Yooka-Laylee Trailer for E3 2016 Released

Subject: General Tech | June 6, 2016 - 07:46 PM |
Tagged: windows, pc gaming, osx, linux

The next week-and-a-half should be good for video game enthusiasts. E3 2016 starts on June 14th, although EA, Bethesda, Microsoft, Ubisoft, Sony, and AMD (with PCGamer) have press conferences throughout the 12th and the 13th. Of course, not to get lost in the traffic, many entities are releasing their announcements prior to those conferences. For instance, Watch Dogs 2 will have a reveal on this Wednesday, June 8th, five days prior to Ubisoft's press conference.

This post is about a Kickstarter project called Yooka-Laylee, though. This title is being created by Playtonic Games, which contains several past employees of Rare, apparently to create a proper Banjo-Kazooie-style platform title. It raised over two million British Pounds (~3 million USD) and targeted an October 2016 release date. That has since slipped to Q1 2017, but that should be expected for a crowdfunding project, especially when the stretch goals start piling up. It is scheduled to be released on Windows, Mac, and Linux... and a few other boxes.

Of course, they couldn't resist making a Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts joke at the end...

... I chuckled.

Microsoft updates Windows 10 UWP to support unlocked frame rates and G-Sync/FreeSync

Subject: Graphics Cards | May 10, 2016 - 04:11 PM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, vrr, variable refresh rate, uwp, microsoft, g-sync, freesync

Back in March, Microsoft's Phil Spencer addressed some of the concerns over the Unified Windows Platform and PC gaming during his keynote address at the Build Conference. He noted that MS would "plan to open up VSync off, FreeSync, and G-Sync in May" and the company would "allow modding and overlays in UWP applications" sometime further into the future. Well it appears that Microsoft is on point with the May UWP update.

According to the MS DirectX Developer Blog, a Windows 10 update being pushed out today will enable UWP to support unlocked frame rates and variable refresh rate monitors in both G-Sync and FreeSync varieties. 

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As a direct response to your feedback, we’re excited to announce the release today of new updates to Windows 10 that make gaming even better for game developers and gamers.

Later today, Windows 10 will be updated with two key new features:

Support for AMD’s FreesyncTM and NVIDIA’s G-SYNC™ in Universal Windows Platform games and apps

Unlocked frame rate for Universal Windows Platform (UWP) games and apps

Once applications take advantage of these new features, you will be able to play your UWP games with unlocked frame rates. We expect Gears of War: UE and Forza Motorsport 6: Apex to lead the way by adding this support in the very near future.

This OS update will be gradually rolled out to all machines, but you can download it directly here.

These updates to UWP join the already great support for unlocked frame rate and AMD and NVIDIA’s technologies in Windows 10 for classic Windows (Win32) apps.

Please keep the feedback coming!

Today's update won't automatically enable these features in UWP games like Gears of War or Quantum Break, they will still need to be updated individually by the developer. MS states that Gears of War and Forza will be the first to see these changes, but there is no mention of Quantum Break here, which is a game that could DEFINITELY benefit from the love of variable refresh rate monitors. 

Microsoft describes an unlocked frame rate as thus:

Vsync refers to the ability of an application to synchronize game rendering frames with the refresh rate of the monitor. When you use a game menu to “Disable vsync”, you instruct applications to render frames out of sync with the monitor refresh. Being able to render out of sync with the monitor refresh allows the game to render as fast as the graphics card is capable (unlocked frame rate), but this also means that “tearing” will occur. Tearing occurs when part of two different frames are on the screen at the same time.

I should note that these changes do not indicate that Microsoft is going to allow UWP games to go into an exclusive full screen mode - it still believes the disadvantages of that configuration outweigh the advantages. MS wants its overlays and a user's ability to easily Alt-Tab around Windows 10 to remain. Even though MS mentions screen tearing, I don't think that non-exclusive full screen applications will exhibit tearing.

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Gears of War on Windows 10 is a game that could definitely use an uncapped render rate and VRR support.

Instead, what is likely occurring, as we saw with the second iteration of the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark, is that the game will have an uncapped render rate internally but that frames rendered OVER 60 FPS (or the refresh rate of the display) will not be shown. This will improve perceived latency as the game will be able to present the most up to date frame (with the most update to date input data) when the monitor is ready for a new refresh. 

UPDATE 5/10/16 @ 4:31pm: Microsoft just got back to me and said that my above statement wasn't correct. Screen tearing will be able to occur in UWP games on Windows 10 after they integrate support for today's patch. Interesting!!

