Phil Fish, Fez 2, and Twitter: The Polytron Dramatron

The Polytron Dramatron: Phil Fish, Fez 2, and TwitterWhat’s a Phil Fish? We’ll get to that. I’m sure the lot of you who come around these parts are enthusiasts of all sorts of tech hobbies and that’s, you know, what brings you to this site. You come here for information, you come to read about advances in technology, how the Internet works, and to watch Chris and Diana Pirillo dork around on the vlogs or embed you with a slice of tech life. I dig that. That’s a good reason, you know? Easy, breezy, Covergirl, you know?

Once in a while though, you stumble on something and you think: what in the hell does this mean? Can someone break this down for me? I may not be able to tell you how to partition your Linux hard drive, and I can’t possibly explain to you what kind of coffee maker is better than the other, but I can give you some good ol’ fashion truth talk about gaming, the industry around it, and the people involved.

That’s what brings us here. I’ve had a lot of feedback in the recent days about the Phil Fish drama surrounding Fez 2, Polytron, and the non-stop feeding frenzy of the Internet around it and why a community of gamers, tech enthusiasts, and humans should care.

Who is Phil Fish? What is Fez? What is Going On?

Phil Fish is the creator of Fez, an indie game that had been one of several focused pieces in Indie Game: The Movie. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Fish was having several issues with being the creator of this game and seemed to not be terribly rooted in reality when it came to his game and the process. Phil Fish and Renaud B├ędard had announced their game, Fez, during the Independent Games Festival in 2008 only to not actually release it until 2012 after a series of setbacks had riddled the Polytron duo. So Fish takes on Ken Schachter as a new partner and, after near meltdowns at every turn, starts to see the light of day. Fez releases in 2012 with some crushing bug issues that led to him going public with many of his gripes about the fees involved in patching and such. Nothing big, right?

Phil Fish is an indie developer and it’s hard to remember that these are creative minds in a fishbowl (no pun intended). They’re working on their game; they are essentially the only thing standing between the world at large and something they’ve personally spent years on crafting and perfecting. Sometimes, as one can see from how gloriously over-saturated of a mind that Jonathan Blow has, it’s easy to forget those things.

Fez is a brightly colored, two-dimensional game in a three-dimensional world featuring a hero named Gomez. There’s nothing of depth and disorder here, but it’s a beautiful and innocent thing to behold. Inside the game are tiny little moments and nuggets of Fish’s own perceptions and you can see where he couldn’t help but go back and rebuild and adapt new concepts over and over again. He wanted perfection. People lauded Fez for being so entertaining and for giving a new look to independent gaming — but few dug deeper into the length of time it took to put this game together due to Phil Fish’s untouched OCD.

I could go on and on about the time spent between the game’s final release and the bug patch debate where Phil Fish stood his ground and refused to patch his broken game until Microsoft would go easy on the heavy patch fees. I could sit and talk about the heavy-handed statements that Fish made about himself and about gaming and where he fit into it, and I could do more to probably destroy his credibility as one of the beautiful indie game developers out there who was on the side of the gamer and not the developers in big studios.

I have no reason to do that.

So What Happened Then? Why Are People So Mad?

The Polytron Dramatron: Phil Fish, Fez 2, and TwitterRecently, someone went on the record during a podcast and called out Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow (of “Braid” fame) for getting angry at publications for asking questions about their games, their upcoming games, or even the documentary in which they were involved. Game Informer broke a story recently about Microsoft confirming independent self-publishing, which was big news because Sony had already stated that’s what it was doing for its next-gen console. Game Informer reached out to multiple Indie studios and, of course, Fish and Blow were on the list because their games were well-noted in the past couple of years and they’ve been extremely vocal about their opinions. It was never beneath either one of them to come out with both guns a-blazin’ and set the stage for everyone to hear what they thought on these topics. Phil Fish was always the most mouthy of the duo while Jonathan Blow tended to stick to the shadows and come out on comments and forums to speak his mind. Fish, however, used Twitter as a stage for the world to listen to his gripes.

Not this time.

No, instead of actually responding via email, the two of them took to Twitter and Phil Fish was the one stepping forward with the most hatred to spit toward game journalists who were doing their job. Microsoft giving free reign to independent developers was a massive deal and when multiple outlets like Joystiq, Polygon, IGN, and many more had gone to confirm it, the company wanted to get reactions from independents who had made a big splash. Microsoft hadn’t yet confirmed it, but would be doing so within a brief interlude; while it was waiting on that confirmation, Phil Fish had taken to Twitter and called out everyone who had asked him anything.

Fish damned the journalists who had reported on the story and basically stated they were reporting on “rumors” and acted completely irrationally while even being offensive to anyone who might’ve talked about the story. Game Informer broke the story on Microsoft and so, when Microsoft confirmed it, Fish never backtracked. No, he continued his tirade because now he had gone up against journalists for no real reason whatsoever. These are people who are paid and imbued in an industry that is about not just breaking stories but about bringing information to the enthusiasts who watch their feeds to find these things out. Fish and Blow chastised and condemened anyone who dared ask them about something as innocent and innocuous as this — and subsequently jerked each other off in a malaise of nasty tweets and retweets that went on for hours.

Finally, someone had enough of it. Marcus Beer, known as AnnoyedGamer on Twitter, took to a podcast and discussed his irritation at the two of them for being prima donnas over the whole situation. (I’ve included a clip of the podcast that started the fire toward Marcus). There wasn’t even a lengthy second or two before Fish got wind of it and the back and forth became a wildfire. Beer wasn’t backing down whatsoever, but Fish seemingly couldn’t continue to take the Twitter banter and even physical threats were being thrown around, apologies demanded, and the likes of something you wouldn’t see coming from a big name studio.

It got nasty.

What Happened When the Dust Settled?

Phil Fish has stated time and time again that he hates when his tweets are used as “news,” but then doesn’t respond to requests for email correspondence, which leads people to use his tweets as the only form of confirmation of his ideas. Yes, we’re supposed to come at them and ask questions and we’re supposed to know how they feel about things — that is the job of a paid journalist. When you’re asked to get news on something, you get news on something. Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow have never made it easy whatsoever unless you played on their terms. Being indie game developers, they have all the cards in their hands.

Fish proved that when he cancelled Fez 2.

The Polytron Dramatron: Phil Fish, Fez 2, and Twitter

Confirmed by Polytron, the company that houses Phil Fish, Fez, and the properties around it, Fez 2 was cancelled mere moments after the drama had started. It seemed that this could’ve just been a mild meltdown and that, once cooler heads and investors could talk some sense into Fish, we could see a reversal. Instead, he went to Twitter and said he was quitting the industry and went on endlessly about irresponsibility on the Internet. The mob had gone after him for his reckless words and instead of sucking it up and brushing it off because of the strong following he has for his game, he quit. I have said a thousand times that the mob mentality of the Internet can be a dangerous thing, but in this case, it was about standing up for the right thing.

When Phil Fish tore apart game journalists of all makes and models, he was essentially pissing on the people who were there to tell his story. As if Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish thought they were debutantes and Game Informer was TMZ, they acted as if they were being preyed upon when they weren’t. They were being hoisted up and their voices were offered into publication in a story that could’ve garnered them and their upcoming titles the proper attention by being included. This wasn’t Kanye West ripping a camera out of the hand of a ruthless paparazzo who was getting too close to him as he was trying to leave an airport; this was innocent questioning about an important topic. This is about some kid getting shitty on the Internet and questioning the integrity of people who fight hard and work hard daily to do their jobs and do them, not just for the paycheck, but for the love of the game.

So you can see why people would get a bit heated, yeah?

Where Do We Get Off?

I’m all about the facts, you know? I know when I wanted to get to the depth of how far this rabbit hole went with Phil Fish, Fez 2, and Polytron, that I should go to multiple sources close to the situation and ask questions — and yes, I included those facts. However, I have to admit that it burns my gut to hear and see how and what mark this left on these people. These aren’t the random WordPress bloggers and these aren’t the Twitter and YouTube personalities who don’t grind daily; these are the journalists. To hear the anger and hurt they feel over being shamed for doing their job and to their best ability sets me on fire. I know what it’s like to be called out for an opinion, but these aren’t opinions and ideas, but actual facts. When you start screaming at people over fact, you become part of the problem.

Now that Phil Fish has essentially yanked the tablecloth out from under the china, nobody wants to touch him. Why would anyone want to? You will see people come to Fish’s aid as fellow designers and state that you have to keep going for the audience — and that’s true to a degree — but where is the option for him wanting to? For needing to? It’s a gamble you take when you mess around with indie game designers at any level because they’re not housed by big studios. In a big triple A studio, if one developer goes “Fuck this, I’m out. Someone on Twitter was a dick,” then you find another person for that seat and the game keeps moving. You piss off someone who creates a game with the help of one other person and they can easily pocket the cash, flip the world off, and go pout in some remote corner where they can lick their wounds.

