Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Funny... I never had a problem with AMD kit...

Yes, I have heard about the EU's ruling against Intel. You can stop flooding the Mepisguides inbox now. Yes, I am collecting my thoughts on the matter... but as usual... you can probably expect me to try and fully put something compelling together, rather than just a knee-jerk reaction.

This post... however... is a little bit closer to home. See, a couple months ago Intel sent me a 920 Core I7 processor for benchmarking purposes. Only... I haven't been able to use it. The only Intel motherboard I actually own... is the D975XBX. While I do have to admit that the motherboard has been absolutely stable with everything that I've thrown at it... I've been over it's largely limited CPU support before. I also mentioned that getting Mepis and Vista installed involved some jumping through BIOS hoops and low level configuration. Well, that's what I'm by and large paid to do by some of my customers.

So, I saved up and was recently able to pick up the DFI LANPARTY JR X58-T3H6. I already wrote about the board last month when I first saw it on Newegg. It's a MicroATX motherboard with 2 16x PCI-Express slots, full 16x slots at that, which is a product I've been banging on motherboard makers to produce for years.

Only... I should have paid attention to the fine print. Over the past couple of months HardOCP and Newegg ran a special for a 6gb Triple-Channel set of Memory from OCZ, specifically model OCZ3X1333LV6GK. At about $75 with free shipping, I wasn't complaining.

Except... the DFI board that I bought... does not support this memory. The only OCZ memory that the DFI board lists as supported consists of models OCZ3FXT20002GK, OCZ3P20004GK, and OCZ3P16002GK. Attempting to run the OCZ memory I actually have on this motherboard just results in the CF bios error, which in the manual means incompatible memory.

Now, in all fairness, I am supposed to be the person who knows this stuff. Yet... I've never had this kind of memory problems with AMD kit or ATi kit. I've used off-brand, non-vendor certified memory on AMD kit since the Abit KG7.
Both my Asus P542-D2 Asus P4R800-VM motherboards performed with pretty much any memory I threw at them. It's only been the Intel D975XBX, my Clevo D900T, and now this X58 motherboard, that have thrown fits on specific memory types.


DFI responded stating that these two triple-channel kits had been tested DDR1600 3x2gig = 6gig. DDR1333 3x2gig = 6gig.

Soon as I have another $100 to go spend on memory, I'll try them.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Proof that Valve will actually do anything if there is money to be had

This is one of those convenient for me type posts. Valve has gone and made a pretty good case that they will pretty much do anything if there is money involved for them...

up to and including publishing a Uwe Boll game:

If I have to explain to you who Uwe Boll is, that's actually a Good Thing from my point of view. The best way I can put this is by using just one Link.

Germany's answer to Ed Wood.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

CoH: Kotaku Repost

This is a quick repost of a comment I made on Kotaku. Since I could not find it after the post was made, copying it here.
and with one move, Champions Online and DCU were rendered into dust. -over reaching sweeping statement made to sound like somebody who played the games had said something meaningful.

Here's the problem with the statements about Champions Online: It's being made by the same guy, Jack Emmert, who was directly responsible for City of Heroes stagnating. Most beta testers agree that Champions Online, now, is just about where City of Heroes was 2 years ago. That's not a good place to be when one thinks about how far City of Heroes has come with it's free issue expansions. While there is a lot of hype surrounding Champions Online, and it is hype, the fact is, the development behind it isn't the development team behind City of Heroes. It's the development team that was behind the canned for quality reasons Marvel Universe Online. Take that how you will, but if you honestly think Champions Online will somehow deliver a good experience to play? You've got a lot more faith than I do in people that have a track record of ruining games.

The problem with DCU, and it's not really a problem, is that it's an SOE game. If you think about the majority of SOE releases, you'll probably only come up with 2 games that actually had long-lives as MMO's. Those are Everquest and Everquest 2. All of SOE's other properties ranging from Star Wars Galaxies, to that Pirate Game, to Planetside, have problems with developers loosing sight of what their game is about. To many players, SOE has the worst history possible in the development of MMO games. Given SOE's track record, one is forced to wonder not when, but HOW the upcoming DC MMO will be screwed up or over. I'm not saying DCU is going to be bad. It actually looks quite interesting, and should DC actually maintain control over the development, does pose a threat to NCSoft's Playerbase... or does it? A lot of people today play two or more MMO's. NCSoft already has a partnership with Sony, and while Marvel has a bad history with what is now Paragon Studios, DC does not. Could there be a link-up between CoH and DCU? Probably not, but I wouldn't be so quick to think that Statesman and Synapse wouldn't have a quick crossover with Superman and The Flash.

