WinHEC roundup

Over the weekend I’ll be talking about the news and gadgets that came out of Microsoft’s WinHEC conference this week including: UMPCs; Medical interfaces; Mobile-centric computing; 64-bit computing; Unified communications; the new Windows Server; and just how cool the kernel in Vista and Windows Server 2008 is.

Stay tuned…

Microsoft Popfly

Microsoft’s new free ecosystem in alpha is named Popfly.  The alpha service currently has a waiting list.

It provides for the creation and hosting of mashup content in a community (Popfly Space) using building ‘blocks’ in a non-developer-orientated UI.  Finished projects can be hosted (by the provided embed code or directly to sites that support the MetaWoblog API) on other communities (that support iframe) or as Vista Sidebar gadgets. 

So for example, at the basic level you can create and publish your own slide show or psuedo 3D photo sphere or Virtual Earth view (with photos geographically positioned) that pulls pictures from a Live Spaces or Flickr account.

Presentation can be done with Silverlight 1.0, AJAX, or DHTML (see my posts on this for more information on Silverlight).  It is a web-browser client-side technology (not for creating say ASP.NET server-side applications).

The Popfly Creator is an online tool for creating the single-page mashup applications, including the ASP.NET AJAX client library.  It graphically shows the blocks and how they are connected up.  There are javascript editing options (including intellisense!) for advanced users.

Users can create and share their own blocks, and there appears to be a possible monetization opportunity there too (see the FAQ).

There is also rudimentary cross-user anonymous application data persistance (e.g. for voting results).

The service is aimed primarily at non-professional developers to build things without code, but there’s also a plug-in for Visual Studio (all versions) called Popfly Explorer.

See the Popfly website and video for more information.

[Via: Robert Scoble]

What is Engadget?

Apparently, according to an Engadget post today, they got their Apple delay news wrong yesterday.

I think there are two things about Engadget that I’d like to comment on:

  • It’s acting like it is a reporter (which given today’s television news isn’t necessarily a claim I’d want to make), when I thnk it should go with an angle of being a group of geeky enthusiast bloggers.
  • It seems to have become increasingly verbose in each post – not many bullet point specs present – which makes it time consuming to read; more so than it should be.  I just want to see the facts (especially about product reveals and solid availability) rather than creative monologue/opinion.  I know this gives it style (and makes it ‘Engaging’), but it just feels like it’s getting in the way now.

What is Engadget – a review site, a rumour site, a technology commentary site, a gadget launch site?

The apparent statement that Engadget workers can’t have stocks in companies that are reported on is interesting. If Engadget has so much power (in a way that would seem to have precipitated this post today after their apparent mistake) that their commentary can affects markets (and potentially attract investigation), then perhaps it needs to be diluted or dis-integrated in some way.  Perhaps they should just go with the facts, and become more of a central gadget product/service release feed specifically sponsored by the manufacturers, perhaps with a (stock-clean) reviewing service as a separate entity. 

Except for the verbosity, I actually take Engadget as a decent news/rumour feeds for gadget enthusiasts.  I feel though that the line between news and rumour is somewhat for the reader to decide, rather than relying on potentially reported hearsay.  If I see something I like on there, I’m happy that they let me know, but I also go and look for the official product/service page, since without that, it’s not obvious how I can purchase something to add to my horde.

With power does come some responsibility, which one can choose either to deflect (perhaps with disclaimers, footnotes or just a clear standing) or absorb (possibly to build fame, credibility or loyalty) along with the consequences that comes with it.  What will Engadget become (if anything different) and how will it weigh the responsibilities?

Halo 3 launch Date announced – Sep 25 2007

That’s it:, the super-highly anticipated 3rd installment (but this time for Xbox 360) has an official launch date and 3 different product versions (including two special editions).

I’ve seen some video documentaries about the major baddies and the multiplayer stuff, but I haven’t personally noticed too much in terms of in-game trailers and I’ve seen comments about the graphics not really utilising the 360 that much.  Perhaps the E3 conference will provide a useful update on that.

Windows Server 2008 (formerly code name "Longhorn")

Pop over to Microsoft’s product page and you’ll see that official name for Windows Server “Longhorn” is now Windows Server 2008.

So they definately didn’t want an outdated product name, and this also allows for a later than previously announced Q4 2007 release.  The previous pledge was for a new server product every four years (so 2003 to 2008 doesn’t fit that pattern) with R2 releases every two, so I wonder how far behind W2K8 R2 will be…

Of course the virtualisation component of W2K8 is already delayed to follow 180 days after server RTM, for free.