The Polytron Dramatron: Phil Fish, Fez 2, and TwitterI wasn’t innocent in my vitriol toward Phil Fish and his behavior, because it’s not the first time he’s acted out this way. As I saw it, he and Jonathan Blow went after people I cared about and no amount of “PR responses” could atone for that kind of blood in the water. I can’t be nice when you go after my own, and those people who damn a writer’s integrity because of their fragile self-image, well, they need to be talked to. Write all of your open letters to Phil Fish and disregard the Twitter battles and none of it matters in the long run. What matters is that designers and journalists alike need to realize that we can’t evolve in this industry if we don’t work together. Stop seeing everyone writing about your game or your product as an enemy and go to them as the person who is trying to spread a message. Did they mess up some facts? Are they not being impartial enough? Talk to them about it in a way that isn’t eviscerating them in a public forum, because that’s not how you get known for being one of the greats.

Can you imagine Shigeru Miyamoto taking someone to task for asking honest, simple questions?

No? Yeah, me either.

Images from author’s Twitter feed and Frits Ahlefeldt with editing.

PlayStation Plus By Sony Deconstructed

Deconstructing Sony's PlayStation Plus ServiceIs PlayStation Plus worth your while? Do you find yourself straddling the lines between your economic decisions and being a video game enthusiast? We all do. Seriously, look at the costs of being into any hobby nowadays and they’re pretty nuts. LEGO bricks? LEGO sets are insane. I could have bought an Xbox One with the amount of cash it set me back to buy the LEGO Hogwarts Castle. Yeah, hobbies are just plain damned expensive — but there are some companies out there that are doing what they can… and Sony is one of them.

I know that the lot of you may recall my articles about E3, Sony, and the Microsoft conference, but I want you to put all that out of your head. See, this is just about what Sony is doing with its PlayStation Plus subscription service and we can leave our loyalist natures behind. Let’s just talk facts — with a few sprinkles and dashes of love and adoration — for a service I’ve been a faithful member of for over a year now.

How PlayStation Plus Works

Let’s face it: games are just full-on expensive right now, and to buy a “Triple A” title on the day of release, you’re going to usually drop $60. There’s no way around it. That amazing game I talked about last week — The Last of Us — was $60 and I played through it once. It’s a beautiful and stunning game, but I have a child and a family, and a livelihood that depends on me not going bonkers and spending hundreds of dollars on a handful of games.

For $50 a year, Sony will set you up with an instant game collection that is constantly evolving and changing. When I first came upon PlayStation Plus, it was at E3 2012 when the company introduced us to the fact that it was massively expanding the collection and the output. As of that year, we had an incredible breadth of games that we could choose from, such as Infamous, Resident Evil 5, Borderlands, Little Big Planet 2, and literally dozens upon dozens of other games. Starting this year, we were excited to see Darksiders, Vanquish, Spec Ops: The Line, Sleeping Dogs, Saints Row: The Third, Uncharted 3, XCOM, and Battlefield 3. Yes, that sounds like a ton, right? That’s just a small smattering. That’s not including the indie titles, including favorites of mine like Dungeon Defenders and Telltale’s The Walking Dead.

Every single week, Sony updates its store with new games to add to your instant game collection, and the value can be definitely priced up easily. If you were to count up all of the titles that I listed up there, price-check them, and then jot them down, you would’ve saved nearly a grand, if not more. It’s a fascinating system, but if you say “Well, for the games I play, that isn’t worth it,” then this isn’t for you. If you find yourself playing mostly sports games, this isn’t for you. While sometimes we get games like NBA Jam: On Fire Edition or NFL Blitz, we rarely get games that are considered to be the “Big Sports” games. As I see it, Sony looks at what its audience wants, discusses it with publishers, and must weigh out the price points and what it can offer.

That’s not to say that every week is a brilliant one. One week, you’ll get an amazing game and some killer discounts, but the next week you may see a game you don’t care for. Personally, I couldn’t get behind Deus Ex: Human Revolution. That didn’t stop me, however, from downloading it to try it. Where PlayStation Plus flourishes is in that sweet spot. Where people say, “Oh, man. I had heard about that, but didn’t want to drop the $40-$60 to try it out. It’s here now!” And that’s where I sit. Games like Sleeping Dogs, Spec Ops: The Line, and XCOM weren’t even titles I was remotely considering until they came out on PlayStation Plus. It opened me up to styles of games that I loved and I was able to add more stories and experiences in that I wouldn’t have normally had.

PlayStation Plus is Not Just About Free Games, Folks!

While PlayStation Plus has a huge, huge collection of games you can get instantly when you sign up for the service, there’s always a chunk waiting for you. There are also really great sales available. Sometimes, sales are only open to PlayStation Plus members. Sometimes, a sale is made better for PlayStation Plus members. Just this month, we were given the Summer Sale, where I picked up several games for under $10 — and in some cases, $5. The discounts are a huge plus, but so are the trials. Yes, keep in mind I said “trials” and not just demos. PlayStation Plus members can sometimes get treated to timed trials of full games instead of just demos that let the member a little deeper into a game they’re interested in before buying it. This is actually what led me to pine for and need Kingdoms of Amalur. Having the chance to go past just a single instance like you would in a limited demo and getting an hour to explore the world was just what I needed to get my hooks in.

Did I mention the cloud? Yes, Sony has finally embraced cloud saving. In doing so, PlayStation Plus members get to save their games to a cloud that aids them in transferring between systems and keeps everything nice, safe, and secure should hardware have a fault or a system is upgraded. PlayStation Plus members get automatic downloads of betas that regular members do not get, which means early access as well as automatic updates to the system once it’s turned off.

PlayStation Plus Subscription Not Required… Yet

While in the current iteration, you are not required to use the PlayStation Plus subscription service in order to play multiplayer games; you will need PlayStation Plus service for the upcoming generation PlayStation 4 console, though. Right now, however, Sony prides itself on the fact that it refuses to make you pay twice to use things like Netflix, Hulu, and more. That’s not a subtle dig at Microsoft; it’s a calculated strike from someone who used to have an Xbox Gold membership. Sony knows you’re already paying for those services and even with the PS4, you still won’t need PlayStation Plus in order to utilize other paid subscription services. However, those of us who are early adopters to the service don’t seem to have an issue with needing PlayStation Plus in order to play multiplayer, and if I look at my list, 80% of them have PlayStation Plus as it is. There’s a reason for that.

PlayStation Plus is a damned good service.

Look, I’m not going to sell you on something you don’t need. If you don’t have the time to finish one game and don’t want to dedicate time into one or feel like you’re paying for constant games that you’ll not get to, don’t buy this. If you only prefer a specific type of game, like sports or RPG games, this isn’t for you. I can’t promise — and neither can Sony — that you’ll get what you want. There are casual games and fun titles as well as massive action games and titles that Sony puts its name behind. Take a look over the instant games that Sony has released and see if they’re your bag.

If you have children or you travel often but you pine to come back to your console and have a new game to try, whatever it is, you’ll want the PlayStation Plus subscription service. Family friendly games are offered on a near-constant basis as well as seeing something new almost every single week you log in. If you’re one of those people who automatically thumbs down and damns a gaming company for having a few security faults, just go ahead and leave it be. You’re missing out, though — big time.

What do you guys think? Do you have PlayStation Plus? Do you love it? Or are you a Microsoft loyalist and don’t care for Sony despite the decent offers? What do you think stops you from trying out the PlayStation Plus service, and are you open to giving it a try?

[Images courtesy of Sony and PlayStation Plus]

Why Are Edward Snowden and NSA PRISM Scaring Us?

Why Are Edward Snowden and NSA PRISM Scaring Us?
The NSA: Are “they” out to get you? Unless you’re horrible, I would almost be willing to bet not. [Image shared by Will Hart via Flickr]
Coming off of Edward Snowden’s release of documents that showcase what theorists have already been touting for decades now: a government “need” for our personal records from both phones and Internet. There are banks built from the ground up with the intention of housing broad sweeps of our personal records and they’re utilized whenever there’s a requirement for the information. The NSA (National Security Agency) is spying on us all!

Welcome to the New Age.

Is the NSA Violating Our Constitutional Rights?

People are either enraged or terrified; I sit in neither camp and, trust me, that’s a weird place to be. The angered lift their pitchforks high and recite the Constitution as if that slip of paper will stop a damned thing. I can promise you that nobody lifts their chin during Congress hearings and says “But, but guys… the Bill of Rights. The Constitution! Justice! Freedom!” because it’s not about that. Nobody is going to protect your browser history in the name of freedom, ladies and gentlemen.

Then there lie the scared and the skittish folks who worry about everything being massively controlled and those rights that they banked on being taken away from them.

What Dirt Does the NSA Have on You?

Those are the ones I worry about, to be honest. With a palm to their shoulder, I wish I could kindly whisper in their ears that the NSA doesn’t give a good goddamn about what you’re doing. If you fear that your privacy is being invaded, and you fear the intrusive eyes of Big Brother, you have more to do with it than you think — and perhaps that’s just as much on you as it is on the government. I need you to wake up now, okay? Take your iPhone out of your hands, stop tweeting about your lunch, and listen up.