Another problem I see in these comments come from those who whine about a level cap. Well, there's a reason most games have a level cap. Players have a goal to shoot for. Moving the level cap onwards and upwards forces players to continue to re-evaluate and redesign their characters. World Of Warcraft is a prime example of why developers should maintain a consistent level cap. The constant ever upward spiral of levels prevents all but the hardest core players from experiencing character archtypes in an effective manner.

There is no other way to say this: If your player base strategy depends on forcing players to continue to chase rebalanced levels instead of actually producing content for the players to experience, then you have failed. World of Warcraft, at first glance, seems to be counter-intuitive proof. Until you actually start looking at how the player base is made up. There are tons of flavor of the month classes. The majority of the player base aren't gamers, but merely people who find the interface simple to understand, and consider World of Warcraft to be a safe option. It's sort of like the difference between Halo and Metroid Prime. Real gamers wondered what the heck people were on about with Halo and didn't understand why Metroid Prime didn't get that sort of public exposure. However, the barrier of entry to Halo was much lower, and therefore palatable to the mass market. World Of Warcraft's level grind is attractive to the semi-gamer market since they can basically pick one or two character classes and stick with it. Then if anybody asks why don't they play something else, they have a legit excuse that they don't have the time to go play another class.

City of Heroes, by sticking with a level cap, encourages the player base to field several different archtypes. Okay, not everybody is going to play a defender. Not everybody is going to play a corruptor. However, the percentage of the player base that has actually tried to level multiple archtypes is significantly higher than other MMO's. While I could be wrong, I think only Guild Wars has a higher ratio of players with multiple character types.

City of Heroes also has the strength, at least on the hero side, that players have a variety of ways to level up. It is possible to take 4 different single Archtypes to level 50 and never take the same level path. I should know, I purposely went out of my way to do that.

Now, that is is my point of view. I see constant level cap increases as a sign that the development team does not know what they are doing. There is little doubt that somebody will say World of Warcraft's stellar player-base numbers prove that idea wrong.

So I'll leave with just this question:

For those who play World of Warcraft, how much of the current player base you know actually worth PLAYING WITH?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Bootleg... AVG?

A friend of mine at Adventure Crossing brought me a computer from a friend of theirs that reportedly had a virus. On boot I ran into something I've literally never seen before... running on startup was a Personal AntiVirus application that had the exact same layout and GUI elements of Grisoft's Free AVG anti-virus application. The computer did have AVG 8.0 installed, but any calls made to the AVG application were re-directed to the Personal Anti Virus application. The new PAV app would find and detect multiple virus's, then refuse to remove those virus's without an expensive licensing key.

What happened was this: Internet Explorer had been infected by a malicious ActiveX control. The malicious ActiveX control appearently contains a list a number of legitimate sites, such as Microsoft's Windows Update, and upon visiting these sites users are given an IE-style information bar saying the page is infected with malicious software. The user is directed to install the faux copy of AVG, which uses the gaping security hole that is ActiveX to take over system functions.

While such problems can be prevented primarily by NOT USING INTERNET EXPLORER AT ALL, much less using Windows at all, my fix was pretty simple.

I dropped to safe mode and installed an updated version of SpyBot Search and Destroy which let me elminate the Personal Anti Virus from the start up menu, and trash the ActiveX components. Also in safe mode I deleted the PAV folder from Program Files and cleared out the start menu entries under C:/documents and settings.

Once the system was back up, installed and ran AVAST. Recently I've tended to prefer AVAST for Windows AV needs. AVG has gained quite a bit of bloat in recent versions, and while it is still a fairly competent malicious software solution, much more than competitors from Symnatec or McAfee, it's moving out of the light-weight system-resource light market.

