Archive | May 28th, 2009

Is Wave Bloatware?

28. May 2009

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Google Wave LogoGoogle has published a video of this morning’s demo of Wave–its radically ambitious upcoming service which aims to be what e-mail should be and meld it with IM, allow for real-time document sharing, provide instant photo sharing, revolutionize spell checking,  provide on-the-fly translation, and allow developers to either build on top of the service or replace it with their own underpinnings, among other things. It’s an hour and twenty minutes long, and doesn’t get through all the things one might want to know about Wave. Here, I’ll embed it right here and wait while you watch it:

All finished?

Among the many interesting questions about Wave is this: Is it bloatware? It’s not ready for release yet, and it appears to already be bursting at the seams with functionality. Screenshots show a service that crams dozens of features, options, and snippets of information onto the screen–less an example of Google-esque minimalism and more like a Microsoft app that’s been through a few versions and is shoehorning stuff in.

Unlike my friend Jordan Golson, I don’t see Wave as a sign of breathtaking Google arrogance–at least not if the company comes up with a reasonable game plan to roll it out to the business users who are apparently its primary target. But I do worry about it suffering from Kitchen Sink Disease. I’m looking forward to trying it out soon and forming opinions based on actually using the thing…

Big Hair’s a No-Go In Video Games

28. May 2009

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ufc-guidaEver notice how your favorite video game characters wear close-cropped ‘dos, shave their heads, tie their locks back in a ponytail or just wear head dressings? They may be doing it for style, but they’re also conveniently hiding the difficulties of rendering lifelike video game hair.

This isn’t a new revelation, but the issue came to light again this week when Fight! Magazine learned about the exclusion of big hair in an Ultimate Fighting Championship video game. Fighter Clay “The Carpenter” Guida’s hairdo is so massive that the developers of THQ’s UFC Undisputed 2009 had to exclude him due to clipping and collision detection issues. Reportedly, THQ even offered Guida money to cut his hair, and he refused.

Earlier this week, I wrote about photorealism in games, and how one developer thinks video games could accurately depict thousands of facial bones in 10 to 15 years. But what about the tens of thousands of hair strands that adorn human heads? Apparently, gaming is pretty far off from nailing the art of beautiful, flowing locks.

For fun, here are a few other facts about video game hair:

  • Mario, famously, sports a cap because designer Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t like creating hairstyles and wanted to save his programmers the trouble of animating the hair during jumps.
  • Electronic Arts’ chief visual officer, Glenn Entis, said in 2005 that hair and facial expressions would be a focus of graphics in the HD gaming era, calling hair “such a communicator of style” and referring to past efforts as “laughable.”
  • Even the latest graphical advances simulate less than a couple hundred strands of hair. A real human could shed that amount in a day.

5Words for Thursday, May 28th 2009

28. May 2009

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5wordsWave? Makes me think Jobim

Nice detailed Google Wave overview.

Verizon will get the Pre.

Steve Ballmer demos Zune HD.

Palm Pre syncs with iTunes.

Palm Pre very first impressions.

Review: Google’s developer conference phone.

Chorme for Mac: still coming.

Eighteen Android phones by December.

Hulu Builds Itself a Boxee Clone

28. May 2009

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4-01-09huluWhen last we reported on the odd relationship between the Hulu Internet TV service and Boxee media center software–part tango, part warfare–Hulu was doing everything in its power to foil Boxee fans who simply wanted to watch Hulu programming via Boxee’s TV-friendly interface. Today, the company launched  a new product: Hulu Desktop. It lets you watch Hulu via a TV-friendly interface. Kind of like Boxee–very much like Boxee–except without all the content, and with terms of service that forbid you from running it on an Apple TV

When the whole spat began back in February, Hulu adopted a sad, thoughtful, open tone in its blog post on the matter. The blog post introducing Desktop, however, trumpets Desktop as something cool invented by some Hulu engineers, and makes no reference to Boxee.

I’m not a Huluhater. I think that content owners are allowed to make decisions about how their content is consumed, even if they A) make my life difficult; and B) may be self-defeating in the long run. And I haven’t given up all hope of some deal being struck that puts Hulu back on Boxee. But this is sad, just sad–and if Hulu Desktop flourishes and Boxee withers away, it’ll be sadder still.

Anyhow, I can’t get Hulu Desktop to run on my Mac–it flings error messages at me, refuses to stream video, and shuts itself down. I’ll try again on another machine. Any opinions?

The Zune HD is Only HD to a Point

28. May 2009

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The term “HD” is often more about marketing than it is about accurately describing a product’s capabilities. Microsoft’s upcoming Zune HD is the latest example of that trend. The Zune HD looks like it will delivera compelling evolution over the previous-generation Zunes, with features including a touch-screen interface and a widescreen 480-by-272 OLED display. But while it will also offer HD video output and HD radio reception, it will fall short in delivering genuine HD playback.

