“Much ado about laptops”: The Windows Vista Blogger Giveaway

December 30, 2006

First of all, let me say that if you know anything about me, you know I have NOTHING to do with Microsoft’s Windows Vista Corporate Marketing or this giveaway.  I’m a Systems Engineer which is the technical sales arm of Microsoft’s field sales division

That being said, there’s been a ton of controversy over the fact that "Microsoft’s given away Ferrari’s to bloggers to evaluate Windows Vista Ultimate on."

  • Some folks call it outright bribery
  • Other folks call it fair marketing, and completely dependent on the blogger
  • Yet others are whining, "Why didn’t I get a $2800 laptop?"  (No link provided to prote

Let me just say that I think product marketing’s ROFLing over all of this. 

IT’S ABOUT CREATING BUZZ
Would these bloggers all be talking about hardware requirements & Windows Vista had the laptops not gone out?  Would Windows Vista & Acer Ferrari laptops be the topic of TV shows like G4TV’s Attack of the Show and news magazines like CNet?  Would these bloggers, that are likely writing blog entries about their laptops, be getting the hits that they are and the trackbacks that have been generated had it not been for this giveaway stunt?  Highly doubtful. 

IT’S ABOUT MAKING APPLICATIONS AVAILABLE
This entire episode has been, at the very least, a fantastic way to create a lot of enduring buzz.  Why enduring?  Because for the folks that are keeping their laptops (and I’m sure that’s pretty much all of the recipients) they’ll all have the opportunity to use Windows Vista for the REAL reason the operating system is relevant:  THE NEXT-GEN APPLICATIONS.

  • Applications that easily & readily communicate & integrate with online services
  • Applications that leverage the power & motify of Windows Vista’s presentation system
  • Applications the are empowered with OS level workflow
  • Applications that are driven to leverage the power of 64-bit processing & memory spaces

I’ve said this before:  Most people have got it totally wrong.  As it stands right now, Windows Vista hasn’t come even close to realizing it’s full potential.  Windows Vista is about making possible

IT’S ABOUT COMMUNITY
Additionally, I know I’ve personally learned about several signficant blog sites out there simply on the basis of this whole "I received a Ferrari in the mail from Microsoft".  They’ve been all interconnected in a strange way as the "beknighted blog sites" by way of this laptop gift.  For example, here’s a few hot RSS feeds that have been recently added to my OPML list:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/SamGentile
http://istartedsomething.com/feed
http://www.mstechtoday.com/feed/
http://feeds.feedburner.com/zdnet/Bott
http://notgartner.wordpress.com/feed/
http://zen.heavengames.com/blog/xml/rss20/feed.xml
http://apcmag.com/blog/6/feed

NONE OF THIS IS NEW
And last but not least, anyone that thinks this method of marketing is new in anyway needs to get out a and see the world a little more.  It may be new to the these bloggers who happen to be very well exposed communicators, but it’s certainly not different from anything that hasn’t been going on in the world outside of computing:

  • You don’t think Apple gives out iPods to celebrities?  Sony doesn’t give out Playstations to musicians?How about D&G sunglasses?  Breitling Watches?  Sidekick cell phones?  You don’t think it’s a remarkable coincidence that A-list celebrities all seem to use the same phones & media players?
  • Women on the red carpet never buy their dresses or clutch purses just as men never pay for this tuxedos.  They never mention that they get their garments and accessories for free because, frankly, it’s assumed.
  • Why doesn’t anyone complain about Apple giving computers away to everyone and anyone:  For those not aware, Apple’s got a monster seeding budget for their hardware and product placement in not just media outlets but influential end users.

So if anyone has a problem with all of this, maybe they should consider advocating balance.  Apple already sends Mac laptops to reviewers – just not in such a formal, orchestrated way like Microsoft has.  Maybe Suse Linux should send laptops to people they want people to use their product.