The masses are already live and direct; you’re feeding the machines and downloading everything at an incredible rate. With wristbands that tell the Internet your every step taken and just how high your heart rate goes up, phones that can tell anyone where you are at any time, and computers becoming portable enough to access the Internet from anywhere, you are without restrictions. You tether your phone to your laptop, your laptop to your brain, your brain to the Internet, and then you want to know why they have an interest in your information?

But You Already Invited the Vampire into Your House…

Without going all Fight Club rhetoric on the lot of you, you’ve given everyone your information freely in order to… give everyone your information freely. You signed up for those websites that give you access to being social with strangers, but you’re worried about strangers looking over your shoulder? You practically handed them the keys to the castle already, but now you’re worried?

It’s time to wake up.

Check it out: at the end of the day, the lot of you have nothing to worry about. Unless you’re up to something, and then, you know what? That’s on you. I don’t get scared about transparency because I have nothing to fear. What I know is that the President has no need for my Internet history. There is no war that is hinging on finding out from what local farm I ordered honey, and there’s no congressional hearing that would be started by finding out what I’ve been watching on RedTube. None of it matters. I’m inconsequential in these debates.

And so are you. Hurts to hear it, I guess, but let’s be honest. If you’re enraged, you’re possibly not seeing the big picture or even what it means to the rest of the country. I’m no terrorist, folks. The authorities don’t want what I’ve got, and so they’re not going to come near me. Why would they? Why would they come after you? Why would they want to know what you are doing? Are you a threat? Bet you’re not. And if you are? I hope they find you.

It’s a revolution, I suppose.

How Will the NSA Use All of This Information?

We have seen such massive, massive tragedy in the past 20 years; some of it comes from foreign soil, and some of it is coming from our own backyard. This is the reality of it, and if we want protection from these tragedies, we have to accept that the authorities charged with preventing them are going to make some new rules. I cannot tell them to do everything in their power to protect my child and me and then, in the same breath, tell them they better be ethical and held accountable to outdated standards. That’s impossible and irrational thinking. Those are the same people who send ricin envelopes to the President when they imagine up a gun recall.

Take a breath and move forward, people. This is it. Yes, your email providers and your cell phone company will deny-deny-deny, and video games will come out that point out just how real it all is. We’re all plugged in and live.

In my world, there is just so much more at stake, and being safe is more important to me than someone wanting to know what I did on my phone or what is in the contents of my laptop. You can have it. If it means you can get to the bottom of these mass-scale tragedies by seeing how much time I spent on Steam, have at it. Any means necessary, you guys. This is life.

I’m sure a lot of you are completely in disagreement with me and I’d love to hear about it. What do you think about the NSA PRISM discussion and the news coming out of whistleblowers from around the world? Are you angry? Are you afraid? Let me know. Tell me what you think I’m not taking into consideration; give me something to ponder! I welcome it.

Microsoft Xbox One Vs. Sony PS4 at E3 2013

Microsoft Xbox One Vs. Sony PS4 at E3 2013
One knight represents Microsoft’s Xbox One, and the other represents Sony’s PS4. Which one is winning — and which one are you rooting for? [Image by niXerKG via Flickr]
Xbox One by Microsoft? PS4 by Sony? How much do you know about the two behemoths of gaming and their current fare on display at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo? Were you able to catch up on the press conferences that announced the major games and console details that we can all look forward to this holiday season? No? Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

This will have been the eighth time that I pinned my eyes to the conferences going on by all of the major players in gaming today and I have to admit, it never gets old. While actually walking the show-floor of the Expo is exciting, over the years it’s steadily lost its luster due to an influx of enthusiasts on the floor that aren’t really there for journalistic purposes. What used to be a way for media to get in and get details, exclusive information, crisp images, and insights has become, well, raucous at best. However, I always clung to one thing and that is: the press conferences.

I first came in at the onset of our current generation of consoles and I watched as the Xbox 360 and PS3 were unveiled, launched, and confetti rained down on us in Los Angeles. Good times, you know? Here I sat, glued to what went down in front of me, and I watched as we got to see the unveiling of the next generation of consoles.

Xbox One: What We Know and What We Learned

Xbox One Vs. PS4
Xbox One by Microsoft

Microsoft had a pretty decent showing this year, which is a surprise because the last conference was mostly about Windows product lines and Surface. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but touting television, connectivity with other PC products, and such is not what people come to E3 for. No, they want to know about games and the next generation of games. So this year, Microsoft actually did away with the majority of the PC offerings and gave us all a beautiful taste of what is in store for us in the generation of Xbox One. Actually giving a release date of November 2013, Microsoft refuses to discuss the details that have been damning it for weeks.

After picking apart tidbits released here and there by Microsoft, it’s been shown that the company is going to go into a full DRM state, damning the possibilities of freely trading, selling, or renting games through any other means than supported trade-in companies. This is a huge, huge blow to the gaming community as managing digital rights (DRM) has been a hot-button topic since it started so many years ago. At the time of the press conference, this was not approached during the show, and we let it all slide.

Another huge issue that Microsoft didn’t talk about was the “Always On” status of its Xbox One. Essentially, a user would have to be logged on to the Internet in order to use the console and, if they didn’t, they would have a time limit during which their systems would remain active. Yes, you can imagine that Microsoft would want to clear that up too, right? Think of all the people who don’t have high speed Internet or who actually work and therefore can’t turn their consoles on daily — that needs to be addressed, right?

Microsoft said nothing. Not a peep.

What the company did say, however, is that it would be releasing the Xbox One in November at the sharpened steel price of $499. Yes. If you want to own something that, for now, tells you what to do instead of let you play at your own leisure, you will be dropping half a grand for it. With a steady and soft placement of the microphone to the ground, Microsoft stepped off the stage and pretty much everyone on my Twitter feed said the same, exact thing.

“Your move, Sony.”

Sony’s Move

PS4 Vs. Xbox One
PS4 by Sony

Now I will go ahead and, with full disclosure, state that I was won over by Sony last year. As a gaming journalist, I’ve had to own every single current generation system. My shelves were and always have been lined with every product because I always, always stayed in the middle ground. That was, however, until Sony’s presentation last year. After carefully weighing the pros and cons of both consoles, companies, and ethics, I realized that only Sony had remained faithfully about me: a gamer. Microsoft wanted to pitch so much media at me and push its PCs in my face plus make me buy its points, its tablets, and its Xbox Live subscriptions just to talk to my friends that I got tired of it. I got tired of the machine.

Sony has always countered Microsoft’s desire for innovation with one that states: “Yes, this is nice, but we’re not done with controllers. Buttons, my friends. They’re here for us.” and I appreciate that. Sure, give us a PS Move and show us what the Eye can do, but let’s not forget that controllers got us here. Last year, there was a steady appreciation for us gamers at its conference and I left remembering that feeling I had when I first played the PlayStation. I left in awe.

There, now that I’ve let you know what you’re in for, let it not be said that I cannot appreciate either end and that I wasn’t keeping a close eye on Sony. I was terrified that all of the hype built up by how shady Microsoft was being was going to be nothing in comparison to the possible price point that the PS4 would be worth. I awaited to hear Sony’s answer to DRM and game sharing and just how the company felt about “Always On” technology.

The show started late and my goosebumps were on overdrive because I knew, somewhere, there had to have been clandestine meetings in the back. PowerPoint presentations being sorted over and scripts being re-written because, if that was not how it played out in the next two hours, I would be shocked.

Jack Tretton, the President and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment of America, came out on stage and had such a delightful look of pleasure upon his face. We knew we were in for it. After a bit of talk about the PlayStation Vita, an “ahead-of-its-time” piece of hardware that still hasn’t found its footing and will more than likely make a mark with the PS4, he finally came to discuss what was important.

He stood there, being watched by millions, as he stated that the PS4 would not have onboard DRM control. He has since stated that third-parties such as EA can do what they want, but Sony will not include DRM onboard and that, personally, is what I needed to hear. With the Xbox One, you’re required to daily authenticate the console or you’re not going to be able to play your offline games. What was Jack’s response to this? He declared that the PS4 will not require Internet to play offline games.

He hadn’t even hit the price point yet and people were standing up in their seats, surrounded in riotous applause and excitement because this is what the gamers wanted: freedom. People tweeted (I was one of them) about how Sony could possibly be delivering a killing strike toward Microsoft with these claims. Nobody wanted to be told what to do with their console and it has been something we’ve been fighting for for years and I stated as much when I realized, years ago, that I couldn’t even watch an .avi file on my Xbox without being on the Internet. We had restrictions for years, but they were coming to a halt with the death knell that Sony hushed out over the crowd and to its competitors.

We heard a bit more about some upcoming games for which all of us are excited, including exclusives and adopter promotions for Blizzard titles coming to Sony. Yes, we were all amped. It was good. We learned that our PlayStation Plus accounts would carry over to the PS4, giving us all an instant game collection as of year one. Huge deal. Sony, unlike Microsoft, which has you pay monthly to access multiplayer and video content, only uses its PlayStation Plus subscription service as a means for discounts, cloud storage, and an instant game collection that gives away free games close to weekly from its massive collection. We were happy to learn that we wouldn’t need to have separate PS+ accounts for the new console.