The Zune’s OLED display is a 480-by-272 widescreen, which doesn’t meet anybody’s definition of HD. It’s only when you use a premium HDMI A/V docking station to output video to an HDTV that you get high definition–720p, to be exact.

That’s as far as its HD support goes. High definition video requires a minimum of 720-pixel resolution, and high definition audio is 24-bit; the Zune HD’s built-in playback falls short on both counts. A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company does not have any details to share regarding audio tracks or specific video files.

Microsoft is not alone in its marketing practices. “My daughter’s Sony VAIO has a sticker that says ‘Full HD’ [which suggests 1080p]. But the screen resolution is 1280 x 800. The “Full HD” comes from connecting the computer by HDMI to a monitor or TV,” said Joe Wilcox, an independent technology analyst.

While OLED screens deliver sharp colors and deep blacks–one benedit of HD–those advantages are almost entirely lost on a small screen with low resolution. And video marketplaces sometimes decrease the size of downloads by limiting black levels and other palette-related settings, said Matt Hargett, a noted technology author.

Microsoft could compensate for the Zune’s lack of HD video playback with 24-bit audio, Hargett said. Microsoft obtained the rights to the HDCD format in 2000. “Having 24-bit audio would be a great step forward.”

CDs introduced 16-bit lossless audio almost 30 years ago; High Definition Compatible Digital (HDCD), a 24-bit audio format, is 20 years old; and DTS (Digital Theater System), a format used in DVDs and other media, has provided 24-bit lossy audio for over 15 years.

Despite these decades-older technologies, the Zune HD device and marketplace doesn’t appear capable to deliver a better audio experience.

“By adding the “HD” to the name, [Microsoft] is trying to secure a market who appreciates the details, but that same market will likely reject the product if it doesn’t deliver a real HD experience beyond the “HD Radio”, which isn’t really HD at all,” said Hargett. HD Radio’s quality “is below what CDs, Apple Lossless, and FLAC downloads already deliver consumers for years. Does that really count as HD? I don’t think so,” Hargett quipped.

Bing it Is!

28. May 2009

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Bing LogoI feel like I have around five percent of my brain cells back to devote to other, more productive purposes. After way too many months of way too much speculation, it’s official: Microsoft’s new search engine will be known as Bing. Steve Ballmer unveiled it this morning at the Wall Street Journal’s D conference, and on next Wednesday it replaces Live Search.

Don’t expect Microsoft to position Bing as a Google killer, even though others will presumably (most likely pejoratively, as usal) use that phrase as they size it up. Do expect the company to call it a decision engine–a phrase that Bing team member Stefan Weitz used when I spoke with him this morning. (There’s even a Bing video demo up at DecisionEngine.com.) Rather than provide Google-like results in a Google-like format, Microsoft has has focused on providing customized results for four common action-oriented search tasks: making a purchase, planning a trip, researching a health condition and finding a local business. It aims to provide information and tools to satisfy those goals right within Bing, eliminating the need to search elsewhere and providing a clear differentiation from Google and other search engines.

I’ll report back on Bing when I’ve had a chance to try it out. Meanwhile, here’s a review by Search Engine Land’s Greg Sterling (he likes it quite a bit) and one by TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld (who I think may have forgotten that Live Search in its current form already has the fancy photographic backdrop).

JoliCloud’s Cloud-Happy Netbook OS On the Way

28. May 2009

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cloudOne thing that first drew me to netbooks was the idea of living on the cloud. After losing everything on my last PC in a horrifying motherboard fire, I suddenly wanted to have as much as possible running over the Internet.

So JoliCloud’s netbook operating system, reportedly going into alpha next month, is an exciting prospect. In terms of running programs and storing files, “cloud computing” is just a snooty way of saying you do everything from the Web, but JoliCloud fancies things up a bit by sticking Web applications right onto the desktop. By fine-tuning a version of Linux, the makers of Jolicloud say their operating system is fast at booting and smooth at surfing.

Aesthetically, the screenshots I’ve seen give JoliCloud a smartphone kind of vibe. Apps are lined up in a grid with big, easily clickable buttons (it’s a natural fit for touch screens, if you’ve got one). Putting popular Apps — Gmail, Facebook and the like — front and center is a smart move: The OS seems less random than Moblin’s smattering of Web pages and more Web-oriented than Ubuntu Netbook Remix.

jolicloud
My main concern is how these applications will be handled beyond the initial interface. Hopefully, they’ll act like widgets, popping up seamlessly without acting too much like a Web browser window.