Official Playstation Magazine Editor: “Why I am buying a 360 this November”

December 29, 2006

OUCH!  Check this article out from from Dana Jongewaard, former managing editor of the Official Playstation Magazine:

Why I am buying a 360 this November
"…So ultimately, I can’t justify it. $600 is a lot of money, especially when I can get what–for me at least–will be a very similar experience for $400. I would like to own a PS3, and I hope that the price drops soon so I can consider it. But until then, this Official PlayStation Magazine editor will have to join the dark side."
http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=7344653&publicUserId=5380375

Oh, and while I don’t disparage anyone trying to make a buck these days, I find myself laughing at those inexperienced resellers assuming they’d make $1000s of dollars by reselling PS3’s at ridiculous prices.  Here’s a bit of karma for you:

Scalpers returning PS3s to stores
Eager entrepreneurs trying to make a fast buck on hot demand for the new Sony PlayStation 3 this holiday season have found themselves out of luck.
The initial supply of PlayStation 3 game consoles fell well short of demand and spawned a market of scalpers who picked up the systems.
But a last-minute surge in supply to electronics retailers has left many holding a PS3 with nowhere to unload them.
http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=hamilton/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1166827812677&call_pageid=1020420665036&col=1014656511815

Still not believing it?  Take a look at the date:  It’s 12/29/2006.  Now take a look at the going rate for Playstation 3’s on eBay:
http://video-games.listings.ebay.com/_Systems_Sony-Playstation-3_W0QQa14Z43932QQalistZa14QQcatrefZC6QQcurcatZtrueQQfcclZ1QQfclZ4QQfgtpZQQfposZ94710QQfromZR2QQfsooZ1QQfsopZ1QQftZ1QQftrtZ1QQftrvZ7QQgcsZ1134QQlopgZQQpfidZ1412QQpfmodeZ2QQpriceZ1QQsacatZ62054QQsadisZ200QQsapplZ1QQsaprchiZQQsaprcloZ400QQsaslcZ2QQsatitleZQQsbrftogZ1QQsocmdZListingItemListQQsofocusZso


The UCLA Alumni Database hack: What to do?

December 20, 2006

800,000 UCLA alumni identities, including their social security numbers, were compromised a few weeks ago by a hacker who was specifically targetting people’s identity information.  From what I can tell, a lot (if not all) of the people that were on this list were contributors/donaters to UCLA’s alumni association.  Note that a similar hack was successful at USC which affected 200,000 identities, i.e. this is not an isolated incident.

This is a threat & intrusion on people’s personal privacy that rivals very few other crimes.  I hope they find this guy and prosecute him to the maximum extent allowable by law.  Identity thieves are some of the lowest forms of life on the planet.

The full news story is here:
http://newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=7571

Information about "what to do" is available here:
http://www.identityalert.ucla.edu

I read that people can call (877) 533-8082 to find out if they were on the list of compromised identities and that those that find they are on the list can call 888-397-3742 at Experian (or visit the web site at http://www.experian.com/fraud) to place a Fraud Alert on their credit report, which will be replicated/shared with Equifax & Transunion, the other two credit agencies.


INFO: Best… Xbox Live… achievement… ever.

December 20, 2006

In the spirit of Christmas and sharing, here’s something I encountered during a internal Microsoft discussion:

Get to a high level, and get the Galagoogoo, (http://pinataisland.info/index.php?title=Galagoogoo) you might instantly get this achievement:

 

In that same vein, there’s also this ol’ Penny Arcade comic:
(For the record, my wife plays Mortal Kombat: Deception with me on Xbox )


(My apologies to Penny Arcade for republishing their content but I don’t know what the damned link is for the same comic on their site.  If I figure it out, I’ll post it.) 

 


Xbox 360 rumbles along!

December 18, 2006

WOW.  There’s just too much news coming in to write entries about each one so here’s a summary of some of the amazing news coming in on Xbox 360:

GEARS = FASTEST SELLING GAME EVER
You read that right:  Gears of War is the fastest selling game ever on any console, period.

SUDDENLY SELLING IN JAPAN
Xbox 360’s media reported death in Japan appears to be greatly exaggerated.  Japanese sales are up a whopping 770%. 35,000 consoles sold in a month, up 31,000 from the previous month.  This is lower than PS3 at 50,000 consoles sold, and Wii at 85,000 sold but it’s sure as hell ain’t dead.  The fact that there are people giving Xbox 360 a chance is huge, and judging by the quality of the Japanese exclusive titles, rightfully so.  Japanese Xbox 360 titles like "Blue Dragon" have propelled Xbox 360 into striking range of PS3 on it’s home turf.

