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Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Return of Sony

Funnily enough, during the exact time that I was writing the previous post on Microsoft's potential resurgence, this piece came out on Gizmodo on a roadmap for Sony to get back to the lofty heights it once held. Coincidence? Well, yes, probably. But enjoy anyways.

Also, to drive the point home about Sony's incredibly large and confusing product range, take a look at this image....

How Windows got its groove back

Got another techie post for you today, after yday's Apple lawsuit discussion.

For more than a decade now, Microsoft has been a company that everybody loves to hate, and not without good reason. Whether it was the debacles that were Windows ME and Vista, the various antitrust suits, the horror of most versions of Internet Explorer, or just devices that were too little, too late like the Zune, and Windows Mobile, you wouldnt have to look too hard to find a reason to deride and vilify the corporate behemoth that was (and is) Microsoft. Even products that ended up being successful, like the Xbox (and Xbox 360) and Windows XP, were plagued with teething troubles that turned many customers away.

The New York Times ran a fascinating op-ed piece by Dick Brass, one of the former VP's at MS, where he presented an insider's view of the corporate culture that led to Microsoft's stagnation.

Unlike other companies, Microsoft never developed a true system for innovation. Some of my former colleagues argue that it actually developed a system to thwart innovation. Despite having one of the largest and best corporate laboratories in the world, and the luxury of not one but three chief technology officers, the company routinely manages to frustrate the efforts of its visionary thinkers.
For example, early in my tenure, our group of very clever graphics experts invented a way to display text on screen called ClearType. It worked by using the color dots of liquid crystal displays to make type much more readable on the screen. Although we built it to help sell e-books, it gave Microsoft a huge potential advantage for every device with a screen. But it also annoyed other Microsoft groups that felt threatened by our success.

His story tells of the internal warfare between various departments that delayed and killed off new technology and ideas before they even had a chance to reach consumers. It paints a sad picture, and goes a long way in explaining how one of the most powerful companies in computing seemed to get more and more marginalised in its own field. Of course, Windows and Office still ruled their fields, and were ubiquitous, but there was nothing NEW. All the innovation, all the breakthroughs went to competitors like Apple and Google, and with those, they captured the mind-space of consumers.

I think that all that about to change.

It started last year, with the release of Windows 7. It was beautiful, powerful, and it even ran smoothly on older hardware. I can personally bear witness to that, because I used a pre-release version of it for a while on my 4 year old middle-of-the-range laptop, and I'd say it was actually faster on that than Windows XP, which is pretty damn impressive. In practically a single move, MS went a long way to erasing the disaster of Vista, and gave us the Windows we'd been waiting for.

Another, much quieter development last year, was the release of the Zune HD. Now, I've never even seen one in person- I'm not even sure if they're shipping them outside the US yet- and in any case, the iPod has a stranglehold on the media player market that no other pmp can realistically challenge. Still, from all reviews, the Zune HD is a brilliant little device, fast, powerful and responsive, and just look at it! Aside from the beautiful metallic bits, and that gorgeous, gorgeous OLED screen, the interface that MS used for its touchscreen is one of the best around. (And more on that in a bit)

Still, so far, so hum-drum.... Windows 7 is pretty and fast, but it'll take a long time to replace XP on the millions of pc's around, by which time it might be rendered obsolete by cloud computing, and new OS's designed to take advantage of it (like the Chrome OS that Google is working on, as well as MS's own, rumours of which were leaked by an MS employee...who is now presumably an ex-employee). And as I said before, it doesn't really matter how good the Zune HD is, because while it's finally caught up to the iPod Touch, that ship has long sailed.

But those were last year's releases. This year...this year is when it gets REALLY interesting for MS, and that's because of 3 separate projects that are in the works...Windows Phone 7, Project Natal for the Xbox, and the Microsoft Courier.

Lets talk about the phone first, because that's probly going to be the first one to market. Before the release, the rumours were that MS was going to release its own phone to compete directly with Apple and Google, but it turned out that wasnt quite true. What they released was a new mobile OS called Windows phone 7, which like Google's Android, will be used on a number of different company's phones, but unlike Android, and previous versions of Windows Mobile, this time around MS will keep a much tighter control over exactly what kind of hardware platforms are used, to try to make sure that user experience as as seamless between hardware and software, as what you get on the iPhone. If they can deliver on the promise though, its going to be one hell of an experience too, because from the promos and reviews, Windows Phone 7 looks and feels like nothing else on the market. Personally, I love the simple style, and the basic 'flat' icons and text- very striking, and the interface seems to flow and work beautifully..cant wait for a chance to try it first hand.

