Friday, November 24, 2006 Xbox Deal

It sounded too good to be true. has a deal where you get to vote on one of four items to go on sale the next week. And, the first week, Xbox 360 for $100! Needless to say, the other three items (a bike, some barbie, and some membership thingy) were all lame, and Xbox got over 80% of the votes.

I had literally just bought a 360, mostly as a hedge in case I did not get this deal. If I got it... I'd probably give my promo code to Kyna if she didn't get hers, or add it to my ebay pile. I slept restlessly all night, constantly checking the clock. Finally got up, put on a robe, and started hitting refresh.

Everything went well until about 10:58am where the servers simply would not give me any kind of connection. This lasted for several minutes, until finally I thought "why not try https"... which I did. And it was instant. But to no avail, by then it was too late and they were sold out.

Lots of people are complaining that it was handled badly - the inability to handle the compulsive refreshers, the limited quantities, the awkward captcha involved. Even talk of BBB complaints. But seriously, I'm not sure what people expected. Even if the servers worked perfectly (and you can't expect they would for a spike this huge), the odds would still be stacked well against you.

So, I go back to my Xbox which I paid far too much for, and play more Geometry Wars. Next week there's a portable DVD player for sale. I doubt they'll be quite as popular....

The lesson: when you're looking for a deal, https can be your friend :D

Xbox Arrives

It's been a personal point of shame for our company - we beat the competition to market by a whole year for the next generation gaming console, but we wouldn't even sell them to our own employees. Now, with the recent (and very sold out) release of the Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation 3, I suppose that those in power finally decided that they couldn't live with the Nintendo and Sony employees talking wise about us poor Microsofties as they picked up their respective consoles on or before the release day (yes Kyna, I know you're thinking it... :p).

At our company meeting, they made a promise to us. "By Thanksgiving, you will be able to buy Xbox 360, and the new Zune music player at the company store."
[ed. note: for you Canadians in the audience, down South, Thanksgiving is in November - see this editorial for an analysis of the American significance of the holiday]

True to their word, the very last day before the Thanksgiving holiday, the store was filled with thousands of both. And I don't mean like 100, like your average Toys 'R Us getting a new Wii shipment - I'm talking shelves full, entire pallets stacked with them - where no matter how long the line, there's more for employees to buy.

Sadly, the Zune has little appeal to it in its current version, and the Xbox 360 came bundled with crap, but I couldn't help my selfish impulsiveness, so I picked the Xbox 360 up. And thus the Lords of Metal were displeased, for this purchase was no tribute to them. So, of course, the hard drive didn't work. And being Thanksgiving, I don't get to take it back until Monday.

Let me tell you something about the Xbox 360. It's very friendly - everything is designed around a Gamer Profile of sorts. This, of course, must be stored, normally on a hard drive or memory card. Without a profile, most things just don't work.

So, sadly, I have a box that pretty much does nothing but play Geometry Wars.

Ironically, and more than a little sadly, that's more or less what I bought the console for. A $435 bundle for a stupid and ridiculously addictive arcade game.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Microsoft Windows Vista RTMs!

Yes, that's right folks, as of November, the new big beast out of Redmond, Microsoft Windows Vista, was "released to master"... "went gold"... or for you non-software folks.... IT'SA DONE!

We had a party to celebrate. Sadly, with our head Windows exec leaving, it was one hell of a lame party. But, on the plus side, as a reward we get this whole next week off. ... of course, I have three weeks of work both at home and at work to accomplish, so not much of a holiday for me... but whatever...

Today, I'm going to address the one big question I've been getting a lot: do you want Windows Vista?

Well, for you folks buying new computers, it's a moot issue - they'll be installing Vista on them, and you might as well partake. For you folks who aren't upgrading for awhile, it'll be on the retail shelves in January for around the same price as XP, or very cheap if you're a friend of mine and ask for a copy.

First off, does your machine have the power to take advantage of Vista? Odds are, surprizingly, almost all of you do have more than enough computing power to run it at the same speed as XP. While a lot was added, they did put in a lot of effort into performance. While a few things may seem slow, overall, things will be plenty responsive. If you don't have a good video card, the "glass" eyecandy can be turned off easily enough, processor requirements are not unusually high, and hard drives are huge anyways. You will need a DVD reader to install - Vista comes on a DVD. One thing I don't suggest you skimp on is RAM - Vista is very sensitive to low memory conditions, and it just eats up the memory like no tomorrow. At home I use 1GB, and I'd suggest 2GB in any corporate environment that requires you to run a lot of management software, and/or you're running a 64-bit machine.

Now, what does Vista give you that you're going to want?

Well, first off, a lot of the Windows add-ons for XP are now included - the final version of Windows Defender (hey, I work on Windows Defender, it has to be first on the list) for awesome lightweight spyware protection, and an enhanced version of Internet Explorer 7 that has additional security protection. For you less-than-safety-conscious people, the thing you'll enjoy most is that they finally have support for tabs, a search bar, and RSS feed support..

For those of you with media center PCs (or wanted one), you're probably well aware that you can't buy Windows XP Media Center edition from stores - it's only sold with new Media Center computers. Well no more, Windows Media Center is included with Vista, allowing you to record and watch live TV, store movies, etc. It's hella slick, and will make you want to get a TV tuner and remote control.

Those of you lucky enough to own tablets, they also bundle all the tablet goodies into the OS too.

Have a 64-bit processor? You're likely aware that the 64-bit functionality is useless without a supporting OS. If you're one of the rare few who ran Windows XP 64, you know how painful it can be to get drivers and deal with app compatability. Well on Vista, they REALLY want you to have proper 64-bit support, and most of the OS has 64-bit versions binaries. 64-bit drivers are widely available. Support for 32-bit apps is rock solid on the 64-bit machine too.

There's an integrated search, similar to Google's Desktop Search, that very quickly finds files on your hard drive. The cool part is things like Outlook automatically tie into that, so your emails will even show up in your search, right from the start menu.

There's the Windows Sidebar - a little side panel with gadgets including a weather display, calendar, stock ticker, sticky notes, and a bunch of other neat things.

... and finally, a bunch of UI updates, some of which are confusing, others of which are very cool. They genuinely want things to be easy for you.

Downside? The big one people talk about is that they don't like User Account Control. Basically, when you want to run something that needs admin rights, it greys out the screen and asks permission to do so. This includes things like installing programs or new Internet Explorer plugins, using parts of the control panel, etc. Many people whine a lot that this is annoying, and in fact represent it as the key failing of Vista. But I look at it this way: IT SHOULD BE ANNOYING! Each time you get the prompt, you're doing something to significantly change your machine, and you should be aware of it. I'll get no more "I didn't do anything, the computer just stopped working right", because YOU'LL KNOW you did something because it grays out the screen and gives you a warning. I almost never get prompts after I installed everything. I'm very happy.

So, I didn't really answer the question of whether or not you want Vista. Not directly anyways. But if the things I said above seem to appeal to you, let me know and I'll pick up a copy.

... and yes, you can upgrade from XP. We all tested that... a lot... a lot a lot.

PS. Get Office 12. It kicks ass. The new ribbon UI takes a lot of getting used to, but it's a serious improvement on the old Office. Especially Outlook 12 - I'm a huge fan of the new Outlook, and I think you will be too.