THE BLUE DRAGON EFFECT
What’s "Blue Dragon"?  Only the #4 selling video game in Japan.  Its characters were designed by Akira Toriyama, the artist behind Dragonball Z and the game was designed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, the creator of Final Fantasy.  And it’s gotten great reviews from sites like CVG.  How relevant is all of this?  Try this on for size: Blue Dragon is outselling Nintendo’s flagship title, "Zelda: Twilight Princess" – and all other Nintendo Wii software – in Japan

SONY LOSING EXCLUSIVES
First, Sony lost Final Fantasy to XBox 360.  Then it was Assasin’s Creed.  Then the big bomb dropped and Grand Theft Auto 4 was announced as a XBox 360 title as well.
And now, it sounds like Sony’s losing it’s iron fisted grip on Metal Gear Solid 4 to XBox 360.
http://www.joystiq.com/2006/12/17/heightened-rumor-metal-gear-solid-4-not-a-ps3-exclusive/


MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE! (And how do I support my Mom’s PC?)

December 17, 2006

First of all, Merry Christmas everyone.

THE QUEST TO MANAGE MY PARENT’S HOME PC
My Mom has a 256MB Celeron-based PC with an 80GB drive and firewalled Windows XP SP2.  It’s behind a NAT-ted Router that connects to a PPPoE DSL connection, meaning the DSL IP address is always different – not unlike a cable Internet connection – and her PC is issued a 192.168.x.x address.   She has problems with it slowing down and a while ago, she even had spyware issues.  There is also a laptop PC(Dad’s) that has the same situation.

In the past, I’ve remotely controlled her PC but only after painfully walking her through the process of sending me a "Remote Assistance" invite.  (Incidentally, that was NOT a well thought out technology in Windows XP.  Who the @#$% ever thought computer-illiterate parents around the world would know how to "send Remote Assistance requests" to their offspring when their computer was having trouble?  Ridiculous.)  This was always done using Remote Desktop technology which is actually a very well optimized protocol good however the facilities to connect to the remote workstation have been lacking at best.

So the question is: 

How does a person easily & quickly "remote control" their parent’s computer?

EXISTING REVIEWS?
I did some research and frankly, to my surprise, not a lot has written on this specific scenario.  Sure folks have written about "remote controlling" someone else’s over the Internet PC, but the assumptions made have always been that:

  • the person’s computer is a small business that can afford something relatively costly
  • the person’s PC isn’t NAT-ted (using a translated 192.168.x.x address)
  • the person’s PC is the ONLY PC to be managed behind the NAT
  • the end user is a customer, not a family member
  • the people putting the solution together didn’t mind installing, tweaking & configuring a ton of helper software

SOLUTIONS
I found a ridiculous array of tools and services and after culling through them and Windows Live search results, I’d examined several products:

My evaluation criteria was pretty simple.  It’s all the information above:  Assuming a broadband connection on both ends, I need basic high performance Windows-to-Windows remote control over multiple PCs behind a NAT using a DHCP assigned router and I need to be able to access the machine any time of the day without my parents involvement.

THE VERDICT
I’m not going to bore you with all my analysis.  After looking at all the products & services, it became readily obvious to me what solution works best for my parents:  There’s no question that LogMeIn Free wins hands down for this particular scenario, although it’s conceivable that GoToMyPC and maaaaaaaaaybe UltraVNC could be useful in other situations.

  1. NAT-SUPPORTED.  This is where most desktop-only software fails.  LogMeIn gets around the issue of having a NAT by registering itself with an online directory, and basically keeping a HTTP connection open all the time with the service, providing a "tunnel" to the DHCP-enabled router, through the NAT, and into the PC to be remote controlled.  This connection allows other PC’s to externally converse with the PC since a communicatins path has already been established between the service & the home PC.  No modifications need to be made to the router and nothing fancy needs to be installed on my PC.
    To be fair, UltraVNC does this exact thing however their facilities are entirely, "do-it-yourself".  If you’ve got the time and the will, you could actually set up a poor man’s version of this yourself through UltraVNC’s NAT-to-NAT Helper service.  But considering bullet #3 below… why bother?
  2. SECURE & CORPORATE-SUPPORTED.  This is where UltraVNC gets questionable.  LogMeIn Free software is proprietary, fully SSL-encrypted and supported by a corporation registered with the US government.  I’m not interested in using questionable freeware leveraging open source code written in some guy’s basement that might potentially expose my parents to privacy threats & intrusions.  I want a legally established company that stands behind their products and understands the legal consequences of their software’s integrity – or lack thereof.
  3. FREE.  And this is where GoToMyPC fails.  LogMeIn "Free" software & service is totally free.  The only thing you don’t get in the "free" version vs. the "Pro" version is direct PC-to-PC file transfer capabilities, and frankly, if you have Internet-based storage, it’s just as easy to transfer what you need between each PC through that resource.  Note that I’m not a leech:  I’m actually pleased enough with the software that I’m going to subscribe to it for my parent’s PC… at $49 a year, that’s worth having the pay-for product in my mind.  (Although, if I get some love from the Citrix folks and get a partner discount, I’ll probably switch over to GoToMyPC.com which is frankly a much more full-featured product with richer features than LogMeIn doesn’t have and it DOESN’T REQUIRE JAVA.  It is however the most expensive technology in this genera at $249/year.