Also, if you have a matching good Windows Xp disc, I'd suggest running a sfc scannow to check system components. In my case, several files had to be replaced from the disc, though I don't know how much of that was due to the particular problem the computer was brought to me for.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

CoH: The Genius, and Insanity, of Positron Task Force

Those who read this blog know that I like to bash on Positron's Task Force on a regular basis. For many players it is their first introduction to City of Heroes Task Force concept, and for the low level first time runner is little better than a meat grinder. Off the top of my head I can come up with dozens of ways to improve the presentation of the Task Force and update it to actually better fit the story it tells. For starters I would implement cut-scenes to detail NPC interactions that players stumble upon. I would redesign the entire last quarter of the Task Force to be an Epic Fight through Faultline and into the Bowels of the Dam. I could do so much with the game... now.

However, an one-off snarky comment got me thinking a bit more about Positron's Task Force. After promoting my Villain Equivalent, yet again, on the official message boards, somebody responded by asking whether or not it was a good idea to copy a less than fun task force for Villains if the point of the game was to have fun. The poster admitted they hadn't actually read my proposal before making their snarky comment as I had directly addressed such questions in my proposal. I had focused on the importance of making sure the first Task Force villains could encounter would be a lasting and memorable experience that showed off the best of what the game could do at that time.

In the same manner, I had to drop my biased opinions against the Positron Task Force and place myself in the shoes of Jack Emmert and Matt Miller early on in the Life of City of Heroes. I had to forget about all of the stuff I could do now, and think of what they had to work with back then.

For an early task force, the Positron TF was a work of genius. One of the strengths of City of Heroes is the strong focus on Team Combat, and how various builds work together to complement each other. Positron TF was an instruction ground teaching players that alone they were nothing, no matter how great their DPS, how great their defense, or how strong their singular buffs were. The Task Force placed importance on support powers such as Teleport Friend, and encouraged buff types like Empaths to pick up their Revive power as early as possible.

At the same time the task force showed off the best of what City of Heroes had to offer. Players were introduced to NPC wars, as well as a story system that could maintain a consecutive series of missions over a wide range of geographical locations. While that might not seem so special now, as far as I'm aware no other MMO has an instanced missions system like CoH's.

With such a viewpoint, the insanity that is Positron's Task Force takes a different view. It was genius. Twisted, maniacal, and sadistic genius... but genius none the less.

How a single 3rd party (like Valve), can address and solve most of the Issues from Linux Sucks!

I wanted to go back to Brian Lunduke's Linux Sucks! presentation and detail how a 3rd party developer, such as Valve, can make Desktop Linux profitable. Now, I'm not picking up Valve for pure example purposes. I honestly believe that Valve has every intention of bringing Steam to Linux, and here's why: Valve is in the publishing business to make money.

Many of the independent publishers in Valve's current Windows stable, such as 2D Boy and Penny Arcade's PlayGreenHouse games, are pushing their games on a multi-platform basis. Even if Valve only gets 50cents back for every game sold from Independent Developers, even a really low number of sales, say like 6000 units moved, that is still $3000. Every time one of the independent developers sells a game on a platform Valve does not currently support, Valve is loosing a potential sales commission. My opinion is that Valve wants in on that Independent Market, because it's not going away, and it's not going to get smaller.

From a business perspective, Valve doesn't have a choice in whether or not they support Linux. In order to maintain their edge as the leading digital publisher, they'll have to expand to the platforms that their development base expands to.

Such expansion though could solve many of the various problems Desktop Linux has, as outlined by Mr. Lunduke's presentation. One of the first problems Desktop Linux has is the package fragmentation. Linux is by and large split into RPM and DEB packaging formats... and no matter how many times outside observers suggest merging the two projects or dropping one, such a merge or deprecation is never going to happen. For some Linux developers, their choice of packaging system is almost a holy grail. There have been physical wars less hostile than the flame wars that erupt when somebody suggests RPM or DEB is superior to the other. The Linux Standards Base, or LSB, chose to specify Red Hat's RPM format as the LSB standard. However, the most popular desktop and server Linux's, Ubuntu and Debian (pure) are not built on RPM.

In order to move Desktop Linux forward, let's remove the packaging consideration. The proof of concept is Transgaming's Cedega. For literal years Transgaming has been packing Cedega in a varitety of different formats. Currently Cedega is available in 5 different packing systems. The end-user downloads Cedega in their packaging format, installs it in their native package manager, and then the Cedega System takes over installing and running games from that point.

