The case is like the pictures I showed earlier, The Thermaltake Bach case.

Price is $500 which includes shipping, and a keyboard and mouse.

Also, on a note, now having had an experience with the credit card system that did not involve AAFES... paying by credit cards directly will add anywhere from 3 to 5 days processing time. (Sorry Jim for finding that out the hardway with you.)

Going back to the main point, funds from this sale will help pay for a new motherboard and fans for the Athlon64 I linked earlier. The processor, graphics card, memory, drives, and everything else check out on other hardware I have. So hopefully if the Axp unit goes quickly enough, I'll be able to turn the A64 back around and have it ready to go in time for Christmas as well.

I've also pitted these two processors (and actually both these motherboards) against each other before :

Yes... big matrix, but in my own testings, these systems are about the same power. However, the testing was originally done on the DFI... which the A64 won't actually ship with...

Anyways, contact information is over on the site.

Monday, December 10, 2007

AT / DT : caught lying again

AT / DT has a post up now claiming that AMD has been caught lying about power consumption. I haven't bothered reading the news for one simple reason: AT / DT has never ever called Intel down on their power consumption ratings with their Conroe based processors, or their various northbridges.

I've stated before in other forums of talk that Anandtech / Dailytech has lost all credibility for any news posting or review. I have specifically mentioned problems with their logic and methods here, and also went into how they used a known bug as "factual" performance in server testing.

Now, I can't stop people from reading AT / DT. I can, however, have a documentation point in my own blog noting when they went from "possibly not neutral" to being "just how much is Intel paying you anyways?" Wish I had that kind of money coming in, but as far as I'm aware, AMD has never paid journalists for favorable reviews or news posts. (or at least me or anyone else I talk with on a regular basis).


Running an edit on this. Somebody emailed me to state that AT / DT had ran a "semi-retraction" on their post... by running another post... I guess it was to be expected.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A comment on Nvidia

Recently a blog entry written on MyOpera back in August 07 has started being passed around again. The author dreams up a scenario where Nvidia introduced an Open-Source driver. I couldn't help but laugh while reading the article because Denilson F. de Sá had absolutely no clue about what he was talking about.

Now, I freely admit that I am probably biased towards ATi, for several reasons. First, ATi actually returned emails, and in some cases called me up point blank to talk about upcoming products. Chris Hook, Renee, and John S. all went out of their way to find me a spot during IDSA then ESA's E3's convention to go over upcoming products. Every time I've talked with ATi, even if it was blathering on about something far over my head, somebody took the time to listen or correct errors. Second, ATi was owning up to their previous problems. There was no denying that prior to the Catalyst driver set, ATi hardware was severely let down by the junk drivers. At the same time ATi was taking great strides to fix their drivers.

Now, I do have someone on record somebody at ATi saying they were not going to pursue performance drivers for Linux. ATi just wasn't interested in that market. That... actually was fine to me. I was not given an answer full of manure or misdirection. ATi stated they would improve the feature set of the Catalyst Linux drivers, and then completely blew by their rival with a streak of monthly driver releases going as far back as 2005.

Okay, yes, I'm quite happy that AMD has taken ATi further by opening up the Atom Bios, and by publishing the specifications for the graphics cards, and by funding Novell to develop an Open-Licensed driver. But what about before AMD came along?

Yet, what many people have to remember is that while ATi wasn't exactly Open-Source Friendly for several years... they weren't Open-Source hostile either. ATi funded driver development for an open-licensed 2D Linux driver for the Rage chip. ATi released specifications for the original Radeon and Radeon 8500 GPU's, so that driver developers were able to get working 3D drivers in place... before AMD came along.

ATi also got involved with package maintainers, and started a driver-preview program to insure that package maintainers were prepared for official releases, and that the ATi installer could be improved. ATi also had engineers around who would reportedly answer questions about the hardware to driver developers for the ATi driver and Radeon driver. ATi also listed links to an unofficial Wiki and Bug tracking system for Linux... on their home site. ATi's own engineers were known to trawl both the bug tracking system, and popular sites like Rage3D. ATi also stated at least as far back as 2005 that one of their goals was to build or release an Open-Licensed driver.

Again, all that before AMD ever entered the picture.