HOW TO USE "LOGMEIN FREE"

1) Create an account:
https://secure.logmein.com/welcome/get_logmein_free/signup.asp
2) Download software & add a computer to your account:
https://secure.logmein.com/go.asp?page=products_free
(You can also download the installer separately here:  https://secure.logmein.com/logmein.msi)
3) Sign in from any computer to remote control the machine:
https://secure.logmein.com/go.asp?page=home
(Note that you need to have a JavaVM installed on the machine doing the controlling which sucks because Java’s slow relative to Native Win32 binaries, and besides, it’s one more thing that you need to keep patched.  This is one of the reasons I actually prefer the ridiculously more expensive GoToMyPC and its Win32 client for remote control.)

DISCOUNTS
Check this out:  I found this discount on line for the LogMeIn Pro product, which is a $20 discount off the annual subscription to Logmein.com.  Use the code:  JHZH-YXVL and you’ll find the cost go from $69.95/year down to $49.95/year.

A FINAL NOTE ON WINDOWS XP’S REMOTE DESKTOP
I’m a KoolAid drinker and I’m the first to try Microsoft’s own software.  But before anyone starts howling about using Remote Desktop over LogMeIn Free, recall that I need to support multiple computers behind the router.  Even if I were to configure port forwarding for port 3389 (RDP’s port) on the router, which I don’t really want to do, I would only be able to do this for one PC.  There’s an article on how to accomplish this if you want to set it up here.  (http://www.networkgarage.com/2006/04/cancel_your_gotomypc_subscript.html)

Incidentally,  pay no attention to the comments list to the folks screaming that RDP is insecure:  The protocol used to remotely control a Windows PC using the Remote Desktop Client 6.0 is not only encrypted using RC4, it’s also quite secure.  Be sure to be using the most recent remote desktop client software here, use WinXP SP2, and for good measure, upgrade to Windows Vista. 

In the interests of honesty, technically there is a very small threat of what is called a "man-in-the-middle" attack on WinXP systems using RDP 5.2, however let’s be clear… man-in-the-middle attacks are extremely rare and very difficult to accomplish and there are few people in the world with the technical sophistication to execute them.  It accounts for something like "less than 1000th of a percent of all intrusion attacks made" because of their difficulty and requirements to execute and would require invasively corrupting the routing cache on your personal workstation or setting up a rogue DNS server on your ISP or something really extreme to target just you specifically.

To give you an idea of the sophistication we’re talking about, this hacking technique is usually reserved for attacking eCommerce sites like eBay & financial institutions like Bank of America to intercept credit cards & passwords.  If someone is in fact truly attempting to use this technique against you and your computer, it’s not random:  You or your organization is probably important enough (or rich enough) that skimping paying $50/year for LogMeIn Pro, $200/year for GoToMyPC, or whatever support service you might otherwise be using isn’t exactly your first priority.  Remember:  This is your Mom we’re talking about… not freakin’ Bill Gates.


CNN’s Top 10 Stocks to Buy Right Now

December 13, 2006

Flipping through CNN, I stumbled upon this:

10 stocks to buy now
With oil prices and a housing bust threatening the economy, we discovered ten solid stocks that can still pack a punch:

Microsoft (MSFT)
Don Yacktman, another recent buyer, points out that the company has returned more than $90 billion to shareholders in stock buybacks and dividends over the past few years, a trend he says will continue. Says Yacktman: "Despite selling at one of the lowest price/earnings multiples in our portfolio, Microsoft possesses potentially the strongest platform for growth of any company we own."
http://money.cnn.com/popups/2006/fortune/invguide_stocks/7.html


Commentary on “The Evils of Viva Pinata”

December 13, 2006

Internally, a bunch of us are talking about this hilarious review of our beloved game for the Xbox 360, "Viva Pinata":

The Evils of Viva Piñata
<excerpt>
"They have no genitalia, yet they can breed. How is that possible and how do we know we aren’t breeding boy piñatas together? You see how sick and twisted this game is. The people at Microsoft are trying to warp the minds of our children with their evil gay, incestuous piñata sex. Next thing you know, your children will be humping the piñata at their next birthday party, instead of breaking it open. God, I hate to imagine how warped our children could end up from all this.