Project Natal blew a lot of minds last year when Microsoft announced it at the E3 expo last year. Its essentially a motion controller for the Xbox 360, but unlike any other gaming consoles, microsoft is doing away with the controllers entirely, and using full body motion capture, to control the you do something, your character does something. It made my jaw drop when I watched the promo video...honestly, if it comes anywhere close to that, it'll make the Wiimote look like a child's plaything. Ok, that might have been a poor choice of words, since they'll both be children's playthings, but you get my point.

And finally, to my favourite of MS's coming products..the Courier tablet...or booklet rather... first, just scroll back up to the top of the page and look at it....its gorgeous... thats what the iPad should have been...instead of an oversized iPhone, with a silly name. When we first saw it last year, it was just a concept, and a mindblowing concept at that. More details have been tickling out steadily though, and all signs point to it being released near the end of this year. Check out the photos and videos here, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what the Courier is about. Interestingly, it looks like they're going REALLY hard at the creative community...practically every promo they've shown features designers and artists using the device, though I'm sure it doesnt take too much effort to think of useful things for everyone else to do with it. Two things that I personally love about it, is the face that its a booklet, with two screens, which automatically sets it up for a bit of multitasking action, and the fact that u can use either a stylus or ur fingers to use the multitouch, which means it'll make a kick-ass graphics tablet in addition to everything else. Seriously, I want this thing more than I've wanted any piece of tech in a long long loooong time. I can only hope it lives up to its promise.

So, is this gonna be Microsoft's year? The year when they go back to making some properly innovative things? The year when they can finally challenge Apple, Sony and all the rest for having the coolest new toys on the market? Call me an MS fanboy if you must, but I really really hope so.

Friday, March 5, 2010

'And on a lighter note..'

So its been a little while since I posted...internet connection was acting up regularly, and it seemed like every time I wanted to come on and start writing something, the slow ass speed would get me into a really bad mood, and since I'd already posted a rant on my crappy interwebz, I'd just end up not writing anything.
Today though, the connection's been fairly good so far (keeping fingers n toes crossed right now) and even if it starts being shitty, I'm gonna power through, and write some positive stuff.

Firstly, for anyone who didnt see the post on my facebook page, just LOOK at this girl. That is quite certainly the BEST Voltron costume I've ever seen. Here's another picture of it, with the helmet on. In fact, its probably the best robot costume i've ever seen.
What I love about it more than that though, is the fact that that girl almost certainly didnt see the Voltron cartoon on TV...its been off the air for probably the last two decades or so. Which means that her awesomely crazy, anime loving asian parents , probably introduced her to it on dvd, got her hooked on its awesomeness, and then went and built her the most amazing costume. I'd like to think that it was basically her dad, making up for the fact that HE never got to fulfill his voltron costume dreams as a kid. Its certainly something I would do :-D
In fact, I think that without a doubt, the best reason for having kids would simply be getting to play with their toys, and building cool costumes and things. And unlike children's tv shows (which seem to have progressively got worse and worse from the cool shows we had when WE were young), toys on the other hand, have constantly got better and more incredible. Cant wait to have a legit excuse to buy lego mindstorm systems, and those robotic toys, and indoor remote control helicopters....actually, who am I kidding, I'd happily walk into a toy store and buy any of those today. In fact, I really do mean to buy the chopper :-D

Something else that I'd meant to blog about was Sachin's unbelievable double hundred in that second ODI against SA. Would have called the post Two-ton Tendulkar, and waxed lyrical about it, but since its sorta old news now, I'll just link you to two of the best pieces written about it. One here from Harsha Bhogle, and the other on Cricinfo's own blog.
It was also quite interesting following some of the twitter feeds related to the match while it was on live. Even had Shane Warne himself commenting on it, and apparently during those last few historic moments of the innings, 3/10 of the trending topics on Twitter were about Tendulkar, which is something that even Apple didnt manage to achieve with all the hype around its iPad launch.