Now, lets compare that to Nvidia. A lot of Linux supports have said over the years, buy Nvidia, don't buy ATi. Yet, um... the only significant contribution Nvidia has made to Open-Licensed software is the 2D NV driver... which is little better than a widescreen patch on a VESA type driver. Nobody uses the NV driver to build off of because it's junk.

Nvidia has never released specifications for their cards. Nvidia refused to help or recognize engineers and developers working to build an Open-Licensed Nvidia driver. Nvidia never had or linked to a public accessible bug tracking system supported or listed a wiki for their cards. Their engineers have never seriously paid attention to any Nvidia fan site, nor answered questions.

From a technical standpoint, consider the blog I made looking for funding to go pick up an Nvidia card. Nvidia finally fixed memory handling problems in the Geforce4. That card was released in 2002, and 5 years later a fix is finally issued?

How about the the ATi vs. Nvidia 64bit comparison, where it's fairly obvious Nvidia has the broken driver set. It's sort of hard to ignore the problems with Nvidia-glx, and I've stated before I have absolutely no respect for Nvidia's driver team. I honestly don't think they know what they are doing.

From a personal standpoint, every time I've posed a question to Nvidia, I get an answer more crooked than a New York Senator seeking presidential office. Even questions asked to representatives faces during a convention were conveniently deferred to people who were not present. I've caught Nvidia reps outright lying to me on several occasions, and after a while, that gets a little old.


So, why would anybody believe, for a second, that Nvidia would honestly spearhead any charge for Open-Licensed drivers? A charge ATi started again, long before AMD ever entered the picture.

I can't answer that. Same way I can't answer why many Linux advocates think Nvidia products are good things.

Okay, yes, the situation in Linux Graphics has never been where many of us personally wanted it to be, and I have a laundry list of problems with ATi. I can't say I'm really happy about how long the average new product to Linux driver release has taken, or how long it took to get the new driver out the door.

However, looking back over the years, I can count a lot more Pro-Linux moments with ATi... than Nvidia will probably ever have.

Virtualization: The Answer for Microsoft?

Recently I was pinned in a chatroom and asked to defend my extreme dislike of Microsoft. What, exactly, did I think was wrong with NT5? Well, items like Microsoft's handling of the user and administration accounts are at the top of my list. If you really want to run a Microsoft Windows installation you need to be in an administrator account. If you are not an administrator, you will run into multiple problems accessing, installing, or using programs. There is no such thing as su or kdesu in Microsoft Windows. You can't run under limited user protections and be able to access administrator commands when you need to.

I'm not really fond of how many OEM's put users into an Owner username by default without specifying that the users had administrator rights, or
the default services that Microsoft shipped desktop computers with. I shared some of the support figures with the person that friends in a Tier II ISP support unit had passed on about Windows Mail. I went over my dislike of IE and the old OE, and took the person through the Acid Test. Yes, FireFox fails the Acid test as well, but it's a far sight better than either IE6 or IE7. I had him type C:\ into the address bar of IE7, and it changed right into the skin for the My Computer program. Thing is, IE is a lot like Konqueror. It's both a web-browser and a file manager. However, it's not a fair comparison as the number of known exploits in the wild for Konqueror is somewhere around 0. The number of known exploits in the wild for Internet Explorer is longer than my arm if I printed out all the names on 8*11 paper in 10pt font, with no margins set.

Eventually I was asked then what I would do... to fix NT5. Honestly, I don't know. The problem is that I am biased. The Unix model that separates the /root and /home accounts was never even considered during NT5's development. Adding in the capability to fully split the Operating System from the User Account goes beyond simple lockout steps. Even in limited user-mode there are multiple points of external access to a computer that can be used to load software under Administrator rights. Microsoft can, and has, used Microsoft Windows Update to install and remove programs without users knowledge.

So... what I'd want is to implement separate /administrator and /user entries. However, doing so will cause the code base to explode since I'd still have to account for the massive amount of NT5 software not built to account for separate /adminstrator and /user entries. Implementing an su feature would also cause the program base to explode. I'm not happy with the default loadout of services as is, and in order to have constant access to the system's actions, an su function would have to be run as another service.

What I'd want to do with IE is simply cut it off as a browser. The explorer program is already a fantastic file-manager, so leave it as that. Write a new browser from the ground up built against W3C specifications and simply retire the Internet Explorer code base for webbrowsing. There is a semi-precedent for such, found with the KDE *Nix desktop enviroment.