Under Windows, Valve's Steam has largely matched Debian's Apt and dpkg system for functionality. Users are able to download, update, install, pause installs, stop installs and start at a later date, and launch their programs automatically from a central GUI. Following the proof of concept that is Cedega, Valve specifies a containment folder, and a software packaging for developers to use. Software developers write to the packaging format specified by Valve, and that is all they have to concern themselves with. The game developer doesn't have to worry if the user is on Mepis, Red Hat, Suse, Mandriva, PCLinuxOS, or whatever. The developer just has to worry about producing one package that is compatible with the specification set by Valve.

Valve then turns around and produces different versions of the Steam Client for different packaging distributions. The result is that Valve's packagers are the only ones who have to worry about packing requirements. Again, this type of system is proven to work.

In the same manner, this central specification also solves the duplication of API efforts. Valve's Steam for Linux includes various functions such as allowing users to view and download video content. The production of Steam then would require Valve to select a specific Audio API and Media system. Developers publishing through Valve only have to worry about the API's that Valve Specifies. Distributions who wish to host Steam will have to also make sure they contain the same API's and media backends as the specifications. Those that don't... well... won't be able to run Steam on Linux.

Okay, these methods are going to step on some toes. I know there are lots of people that have worked long and hard on stuff like Jack, Phonon, Gstreamer, Xine, PulseAudio, ALSA, Open Source Sound, and so on that are going to get torqued off if their particular technology isn't chosen. Those who aren't chosen are just going to have to DEAL WITH IT.

So there's the packaging and API issues dealt with. That removes two of the large barriers that prevent some commerical vendors from approaching Linux as a binary client platform. How in the world can this scheme be profitiable though?

The proof-of-concept here is Mozilla and Google. Google effectively pays Mozilla to include Google search as the default search option in Mozilla Firefox, and to set Google as the homepage.

In the same way, a 3rd Party like Valve would pay a Distribution to Include Steam. The problem here is that Linux is largely free to download. How would simply including Steam get developers money?

The proof-of-concept here is Google Ads. Google pays out a minimum for ad-placement and uses a unique identifier for each account to make sure the appropriate person gets paid for the ads.

Valve has a sophisticated hardware and software detection system in place inside of Steam, and their hardware reports are considered to be some of the most accurate examples of real-world hardware usage. Valve simply builds a version of their Steam client with a unique Distribution ID for Distribution partners, and this Distribution ID is part of their hardware / software scanning. Using Mepis as an example, Warren, the creator of Mepis, signs a deal with Valve for a customized version of Steam with a unique identifier for versions of Steam pre-installed inside of Mepis. Every new user with a unique hardware configuration, MAC Address, and ip address that registers with Steam from Mepis is worth a 5 cents kickback. Every game that is purchased from within the Mepis Steam client is worth a 50cents kickback, regardless of Hardware configuration and ip address.

With this sort of promotional scheme, distributions that result in new user accounts are written off as promotional advertisements. In addition, end-users are also unable to flood a particular distribution with new user signups as only one specific hardware configuration can be used to generate the initial kickback. However, distributions that result in new games actually being sold stand to recieve significant financial rewards.

One of the keys here is that not every distribution is going to go for a pre-installation of closed-source software. Valve can also limit the number of distributions that could abuse the system by requireing distributions produce a valid Business Liceness for the state or country they operate out of.

Thus, multiple problems are solved for Desktop Linux. Desktop Linux gains a proven central online digital store that many publishers feel comfortable using. Developers behind API's are encouraged to focus on a small select group of API's rather than re-inventing the wheel over and over. Some distributions stand to gain finanically for pre-installing Steam for their users. Valve's potential financial losses are minimized, and the gains of being an established store-front with near 100% marketshare should be self-evident.

In addition, the realization of the micro-payment financial model stands to help other projects within Linux as well. One of the functions Steam integrates into Windows is the ability make back-up copies of various games. If the Steam client for Linux integrated say, K3B, Valve could be in a position to kick back a percentage of profits from Linux game sales to the K3B developers, thus paying for the development of burning technology. That could get interesting if Valve were to think about implementing a system that allows gamers to record games as they play, then burn those videos to CD's or DVD's.

