Xbox Division Lead, Don Mattrick, Leaves to Join... Zynga? Steve Ballmer, Himself, Scabs the Void.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 2, 2013 - 12:33 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, microsoft, consolitis

Well that was unexpected...

Don Mattrick, a few months ahead of the Xbox One launch and less than two months after its unveiling, decided to leave his position at Microsoft as president of Interactive Entertainment Business. This news was first made official by a Zynga press release, which announced acquiring him as CEO. Steve Ballmer later published an open letter addressed all employees of Microsoft, open to the public via their news feed, wishing him luck and outlining the immediate steps to follow.

Mattrick.jpg

While subtle in the email, no replacement has been planned for after his departure on July 8th. Those who report to Don Mattrick will report directly to Steve Ballmer, himself, seemingly through the launch of Xbox One. As scary and unsettling as Xbox One PR has been lately, launching your flagship ship without a captain is a depressingly fitting apex. This would likely mean that either: Don gave minimal notice of his departure, he was being abruptly ousted from Microsoft and Zynga just happened to make convenient PR for all parties involved, or there is literally no sense to be made of the situation.

However the situation came about, Xbox One will likely launch from a team directly lead by Steve Ballmer and Zynga will have a new CEO. Will his goal be to turn the former social gaming giant back on course? Or will he be there to milk blood from the company before it turns to stone?

I wonder whether his new contract favors cash or stock...

Source: Zynga

Microsoft Surface Pro With 256GB SSD Now Available For $1,199.99

Subject: Mobile | July 1, 2013 - 05:00 PM |
Tagged: windows 8 tablet, windows 8, Surface Pro, microsoft, 256GB

A recent product listing at CDW indicates that Microsoft is adding a new Surface Pro tablet SKU to its existing lineup of 10.6" tablets. The new SKU ups the storage ante to a 256GB solid state drive.

The Surface Pro tablet is otherwise identical to the existing Surface Pros, however. Specifications include an Intel Core i5 3317U processor with HD 4000 graphics, 4GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 10.6" 1080p display wrapped in a magnesium chassis.

The 256GB model continues to run Windows 8 Pro, which means that users will have a bit more than 200GB to play around with after Windows, Office, and a few apps are installed.

The 256GB Surface Pro will cost $1,199.99, which means that the extra 128GB of storage comes at a $200 premium over the existing 128GB Surface Pro ($999.99).

Personally I find the Surface Pro to be too expensive for my taste, especially when $1,200 does not even get me a physical keyboard. I would rather grab one of those Windows 8 convertible tablets I've covered recently. On the other hand, if you are using the Surface Pro for business and you need as much built-in storage as possible, at least the new Surface Pro SKU with 256GB SSD is an option now.

Source: CDW

DirectX 11.2 Will Be Exclusive To Windows 8.1 and Xbox One

Subject: General Tech | July 1, 2013 - 11:20 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, Windows 8.1, tiled resources, microsoft, gaming, directx 11.2, DirectX

The release of a Direct X 12 API may still be uncertain, but that has not stopped Microsoft from building upon the existing DX 11 API. Specifically, Microsoft has announced an update in the form of DirectX 11.2, which makes some back-end tweaks and adds some new gaming-related features.

First shown off at BUILD last month, Antoine Leblond demonstrated Direct X 11.2, and one of the API's major features: tiled resources. He did not go into specifics, and Microsoft has not yet released documentation on DX 11.2, but during the presentation Leblond described tiled resources as a mechanism for supporting very high resolution texutres by allowing the game engine to use both dedicated graphics memory and system memory to store and read texture data. The demo reportedly featured 9GBs of texture data, which was shared between GDDR5 and DDR3 memory.

Microsoft DirectX Logo.jpg

I am not certain on exactly how this "tiled resource" technology differs from what current games and hardware is already capable of, where the graphics card can use some amount of system RAM for its own purposes when it has data that cannot be stored in the limited GDDR5 space. Perhaps Microsoft has found a way to make the swapping process more efficient, or it could be a completely new way of enabling shared memory that would support HUMA/HSA-like strategies behind the DX abstraction layer to make it easier for game developers. This is all speculation, however.