The weird sex isn’t the only thing going on it the game though. Getting back to the racist nature of the game, you have all these obvious Mexican people on the island and what pray tell does Microsoft have you doing to the Mexican people? They have you hiring them to do gardening. "
</excerpt>
http://www.destructoid.com/the-evils-of-viva-pinata-28577.phtml#ext

I was laughing hard enough that for the first time in a while, I was left speechless as to how to respond to such irreverence.  I honestly don’t know what to say, except I love you guys at Destructoid.  I really do.  You’re right up there with Ctrl-Alt-Del Online & Penny Arcade and for me, that’s high praise.


Dave Jones, creator of Grand Theft Auto loves Xbox 360

December 11, 2006

"…as a developer who is watching the online gaming realm with particular interest, Jones also has plenty of love to express for Microsoft’s online service, which Crackdown will utilize in a few ways. “I think [Xbox Live] is absolutely brilliant,” he opined. “It’s really the defining thing for Microsoft. … One of the reasons we got the investment is so that we could try some new things in the Live space—using the Marketplace, downloadable stuff. It’s just great for all the stuff you can do—the big games, the very small ones. There’s just potential for other things as well.”

ImageOn PS3 and Wii
So what’s with Realtime Worlds and all this Xbox 360 development? Does Jones have something against the PlayStation 3 and Wii? Nah.

“I’ve only seen [the PS3 and Wii] at shows,” he explained. “I find it as hard as anyone else to get a hold of one, especially in Europe. … It’s a shame that I haven’t had a chance to spend much time on them yet.”

He continued, “We’ve been really focused. We’re only doing two projects at a time, so we’re focused on APB on PC and Crackdown on 360. We really haven’t had a chance to look at [other] dev kits.”

LINK:  http://www.next-gen.biz/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4363&Itemid=2


News from the Playstation 3 front: OOPS!

December 11, 2006

PlayStation 3 Misses U.S. Sales Goal by 50 Percent
Bloomberg News – December 07, 2006

Sony sold 197,000 PlayStation 3 consoles in the U.S. during November, missing its goal for initial shipments by half after parts shortages slowed production, market researcher NPD Group said Thursday.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601087&sid=a2AoBmhG5OEw&refer=home


Hi Definition DVDs: Watching the wars from afar…

December 8, 2006

I’ve been watching with great amusement the wars going on at these sites.  They really are interesting.

BluRay vs HD-DVD
http://www.thedvdwars.com/index.cfm
http://www.betanews.com/article//1165432567#c514148
http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20061207-8378.html

Why HD-DVD?  It’s more than just the "picture quality":
Despite the babbling idiocy of your average BestBuy or Circuit City employee, HD-DVD is beating BluRay in picture quality hands down and the critics are confirming this.  All you have to do is search for reviews comparing the two, and you’ll find this to be a truth:

But did you know that HD-DVDs have FARRRRRRRRR more "DVD extras" than any BluRay title?  I’m really surprised that no one has ever brought this up.  One of the little known facts in this space is that HD DVD uses HDi™ to build some amazingly cool additional content & interfaces around the DVD extras that people oh-so-covet. 

For example, you get Picture in Picture (impossible on Blu Ray) in HD-DVD movies.  This is useful for things like Director’s commentary head shots, showing GPS mapping for the cars in Fast & the Furious Tokyo Drift, Selectable actor biographies during the movie, Design-your-own-car and see it in the movie in Tokyo Drift, Chocolate Vision (suitably bizarre Tim Burtonesque pop ups) in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, the "DaisyOmeter" in Dukes of Hazzard.

Check out the amazing HD-DVD extras in Fast and the Furious – Tokyo Drift, King Kong, Miami Vice, Batman Begins, Constantine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dukes of Hazzard, etc.


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