Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

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A look at iOS 7: the good, the bad and the same

Written by Colton Chesnut on . Posted in Tech

Here I was sitting and watching the live broadcast of WWDC and I thought, “Things have really changed with these Apple events.” I don’t want to get all uber-nostalgic with fanboy grandeur or anything, but I do have a comment on certain aspects of the Apple keynote that were completely missing from Monday morning’s presentation of iOS 7. In a word, defense. In a few more words … I know that Tim Cook is not Steve Jobs. I don’t expect him to be. However, when you wield a company like Apple, you don’t have to justify to your audience that you still do incredible things. We know that. The problem is, we expect that. I don’t propose we give a book by Stephen Covey to Tim Cook, I just remember that in the past an Apple keynote felt more like a cult-ish mob rally and less like a formal apology at a public trial.

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Gaming Future Is Almost Here

Written by Jon Schwarzmann on . Posted in Tech

Last year at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, Microsoft and Sony announced game-changing technologies (literally) and, unless you’re a gamer, you probably haven’t heard of them. Both have to do with user motion-control for the Xbox and PlayStation 3, which directly encroaches on Nintendos long-standing and popular gimmick.

Except Microsoft is taking a different route than the motion controller. They’re taking the controller completely out of the equation by using a host of sensors designed to read your body. Yep, pretend like you’re driving a car, shooting a gun or even fishing and you can play your favorite driving, shooter and fishing games.  If this sounds good to you, then you’re the exact kind of gamer the monopolistic company is looking for, which is to say you’re not (a gamer, that is). You see, this sort of virtual technology has never caught on, and yes, this isn’t its first incarnation.

I remember playing VR games in Vegas nearly ten years ago, and it was lame. Why? Because if you’re pretending to grip a steering wheel, aim a gun or cast a net and there’s nothing in your hand, then you’re going to have no connection with the game you’re playing. But isn’t that the point of video games — to play them, to disconnect from reality? Oh wait, that’s what all entertainment is designed to do. Maybe that’s the thing: to reach a level of gaming where you don’t feel like you’re playing a game. Perhaps this is supposed to make the virtual world more real.  It’s an interesting concept and is the entire idea behind Project Natal. It’s also a giant gamble.

Home Invasion: Netflix, the Game Console and You

Written by Jon Schwarzmann on . Posted in Tech

Chances are you either have Netflix, know someone that does, or at least watched a Netflixed movie. The hugely successful online movie rental giant somewhat recently launched their “Watch Instantly” option for all their plans, giving users lightning fast access to hundreds of movies, as long as their internet connection allows it. In fact, Netflix has provided the perfect solution for my weekly movie night with Jordan Petersen, using the economical $8.99 one-at-a-time plan to rent our flick, while still allowing us to stream movies individually throughout the week. It’s the perfect fix for any cinephile.

Last year, Netflix teamed up with Microsoft to provide Xbox 360 systems the ability to stream “Watch Instantly” movies straight to your living room (Xbox Live Gold membership required, $7.99 per month).  This was a smart move by Netflix, but of course Microsoft had to get their greedy hold on such a lucrative venture, forcing Netflix to sign a two-year agreement. The details are a bit fuzzy, but it appears the deal calls for Netflix to stay away from offering their services via any other gaming consoles.

TECH: Google's New Plan For World Domination

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

On July 7th , at around midnight, the official Google blog announced the next phase in the company’s plan for global domination. (I’m half-joking). They announced the development of the Google Chrome Operating System, the follow-up and natural extension of the Chrome Internet browser Google released a year ago. Chrome OS will be an open-source operating system that will begin arriving on netbooks sometime in 2010.

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Netbook (left)

For the uninitiated, netbooks are small, lightweight and compact laptop computers. This class of PCs generally feature smaller processors and hard drives then their bigger counterparts. However, they are ideal for travelers who mainly need Internet access and don’t want to lug around a 17-inch Dell boat anchor to do so. Hence the name: “netbooks.” Because these computers are essentially designed for Internet use, they generally run Windows XP or sometimes even Linux. During the ongoing global recession, netbook sales have skyrocketed due to their lower costs (most netbooks cost between $200-$400) and the market is currently booming (certain reports suggest a 260% growth in sales just this year).

Google’s foray into the operating system market has largely been seen as inevitable for quite some time. While Google’s # 1 priority has been and always will be its search engine, they have slowly but surely begun to creep into other areas with programs like Gmail and other Google apps. Last year Google released Chrome, a browser meant to compete with Internet Explorer and Firefox. Chrome received mostly positive reviews and has gained a 1.8% market share of the worldwide Internet browser usage since its release in September 2008. At the same time Chrome was released, Google also debuted Android, an operating system for celular phones. Android was designed to compete with the iPhone, Blackberry, Palm and Windows mobile telephone operating systems used on smartphones.