Check out the review of Beta 3 on the SuperSite.

Movie Review: 28 weeks later

Hoping to build on interest from 28 Days Later in 2002, the new 28 Weeks Later continues the story.

Robert Carlyle is probably the best known star in terms of world-wide viewers (from The Full Monty).  When you consider that it was mostly a cast of 7 (Robert, two women, two army guys, and two new child actors), they did a good job of carrying the movie.  The use of different scenes and locations likely added to this.  I think location change and pacing is what makes many good action movies appealing including James Bond movies.

The movie begins with an incident of moral scruples and anguish (shown very well through Robert’s character) that will prove doubly haunting (albeit in a very co-incidental/human-radar way) through the rest of the movie.  It ends with the option of a wider playfield for another sequel, which only occurs because adults fail to communicate something important to children.  That depth of moral dilema (and the fact that not everyone ‘good’ survives) is what makes this movie rise above the average gore-fest.

The movie was entertaining and worth seeing if you liked the first one – just don’t expect any conclusion.

Xbox 360 vs. Sony PS3 vs. Nintendo Wii

I’ve had the 360 and PS3 since their launches and the Wii for just over a month (though it seems longer after my Zelda binge, despite it being two weeks ago).

Overall, 360 is the winner and here’s why:

  • Xbox Live – it’s the 2nd version; Sony and Wii don’t have a story for multi-player games and have weak online marketplace experiences;  PS2 did have some online multi-player support but it was game publisher specific.  Once your firewall was set up for Xbox or Xbox 360, everything just seems to work and the game lobby experience is sufficient and consistent.  Microsoft is a software company and they have played that to their advantage.  Sony is touting an upcoming ‘Sims’ or ‘Second-life’ type experience but it’s too late
  • Price – the blu-ray disc in the PS3 is a compulsory purchase even on the lower model (that they have apparently discontinued) and it may have cost Sony the industry lead they had; having a PS2 compatibility board in there cost extra money, and while it beats Xbox 360 (with it’s slow-release compatibility list), anyone hard-core enough to buy a system at launch will probably keep their old systems hooked up anyway.
  • Interchangeable rechargeable controllers (with the right battery pack) –   the 360 controllers should have come with the rechargeable batteries from the start and I went for the standalone 2-battery charging station which prevents any battery issues; the PS3 batteries are not removeable, and the Wii only seems to have limited 3rd-party solutions available
  • Games – there has been very little PS3-only goodness here and even though Xbox 360 didn’t have a large number of launch titles, they have had a year to bring them on now, giving them the hard start; Wii will still attract people for cutesy games.
  • Dashboard and in-game interface – Nintendo and Sony have finally caught on to the idea Microsoft has with the original Xbox – having a consistent in-game interface to the dashboard is very compelling.
  • Media experiences – the 360 can be a media extender to Windows Vista Home Premium/Ultimate or XP Media Center Edition, but if you’re like me, you’d put the computer in the same room as the 360 where the big screen is, so this isn’t the big deal that Microsoft says, and if you want TV in other rooms then it’s something to consider but they you’re probably wondering why there’s no media center extender experience for the Windows desktop; if Microsoft plays it’s cards well in the IPTV industry then the next Xbox (once broadband is 10Mbps+) could be the set-top box of choice

For the truly serious technologist or addicted gamer, there are 3 consoles in play.  For the serious gamer, there are 2 (360 and PS3).

It’s really about the experience and the gameplay – Microsoft has it hands-down on experience, and is getting their on gameplay because it’s Microsoft with a huge developer following and they’ve had a year head-start.  A few more good titles and a killer Halo 3, and things could forever become Pepsi.

For the casual gamer with kids there’s the Wii – it only has 480i (in North America or 480p with component cables) and there’s no digital audio out – but the novelty is there and some games (like Zelda) have pleasant graphics once you get passed the very obvious resolution drop.  Wii sports is family fun but it didn’t take long for us to realise that you can sit on the couch and just flick your wrist with far more precision (so RSI is still on the cards for some).  Wii may have one of the strongest back-wards compatibility stories in terms of taking Game Cube games, controllers and memory cards.  The Mii characters you can build for yourself are limited (despite the many choices) but fun for a while.  The launch games are disappointing (esp Mario), however you can buy a fair amount lot of Wii equipment and games before you hit the price of a PS3 with no games.