The other major takeaway from the announcement is that the new DirectX 11.2 API will be exclusive to Windows 8.1 PCs and the company's Xbox One gaming console. It is suprising that Windows 8 is not included, but seeing as Windows 8.1 will be a free update it is not that big of a deal. Windows 7 users are not likely to be pleased with Microsoft witholding it as an incentive to get gamers to upgrade to its latest operating system. Hopefully some good will still come out of the exclusivity in the form of better ported games. Because the Xbox One supports DX 11.2, I'm hopeful that it will encourage game developers to take advantage of the latest technology and support it on the PC version as well when they do the port of the game.

Source: Bit-Tech.net

E3 2013: Microsoft can ban your Xbox One library

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 17, 2013 - 12:16 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, microsoft, ea, E3 13, E3

Update: Microsoft denies the statements from their support account... but this is still one of the major problems with DRM and closed platforms in general. It is stuff like this that you let them do.

xbox-one-head.jpg

Electronic Arts knows that they need to shake their terrible public image.

Welcome to Microsoft's PR strategy for the Xbox One.

Consumers, whether they acknowledge it or not, fear for the control that platform holders have over their content. It was hard for many to believe that having your EA account banned for whatever reason, even a dispute with a forum moderator, forfeited your license to games you play through that EA account. Sounds like another great idea for Microsoft to steal.

Not stopping there, later on in the thread they were asked what would happen in the event of a security breach. You know, recourse before destroying access to possibly thousands of dollars of content.

While not a "verified account", @xboxsupport is.

They acknowledge ownership of this account in the background image there.

Honestly, there shouldn't have been any doubt that these actually are Microsoft employees.

... Yikes.

At this point, we have definitely surpassed absurdity. Sure, you typically need to do something fairly bad to have Microsoft stop charging your for Xbox Live. Removing access to your entire library of games, to me, is an attempt to limit cheating and the hardware community.

Great, encourage spite from the soldering irons, that works out well.

Don't worry, enthusiasts, you know the PC loves you.

Gaming as a form of entertainment is fundamentally different than gaming as a form of art. When content is entertainment, its message touches you without any intrinsic value and can be replaced with similar content. Sometimes a certain piece of content, itself, has specific value to society. It is these times where we should encourage efforts by organizations such as GoG, Mozilla and W3C, Khronos, and many others. Without help, it could be extremely difficult or impossible for content to be preserved for future generations and future civilizations.

It does not even need to get in the way of the industry and its attempt to profit from the gaming medium; a careless industry, on the other hand, can certainly get in the way of our ability to have genuine art. After all, this is the main reason why I am a PC gamer: the platform allows entertainment to co-exist with communities who support themselves when the official channels do not.

Of course, unless Windows learns a little something from the Xbox. I guess do not get your Windows Store account banned in the future?

Windows 8.1 for Enterprise? Most companies don't approve of working blue.

Subject: General Tech | June 4, 2013 - 11:08 AM |
Tagged: win8, win 8.1, microsoft

Microsoft has moved from promoting Win 8.1 for consumers and is now trying to convince Enterprise users that the coming upgrade makes Win8 business friendly.  From The Register we heard about improvements to BYOD support, something that many Enterprise sized businesses are fighting tooth and nail to resist.  Near Field Communication, and Wi-Fi Direct sharing are touted as something that Enterprise should want, thus making internet enabled printers even more of a security risk and while Miracast offers a way to connect to displays wirelessly it is unlikely that many users will have hardware which supports WiDi or the upcoming HSA standard.  Workplace Join will allow limited access to the corporate network for machines that are not actually members of the domain but at least Biometric authentication support is improved which could make that less of a risk.  The automatic launching of VPN when a network resource is requested while the user is outside of the corporate network could be useful with automatic authentication, something not commonly implemented in Enterprise level VPNs.