For G-Sync and FreeSync users, the ability to draw to the screen at any range of render rates will offer an even further advantage of uncapped frame rates, no tearing but also, no "dropped" frames caused by running at off-ratios of a standard monitor's refresh rate.

I'm glad to see Microsoft taking these steps at a brisk pace after the feedback from the PC community early in the year. As for UWP's continued evolution, the blog post does tease that we should "expect to see some exciting developments on multiple GPUs in DirectX 12 in the near future."

Source: MSDN

Sony Bringing PS4 Remote Play To Windows and Mac PCs With Next Update

Subject: General Tech | March 19, 2016 - 08:36 PM |
Tagged: windows, sony, remote play, ps4, game streaming

Sony will be opening up its Remote Play feature to include Windows and Mac PCs with the next system update, version 3.5. In its current form, Remote Play allows users to stream games from their PS4 to certain Sony devices including Xperia phones, Vita handhelds, and the PlayStation TV "microconsole". The new update will let users stream games from the game console to PCs over your home network.

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PS4 System Update 3.5 is set to release later this month. While a beta is available, the beta build does not include the streaming feature. It does add support for live streaming to Dailymotion, updates to the social platform (e.g. planned parties), and an incognito mode that allows user to appear offline (how has it taken Sony this long to support that??).

Sony opening up the streaming is a welcome move as it puts it more in line with Microsoft's offering by not requiring specific hardware. Actually, it may be a bit better since users might be able to get away with using older Windows operating systems (Xbox One is limited to Windows 10) as well as streaming to their Macs. Further, Ars is reporting that Sony stopped shipping its PlayStation TV hardware in the US and Europe at the end of 2015. Thus, that may be one of the reasons Sony is moving away from streaming only to Sony hardware. I'm interested in trying out the Remote Play game streaming to see how it compares to the Xbox One to Windows 10 streaming which has worked pretty well so far for me in streaming Forza to my desktop!

Game streaming is proving to be popular and it is interesting to see both popular gaming consoles will soon allow you to stream games from the living room to your computers while at the same time Valve and others are pushing for solutions (e.g. Steam In-Home Streaming) to stream games from your PCs to the living room. Exciting times, especially if you're able to used wired network connections!

What do you think about Sony's plans for expanding Remote Play? Did you use the PS TV?

Microsoft Rolls Out Windows SDK for Build 10240

Subject: General Tech | July 30, 2015 - 07:58 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10, visual studio

July 29th started the official roll-out of Windows 10 and, for Windows Insiders, was pretty much “Wednesday”. We already had everything of relevance by Monday on the OS side of things, and not even a security patch landed in our Windows Update queue. It was not the only thing that Microsoft launched today, though. While Visual Studio 2015 was released last week, it said that it was not compatible with pre-10240 SDKs and would delete them during the installation process and you will be unable to develop SDK apps until the one for 10240 launches on July 29th.

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So, coincident with the OS release, Microsoft finally published the 10240 Windows SDK. Now, if you run Visual Studio 2015's installer, it will install the new SDK directly. You do not need to download it from a secondary source. These headers and libraries are placed in the “Windows Kits” folder of your 32-bit Program Files directory... ironically, without deleting the previous SDKs that it threatened to, when run before July 29th. Go figure.

Also, even though DirectX 12 has been in the Windows SDK for quite some time, Microsoft has, also, finally released code examples and they put them on their GitHub page. These samples teach you how to do things like draw a triangle, manage DirectX 11-era contexts alongside DirectX 12 ones in your application, and create an n-body gravity simulation. They welcome pull requests for fixes, although they might appreciate new samples as well.

Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 One-Minute Ad Launches

Subject: Editorial | July 21, 2015 - 12:28 AM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10

As we've been saying for several months now, Windows 10 is coming in a handful of days. Naturally, Microsoft is trickling out information and marketing material leading up to it. Some of the interesting ones we can talk about. I'd normally consider a one-minute TV spot as “not very interesting”, and it probably isn't for our audience, but there was one thing that I wanted to say about it.

The ad looks through an international cast of children, and of course an adorable puppy, describing how their technology life will evolve with Windows 10. The premise is that the OS will empower everything that they do, and grow with them because of automatic updates. Of course, young children and a puppy does a lot to sell a consumer product in itself. The video currently has over 200,000 views on YouTube with an almost 20:1 like-to-dislike ratio.