And then Jack Tretton came onstage, thus making our hearts clench and our fingers prepare to type furiously.

He announced that the PS4 would be available for $399.

This meant it was officially over for the day and the community built up from the gaming industry went onto Twitter to feverishly tweet its support and place its pre-orders as Sony had finally won out in the first stage console wars of 2013. It was heavy and it was emotional and every single one of us stepped away from our screens to give an exasperated question to our fellow enthusiasts and journalists:

“What the hell is going to happen next?”

Xbox One Vs. PS4: Which Console Will You Choose?

Now this was all in day one. E3 is known for showcasing huge, huge displays, but when the dust settles and the rubble flattens down, we start to get updates and disclosures. It is entirely possible that Microsoft will see what has just been volleyed and it will reverse its die-hard policies with the next console. The company never sets anything in stone and I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t counter with a possible firmware update after the release of the console to reverse the restrictions. It’s a bit too late in the game now to start repurposing consoles as we’ve got mere months until release into the holiday market, but it surely will show you where priorities lie.

Does Microsoft want your money bad enough that it’ll give the people what they want, or is it banking on the die-hards to buy its consoles anyway, restrictions be damned? Do you think Sony knocked it out of the park and waited for what Microsoft would announce on purpose? (I do!) Where do you stand on the announcements, and what do you think we’re going to see next? Do you think you’ll go with the Xbox One or the PS4?

You Can’t Take My Desktop Away, Windows 8

You Can't Take My Desktop Away, Windows 8
This image is my desktop and the wallpaper is free to use by AliceXZ on deviantART. Check out her amazing BBC Sherlock artwork and contribute!

However you’ve come upon Windows 8 — if you have at all — it’s likely been preceded by at least some history with older versions of the popular Microsoft operating system. My first taste of Windows on a computer of my own was Windows 3.2. It was nothing really to write home about, mind you, but it was like going to a warm, familiar library where I knew the location of every book, every card stack, and every magazine — and even though the magazines were regularly stolen by unscrupulous patrons, it was just an accepted part of library life.

Yes, Windows 3.2 was familiar and warm, and when Windows 95 was released, I warmed to that version and the versions that were released after that. They were great, weren’t they? Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows XP were with me all along the way on my personal journey of computing enlightenment. They provided me with an open and inviting spot from which to learn and grow as well as relax and play.

That inviting spot? The desktop.

Yes, I know. The desktop is just a small part of what comprises Windows and I know that a thousand people will bring their snobbish, tech-savvy pitchforks to my door and proclaim their love for any other thing about Windows, and that’s a-okay. But my favorite thing about Windows has always been that clean (well, mine is clean) place where I can save things to its surface, display images of my choosing, and keep it all sorted and easily accessed according to my personal habits of organization and whimsy.

Desktop Represents Ease of Use

Keep in mind that what is primarily important — to any operating system — is ease of use, you know? Windows gave me the opportunity to use my desktop as a hub while I delicately wove in and out of its brains, and that was what I grew up with. So imagine my surprise when Windows 8 came along and Microsoft had decided that the desktop just wasn’t a “thing” anymore. Instead of it being center stage, you could “choose” to use it if you so wanted, but it was no longer a default feature. In fact, to access it, I had to actually select it and make sure things installed to it instead of a Windows 8 app. Yes, I had to work around those godforsaken apps because I’m a purist. I didn’t want to click on a button and then see my desktop; I just wanted it to be there, like a familiar friend, holding the Steam game icons that I played the most and letting me know that Spotify was merely a click away.

Oh, did I have some files I wanted to peek in on? They were right there, splayed out for the world to see. Image files, notepad files, and even lecture videos that my professor gave to us to study for the week. There you go, Candice!

No Desktop for You!

However, Windows 8 figured that I didn’t give a damn about all that. In the trendy metroblogofashionsphere of the Internet (I made that up. Don’t steal it), I wasn’t hip anymore. People used apps, man! Why would you need a desktop and i… kaunz? Icons? What did they call those? Why would I need those when I’ve got all those apps?

Because some of us didn’t sign up for this Metro style change of apps over icons being brought to my computer. My computer is my computer because it isn’t my phone. Whoah, did that make sense? Hold on, keep it together. I simply mean that my charming Windows Phone 7 is a beautiful piece of machinery because it knows that I have a computer on which to compute. When you turn my PC into a larger, far more expensive Windows Phone, I suddenly start wondering if I need myself another computer.

Okay, You Can Have a Desktop. But Jump Through These Hoops First!

Thankfully, Windows 8 doesn’t want you to abandon all hope and it does allow you to install Windows 7 programs to your desktop. You can re-route yourself away from the apps by simply, well, ignoring them. When I boot up my computer and it puts me on the App screen, I simply act like a snotty, stereotypical white golfer near an ethnic caddy in the 1920s. I put my hand up against my cheek and keep walking until I hit the green, you know? (The green in this analogy is my desktop. Keep up, kids.) It’s not that I think the App screen isn’t valued in the community, but I really just want to get to the green. You understand, right?

I’d like to point out that I would never condone racism. Not even a little. My president is black.

Don’t I Know What’s Best for Me?

Back to the subject of Windows 8 and my desktop: I’m unsure why Microsoft thought “trendy” and “hip” meant that we may not need something as integral as a desktop. Are there truly people out there who don’t think it’s necessary anymore? With all those apps, I’m sure that people can learn to avoid using a desktop, but what about those who were taught all these years that the desktop wasn’t a dirty and cumbersome thing? We were taught by Microsoft to appreciate the desktop in the first place and now we’re told to compute without restrictions, supposedly. “Here, you don’t need this as much anymore,” and Microsoft has suddenly turned my safe zone into a Starbucks.

How about you guys? Do you use the desktop more and find Windows 8 and its focus on apps to be slightly troubling to get used to? Perhaps you think re-routing is too simple to merit any complaint, or maybe you just use a Mac and think this whole thing makes no sense! Sound off below and tell us how you got through the new changes and overly complicated path to the desktop.

The Console Wars: What Are We Fighting For?

The Console Wars: What Are We Fighting For?I want you to go ahead and close your eyes for just a moment. Imagine this glorious and picturesque pastoral landscape. Just rolling hills of green grasses and wildflowers that crop up in little clusters while the wind sweeps over the knolls like a hand smooths over the lumps in down comforters.

The soft little sounds of birds chirping, crickets happily sawing their legs together, and your own breathing are the only things you can actually hear as you sit on a lovely worn wood platform with nothing on any side of you for thousands of miles. Absolute quiet and peace with a light canvas shade covering you and you have only two sources of entertainment other than the gorgeous scenery. Just two.

An Xbox 360 and a PlayStation 3.

Even Paradise Doesn’t Come Without Choices

Upon the corner of this platform is a television, catty-cornered with a delicious surround sound system that connects to the other three posts on this lovely platform that you’re sitting upon in the middle of nowhere. A neat rack of games for both consoles rests on either side of the television stand with an assortment of anything you’d ever want to play. This is your fantasy, after all. Now, you’re also given this plush and overly-stuffed recliner with a steel bucket filled with ice and the beverages of your choice. This is your quiet place. I’ve set a perfect stage, right?

Nobody can see you. Nobody is watching. Nobody is listening and money is no issue if you decide to log in and download a game that you’ve always wanted to play but you were always assuming you were a turncoat if you danced over to the other side to try something out. Nobody is going to post troll photos to your Facebook and tell you that what you chose is wrong because of a litany of unintelligible reasoning.

It’s just you, the beauty of pastoral countryside, and absolute relaxation and freedom from the trappings of the console wars.

I Choose… Everything!

In my time through all of the various consoles through the years, I’ve listened to all of the diatribes displayed both in person through friends or even on the Internet and it never quite made sense to me. I tilted my head and would listen without prejudice because I had every console as a kid. I was lucky to not have had the problem of making excuses for why I didn’t have something. However, I found that so many of my younger friends were making excuses for why their parents didn’t buy a Sega Genesis instead of a Super Nintendo as if they were the true decision makers in their household. Excuses like, “Well, the Nintendo games are better quality.” or what game titles were available between the two consoles that would get rattled off as lazy answers. I’d get a duck-face with brows lifted from many of my male friends and they would just say something like, “Zelda, bro. Zelda.” as if that was enough of an answer.

Why did we not grow out of this? What if we had the resources to have all of these things and not be forced to choose? Why are we forced to choose? How come we don’t look at gaming as this expansive buffet where everyone can try a bit of everything, dump sushi, asparagus, and banana pudding onto one plate and then come back for seconds later if we want? Do we truly have to be so staunch?