And speaking of Apple, their forthcoming lawsuit of HTC caught my attention, mainly because it seems that more than HTC, Apple's aiming squarely at Android. A full breakdown of the various patents that were supposedly infringed is available here, but its a fairly long read, so u'll have to be really interested in the details to bother.
What bothers me, is that these patents range from some granted in '95 or '96, all the way to one that was granted early last month, so if there was really a lot of infringement going on, why wasnt this taken up earlier? Equally, after reading through some of the patents, its amazing how broad the wording of them is for 'unlocking a device by performing gestures on an unlocking image', while another is called 'system and method for managing power conditions within a digital camera device'.
Two things to take away from this. Firstly, the US patent office needs a kick in the head for granting some of these patents in their current form, which are so obscure and generically worded that they stifle the creativity and development of other firm's products, and waste millions in meaningless legal battles that draw on for years. And secondly, Apple is coming off as being hugely petty, using this lawsuit in a proxy war against Google and Android. Hope that the creative community, which can appreciate the issues of patents, copyrights and IP in general, will be just a little more reluctant to hop onto the Apple bandwagon now. (Once again, fingers and toes crossed ;-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

I hate the phone company

And by that I mean specifically the ones that I've been unfortunate enough to associate with in the past few years, including Virgin Mobile (in Aus), Tata Indicom (for my internet) and Vodafone.
If they're not tryin to find new ways to overcharge me - either by not telling me specific details that MIGHT be important to know, or by providing me with their 'value added' services, which I never asked for, and never wanted or needed - then they're either just making my life miserable with layers of bureaucratic retardedness, or just providing a terrible slow ass service in general (Yes, i'm looking straight at YOU, Tata Indicom)
I could go into far greater detail about the idiocy that i've had to deal with, especially in the last two months, but it would take way too long. Seriously, had more issues than I did with all my various service providers in the previous 7 years before that.
And the worst part is, I really cant do anything about it... at the moment, I'm living sorta on the move, without any fixed land phone, so my cellphone and wireless internet are my essential lifelines, so I have to just grin and bear with whatever idiotic crap they put me through. Bastards
If anyone's aware of any phone or internet companies around, that just WORK, and let u get on with things, without all the bullshit, i'd love to hear about it.

Been having a really blah day for a bunch of reasons, and my internet going like a fucking snail in the middle of the night, was kinda the last straw for me...
There was a whole bunch of other, much more positive stuff that I've been meaning to write about, but its just been drowned out by a general malaise, and I cant be bothered anymore. Maybe next time.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lost in the Garden of Eden! Lost in the Garden of Eden! Aint no one gonna believe it but we're lost in the Garden of Eden!

Been a while since I wrote for the blog, mainly due to illness, trips to the emergency ward and such. Had a whole host of things I wanted to talk about, but they've all been forgotten now...maybe they'll surface again in time. :-D For now, instead, you'll just have to read about cricket :-p.

Never actually written about any game before, but hey, there's a first time for everything, and I've decided that since my own life doesnt really have anything to interesting to write about at the mo, I might as well branch out a bit.

Today was one of the more intense days of cricket I've watched, even though I barely got to 'watch' any of it, and had to spend most of the time following the online commentary on cricinfo. But intense it was, because of who was involved, what was at stake, and not least the incredible quality of the play on the field.

In the end it was great to see India bring it home, taking the final wicket with an over or two to spare, and fighting back to tie the series, after we were so completely and clinically destroyed in Nagpur. Most people (the media in particular) rejoiced at the fact that the team had managed to hold onto our No 1 ranking, but for me, what was especially satisfying was the brilliant fightback and turnaround from the previous game.

I argued at the time, that the defeat wasnt quite as bad as it appeared...that it had taken a perfect storm of circumstances to bring about...injuries to dravid, laxman and yuvraj, career defining innings from amla and kallis, the law of averages catching up with our own mr cricket gambhir, and one incredible day of bowling from dale steyn. We might have lost that game anyways, but it certainly would have been a lot closer if even ONE of those circumstances had been different. I certainly didnt agree with people who immediately seemed to overreact to the defeat, calling for wholesale changes, talking about our No 1 ranking being a sham, and all the other hysterical commentary that any Indian defeat brings.