I've also stated, multiple times, that I don't understand why game developers are not involved with projects like ATi, RadeonHD, or Nouveu. Really, who would be better than Gabe Newell to weigh in on how shader driven hardware should work? Okay, aside from John Carmack and Tim Sweeny, there aren't that many more qualified.

From Valve's perspective as an Independent Software Vendor, it might be in their interest to contribute to open-licensed drivers, if not outright hire developers to work on open-licensed drivers, in order to optimize those drivers to give the most performance in their games. Lets say Valve releases and update to Left-4-Dead that causes problems on a Radeon Crossfire setup with ATi. Rather than waiting for ATi developers to turn around and investigate the problem, Valve could take a look at the source code, right then and there, write a patch themselves, and publish it.

Now, there are some, if not many, in Linux who would detest the idea of a single company perhaps offering such control over Desktop Linux. The reality though is this: Valve isn't the only digital games provider on Windows. They do have lots of competitors ranging from to Good Ole Games. Valve has just risen to the top by offering a superior product for a lower cost. In the same way, Valve may not be the first vendor to spread themselves over to Linux, and if they do wind up being the first, they won't be the only ones. If nothing else, the competition will keep companies honest in their dealings.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

CoH: It's not "Your" game.. it's "the developers" game.

One of the big controversies surrounding City of Heroes right now is the rapid abuse of the new Mission Architecture system to create maps and missions specifically designed to allow a low level player to gain massive experience rewards and quickly reach high levels. Some of the level farmers successfully created maps in which they could take a new character to the maximum level in just two days of play. The abuse of the system lead to a rash of extremely new players with no idea how to play the game.

Speaking for myself, I tried to start a Sister Psyche Task Force, which is designed for players level 20-25. I found a level 27 player in the search system with an LFT tag indicated they would do any task force. The player was in Atlas Park, so I sent the player asking if the player wanted to do a Sis Psyche. I received an affirmative, invited, and waited. After about 5 minutes of the player's location tag still reading Atlas Park, I asked if the player was coming. The player responded by saying they were ready and waiting for me and the other players to come to Atlas Park (2) to start the Task Force. I kid you not, this new player, at level 27, had never left Atlas Park. They thought it was the only zone in the game. They thought that when names on the team list where colored in Black, that meant the player was in a different Atlas Park. They thought the Sister Psyche Task Force was an AE task force.

During the 5th Anniversary Event on the Test Server, my account and a friends account were in two separate Pocket D instances during the Developers Meet-and-Greet. In both of the Pocket D's the chatter was flooded with players complaining about the rampant farming and demanding to know what the developers were going to do to fix the situation. Many players were complaining about how Atlas Park had degenerated into a spamming zone, as explified by a post I made here on the Developers feedback:
I say this because it used to be fun and sit around Atlas Park. Host a costume contest, talk with other players, recruit for supergroups, show new players the ropes, etc. etc. For the past week, for every 30 minutes I've spent in an Atlas Park on 3 different servers, roughly 3/4 of the broadcast chat is promotions of AE farms. I don't mean AE Mish. I mean people who explicitly broadcast : Looking For AE farm, or AE farm looking for players

Okay, I know that Freedom's been bad about the farming for years. I've gotten somewhat used to loading into Freedom's PI and seeing a level 5 asking for a farming team. Now that kind of behavior is spreading to other servers, and it's honestly pathetic.

So, finally, Mr. Miller spoke up and laid down the law. The Mission Architecture System was going to get changed, and people who had power-leveled were facing everything from suspension of access to account bans. The result was a firestorm of posts, as Mr. Miller's 05/05/09 11:09 AM post received 1726 responses by 05/05/09 07:14 PM.

One of the points raised in Mr. Miller's throw-down was this:
Some of you have taken the stance of “how does powerlevelling hurt the game?” and “shouldn’t I be able to play the game the way that I want?