The Inquirer tells of a few other features, from the boot straight to desktop that has cheered many consumers and a confirmation of the date of June 26th being the initial preview release.  They do mention native device encryption being bundled in Win8, perhaps the only feature in this list that Enterprises might see as advantageous as it would mean they would not need additional software to encrypt machines; Endpoint Encryption is a common solution and as Microsoft now owns the security vendor the migration to native encryption could theoretically be quick and easy.

windows_8-1_leak-580-100.jpg

"Much of Microsoft's marketing push for Windows 8 has focused on consumers, but Redmond took time at its annual TechEd conference in New Orleans to explain that its forthcoming Windows 8.1 update will include lots of new enhancements for enterprises, as well."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: The Register

Ubuntu bug #1 closed with a sense of humour

Subject: General Tech | May 30, 2013 - 11:34 AM |
Tagged: ubuntu, linux, microsoft

The first bug reported about Ubuntu has been closed, it was titled "Microsoft has a majority market share" and could be easily reproduced.

"1. Visit a local PC store
2. Attempt to buy a machine without any proprietary software"

The bug has now been updated to "Fix Released", thanks to the fact that the definition of computer has greatly increased in breadth over the past few years.  Smartphones are running predominantly non-Microsoft OSes and the availability of iOS and Android tablets have really turned the market in a new direction.  Now it is possible to pick up a computer that is good enough for casual usage which has no Microsoft software installed whatsoever.  Finding white box laptops with no installed OS is still uncommon but nowhere near as rare as it once was.  Slashdot links to his full post here.

ubiuntu.jpg

"Mark Shuttleworth of Ubuntu fame has closed the primal bug on Launchpad, standing since 2004 and titled 'Microsoft has a majority market share,' due to the 'changing realities' of tablets, smartphones, and wearable computing."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

Source: Slashdot

Windows 8.1 can Boot to Desktop and has a Start Button

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2013 - 04:16 PM |
Tagged: windows blue, Windows 8.1, windows, microsoft

Personally, I really cannot care too much about the user experience quirks inherent to Windows modernization; the wedge slowly being shoved between the user and their machine is far too concerning. No matter how they modify the interface, restricting what users and developers can install and create on their machine is a deal breaker. But, after that obligatory preface reminding people not to get wound up in UX hiccups and be complacent to the big issues, Windows Blue will certainly address many of those UX hiccups.

As we reported, last month, boot-to-desktop and the Start Button were planned for inclusion with Windows 8.1. Then, the sources were relentless to emphasize: "Until it ships, anything can change."

blue-desktop.jpg

Images courtesy, Paul Thurrott.

Mary Jo Foley gathered quite a few details since then. Firstly, the option (as in, disabled by default) to boot directly to desktop will be there; from the sounds of it, it looks like it will be disabled by default but not exclusive to Enterprise SKUs. This is somewhat promising, as it would be slightly less likely for Microsoft to kill support for the desktop (and, by extension, x86 applications) if they feel pressure to punctuate it. Still, assuming because "it makes sense" is a bad way to conduct business.

blue-desktop-closeup.jpg

Also available (albeit, enabled by default) is the Start Button, seen in higher quality above. This will be, as far as we know, enabled by default. Its functionality will be to bring up the Start Screen or, alternatively, a new All Apps screen visible at ZDNet. Now this has me interested: while I actually like the Start Screen, a list of apps should provide functionality much closer to the Start Menu than Microsoft was previously comfortable with. Previously, the Start Screen attempted to make the desktop applications feel less comfortable than modern apps; this interface appears like it would feel more comfortable to the desktop. While probably still jarring, it looks to make finding desktop applications easier and quickly gets out of the way of your desktop experience.

blue-start.jpg

According to Paul Thurrott, for those who wish to personalize the Start Screen, you will have the option to share your desktop wallpaper with the it. For tasteful backgrounds, like the one above, I can see this being of good use.

Just please, do not grief someone with a background full of fake tiles.

As a final note, there is still no word about multiple monitor support for "Modern Apps". If you have tried to use them in the past, you know what I am talking about: basically only one at a time, it will jump between monitors if you bring up the Start Screen, and so forth.