But the part that interested me was the quote “for them, every screen is meant to be touched”.

In a direct way, yes. Once you provide someone with a touch screen, especially a young child, they instantly want to touch every screen in their life. This has actually led to schools refusing to install touch-based all-in-one PCs because they were worried about kids ruining the non-touch monitors.

It is odd that Microsoft would focus on “touch” in the ad, though. This leads me to the point that I want to bring up. Nowhere in the ad is “familiar” or similar verbiage used. Each example is touch, stylus, or voice. You would think that Microsoft wants to draw in the audience who avoided Windows 8.x, and yet the tone sounds identical to what they've been saying for years.

It's just a TV spot, but it sounds a bit out of tune with the last year.

Cortana for Android Invite-Only Beta Launches

Subject: Mobile | July 19, 2015 - 10:43 PM |
Tagged: Android, microsoft, windows, windows 10, cortana

When it graduated from high school, Microsoft was voted “least likely to have an open relationship with itself”. Well who's laughing now, member of the Yearbook Committee? You thought you were so clever, sitting in the back of the late bus for students in extra-curricular activities, giggling as you doodled in your Five Star binder. Even though they always hogged the Windows seat, maybe they would have opened it up for a little fresh air in the Summer time had you taken the time to ask.

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Image Credit: Ars Technica

While Cortana is first and foremost a Windows 10 feature, it will appear on iOS and Android as well. Peter Bright of Ars Technica got in on the pre-release, invite-only beta and walked through the features. He notes that, while many have complained about crashes, his experienced wasn't marred with stability issues. On the other hand, because Cortana is not as deeply integrated into the operating system, despite the laundry list of permissions it requests, he expects that most users looking for a digital assistant will look to Google Now on their Android devices, even if they use Cortana on Windows 10.

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Image Credit: Ars Technica

There really wasn't a whole lot of note in the article though, at least in my opinion. There are a few interesting screenshots, but it basically looks like someone grafted the Cortana fly-out menu from Windows 10 onto a fullscreen mobile device. Even though I already saw the similarities in the Windows 10 Technical Previews, it is funny to see it so explicit.

No release date has been set for Cortana on Android or iOS.

Source: Ars Technica

Microsoft "Suspends the Availability" of Builds Tomorrow

Subject: General Tech | July 14, 2015 - 12:43 AM |
Tagged: windows 10, windows, microsoft

UPDATE (July 14th, 6:15pm ET): The change is now in effect. Going to the Insiders page at insider.windows.com has the PC link disabled and a message explaining that you're too late.

NOTE: We’re very close to the public release of Windows 10 so we’re not onboarding any new PCs to the Windows Insider Program just now. You can still onboard a supported Windows Phone and please do keep using Windows 10 on any PCs you’ve already set up and sending us great feedback!

See you at RTM!

Windows 10 is launching two weeks from Wednesday. Microsoft has set up a reservation system for Windows 7 and 8.x, apparently to create a queue for early adopters in before their “could care less” demographic. This was not available on Windows 10 Insider Preview, which we later found out is because Insiders are already at the front of the line. This is important, given today's announcement.

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July 13th, which is thankfully not a Friday, will be the last full day to receive ISOs or new builds over Windows Update. By some point tomorrow, these will be taken offline. We will be transitioned over to “production channels” for our next build and ISOs will not be provided. Also, pre-release keys will no longer activate. ISOs will return at some point, but they want to get everyone using their updating platform to make sure they work.

They also say that we will receive at least one new build before release.

Obviously, we are getting close so things are going to start changing. I wonder how long we will stay on RTM branch before Microsoft pushes Insiders forward. We know that Microsoft has already forked development into a 105xx line of build numbers, which is very likely to be post-launch updates. I am not sure that they would push those out over production though, so you would think that Insiders will be on RTM-based builds for at least a little bit.

Today might be your last chance to get in on Windows Insider for a bit, though.

Microsoft Will Support OpenSSH In Windows PowerShell

Subject: General Tech | June 8, 2015 - 12:35 AM |
Tagged: windows, remote management, powershell, openssh, mac os x, linux

Citing both leadership and corporate cultural changes within Microsoft, the PowerShell team – led by Team Group Software Engineering Manager Angel Calvo – excitedly announced support for OpenSSH earlier this week. Specifically, the team (finally, after the third such attempt) got the go-ahead from Microsoft's leadership and plans are underway to natively support OpenSSH in PowerShell as well as to contribute to the OpenBSD project on behalf of Microsoft.