So it didn’t seem that much of a stretch to think that Google would enter the operating system market at some point. Microsoft’s Windows OS has dominated the personal computing market for years. The only two competitors they have faced are Apple and Linux. I’m sure most people are familiar with the Mac vs. PC debate by now, thanks largely to those cheeky Apple commercials with John Hodgman and Justin Long, and I won’t go into that. For those not in the know, Linux is an open source operating system, meaning that it is free and anyone with the prerequisite know-how can take the operating system and modify it however they want. As a result, there are thousands of different versions of Linux available for free. While this is one of Linux’s greatest strengths, it is also one of its greatest weaknesses because there has never been a unified attempt to make one version that works best for everyone.

Enter Google. Chrome OS will be an operating system based on Linux and made primarily for netbooks. So far HP, Acer, Adobe, Texas Instruments and others have all voiced their support for Chrome. The OS is said to boot up in seconds and be competely impervious to viruses and other security flaws present in PCs. Chrome will focus on the web. The goal is for Chrome to be extremely lightweight, essentially just a shell of an operating system that can get you online in seconds, so you can use Web-based (sometimes referred to as “cloud”) applications, including programs like Google Docs and Gmail that run completely on the Internet.

This presents a unique set of problems for Google to overcome. For example, what happens when you’re in a location without Wi-Fi, like an airplane? Without an Internet connection, your Chrome-based netbook essentially becomes a paperweight. Undoubtedly, netbook makers will try and counter this by selling cheap netbooks with 3G wireless cards built in, providing Internet wherever you can get a cell signal. Privacy issues also arise. If you are using Chrome OS, all your documents, photos, music, etc. will be stored not on your hard drive, but on Google’s servers (a.k.a. “the cloud”) where anything can happen. Google could concieveably know everything about what we do on our Chrome-based computers. Competition will also be an issue: don’t expect Microsoft to sit quiet during all this. They will undoubtedly start a smear campaign to point out all the flaws in Chrome. Furthermore, Windows 7 has purposefully been designed to be netbook friendly and will undoubtedly be a hit when it’s released this fall.

The announcement of Chrome also creates one very important question: What is Google’s ultimate goal? Do they really expect to bring down Microsoft and Apple? Realistically, that’s about as likely as me writing an entire column without mentioning the iPhone. While I’m sure Chrome will be a serious effort, many are questioning if the OS isn’t Google simply trying to make a statement. The company has said they believe Web-based applications are the future of personal computing. Is Chrome OS nothing more than an attempt to keep Microsoft on its toes and force them to compete by creating an operating system more conducive to running cloud applications? Even if Chrome ultimately fails to take off, Google will have pushed the entire industry toward Web-based apps. Perhaps their ultimate goal is to have a plethora of online applications, available via an iTunes-esque app store, that could run through the Chrome browser on Windows, Mac or Linux.

Of course, that is the ultimate cynic’s view. When it comes down to it, Google just wants to see ads. Chrome OS allows the company to collect even more data about its users and slap Google ads on everything you do. Working on a doc? See an ad. Looking at your digital photos? See an ad. Is Google really trying to change the industry for the better, or do they really just want you to know that you can bid on a cheap new iPhone 3G S at Swoopo.com?

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondent for Rhombus. Surprisingly, he somehow managed to complete an entire article without mentioning Twitter.

TECH: Microsoft Announces Lower Prices For Windows 7

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

Microsoft announced the price points for their new, much hyped Windows 7 operating system on Wednesday. The product is slated for release later this year.

The software giant’s monopolistic approach to doing business has backfired in the past few years, starting with the release of the much maligned Windows Vista in January 2007. After Vista users experienced security, compatibility, functionality and pricing issues at the time of release, a massive backlash ensued and Microsoft has been trying to stop the bleeding ever since. Microsoft’s dominance of the operating system market was challenged in 2008 as their market share dropped below 90% for the first time ever, while competitor Apple gained their highest market share in the company’s recent history.