That said, even I couldnt have expected just how heavy a counterpunch India would throw back at them in the second test- especially leading up to tea on the first day of the match. Prem Panicker describes the events that followed in the last session much more eloquently than I ever could. It's been said before, but there just seems to be something about Eden Gardens, and Indian comebacks. In just over a session, SA crashed from 218/1 to 266/9, and one could argue that from there, it was India's game. Of course, that wasnt really true, with many roadblocks to overcome...India's innings was hardly a 82/2, the game was in the balance before Sehwag and Sachin joined for a huge partnership....when they lost 3 quick wickets at the end of that day, SA once again had a sniff, except that Dhoni and Laxman then managed to put together a second 200+ run partnership. (Apparently its only the second time that 4 Indian batsmen have scored centuries in the same innings...and since the first one came against Bangladesh, that hardly counts does it? ;-)

Finally, there was the small matter of bowling out South Africa again in the time left, and as expected, they didnt exactly lie down without a fight. The rain certainly didnt help, with most of the 4th day lost, and then came the news this morning that Zaheer Khan was injured and couldnt play, depriving the bowling attack of their cutting edge, the man who has been India's best bowler for most of the last two years. Oh, and then there was Hashim Amla, SA's best batsman in the series, who'd already scored 253 and 114 in his previous two innings. As long as he stood firm, they would always have a chance of saving the game. As it turned out, he scored yet another unbeaten century but his nine hour struggle wasnt quite enough, with his teammates leaving him stranded on 127. As a matter of interest Amla's numbers for the series are 490 runs from 3 innings, losing his wicket only once. I wonder if its a little irritating for South Africans to know that their best batsman is a beardy brown man :-D

So the series is done now (well, the Test matches anyway, and since the ODI team is seriously depleted, i expect nothing less than a mauling from a pissed off SA team that wants revenge)
You'd expect that a marquee clash between the top two teams in the world would have involved some tight draws and closely fought victories, not each match ending in an innings defeat for either team, but despite that, I dont think anyone could say that it wasnt exciting cricket. The end of the year, and India's trip to SA for the return series, cant get here fast enough.

Right now though, I need to go find my South African mate Evan, and do some constructive gloating.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

For those cute little kitties

Most of you would have seen the "Save Our Tiger's" ads around the place by now, and I'm guessing that at least some of y'all, like me, visited the website and signed up. What I found though is that there isnt all that much to the initiative at the moment, except for spreading the message, and links taking you to the WWF donation page. I thought it might be interesting to work up a proposal for something else to add on to that, so I put these together.

Basically, the idea is that the Initiative could have a tie-up with Converse to bring out a special range of shoes with tiger themed artwork. Proceeds (or at least a portion) goes to the tiger funds, and the shoes themselves serve as walking billboards to spread the message even further. Btw, this isnt meant to be the final version of the artwork, just an illustration of what it could be.

I think this could be pretty do-able, especially since Converse is one of those companies known for their tie-ins to various charities and campaigns around the world, and they've already been bringing out whole ranges of shoes with artwork meant just for India alone.

So what do you think guys? I'm in the process of preparing a package that can be sent to the Save Our Tigers Initiative and/or Converse, so in the meantime, I'd appreciate any feedback on whether you think this is something that could be worthwhile, and that people might actually buy.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In today's top stories

Havent had a chance to write anything for a day or two, since I had no electricity during the day, and was away from my pc during the night...couple of things that I wanted to write about at some point, but I havent had time to frame them properly yet, so I'll get on to those later. Right now, a few linked news stories, and a couple of thoughts...

Firstly, as I made it a tradition while I was at college to get the new Sports Illustrated calendar every year, I'm probably more familiar with their models and locations than many. One of the glaring omissions had always seemed to be the fact that there were never any Indians, or Indian locations used for the photoshoots- which is strange considering that they must have had models and locales from just about everywhere else. Finally though, there's an Indian in the swimsuit issue, so let there be much rejoicing....if only they'd picked a prettier one...ah well, maybe next time.

I'm not yet really sold on Google Buzz, and from the sound of things, I'm not the only one. I get the attraction of converging everything into a single service, but so far, never seen a service that could actually do it all, and do it well. Of course, I could be completely wrong on this, and maybe Buzz will turn out to be the bee's knees (sorry, couldnt resist that one :-p )

And finally, this Nasa video from The Onion just made me laugh out loud. Bit long, but its worth it :-D

Aight, that'll do for now... another update as soon as I can (be bothered)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Through the wonders of modern technology...

I'm off to Bangalore to seek fame and adventure...or at least a couple of paychecks, so wish me luck on that front.

Normally, I hate travelling on trains, especially by myself, but the last two trips have been much more tolerable due to my mobile internet, and the power points in the train carriages that allow me to use my retarded battery-less laptop. This blog is coming to you live as we pull out of Chennai station, and I'm hoping to stay online for the greater part of the 6 hour trip. I'll let you know how that works out...or how soon the novelty wears off, and I put away my lappie and get bored again.