Details are scarce, but this is great news for system administrators and a nice extra feature for enthusiasts that like to dabble in those "other" operating systems (which is to say, pretty much every OS except Windows) and remotely access them over a secure SSH connection to perform maintenance or transfer files.

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Currently, Windows users need to use third party tools to support SSH clients and servers such as PuTTY (and PSCP) and Cygwin (not pictured).

Until now, users have had to rely on third party tools such as PuTTY, Filezilla, and Cygwin among others for their SSH, SCP, and SFTP needs. Accessing Linux machines using PuTTY is fairly straightforward, but going the other direction and trying to set it up so that you can access a Windows machine from a Linux machine over SSH could certainly be made easier and more stable. Native support for OpenSSH would mean both client and server support built into Windows and support for SSH, SFTP, and SCP protocols. 

From the MSDN blog and this twitter exchange, OpenSSH in Windows PowerShell is still in its infancy. It will not be launching with the rest of Windows 10 on July 29th, but with the level of customer interest hopefully pushing the refreshed Microsoft to make this a priority we may see it within the next year or two, and certainly before Windows 11!

Are you ready to get your native SSH on using PowerShell, or will you be sticking with your current third party implementations?

Source: Microsoft

Windows 10 Build 10130 Coming to Slow Ring

Subject: General Tech | June 4, 2015 - 11:40 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, windows, windows 10

Gabe Aul said on Twitter that Microsoft will release Windows 10 Build 10130 to members of the Insider Preview Slow Ring. He did not give a date, but noted that just one blocking fix is preventing the release. This build was released to Fast Ring users last week and had three known issues. Since then, two were patched via Windows Update, leaving just “Flyouts from Taskbar fail to fly out.” Presumably, this is the issue that they are hoping to fix before pushing the build to Slow.

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When the update is released to Slow Ring, it is accompanied by ISOs that can be used to clean-install a PC up to that point. While this delay is to force a segment of users to test the in-place upgrade functionality, I expect this also keeps enterprise evaluators on builds that are more polished. Installing Windows from an ISO might not convey the quality-difference of any two neighboring builds like selecting branches in Windows Update would subconsciously portray.

Microsoft seems to be at the merge and polish stage of Windows 10 development. Builds should start feeling more clean than new as the days roll forward toward July 29th. Major new features are probably going to be done in branches for later releases, similar to what we would consider “service packs”. That's just my assumptions, though.

Manufacturer: PC Perspective

No Longer the Media Center of Attention

Gabe Aul, of Microsoft's Windows Insiders program, has confirmed on Twitter that Windows 10 will drop support for Windows Media Center due to a decline in usage. This is not surprising news as Microsoft has been deprecating the Media Center application for a while now. In Windows 8.x, the application required both the “Pro” SKU of the operating system, and then users needed to install an optional add-on above and beyond that. The Media Center Pack cost $10 over the price of Windows 8.x Pro unless you claimed a free license in the promotional period surrounding Windows 8's launch.

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While Media Center has been officially abandoned, its influence on the industry (and vice versa) is an interesting story. For a time, it looked like Microsoft had bigger plans that were killed by outside factors and other companies seem to be eying the money that Microsoft left on the table.

There will be some speculation here.

We could go back to the days of WebTV, but we won't. All you need to know is that Microsoft lusted over the living room for years. Windows owned the office and PC gaming was taking off with strong titles (and technologies) from Blizzard, Epic, iD, Valve, and others. DirectX was beloved by developers, which led to the original Xbox. Their console did not get a lot of traction, but they respected it as a first-generation product that was trying to acquire a foothold late in a console generation. Financially, the first Xbox would cost Microsoft almost four billion dollars more than it made.

At the same time, Microsoft was preparing Windows to enter the living room. This was the company's power house and it acquired significant marketshare wherever it went, due to its ease of development and its never-ending supply of OEMs, even if the interface itself was subpar. Their first attempt at bringing Windows to the living room was Windows XP Media Center Edition. This spin-off of Windows XP could only be acquired by OEMs to integrate into home theater PCs (HTPCs). The vision was interesting, using OEM competition to rapidly prototype what users actually want in a PC attached to a TV.

This leads us to Windows Vista, which is where Media Center came together while the OS fell apart.

Read on to see how Halo 2 for Windows Vista was almost the prototype for PC gaming.