This isn't the first time I've heard that particular line. I joined City of Heroes shortly before Jack Emmert's Enhancement Diversification hit. Now, as a professional games journalist, I found the original design of CoH's enhancement system to be flawed, way back when Intel introduced me to CoH at their private Lan party, and long before I actually shelled out for the game. While I'm unable to find the postings now (possibly because I remember placing them on Gamenikki's long disabled forum system), I wrote how the lack of emphasis on different enhancement sets and benefits meant that a large portion of the game was unbalanced. In traditional RPG style games, a variation of character stats is needed to have a successful grouping. From Phantasy Star, to Grandia, to Final Fantasy, to insert your game here, the player generally needs to maintain a balance of their powers to play the game. For early City of Heroes then, it made no sense to me that the game would only emphasize the attributes of damage and defense / resistance. I agreed with the implementation of Enhancement Diversification as it pushed the need to focus on more than just taking damage or delivering damage. Status effects would once again matter, so importance was returned to the support classes. What I did not agree with was the timing of ED. The enhancement system was changed long after the game had been established. Nor did I agree with the followup's to ED. Some power sets, like Fire Aura for tanks, have never been rebalanced to account for the ED changes, an issue that raised it's head when Fire Aura was given to the scrapper archtype.

Many players of the game at that time were known to retort that ED didn't help them get immaginative with their builds, and slot how they wanted to slot. Many players said that if they wanted to slot 6 damage SO's for 3X damage, they should be allowed to play like that.

What many of these players fail to understand is that the game isn't theirs to do with as they please. There are some games, such as Unreal Tournament or Quake, that do provide the game player with the tools to do what they want to with the game. However, most games are built to provide you somebody else's vision of a game.

Remember Tabula Rasa, the MMO I didn't shut up about? What happened to it? Okay, it died, but why did it die? I say it died because Mr. Garriot gave control of the game to somebody who did not share the epic vision of what Tabula Rasa was, and what Tabula Rasa was supposed to be. With Mr. Garriot out of the way Tabula Rasa chased after the player-versus-player market, a market that didn't actually exist as NCSoft's painful financial losses demonstrated. Instead of focusing on the strengths of Tabula Rasa, which consisted of the team-based play, the massive fights against hordes of NPC's, the epic delivery of the story lines, and the instanced missions, the developers abandoned everything that made Tabula Rasa special during it's beta.

One of the problems with Tabula Rasa is that the developers at Destination Games did not have a handle on what they were making, why they were making what they were making, and how they were going to make what they were making. So, when somebody tossed them bad ideas, the developers went after the bad ideas. Unfortunantly, many of those bad ideas came from players who wanted something other than what had been created under Mr. Garriot.

Take a minute and look over console games, like Zelda, Jak & Daxter, Mario, Ratchet & Clank, or even Windows games like Half-Life. How many of these games give the player complete freedom to do whatever they want to do with the game? Well, none. When you play a normal video game, you play the game that the developers created, as the developers created them.

Now, in some cases, like with Half-Life, you do have the option of enabling cheat modes that let you do things like walk through walls, get infinite ammo, and so on. However, these modes are obviously cheat modes and by enabling them you know you are not playing the game as the developers intended.

For some reason, many MMO players seem to be of the opinion that playing the game as the developers intended does not apply to MMO's. Some people seem to think they should be allowed to abuse, or break, a MMO game in any way they want, to get any reward they want, at any time they want. Some people feel they should be able to take any character type in the game and make it play exactly like another character type.

Well, no. Just. No. Mr. Miller, and the entire staff at Paragon Studios for that matter, are responsible for designing their game, how they see fit, as they see fit, in any way they want. Paragon Studios does not have to accept any feedback for what they do, or change anything according to what players want. It is Paragon Studio's game.

Now, Paragon Studio's goal is make money. Paragon Studio makes money by creating a game that is enjoyable and fun to play for as many people as possible. To that end, it is beneficial for the game studio to act upon player feedback. If something is obviously broken in the game, the broken portion needs to be fixed. If something is out of balance, it needs to be rebalanced.

Sometimes though, in keeping to the vision of how their game is supposed to work, the developers are going to have to put their foot down and give a big fat NO to some of the desires the player base has. Sometimes the developers will have to take away earned rewards, ban accounts, limit access, or implement such punishments to maintain the integrity of the game. Sometimes such punishments might even extend to changing the way an entire character archtype works to enforce the playable behavior the devs want. Tabula Rasa might still be alive if Mr. Garriot's replacement had just responded to every PvP'ers request with NO followed by a new spam filter entry.