KDE is introducing Dolphin with KDE4, a dedicated file-manager. Konqueror, the current File-manager, has slowly become a technically excellent all-in-one program, using KIOSlaves to do things like access Digikam's ShowFoto in order to display singular images in a tab with Konqueror, without launching the entire ShowFoto application. Konqueror can also use KIOSlaves to make calls directly to K3B to write a CD / DVD, or to rip music, all without launching the entire K3B application. However, the slow expansion of Konqueror's abilities have had a negative impact on it's memory footprint and overall performance. Dolphin is to become the primary file-manager for KDE, and is designed to only do file management. That allows Konqueror to continue expanding and growing without becoming a serious bottleneck on overall performance.

Microsoft's Explorer operation is almost the exact opposite of Konqueror. It's a technically lousy internet browser. However, the Explorer application already has excellent file management capabilities, such as the ability to edit files, identify files, and explore the Windows partitioning in a folder based view. The disadvantage Explorer has is that it is too tightly integrated with the kernel subsystems, and is arguably actually part of those subsystems. So, where as KDE has the option to simply replace Konqueror with Dolphin for file management duties, there is no such option with Explorer. However, the opposite technique is possible. Par Explorer back to a file manager and severe the connection to network protocols, and the security concerns and exploitable problems evaporate away. While it might not be technically possible to remove Explorer without re-writing substantial amounts of the underlying Operating System, Mozilla Foundation and Opera have proved that it is very possible to place a new network browser on top of the system and maintain relative overall performance.

The next change on my list was ActiveX, as I'd want to scrap ActiveX completely. Even by now Microsoft admits that ActiveX was a bad thing. Problem is, a lot of Microsoft's own proprietary technologies that only work in the Explorer application are built to use ActiveX. That means that I'd be looking at having to re-write Windows Updates from scratch, as well as numerous other programs and support options.

I'd want something like Synaptic to easily manage and remove all of my programs. However, I'd have to account for the numerous .exe files that don't use standard package management techniques and those that write or re-write files to the Operating System itself... so I'd need not only a new central program manager, I'd need to write lots of other extra routines to handle compatibility with older programs. So, a new update system and package management system would be even heavier on system resources.

Basically... in order to fix the problems I have with NT5 I'd wind up with a huge mix of redundant code only to maintain compatibility. I would basically have to build Vista.

Which is one of the major problems Microsoft has right now. Vista has one of the worst performance profiles ever seen in any commercially released Operating System. Vista broke entire series of records for Instructions Per Clock (IPC), going the wrong way. Part of the problem with Vista is that it is such a performance hog because it not only tries to be a new operating system, which it isn't, and maintain compatibility with NT5, which it is not.

Microsoft faces monumental task after the Vista debacle. Vista is not selling, and I've already stated in a public forum that I cannot independently justify anything over 30million installs for Vista, and I'm having to accept huge grains of salt for figures provided only from Microsoft to even justify 30million installs.

Microsoft then is looking at having to maintain NT5 for far longer than they intended. NT6 can pretty much be swept under a rug with no problem. Collectively nobody is using Vista in a production enviroment.

The problem is, maintaining compatibility with NT5 while trying to build a completely new Operating System that doesn't suffer from the problems of NT5 is a losing proposition, as outlined above... or is it?

I think Microsoft might actually have an answer to their NT5 support problems with virtualization. The next version of Windows can be built under the model of Unix. Lets call it NT7. Separated /adminstrator and /user accounts, write access to the OS only under /administrator access with appropriate su functions built in, and so on. The NT5 kernel, however, sets on a hardware virtualization, and same with the graphics drivers and other hardware drivers. When an NT5 application is ran, the NT5 kernel system is moved to the primary priority for processing, the NT7 kernel system is moved back, and as far as the application is concerned, it is running on NT5 proper.

The amount of code to handle NT5 application recognition and process switching would be far less than the code to integrate NT5 into NT7 as part of NT7. System resources would also be rather low as the kernel and process in use would have priority, so you wouldn't have the memory problems Vista has.

Best of all, by running in a virtualized enviroment, you could seal NT5 off in it's own partition, and prevent write access from NT5 into NT7. So who cares if your NT5 partition gets compromised, just wipe it clean. Or here is an even better idea, wipe the NT5 OS every time the application is finished using the NT5 OS. The next time an application calls for NT5, a read-only copy is fed back into memory, then turned read/write on the fly. So, NT5 itself can't be compromised. It can't access NT7, malicious software can't save itself into the NT5 system, and so on.