My Anti-Snobbery Cause is as Just as Your Cause

Because of my upbringing where I was shown that all consoles were viable forms of entertainment, I never had that kind of snobbery in play when I bought or decided on these things as an adult. On the contrary, I welcomed it all because fun is fun. Who cares about the logistics? A friend, the other day, explained to me that she didn’t support Sony and the PlayStation products because she is a “hippie” and that made me laugh. She was under the impression that, because Microsoft is an American-based company, that the parts and hardware are not sourced from other countries. That, because a group of men pieced together Dell parts in order to see if they could come up with something to compete with Sony’s upcoming PlayStation 2, that it was a patriotic act.

So now America is in the party?

Forget that we have no problem with buying most of our products that are put together by dozens of underpaid workers overseas — because those guys were screwing Dell computers together and smacking an “X” on them. Nah, that’s apparently all you need to state that you buy Microsoft for patriotism. Supposedly, buying from Sony is supporting other economies? Are we forgetting the hundreds upon thousands of American jobs that Sony has open to developers and those working with marketing, research, and development? Perhaps we are. Perhaps people misunderstand that they have become their own blissfully unaware hype machines and that the only people that truly suffer — are the ones not playing video games for reasons that are, let’s be honest, unreasonable.

Taking One for the Team

Now there are the people who look at the Xbox 360 and they see that the multiplayer experience is quite expansive there. These are people who buy a game because they truly only see it as being something they will enjoy with other friends and those friends have a 360, as well. That’s how they get you, by the way. There have been plenty of times where I have looked at games and I have turned down a title that would be beautifully rendered on the PS3 but knew that the multiplayer experience would be lacking, so I chose a 360 copy. It was always one sacrifice for the other, but I knew that if it was just me playing the game, I would choose a PS3 copy.

Honestly, I’ve been won over by the Sony brand name, but I can still appreciate what is coming out of Microsoft for its gaming divisions. To me, Sony has been this full and capable entertainment brand that has been proving that it has big hopes and dreams for what it can accomplish and sometimes it even extends its own reach. I watched the company have all of these ideas that were ahead of their time and it never fully scrapped them, but it would put them in the hopper and let them blend in with future technology it was coming out with. Not many know about the Sony Mylo, but it was a smaller, consumer-friendly version of what the PS Vita and what our smartphones are like today. This was six years ago. The project never picked up steam and the product was shelved and discontinued, but they kept the technology on hold.

Nobody’s Perfect…

When the PlayStation Network was down due to security faults stemming from online hacking, Xbox loyalists took to the Internet and bragged about how their network had never gone down. Their network is Xbox Live, a feature you pay for in order to play online games with your friends, watch Netflix and Hulu Plus (features you already have to pay separate subscriptions for), and listen to their music system with. Boasting this, Sony fans were having to counter with the fact that, yes, they may have been hacked and offline for several weeks, but that Sony wasn’t making them pay for content they were already paying for and that making people pay for multiplayer is a severely crippling mechanic in the social gaming universe. Sony bleeds money to stop its players from bleeding money needlessly because that is money that could go into buying its products.

Bring in PlayStation Plus, a subscription service that you could adopt if you wanted to have discounts on games on the Sony Entertainment Network Store (PSN Store) and that announces new titles every month that are given to its subscribers for free. Such a service would offer cloud storage and transfer, discounts, and free games but not revoke video or music applications if you are no longer a PlayStation Plus member. That, well, that’s why Sony fans weren’t horribly derailed after the debacle. I know it’s why I wasn’t. Even without PlayStation Plus, I had a healthy understanding of what my PS3 offered me and that was the freedom for it to be anything I truly wanted. I could store music, movies, and photos all on that hard drive and have access to them whenever I wanted. If I downloaded something to watch on my PS3, I didn’t have to worry about an Internet connection not allowing me to do so (a fault with Xbox 360 is that, if you want to watch something off of a thumb drive or any other media, you have to have an Internet connection supposedly for codecs), and I never felt limited.

…Not Even Your Favorite Brand

That’s not to say that the Xbox 360 doesn’t have its own ample, bursting features that are well worth it. Microsoft was keen on finding some amazing game studios that offer games you can only get on an Xbox starting from Halo to games like Fable and Gears of War and other very heavy titles with massive followings. To be honest, Halo and Fable are what made me stick with my Xbox as long as I did and it wasn’t until the console fell apart on me (it had been my third) that I decided to trade every Xbox item I had in and completely adopt the Sony lifestyle.

I know, however, that it all came down to hardware, money, and logistics. It was not about taking a stand for something that was unreasonable and uneducated, but it was because I did not have the money to keep replacing a faulty console, pay for an additional subscription service, just to access my other subscription services, or to buy two copies of games because I’d prefer the experience on the PS3, but my friends all have 360s. I have never, ever (knock on wood) had a PS3 die and, in fact, I usually would replace them to upgrade them because of need for space. All of my PS3s have lived on and everyone gets a shelf in my room. All of my consoles, even my Nintendos, Xbox, and PlayStations all sit together on my shelf beneath my television. Everyone gets a chance. Nobody gets counted out, but I am an adult and I let realistic factors determine what I spend my hard earned money on.

Forsooth, I’m a Fan of Fun

So go back to that pastoral and dreamy landscape I painted for you and remember what I said about money being no object, nobody can find you and give you hell for it, and you have any game at your disposal and all the time in the world to enjoy yourself and your games where you can remember that entertainment is entertainment. We don’t need to be mad about it, and we don’t need to defend a company staunchly.

We can just enjoy ourselves. Let’s try that, shall we?

How do you feel about the console wars and do you think it’s all taken too seriously? What are the reasons you choose the console or platform that you choose?

Image: Public domain with adaptations by the author

Microsoft Management Summit is for “Hardcore Geeks”

Microsoft Management Summit is for the HardcoreUnless you’ve been living off the grid somewhere in Alabama the past few years, you’ve noticed that Microsoft has stepped up its advertising campaign in just about every aspect of digital media. According to Forbes, Microsoft’s advertising budget outpaced its sales in 2011, and though the financial news outlet may have overestimated the amount that Microsoft spent on its Windows 8 marketing campaign, one can certainly judge by the volume of commercials encountered at every turn — from TV to radio to Internet ads — that Redmond certainly wants us to know that the tech giant hasn’t lost its might in the marketplace. Particularly in the areas of cloud computing, enterprise computing, and mobile computing, Microsoft is looking to dominate, and for anyone willing to take a bet that the company dominance in enterprise computing will continue and spread to the cloud and mobile computing sectors, Microsoft Management Summit is the event to watch (this week, anyway).

Microsoft Management Summit is for “Hardcore Geeks”

Taking place in Las Vegas, Microsoft Management Summit 2013 is billed as an exclusive event for “the brightest IT professionals from around the world.” Obviously, Microsoft isn’t being vague about its intentions; according to the event’s About page, only hardcore geeks need apply, “with session content delving into the 300 and 400 level.” Now I’ve been taking IT courses for several years — most recently one on Windows Server 2008 — and even I don’t know what “300 and 400 level” means. I can only guess that we’re not talking about 101-level college courses (such as English 101, my personal favorite). Microsoft Management Summit aims to be a gathering of the elite.

Personally, I usually cringe at the idea of a gathering of elitists. But this is not a country club filled with the one percent drinking fine Scotch and smoking expensive Cuban cigars in a country club. This is the type of elite group anyone should be proud and unembarrassed to become a part of: one of the best in a particular field. In this case, that field happens to be IT, and even those not inclined toward Microsoft’s products and services would benefit from keeping up with what the company has to offer. Even diehard Linux gurus understand the need to stay abreast of what the competition is up to. And fortunately for those of us who can’t afford to make the trip to Vegas, Microsoft Management Summit sessions will be freely available to watch on demand within a day or two of the live presentations.

As a geek myself, I aspire to become a hardcore one, so I’ll be following Microsoft Management Summit throughout the week to see what I can pick up. I’ll also be watching Twitter hashtag #MMS2013 and checking Channel9 (for which I wish someone at Microsoft would make an official Roku channel so that I don’t always have to rely on hackers to make the content available for the device) for recordings of MMS sessions. I know there are plenty of you in LockerGnome’s Help! forums that’ll be interested in the event — even those of you who feel that Microsoft has lost its way in the server market. Care to join me? I’ll bring the cigars. You can bring the Scotch.

Oh, and one more thing. Alabamians, I’m one of you now, and have been for nearly four years now. Just so you know.

Why Would I Want to Consider Apple’s Ecosystem over Microsoft’s?

Jaren Lopez writes:

Although the Microsoft ecosystem is young and completely different from Apple’s, what are the major benefits of investing in Apple products instead of Microsoft products? I would prefer to keep myself in one ecosystem rather than having one Microsoft product, one Apple product, and one Android product. I’m leaning towards Microsoft, as I prefer the live tiles (Metro) interface, Xbox Music (free music), touch-centricity, and being able to sync settings across devices. But what is something that you can tell me about Apple’s ecosystem that would possibly make me change my mind?