Now, there are some people, like me, who will argue that because we pay for the game, the developers should listen to what we have to say. Okay, that is true. I think developers should listen to their paying base... and since CoH has no free accounts, I think all requests should be taken seriously by the developers, no matter how ludicrous those requests are. That does mean that every now and then the developers are going to get requests that are going to get 1 second of serious consideration followed by 5 minutes of rolling on the floor laughing.

That being said, I do have other methods of getting my views across to the developers. I can vote with my wallet. If I really don't like what the developers are doing, or have done, I'll cancel my account. No nasty forum post, well, unless it's Planetside, then I am going to pull out the flame thrower, but regardless. No nasty forum post saying goodbye. No threats. Just open up PlayNC Account management, followed by a cancel of payment, followed by a delete from system.

Voting with your wallet will catch a developers or publishers attention a heck of a lot faster than a forum post or email.

And this latest move by Mr. Miller? Has me budgeting another $150 to continue playing his game for another year.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Why Desktop Linux isn't profitable

One of the more popular videos making the tech news rounds is Bryan Lunduke's Linux Sucks! video from LinuxFest NW. He makes several valid points, and covers one of my biggest problems with Open-Source development, the sheer number of duplicated efforts. I agree, I like KDE, but the development of Phonon kinda threw me for a loop. Why was KDE reinvinting the wheel? Linux sound is complicated, with many distro's having stuff like JACK, ALSA, OSS, Xine, Pulse, and so on. While I can't say that I'm a fan of the Gstreamer mentioned in the , mostly because it's a media backend like Xine and as far as I know not like ALSA or OSS, Fluendo's pay-for-codecs are only available with a Gstreamer backend.

One of the other points raised during the video presentation is that Red Hat says Desktop Linux isn't profitable, so they won't be doing Desktop Linux anymore. It's easier to see where Red Hat is coming from. When Red Hat sold their Linux alongside Windows in the likes of Comp USA, they weren't actually making a lot of money off of retail box sales. Warren Woodford of Mepis had to go back into the private sector as Mepis CD sales just weren't paying his bills, and Mepis still is heads and tails above the best efforts of all other user-friendly distributions.

So why is Desktop Linux not profitable? Well, for starters, the business model that most pursue is broken. As much as I dislike Microsoft and it's business practices, I do have to give Bill Gates credit for being right when it counted. Bill Gates was right about the money being in the software sales and not hardware sales for initial computer buyers. The business model of Microsoft focused getting their operating system installed as the default option on cheap, commodity, hardware. Microsoft's entire business model, even today, largely depends on people buying computers with Microsoft Windows installed, with no other options.

That model is broken. More and more people are having computers custom built. More and more people are using mobile devices as computers. It seems that nobody in Microsoft tried to figure out how their business model should change, if the market model that made their original business model possible changed.

A better example comes from the auto industry. It seems that nobody in the US Auto Industry stopped to think about what would happen if 95% of all people with driver's licenses had a car. It seemed nobody thought about what would happen if everybody who could afford to buy a car, did.

Well, some auto manufacturers did. So they started created obvious defects in their cars, designing and manufacturing cars that were not as reliable, or would fail due to cheaply made parts in only a few years. That way consumers would have to keep buying new cars in order to replace cars that would have still be running if they had only been better manufactured. So, consumer advocacy groups got involved and started mandating various engineering standards car manufacturers had to meet in order to guarantee the safety of passengers inside the vehicle. So the auto-industry started making cars that satisfied these new crash and safety regulations, but did so by designing cars that would effectively be destroyed as cars in a single fender bender... thus forcing anybody who was in a wreck to... yes, go out and buy another car.

Now the auto-industry, at least in the US, is paying dearly for its actions.

Over in the computer spectrum, many of these same business practices are observed. Dell, for example, explicitly designed many of their consumer computers with poor cooling, the idea being that the computer would thermally kill itself in under 2 years, forcing people to... go out and buy another computer.

Other manufacturers have gotten into the act as well. When my family first started buying computers, the computer store had dedicated training sessions. You went in and were taught how to use defrag. You were taught how to use scandisk. You were taught basic system maintence before you actually took the computer home.