Now even your mouse can minimize your game window

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Cases and Cooling | May 29, 2013 - 11:03 AM |
Tagged: Windows key, mouse, microsoft, I Hate This Key

Has this ever happened to you while playing a shooter? You need to get to a position so you mash the alt key to sprint and... aw crap I hit the Windows key... well, now I am dead. Have you ever considered purchasing software or a gaming keyboard which allows you disable that button?

Have you ever considered purchasing a mouse which also has that button to give both hands something to fear?

mouse-start.jpg

Definitely not a member of their Sidewinder product line.

Okay, so I should be fair: the Microsoft Sculpt Comfort mouse is not designed for gaming and Windows 8-like user experiences revolve heavily around the start button. The mouse button is also more useful than a redundant Windows key; the blue pad also has swipe functionality for extra functions. According to how it is described on its product page, slide gestures are bound to respond to the computer as mouse buttons 4 and 5.

So you can probably bind them to game functions, if you feel daring.

But, in the end, I still need to congratulate Microsoft for trying to innovate computer hardware. This is more than just trying to graft touch functionality to a mouse surface, as both Apple and Microsoft have tried in the past, and tries to make the classical mouse experience better. I doubt it is for most of our audience, but not everything needs to be.

Source: Microsoft

The PS4 and Xbox One Hardware Revealed, Console Makers Have Different Goals

Subject: General Tech | May 22, 2013 - 07:33 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, semi-custom business unit, ps4, microsoft, amd

Microsoft took the wraps off of its upcoming Xbox One console earlier this week, and it is now possible to compare Microsoft and Sony's next-generation hardware.

Prior to the Xbox One launch, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi postulated that Microsoft would be going a different route than Sony with its next Xbox. Specifically, that Microsoft would focus more on media playback and applications rather than purely gaming (unlike Sony, which is doing the opposite). At the time, I found myself agreeing with his sentiment, and now that the console as launched I believe Mr. Tassi was absolutely correct. Microsoft wants the Xbox One to be the center of your living room and the device you use for all of your media (and gaming) needs. The new console integrates the Windows kernel and can do multitasking of applications and media in a Metro-UI like fashion (2/3, 1/3 split screen).

On the other hand, Sony is positioning its console as the best gaming device for the living room, and is focusing on integrating all things gaming with media as more of an afterthought. Like previous PlayStation consoles, it will likely play back media files and Blu-ray movies just fine, but it is a gaming box at its core.

Interestingly, the hardware that both companies have chosen seems to line up nicely with those goals. Both the Xbox One and PS4 are based around a semi-custom AMD APU with eight Jaguar CPU cores, but they have gone in different directions from there.

PlayStation 4 hardware:

As a refresher, Sony's PS4 has the following hardware specifications.

  • CPU:  Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
  • GPU:  AMD GCN GPU with 1152 shader units (in 18 CUs)
  • Memory:  8GB of GDDR5 clocked at 5500MHz
  • HDD:  At least a spindle hard drive
  • Bandwidth:  176 GB/s

Sony has changed directions from the PS3 by going with a simpler design that provides more graphical horsepower and higher system memory bandwidth versus the Xbox One. The PS4 uses a semi-custom AMD chip that has saved Sony a great deal of R&D money while also being easier for developers as it is that much closer to a traditional PC with its x86-64 APU (GDDR5 memory is unusual though). The PS4 is aimed at gamers and Sony's choice of hardware and memory reflects that.