Why Would I Want to Consider Apple's Ecosystem over Microsoft's?I hate to regurgitate one of the oft-repeated adages about Apple products being for creative types… so I won’t. For one thing, it doesn’t apply anymore, what with the steadily increasing number of quality productivity applications available for Mac OS X and even iOS. As for Windows-based PCs, a decade or so ago the strongest argument for directing someone to Microsoft’s platform would have been one application: Microsoft Office. Though the first versions of Microsoft Word first appeared on Mac systems over two decades ago, until OS X (and really, until the operating system had fully matured), the Apple platform had faced a number of shortcomings in being an acceptable alternative to Windows-based PCs in all but a few corporate office environments.

Importing and exporting Office documents between Macs and Windows PCs while preserving the original integrity of the documents was an issue, for example. This was just one shortcoming of working with Macs; there were also a limited variety of accounting, database, and other applications that most corporate office workers and even small business owners required to perform their daily tasks. Yet for anyone who was interested or already working in graphic design, desktop publishing, audio composition, video production, photography, or some other type of “creative” endeavor, the Apple Macintosh line of products seemed clearly tailor-made for such purposes.

Mac OS X was first previewed over a dozen years ago, and Apple, thanks in large part to third-party software developers, has since made great strides in office productivity. Most of the compatibility issues of bygone days have been overcome, and with the market share of Apple products continuing to grow, there is a continuous flow of new applications and apps being released for both OS X and iOS, many of which are dedicated to getting things other than media editing and artwork done. No longer is Apple simply considered exclusively the platform for artists, and regardless of what the Samsung smartphone commercials would have you believe, Apple mobile devices are not, and have never been, simply for hipsters and the technologically clueless. That’s not to say that some Android-based devices aren’t absolutely marvelous devices; it’s simply a marketing falsity to assert that the the iPhones are lesser device than Samsung’s Android-based ones. Both devices are exceptional, and deliver in the areas — and, by extension, the users — for which they are most suited.

With so many companies relying on social networking for their marketing purposes, iPhones (and even iPod touches) have for many purposes become preferable devices to use for sharing and distributing content. Unless the Windows Phone platform becomes more popular, most of the social marketing performed by those dedicated to Microsoft’s products will be performed using Windows laptops or tablets, since Windows Phone simply hasn’t reached full maturity yet, and developers are simply more interested in developing their best apps for the platforms that have (Android and iOS). So if you’re planning on sticking with Microsoft, consider purchasing an iPhone or an Android smartphone so that you’ll be able to get some work done, particularly if you wish to use the latest and most popular mobile apps.

One major consideration when looking into delving into the Apple ecosystem is one of major contention between both Apple advocates and the anti-Apple establishment: proprietary standards. Apple makes a good deal of profit by restricting the tainting of its products through quality control, and part of that control turns off a good number of potential customers. For example, every few years Apple likes to incorporate new types of technology into its products that aren’t yet widely adopted, such as its introduction of FireWire (Apple’s name for the IEEE 1394 standard) way before Windows-based PC vendors were incorporating the data-transfer technology into their systems. Apple also famously excluded floppy drives and optical drives from its computers before any PC manufacturers did. Most recently, Apple switched to a new type of connector for its iOS devices.

Whenever Apple introduces proprietary connectors or even open standards that are not yet widely used, the company causes just as many problems as it seems to be attempting to solve. Many peripheral manufacturers have to rush to develop solutions that will enable consumers to continue to use their products with Apple devices. Consumers have to spend more money to purchase the resulting solutions. And although many consumers are perfectly willing to pony up the cash for the changes that Apple introduces — since most of the technologies Apple introduces greatly improve the overall user experience and productivity for consumers — there are plenty of users who don’t appreciate these alterations. So you must decide if you are willing to be a flexible consumer when it comes to buying into Apple.

Apple also undergoes a more rigorous vetting process when accepting third-party developers’ apps into its App Store. This creates consternation for some developers, but for the consumer it usually ensures more reliable and well-built mobile apps. By comparison, Google Play (Android’s apps marketplace, formerly called Android Market) accepts far more apps from developers, resulting in what many perceive as a store of applications that is inferior to Apple’s. The subject is moot, however, as nobody has been able to reach a conclusion as to which platform offers the superior software. One thing that can be said for certain, however, is that Microsoft has a far smaller collection of applications available for its Windows Phone mobile operating system.

At the same time, with Microsoft’s new Windows 8 and Windows Phone strategies, you also have to be quite flexible. Fortunately for you, you seem to be enjoying the new interface and integration that Microsoft is offering with its latest products, so you won’t have to worry as much as other Windows consumers about upgrading into a new paradigm that may or may not turn out to be less inspiring than the advertisements would have it. So investing heavily into the Mac world may not be in your best interest at this time. If you can afford to, buy a Mac mini — you know, one of the “headless” ones that you can use with an existing display — and see how much it grabs you. It’s the least expensive way to gain a solid understanding of how Mac OS X operates. You don’t have to dive headfirst into the Mac ecosystem, and a Mac mini will provide you with what you need to test the waters before you decide to plunge in or not.

If you can’t afford a Mac mini right now, a good alternative may be the iPod touch or iPhone, which you may find you prefer to using a Windows Phone, anyway. With an iPod touch, you basically have a mini iPad mini and it’s the least expensive way to get a taste of the Apple user experience. Apple is still making a 16 GB version of the iPod touch 4th generation for $200 that runs the latest version of iOS, minus a few features (such as the Siri voice recognition technology). LockerGnome contributor Harold Johnson was able to find a 32 GB one for around the same price, brand new, during the last Cyber Monday sale, and you can find one on Amazon right now for slightly less than its price on Apple.com. That way, if you find you don’t take to Apple as much as you’d been expecting, you’ll at least have invested in what is still considered by most to be the best portable media consumption device available. It’s certainly still the best music player I have, particularly since it doesn’t rely on any type of wireless connection to play music.

Community: What am I missing here? What would you tell someone who is on the fence about exploring the Apple side of technology?

Image from Amazon

Windows 8: a Beginner’s Guide for the Bewildered – Part 3 of 3

Windows 8: a Beginner's Guide for the Bewildered -- Part 3 of 3In Windows 8: a Beginner’s Guide for the Bewildered — Part 1 of 3 and Windows 8: a Beginner’s Guide for the Bewildered — Part 2 of 3, we covered some of the aspects of Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows RT, but one of the biggest hurdles Microsoft is going to face is the small number of applications that are available for its new OS. In comparison, both Apple and Google have had over two years to build up their inventory of applications and to secure developers for future applications. In fact, Microsoft is struggling with a tiny arsenal (in the low end of the thousands) while iOS and Android applications are in the hundreds of thousands and for any of us who use the Apple iOS or one of the Google Android devices, we know that it is the applications that make the device.

However, it seems that Microsoft is not discouraged by this discrepancy, claiming that the number of applications that will work on its new Windows 8 OS is increasing by some 500 a day. Unfortunately, that doesn’t address Windows RT, which doesn’t run legacy applications. This means that Microsoft Windows RT cannot attract consumers until it can provide more applications.

As I addressed in part two of this series, one of the most discussed features of Windows 8 revolves around its two distinct operating environments that one could conclude work against each other. In fact, I know that when I first installed the Preview edition of Windows 8, I was very confused. On the one hand, we have a Tile (aka Metro) environment that includes an assortment of applications including Internet Explorer; on the flip side, we have what appears to be a duplicate of the Windows 7 desktop (minus many of the features that we have known). If they were present, features like the Control Panel and Device Manager were a chore to locate. However, one of the most frustrating changes that Microsoft made was in eliminating the Start button. When the company did this, it originally stated that it intended to block any third party software that would even consider bringing a Start button back.

Its attempts to block this were frustrated, however, and I discovered an easy trick to finding the many tools we need to operate on the Desktop. To find it, bring the mouse down to the bottom right corner of the Desktop screen and right-click. This will bring up the following screen (as seen on my computer):

Windows 8: a Beginner's Guide for the Bewildered -- Part 3 of 3

You will immediately notice some of the Windows tools dating back to Windows 95. It is like seeing an old friend once again and I, for one, am thankful that Microsoft has included it.

So what about anti-virus protections for Windows 8? Microsoft has included an application called Windows Defender in every copy of Windows 8 (including RT). It is similar to the Microsoft Security Essentials that the company provides free of charge for other versions of Windows. However, if you choose, you can replace Windows Defender with your own security protection. I installed avast! free edition without issue and it seems to be working just fine with Windows 8.

For those of you who are not huge fans of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, I can tell you that I installed Google Chrome without issue. I was also pleased to note that, when doing this, I was able to synchronize Chrome with my other Windows computers and Android devices without issue. The Windows OS automatically added a Chrome icon to the Live Tile environment, which works fine as well.

For those of you who install or upgrade to Windows 8 Pro, you can get a free copy of Media Center from Microsoft. That website will also tell you how to upgrade from Windows 8 to Windows 8 Pro.

I am using Windows 8 Pro RTM on my test computer and find it easy to use. Once one tweaks some of the settings and learns some of the tricks on how to use the hidden features, Windows 8 works very well. I will not be upgrading my personal Windows computers since I am very satisfied with Windows 7. I may change my mind at a later date, but for now I am sticking with Windows 7.