If you are into gadgets and technology and you are choosing one then get a 360 and make sure you get the Elite (with HDMI output).  If you have $2000 to spare, get all 3, accessories and a switcher, then spend another $2000 on a 47″+ LCD/Plasma screen (making sure it’s native 1080p, not 720p with 1080i support) and of course another $1000 or so on digital sound receiver with 5.1/7.1 speakers.

Game Review for Wii: Zelda – Twilight Princess

Not a very, um, manly soundly game title but it is nonetheless the latest in the Zelda series where you play the young male hero named Link in this 3rd person 3D action/rpg/platform/puzzle/fighting/fantasy/rpg game set in a fairly large world.

I completed it in about 60 hours (over two weeks of evenings and weekends) – I have binges of game play, then nothing for months – and it was quite addictive and enjoyable in places.  60 hours isn’t quick, but at least I feel like I got an hour’s worth for every dollar.

The game starts off very slowly and it seems like it’s going to be quite dull, but over time, the items at your disposal become far more interesting and practically an extreme sport for some.

The Nintendo platform has a reputation for child-friendly cutesy games and visually this Zelda edition is no exception for the mos tpart, but it is rated T for Teen.  The story, environments and characters get a little PG in terms of potential scariness to <10 year olds perhaps (not to mention the dodgy balloon-ride man), and the skill and patience required to beat the bosses at higher levels is something only the die-hard 5 year old video game addict would put themselves through.  I’m not sure what rating previous Zelda games had, but I could easily see parents buying this game, thinking they were getting something that starts off with cute music, but actually turns into something else.

Once you get passed the slow start, the game is very engaging, and the world map starts to grow (with city, castle, villages, open plains, underwater, snow, sand, twilight worlds…).  Also, just when you think you’ve got all the pieces to put the world to rights, the adventure takes a new turn and you’re collecting for something else.  The number of successive bosses at the end is perhaps too many.  One could easily lose the background plot if the game is played over a long period of time.

Most of the challenges support the main plot and you have a guide available – she (once you figure out the gender) provides useful tips for the most part.

The use of the Wii sensor technology is mostly limited to the controller being a sword (and something else with the nunchuck), and you soon turn off the cursor as it’s not necessary and as annoying as having tinkerbell buzzing at you all day (you’ll see what I mean if you play it).

It was annoying that there can only be 3 save slots (a Nintendo trait it seems), so if you have more than 3 people in your family…  I also didn’t like that you can’t save the game after you finish it to do further exploring (put I did save before engaging the last boss).

If you like open world adventures with fantasy characters and a good balance of exploration, dungeons, puzzles, fighting and a very light sprinkling of rpg elements then this is a very engaging game – it’s not for young children, but then you wouldn’t want the embarrassment of them beating you anyway right?

Zune Developer Mystery

So despite there being some apparent non-disclosure gag in effect, iLounge is adamant that Microsoft held a day-long meeting with developers on Monday to show off a ‘not bad’ flash-memory-based Zune and a beefier (screen and storage) zune.

My questions are… why was it a day-long event and why developers?  Does this mean some kind of SDK or Silverlight on a Zune could be a possibility?  I certainly hope so.

MS could conceivably release developer information without specifying specs or price and could even provide an emulator (like the Windows mobile emulator) so is this developer news or not?

Movie Review: Next

I saw Next last night, starring Nicolas Cage, Julianne Moore & Jessica Biel.

While Nick fit the part, there was no wow to his performance.  Julianne’s FBI agent part could have been played by a no-one.  Jessica walked around in her underwear a bit which was OK, but as with the other characters, this wasn’t a real deep-character kind of movie.  There was the opportunity for romance between Julanne and Nick (which seemed more logical given that they appear to be close in age than Nick and Jessica who didn’t make a convincing couple).

There’s a brief appearance by Peter Falk which really felt like they were just rolling him out to show you that he’s still kicking.

Don’t go to this movie if you are looking for explanations.  Go to it if you want to see how cool a foresight ability could be.

Some people have said the end was disappointing.  I’d say that if they had played on further from the end shown (which I can’t explain without spoiling it) that the ultimate end would have been boring because nothing exciting would have resulted, other than perhaps some canoodling a few weeks later.

This should have been a Jerry Bruckheimer movie to have made the action sequences really pop and appeal to a younger audience (marketing-wise) though I’m not sure they would have appreciated the end either, or that he could have squeezed enough out of this relatively short movie.

I enjoyed watching the character’s talent in action – his skill combined with a specific limitation made for a novel but consistent (e.g. superman+krypton) fallible, if perhaps somehwhat too jaded/bitter, super hero.