Xbox One hardware:

Xbox One Console.jpg

Microsoft was not as forthcoming as Sony as far as touting specific hardware specifications, but based on the announcement and additional information acquired by AnandTech, the Xbox One features the following hardware:

  • CPU:  Eight core AMD “Jaguar” CPU
  • GPU:  AMD GCN GPU with 768 shader cores (within 12 Compute Units)
  • Memory:  8GB of DDR3 system memory at 2133MHz as well as 32MB of on-chip eSRAM
  • HDD:  500GB
  • DDR3 Memory Bandwidth: 68.3 GB/s
  • eSRAM Memory Bandwidth: 102GB/s

Microsoft took a different approach with the Xbox One. Instead of going for DDR5 like Sony did, Microsoft opted for a hybrid approach that uses a small but high-bandwidth and low latency embedded SRAM on the same chip as the CPU and GPU paired with a larger 8GB of traditional PC DDR3 system memory. This approach is interesting because it gives Microsoft a system that has access to low latency memory at the expense of the higher bandwidth that the PS4 enjoys with its single pool of DDR5 memory. Developers will need to become familiar with the embedded RAM to take full advantage of the latency benefits, however.

These hardware choices work out such that the PS4 has a distinct advantage when it comes to gaming performance. It has more GPU horsepower and high-bandwidth memory for feeding the processor high resolution textures. On the other hand, while Microsoft's console still has a respectable GPU (for a console), it seems to be optimized for lower latency memory access and just enough graphics oomph to enable the company to have a multimedia and home entertainment machine that can run multiple applications simultaneously while also satisfying gamers by giving them a decent graphical upgrade over the Xbox 360 for games. 

This next generation of consoles should be interesting, as will the ensuing "flame wars" between fans. Both Microsoft and Sony have learned from the past (current) generation of consoles and are focusing on what they are good at to differentiate themselves. Microsoft is tapping into its Windows ecosystem of PCs and mobile devices and providing an app machine that the company hopes will be the hub of your living room entertainment needs. Sony, who does not have that expertise or existing infrastructure is also focusing in on what it excels at and that is gaming.

I'm looking forward to seeing how the consoles co-exist and how the market shakes out over 2014 and into the future as the hardware stays the same but software changes. Sony definitely has the hardware advantage to stay in the game longer when it comes to games and graphics, but Microsoft has a box that can do more than games and can find purchase in your media rack even after it is surpassed in gaming graphics quality by PCs and the competition.

What do you think about the split between the Xbox One and PS4's hardware?

 

Source: AnandTech

RIP Hotmail, Long Live Outlook.com

Subject: General Tech | May 3, 2013 - 01:50 PM |
Tagged: webmail, outlook, microsoft, hotmail, email

Microsoft has completed the transition to its new Outlook.com email service. The successor (and replacement) to Hotmail, Outlook.com now has more than 400 million active subscribers. Microsoft opened the Outlook.com service in beta form last year, and finally took it out of preview mode in February. Since then, the company has been moving everyone’s accounts over to the new service. In all, the company moved more than 300 million accounts from the old Hotmail databases to the new Outlook service. Over a six week period, Microsoft moved more than 150 Petabytes of user data to the new service!

From now on, users will now log in to Outlook.com and interact with the new Modern UI-esque user interface. Users that were part of the company’s Hotmail service will get to keep their existing @hotmail.com accounts and no configuration setting changes will be necessary. New users will only get @outlook.com addresses, however. Any Hotmail Plus users will get to keep their paid status and enjoy a version of Outlook.com without any sidebar ads.

Microsoft Outlook Webmail.jpg

Now that the transition is complete, Microsoft is working on adding new features to Outlook.com. Right now, the company is working on introducing deeper integration with SkyDrive as well as tweaking the sending of email from alternate accounts. Both new features will be gradually rolled out to users over the next few weeks.

The SkyDrive integration will be bolstered by adding a new attachment option when sending an email that will allow users to attach files stored on SkyDrive. Outlook will then add a link to the email and automatically assign the correct permissions to allow the email recipient to download the file. If you attach a photo from SkyDrive, it will automatically create a thumbnail or gallery of photos within the email body.

The new SMTP send feature tweaks the way Outlook sends mail via an alternative email account (for example, if you added an old Gmail or Yahoo mail account to your Hotmail or Outlook.com email account) such that it no longer shows your Hotmail address “on behalf of” your alternative email. Once the new features is rolled out, email recipients will only see your alternative email address and your Hotmail/Outlook email will not be revealed.

If you are curious about the new Outlook.com interface, check out my Outlook.com preview article.

Source: Microsoft