Here is an added bonus for those who choose to read this article. You can get yourself a free copy of Windows 8 for IT Professionals directly from Microsoft in .pdf format. The manual contains 147 pages of very useful information. Enjoy.

Comments are welcome.

Source: Microsoft

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Filip Skakun

Windows 8: How to Download the Free Windows 8 E-book Directly from Microsoft

Windows 8: How to Download the Free Windows 8 E-book Directly from MicrosoftReady, set, go! The new, extraordinary, long-awaited Windows 8 is now ready for purchase and download. In fact, even the installation disks are ready to be directly ordered from Microsoft. Of course, all of this hype is Microsoft placing the majority of its eggs into one basket as it introduces what some are calling a revolutionary change in the way that Windows will function, all the while hoping and praying that Windows 8 will be the operating system that will catapult the company into the tablet era.

If you remember, Microsoft has done this in the past, specifically when it successfully turned the industry on its ear back in 1995 with the introduction of the Windows 95 operating system. However, no matter what your opinion of Windows 8 may be, the fact remains that this is the path that Microsoft has chosen on which to bet its future success. If the company succeeds, it will be a competitive force in the marketplace. If not, it could slip into obscurity. Whichever scenario unfolds, Microsoft’s success (for both the tablet and desktop marketplace) is already carved in stone.

While I have been a Windows user since Microsoft first introduced the concept back in the ’80s, I must admit that Windows 8 will leave even some of its faithful with an unpleasant taste in their mouths. In fact, some of you who make the switch may be in for a shock when you discover how cumbersome navigating the new operating system — especially on a desktop or laptop system without touch — can be.

If you have already installed the new operating system, I am sure that shock was multiplied when you discovered that you were going to need to navigate not one, but two, different environments: one using Live Tiles and the other using the traditional Windows Desktop (that looks surprisingly a lot like Windows 7). Due to this similarity, one would expect the system to operate in a similar manner to its predecessor, but unfortunately, Microsoft has made changes to the Desktop environment that will cause issues for some. The first of these issues is how to get to your program list since there is no Start button. To give you a preview of how this system works, you can view the following YouTube video that shows what may happen to some of you as you take your first spin around the new operating system.

Microsoft is aware of the struggle that some may experience when first attempting to navigate this new operating system, and has taken peremptory action by offering a free Windows 8 guide for IT Professionals. This guide covers many of the features that you most likely will be using, and is available for all versions of Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, Windows Enterprise, and Windows RT. In addition, the manual offers some tips and tricks as well as revealing some of the hidden features as it guides you through the new operating system.

After having printed off and read the manual, which consists of 147 pages of information, I am sure that you will find it useful when exploring Windows 8 with all of its newest features. You will also find that the manual includes information on those features that Microsoft has chosen to eliminate, which will keep you from searching for something that is no longer incorporated into the program. As always, if you have insights into the working of Windows 8 or thoughts on this article, I would appreciate hearing from you.

Comments are welcome.

Source and download: Microsoft

Image courtesy of Microsoft Corp.

Windows 8: a Beginner’s Guide for the Bewildered – Part 2 of 3

Windows 8: a Beginner's Guide for the Bewildered -- Part 2 of 3As I mentioned in Windows 8: a Beginner’s Guide for the Bewildered — Part 1 of 3, Windows 8 comes equipped with two distinct environments. One of these is the Desktop environment, which is a clone of the Windows 7 environment minus the Aero theme and the now almost infamously missing Start button. The second is equipped with Live Tile, an environment that mimics a Windows Phone operating system. Amazingly, both of these systems are like conjoined twins. They are both enclosed in the same body, but act independently. This is especially noticeable if you wish to surf the Internet, since each has its own browser and you cannot share any data between the two. Now, in my opinion, this is extremely odd if one has purchased the OS with the intention of enjoying both environments.

In contrast, the Desktop side of Windows 8 uses a typical Internet Explorer screen that allows one to see, at a glance, which pages they have open by merely viewing the tabs at the top of the screen and then clicking on the one they wish to bring up. On the other hand, when one chooses to use the Live Tiles environment, that version of Internet Explorer will completely fill the screen with the selected webpage. In this case, you need to either right-click the mouse (anywhere on the screen) in order to see the tabs or, if you are using a touchscreen, swipe your pinkie down from the top of the screen to reveal the thumbnails of all open windows.

After installing Classic Shell 3.6.1, which put the Start button back into Windows 8 Pro, I opted to revert the Internet browser back to how version 9.0 functioned. The unexpected result was, no matter which Internet Explorer icon I used (either from the Desktop or Live Tile), both opened the same browser. So no matter which one was chosen, both would save the exact same history, bookmarks, and other settings. One word: nice.

So how do you go about upgrading your Windows 7, Vista, or XP machine over to Windows 8?

Actually, after paying the surprisingly reasonable price of $39.95 without discs or $69.95 with discs (to be mailed to you by Microsoft), the installation is as simple as downloading the new operating system to your computer. During the installation process, Microsoft will check your system for any compatibility programs, uninstall any offending programs, and install the new operating system.You can find all of the information you will need directly from the Microsoft Windows 8 website.

For the program to function efficiently, Microsoft lists the following hardware requirements:

  • 1 GHz processor or faster
  • 2 GB RAM and 20 GB available on the hard disk
  • Screen resolution that supports 1366 x 768
  • DirectX 9 graphics processor
  • If you wish to use touch, a PC that supports multitouch

Another oddity with an upgrade to Windows 8 is its claim to support an upgrade from a Windows XP machine. At first I couldn’t imagine this since most Windows XP machines are fairly old and the hardware would be unable to support a newer operating system. However, I then recalled that some newer machines that had been designed to run Vista also came installed with Windows XP for those who chose to keep using the older OS. In this case, it is plausible that the machine could operate with an upgrade to Windows 8.

However, in my personal opinion, the minimum operating requirements that Microsoft lists are unrealistic. In fact, I would think that those specifications would severely affect the user’s satisfaction, but I can also testify to the fact that the unit I am using to run Windows 8 Pro (which boasts a 3.0 GHz dual core processor with 4 GB RAM), flies.

Now comes the unknown entity: Windows RT. In fact, this operating system is truly an unknown and while we do have some fairly reliable information from reviews posted in blogs and news sources, the jury is still out. Let me be explicit: I am not talking about the hardware used in Microsoft’s stellar Surface tablets, which appear to be well-built and designed. I am talking about the operating system RT. This operating system is not Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro, so how will Microsoft explain the major differences to consumers? How will those first consumers respond to the product when they come to realize that the RT version of Windows will not allow them to install the full version of Office? Surprise! Anger! How do you think you would respond to what you may see as a betrayal of your trust in the product? Let me know what you think.

Comments are welcome.

Source: Microsoft

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Filip Skakun

Windows 8: a Beginner’s Guide for the Bewildered – Part 1 of 3

Windows 8: a Beginner's Guide for the BewilderedWindows 8 is going to change the overall Windows experience that most of you, over the years, have become familiar with. To accomplish this, Microsoft has chosen to bring the computing experience up to date in its Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro editions by designing one operating system that supports both the touchscreen features normally attributed to a tablet computer while maintaining a desktop-type environment.

This dual environment is designed for use on the traditional Intel and AMD processor systems and will not be seen on RT devices where the operating system is pre-installed directly from the factory. Unfortunately, you will also not see it made available for a direct download and install. However, while RT will not support a traditional installation of Windows software — such as a full version of Microsoft Office — it will support the installation of other applications. For clarification, there is a desktop for RT, but you cannot run legacy programs on RT. For a complete explanation for which operating system — Windows 8, Pro, or RT — might be right for you, check out the Microsoft website.

This is part one of a three-part series describing some of the changes Microsoft has made to Windows, along with a description of the changes and workarounds to overcoming some of the perceived difficulties.

The first issue one might face when using Windows 8 is where to find the Start button. It isn’t there and some reviewers would have us believe that the removal of the Start button was a plot by Microsoft to make life for us Windows users more difficult. However, like many of you have learned or will subsequently learn, not having a Start button is merely an annoyance. In fact, if and when you install Windows 8 on one of your systems, or when you buy a new PC with Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro pre-installed, there are many different programs available that will replace the familiar Start button. The program I have chosen to use is called Classic Shell 3.6.1. Classic Shell restores the Start button and comes with plenty of toys to fine tune the menu to your liking.

The next thing you will have to adjust to is dual ability of the OS’s touchscreen vs. keyboard/mouse capabity. If you currently own a laptop or desktop computer system without a touch screen, you will be navigating Windows 8 with the traditional mouse and keyboard. However, if you own a touchscreen-capable system, you will need to determine which of the two different environments you wish to use. You can choose between the traditional desktop environment, which resembles Windows 7, or the newer Live Tiles environment, which resembles the Windows Phone operating system.