Hoping to stem the tide of criticism, Microsoft has changed their MO for their new operating system, releasing a public beta for free (which is still available for download from the company’s Web site.) The Windows 7 Beta has received overwhelmingly good reviews as it fixed many of the issues that plagued its predecessor, and many people have found that the “Beta” version is good enough to use as their day-to-day operating system. With all of the hype, Microsoft is hoping that Windows 7 will help them retake their lost market share and, as such, introduced more aggressive price points then the those used for Vista:

  • Firstly, beginning Friday and running through July 11th, customers currently using a PC running Windows XP or Vista will be eligible to receive an early upgrade price of $49 for Windows 7′s Home Edition and 99$ for the Professional Edition. This is a record low price for Microsoft and I suggest PC users take advantage of this before the July 11th deadline. This is a limited time offer and can be bought through Microsoft, Amazon, Best Buy and most other major retailers.
  • Interestingly enough, also beginning Friday, customers who buy a copy of Vista (or a PC that comes equipped with Vista) will receive a free upgrade to Windows 7 when the software hits shelves. DO NOT BUY A PC TODAY, WAIT TILL TOMORROW.
  • When the full version of Windows 7 is released, customers upgrading from Vista or XP will pay $119 for the Home Edition, $199 for the Professional Edition or $219 for the Ultimate Edition. This is a $40 cut from price Microsoft charged for the Vista Home upgrade, although the Professional and Ultimate versions are similarly priced. Users who need a clean copy of Windows and are not upgrading from Vista or XP will be set back $199 for the Home Edition, $299 for the Professional and $319 for Ultimate. The Ultimate and Professional editions are, again, on par with the price charged for their Vista counterparts, while the Home edition is down from the $239 price tag on its Vista predecessor.

Even though Microsoft is charging lower rates for Windows 7, they still have found themselves undercut by the boys in Cupertino who, at the Apple keynote at the Worldwide Developers Conference a few weeks ago, announced that the newest version of Mac OS X, dubbed “Snow Leopard,” will be available to current Mac users for only $29.

Windows 7 is currently slated for an October 22nd release. In the meantime, the Beta version is still available for free from the Microsoft Web site and will continue to function until March 2010, at which point users will be forced to upgrade and reinstall the operating system.

To try Windows 7 for yourself, visit Microsoft’s Web site.

Ben Wagner is a technology contributor for Rhombus. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.

TECH REVIEW: Mozilla Firefox 3.5 Release Candidate

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I began using Mozilla’s open source web browser Firefox in 2005 — and I haven’t looked back since.

With every new iteration of the browser, I’ve seen Mozilla upgrade the speed and compatibility of Firefox. With Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 showing significant speed upgrades, Apple’s Safari 4 boasting impressive Java benchmark results, and Google’s Chrome gaining ground, the pressure was on for the development team at Mozilla. They finally unveiled the release candidate for Firefox 3.5 this week and, after a few days of using it, I have my first impressions.

(Now, we must keep in mind that this is only a release candidate and in all likelihood there will be changes made before the final version is released.)

Firefox 3.5 adds some new features not found in previous versions. Some of the new aesthetic additions include improved private browsing (sometimes referred to as “porn mode”), which allows the user to view internet pages while the browser conveniently leaves the site out of the browsing history and doesn’t store any cookies the site would have placed on your computer. Mozilla also added a “forget this site” feature, which allows users to enter their history and remove any references to or from a particular site. There is also a “delete recent browsing history” option, which allows users to delete all information about what pages they have visited within a particular time frame (i.e. in the past hour, etc.) All these new features come in handy when your wife checks your browsing history to, uh, “see what gift you were going to get her for her birthday…” Mozilla also made improvements to the tabs on Firefox, allowing you to pull a tab off the browser and create a new browser window instantaneously. Other new features include more advanced color profiles and location based browsing.

The team has also been hard at work on the internals of the browser, features which aren’t necessarily obvious to the average user. One of the features the team seems most excited about is the way Firefox handles video in version 3.5. If a page is written in HTML 5 with a video in an open source format, the video is treated just as part of the page, not as a separate flash video. This helps push the web towards a more seamless integration of text and video.

Another internal upgrade with version 3.5 is the creation of a new JavaScript engine called Tracemonkey. Mozilla claims that Tracemonkey is 20-40 times faster then the Spidermonkey engine used in previous versions of Firefox. Early benchmark tests done by the team at LifeHacker don’t seem to reflect this, and show that Safari 4 and Chrome are still ahead of the game in the speed department, although Firefox is still the lightest on your system and far ahead of Internet Explorer.

After using the new browser for a few days, I feel there is a reason Firefox has gained such a large market share over the last few years (up to 22% by some reports). While it may still lag behind Chrome and Safari when it comes to speed, Firefox is much more compatible than Chrome and much more secure then Safari — not to mention that running Safari on Windows is a joke. Firefox is also available on Mac, Linux and Windows, unifying your browsing experience no matter what operating system you use. With all the available add-ons for Firefox, it is still the most customizable of all the browsers and allows you to add functionality for whatever you need to do. Firefox is still my browser of choice and should be yours too.

Download the Firefox 3.5 RC for Windows, Linux or Mac here, or check out the Mozilla Foundation for more info about other Mozilla Projects.

Ben Wagner is a technology contributor for Rhombus. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ben_wagner.