Now, anybody can go into WalMart, plunk down $500, and get a fairly decent computer system, with absolutely no idea how to take care of it. When the computer gets full of malicious software... junk... and buy a new computer.

That's been the business model that Microsoft and most major computer vendors have worked under, and it's falling apart. Computer parts are not limited to hokey catalogs and expensive pricing anymore. Consumers aren't limited to what Dell and HP sell. One of the fastest growing market segments today is the Netbook format, essentially an ultra-lite laptop. While Linux is taking up 1/3 (or more) of these sales, which is great, it's doing so on mostly junk desktop enviroments. Can you imagine how well Dell's Linux systems would sell if they had chosen a distribution like Mepis over Ubuntu? Or just any KDE desktop over Gnome?

I'm getting away from the point then.

As a Operating-System package, Linux has never been in the position to be effectively offered as an install option. Even when Mepis made Desktop Linux usable back in 2003, most corporations selling computers couldn't care. Microsoft largely had it's Microsoft Tax on each computer sold... and the big Linux backers wouldn't do a thing about it.

Apple, for example, loves mixing it up with Microsoft, and presses the attack often with it's I'm a Mac, I'm a PC ads. Novell, despite having produced excellent responses to the Apple Ads... never put them on an ad-rotation.

While IBM has smacked Microsoft in the head with it's Linux Is Learning advertisements, that's been mostly for server sales. No other corporate sponsor of Linux has really gone out on a limb and freaking advertised.

At the same time, one of the biggest mis-conceptions about Linux is that everything has to have it's source-code opened up and nobody wants to buy anything. I left a rather nasty note on Champions-Online preview board that they didn't get it. Until Champions-Online offered Linux support in line with City of Hereos, I was going to keep paying for City of Heroes.

Most Linux users are willing to purchase software of a reasonable quality, and to purchase software at a reasonable price. However, a vast quantity of the software that has been sold for Linux hasn't been either. A good, or in this case bad, example is the Nero burning package. While Nero got around to releasing a version of their CD/DVD burning software for Linux, it barely had a quarter of K3B's feature list, and offered none of the audio / video editing software that made Nero on Windows a killer suite. Even the most recent version of Nero Burning Software for Linux still is exceedingly light on the software loadout. Okay, so the burner for Nero is only $13 in the US, and 20 Euro's elsewhere. K3B offers a better interface, with generally more options. Well, whether or not Nero likes it, offering even the same exact software package that one gets for free out of the box on a KDE distribution for any cost... simply isn't going to work. Now, include everything else that's in the Nero Windows? The audio editing and video editing software? Then it might be a package worth looking at.

Desktop Linux is in a position that it won't be profitable, because most corporations and business's don't know how to deal with Linux. Many try to deal with Linux using the Microsoft Business model. That hasn't worked, and won't work as the Microsoft model depends on marketing models never changing.

Okay, so how can Desktop Linux be profitable? Well, I'm not sure how to answer that, but I think Valve does have the answer. Valve runs a successful publishing operation with Steam, and if the latest numbers are any indication, competes against traditional brick-and-mortar stores like Gamestop on an uncomfortable for Gamestop level. Valve gets money not only from enabling independent developers like 2D boy to sell their wares alongside major publishers like Capcom. Valve provides the storefront, the cash-register, and the advertising options, and gets a bit of money from each sale. Apple, Nintendo, and Sony have all taken the Steam concepts, implemented them, and achieved some sucess. Microsoft has tried that as well, but anybody who has used Microsoft's Xbox 360 store probably agrees with me that it's typical of Microsoft software... shoddy, and not that good.

In the same way, I think Desktop Linux can be profitable by vendors moving to offer a similar unified storefront. The Desktop Linux vendor hosts the servers, manages the storefront, and packages the software, and gets a cut off of the sale price. Such a marketing model has been tried before under Linux, with the Lindows / Linspire Click'n'Run repositories. While Michael Robertson possibly had the right idea, his love of direct conflict with Microsoft was more like sabatoge than anything else.

I think though, such market options may be available...

However, much like the Linux Sucks! video, whether or not anything is actually done to address these problems... is a question that still needs to be answered.