Charms is what Microsoft calls the method that it has chosen to handle the traditional features that were once handled by the Start menu. To access them, you place your mouse in the left upper or lower corner of the screen. This, in turn, will display the available Charms — a feature that I found quite easy to learn. Below is a listing of the Charms and what each Charm does, courtesy of Microsoft.

Windows 8: a Beginner's Guide for the BewilderedHere’s what you can do with them:

Search. Search for anything. You can search just the app you’re in (like finding a specific message in Mail), search another app (look up something on the Internet), or you can search your entire PC (for an app, setting, or file).

Share. Share files and info with people you know or send info to another app, without leaving the app you’re in. You can email photos to your mom, update your Facebook status, or send a link to your note-taking app.

Start. Get to your Start screen. Or if you’re already on Start, you can use this charm to go back to the last app you were in.

Devices. Use all of the devices that are connected to your PC, both wired and wireless. You can print from an app, sync with your phone, or stream your latest home movie to your TV.

Settings. Change settings for apps and your PC. You’ll find settings, help, and info for the app you’re in, plus common PC settings — network connection, volume, brightness, notifications, power, and keyboard. These PC settings are the same no matter where you are in Windows, but the app settings are different in every app. You can also change settings for your PC when you select Change PC settings. It’s where you change your lock screen picture, manage notifications, and more.

Part two of this series will cover getting to know the different Internet Explorers. Yes, they are totally unique depending on which environment you are using.

Images: Used with permission from Microsoft

Source: Microsoft

Comments are welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Filip Skakun

How to Turn off a Windows 8 Computer

How Turn off a Windows 8 ComputerThere seems to be a lot of confusion over the new design of Windows. Next week, Windows 8 will be launched in a worldwide marketing rush, and real customers will be able to get their hands on the new operating system. It’s Microsoft’s most important responsibility to ensure that users learn how to use Windows 8 fairly quickly before they get frustrated. One source of annoyance could be the change to shutting down your computer from previous versions of Windows.

The fact of the matter is that Windows 8 is very easy to use — easier than most negative reviews might have you believe. At the end of the day, anyone who calls himself a power user and doesn’t know that the ALT+F4 shortcut will close any program in Windows, or needs a Start button to be able to use the menu, should reconsider their self-designation as a so-called power user. Even Windows itself can be closed by using ALT+F4 (when you’re on the desktop). In fact, I find that this is the quickest of all methods.

Now, after ranting over so-called power users, less savvy computer users should use the new Windows Charms, which can be accessed by hovering in the upper and lower right corners, or by pressing Windows+C.

Using any third-party programs or creating shortcuts on the desktop are, most of the time, much more complicated than the built-in solutions.

Microsoft needs to spend more money on showing people these Windows tricks, rather than producing flashy television ads. There will be questions, and the answers have to be as concise as possible. Only then will Microsoft successfully make such drastic changes to the mechanics of the well-known Windows system. Coming from Windows XP, the learning curve will be quite steep in the first few days.

If you’re a user who feels less confident about changing system settings, I strongly advise not to try any of the nifty tutorials that can be found on the Internet. It’s already easy enough to turn off Windows 8, and I’m going to show you how simple — right here, and right now.

There are two simple ways to shut down, sleep, or restart a Windows 8 computer:

  • ALT+F4 (only when you’re on the desktop, or all windows are minimized)
  • Windows+C, then Settings, then Power

I hope this helps you in your Windows 8 journey. Do you have any simple Windows 8 tips that you’d like to share? Please leave a comment below!

Windows XP: Why Microsoft Still Can’t Kill It Off

Windows XP: Why Microsoft Still Can't Kill It OffWindows XP has a legion of faithful followers who have already determined that they will resign themselves to staying with the old standby and not upgrade their computer systems to the latest Windows version. It seems that this is because, while some users have no choice but to stick with Windows XP due to the age of their hardware, others have the proper hardware that will support Windows Vista, Windows 7, and/or Windows 8, but have chosen to downgrade their systems to the older OS.

For example, a week or so ago I had an eye-opening experience that I found very interesting and wanted to share with you. This occurred as I made three stops at local businesses. In each situation, I had entered with no intention of determining which operating systems they were using, but rather to obtain a service or product. The first happened while I was sitting at the optometrist’s office and waiting for my eyes to dilate. In boredom, I was glancing around the office when I noticed that the system the office was using was operated via Windows XP. From there I was required to stop at our local pharmacy where, out of curiosity, I glanced at its system only to discover that it was also running Windows XP, as was the office where I went to get my driver’s license renewed.

At the end of that extraordinarily long day, I realized that these businesses may find themselves in a pickle if Microsoft goes through with its plans to discontinue support for all Windows XP users in April, 2014. While I would be surprised if this actually happens — resulting in an end to all updates, fixes, patches, and service packs — others are claiming that if it does, all Windows XP users will be doomed to taking the walk of shame as they put their computers in the trash. Here are some of my reasons why I don’t think this will happen.

Many business users, and I would imagine some home users, would not be affected by this move since they are either supported on a closed network or have no intentions of ever accessing the Internet. As shocking as it may sound, some people actually have a life outside of social networking and use their computers for actual work and not just surfing. In addition, some business owners who have spent large sums of money for software that may not run correctly on Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8 will find that Windows XP still works just fine.

When one considers that most patches, fixes, repairs, or service packs usually address some type of problem that involves hacking, why are these necessary for closed systems with no Internet access? I personally think that most zero-day attacks or other security threats are basically confined to where hackers find easy access to systems that are normally online. If that is the case, what do non-Internet computer users or Windows XP users have to fear?

I do know that there are some among you who would advise those Windows XP users to go ahead and purchase a Mac or change their OS to Linux. However, this misses the point that some users are using software created in such a way that it is dependent on Windows to operate correctly. Due to this, it may not be an option for a small company that cannot afford to completely redo its computer setup. In fact, it may be hampered not only by the cost of the hardware, but by the specialized software that it depends on. It is unfortunately another fact that this type of software can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.

Knowing this, I can’t help but speculate that if Microsoft were to discontinue Windows XP support, it could find itself the target of consumer boycott. In such a scenario, not only would consumers not replace their operating systems with Microsoft Windows products, but they might actually choose OS X, Linux, or other alternatives to replace their business networks.

So what do you think? Should Windows XP go the way of the Dodo bird? Share your thoughts and opinions with us.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by oddsock

Microsoft Digits: Perfectly Copies a Human Hand in 3D

Microsoft Digits: Perfectly Copies a Human Hand in 3DMicrosoft Research, along with Cambridge and Newcastle Universities, is in the process of developing what it calls “Microsoft Digits.” This technology, in conjunction with an attachable device, will render a human hand in 3D. This effect will be unique in that most traditional 3D imaging of a human hand requires the user to wear a glove. However, Microsoft has fine-tuned the process, taking advantage of Kinect technology to such an extent that it will be able to produce a perfect 3D rendition of a human hand.

This technology is the result of Microsoft’s research team attempting to devise a device that could have a business application as well as compatibility with touch screen technology. With obvious ingenuity, the designers of Microsoft Digits implanted optical imaging into the device, which attaches to a user’s wrist, and thereby relays the movement of a hand into a 3D screen image. Amazingly, the image is a perfect replication of the user’s hand that can be used in conjunction with the next generation of touch-free computing.

I should note, however, that the current prototype of Microsoft Digits uses off the shelf hardware and therefore is bulky and very primitive looking. In this prototype, the researchers are using a simple IR laser and inexpensive infrared camera that adds to the bulkiness of the hand device. However, in the future, researchers are hoping that the device’s appearance and size will change to the extent that it will be comparable to one of today’s watches. If they are successful, it will make this device more commercially desirable and easier for consumers to use.

In developing Microsoft Digits, researchers found that their main problem was to get the device to mimic the movements of an actual hand. In order to accomplish this feat, the researchers had to study their own hands and how their hands functioned in real-life situations. The researchers were then able to copy the hand movements to a kinetic model, which was tweaked until all movements, including fingers, were moving perfectly. With this accomplishment under their belt, researchers are now working on improvements that will allow the technology to be applied to smartphones and tablets with the hope that one day we will be able to answer our phones without removing the devices from our pockets or handbags.

I know for myself this would be a great improvement since struggling to retrieve a phone or device from the inside of a woman’s purse can be extremely frustrating. In fact, just yesterday we found ourselves at a meeting that required the audience to be silent in order to hear the speaker, when my wife ‘s cellphone started ringing. She was terribly embarrassed as she grappled through her handbag attempting to locate her phone so that she could silence it. Though I am sure that others have also experienced this type of situation, when trying to quash the ringer, it seems like it takes us forever to get to our phone.

That is why I think that having Microsoft Digits designed to be worn in a fashion similar to today’s watch would be a blessing. I know for many of us who occasionally show up late for a business meeting, it would save us from the confusion and/or embarrassment of hunting through our briefcase or handbag in search of the needed device.

So what do you think? Is this something that we all can take advantage of? Please share your thoughts with us.

Comments welcome.

Source: Microsoft Research and technology review Published by MIT

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Ctd 2005