Of course, such a setup would probably exceed Vista's hard-drive footprint. However, the benefits of having a Unix like setup, without sacrificing NT5 compatibility, without sacrificing performance, and remove some of the major security concerns with NT5.

Now... the next question is... do I think Microsoft is smart enough to pull this off?



edit: separated and clarified a statement involving a comparison to KDE. Cleaned up some grammar to make the editorial flow better.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Help Allan first.

I don't make it a secret that I'm horrible at asking for money or running donation drives. Every time I open my mouth, I say something wrong or inappropriate. There also is the little pride factor of having to admit I'm in need of any financial help... so since I started the Guide site, I told people to donate to Mepis first, then to MepisLovers... and then, only then, think about supporting the Guide site.

Well, at the end of October I ran a piece about asking for Intel hardware and Nvidia hardware... and in the last post I mused over getting a Macintosh. The system I listed there... isn't quite ready... but I'll go into that in another post... because somebody else... needs the money first again.

You can read the short version of what happened with Allan's family over on Lobby For Linux. Allan's daughter has been in a wreck out in Florida. Allan himself lives near Long Beach.... California. Lobby For Linux lists the accident report and a local report from a Florida newspaper. A call to the Melbourne Police Departments Records Division indicates that yes, it is real, with the officer answering asking how I was related to the incident. Good question.

Let me put it this way :

Allan, or EnigmaOne as he is known on MepisLovers, has been the guy behind providing a community mirror of the Mepis releases again... and the Mepis Community Repository.

Like me though, as indicated by Lobby For Linux, Allan doesn't like asking for handouts... Sometimes though... hoping others find the service you deliver valuable enough to support... is all you can do.

Checking the top level of Allan's site reveals a post on his blog about the accident.


Edit: 12/9/07 : Lobby For Linux pulled their blog entry since the Police Report wasn't actually supposed to go up. Basically, the report, while containing the name of Allen's Daughter, also lists the others involved... including those responsible for the wreck. The Police Report itself will be made available to the public through the Melbourne Police Department after 60 days has passed from the initial accident report, so no private information was published.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Mac would be nice.

Shameless dreaming abounds. This goes back to a post I made about a month about looking for Intel and Nvidia hardware. While I have lots of hardware examples to work with, I don't have an Intel Core2 Duo of my own to work with, the Intel Graphics Chip I had to work with is on a now dead tablet, and I don't have any Geforce 8x00 cards to work with.

Among hardware I also don't have is a Macintosh system. I used to want a Macintosh because Apple used PowerPC hardware which was fairly exotic. However, with a Playstation3 in hand, I have one of the most power PowerPC systems ever built, and something far more exotic than a G5. Due to my own bias against Intel, I haven't exactly been interested in a Macintosh system since the switch.

Recently though I've seen a couple of requests pop up in Mepislovers asking how to handle Mepis 7 Series on the Macintosh x86 platforms. Well, Apple hardware does use EFI, a technology I've already talked about before when discussing exactly how hostile to Open Source Intel is, which does mean installation steps are a little weird. A quick glance at the Mac Mini page also notes an interesting factor. A Macintosh Mini comes with a Core2 Duo processor and uses Intel Integrated graphics, granted the older GMA 900 series graphics.

The low end MacBook Laptops also have a Core2 Duo processor, and the newer Intel x3100 Integrated GPU's.

At this point the tune "All I want for Christmas" popped into my head, although the original tune of of "two front teeth" was replaced with "nice white mac."

Course the practical side of me notes that the 20" Imac is probably the better bang for buck, but I already have a RadeonHD 2600 in Asus's F3K, and I doubt there's any way I could justify begging for an Imac based on the processor alone.

I'm halfway thinking about putting one of my media systems up for grabs to help finance obtaining a Macintosh. It's an Athlon64 2800+ mounted in a BachMedia Case. The fans have all been replaced, and the power supply needs to be replaced as well. It will ship with a Vantec.

I'm looking to sell it for about $500 which includes shipping to anywhere in the US via UPS.

And... as before, click on the images for the higher resolution versions. Contact emails and donation buttons are over at Mepisguides.