At the same time, I wouldn’t want to lose the things that Windows does well, namely easy access to and control over things that do reside on the computer. To put it another way, I’d want JoliCloud to act like a PC at some times and a cool e-mail/social media gadget at others.

If you’re interest is piqued, sign-ups for the alpha are available now through JoliCloud’s Web site, and Netbook Choice has the full compatibility list.

AOL Back On Its Own Again

28. May 2009

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AOL FloppyWhen the original merger between Time Warner and AOL was announced in January 2000, it was heralded as a landmark merger between old and new media. Those rosy predictions never materialized, and as dialup faded away the company never recovered.

Google’s five percent stake in the company will be bought back. From there, the company would be spun off to Time Warner shareholders and run by current AOL chief Tim Armstrong. All of this should be completed by the end of the year.

According to Kara Swisher, Armstrong is set to make some significant changes to the business structure of the company. It would keep the access business that it has rather than sell it, and put all its acquisitions into a separate ventures division and look for outside funding.

Certainly none of this is coming out of left field. Most of us have known for a a long time (rumors of a spin-off/sale of AOL have been circulating for at least four years now) that something had to happen.

It will be interesting to watch and see where the company goes from here. Reports indicate that Armstrong is set to focus more on the traditional brands of AOL, AIM, and ICQ in an attempt to reconnect with consumers. Will it work? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a shot.

Forget Google Apps: Google Wave is the New Epicenter of the Google-Microsoft War

28. May 2009

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Google Wave LogoI’m at the keynote for day two of Google’s I/O developer conference, where it’s extremely clear that Google decided to save its big news for the second day. The company is announcing Google Wave, a new service which–well, it’s one of the most ambitious services that Google or anyone else has cooked up? How ambitious? Project leader Lars Rasmussen says that it began with the question “What might e-mail look like if it were invented today?” And that bold idea seems like it’s understating Wave’s audacity, if anything.

I’m not sure if I can describe Wave in one coherent sentence. It:

  • Is a service that looks like a rich piece of client software;
  • Behaves like sophisticated threaded e-mail;
  • Acts like IM when multiple collaborators are online at once.
  • Is one of the most real-time collaborative tools I’ve ever seen.
  • Has revision marking and versioning for workgroup editing.
  • Has instant photo sharing.
  • Allows its functionality to be embedded into blogs and social networks;
  • Can serve as a container for OpenSocial applications;
  • Has what Google says is a revolutionary spell checker;
  • Comes in mobile flavors for Android and iPhone;
  • Is an open-source project that lets developers write both Wave extensions (we saw one that grabs tweets and brings them into Wave) and their own servers (which can talk to other Wave servers).

I’m probably skipping or forgetting about a third of the things that Google mentioned…and I’m pretty sure it didn’t detail everything about Wave in the 90-minute demo.

Just how well all this work remains to be seen, but Google is trying to release something that’s remarkably dense with features–it looks like it’s trying to be a 5.0 product released as a beta. And even though the demo is ending now, there was a lot that didn’t get answered, such as whether Wave will be capable of replacing an e-mail client (assuming the world doesn’t immediately dump e-mail for Wave) and whether Google plans to sell Wave as a service to enterprises, as it does Google Apps. I also didn’t hear details on when Google expects Wave to be fully available.

Gut reaction: Wave, not Google Docs, is Google’s big attempt to take on Microsoft head-to-head in the world of corporate productivity. It’s not an Outlook clone–and Outlook does vital everyday things that Wave doesn’t seem to, at least yet–but it clearly wants to be the application that the worl’d businesspeople live in.

More thoughts later (we I/O attendees are supposed to get early access to Wave), but for now, a few screens after the jump. As you’ll see, the service does so much that the UI itself looks like it’s fairly bursting at the seams with stuff.

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The Patents of Steve Jobs

28. May 2009

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Steve Jobs PatentsAmong the many uncanny parallels between Stephen Paul Jobs and Walter Elias Disney is this one: Very early on, both abandoned the work that in some respects might seem to define their careers. Walt Disney began as a cartoonist, but by the late 1920s he had nothing to do with the drawing of Disney cartoons and is said to have told folks that he couldn’t have held down an animator’s job in his own studio.  And Steve Jobs held technical positions at HP and Atari at the dawn of his time in Silicon Valley, but his contributions to Apple have never been those of an engineer.

And yet, as I browsed Apple patents in recent months for stories like this one, I wasn’t surprised to discover that Jobs’ name is among the inventors listed on dozens of Apple filings over the past thirty years (with a thirteen-year gap in the middle during his absence). It doesn’t feel like glory-hogging, either: Anyone want to make the case that major Apple products would be pretty much the same if Jobs hadn’t contributed ideas and refinements? And Jobs’ name is typically one of several or many on a patent, usually along with that of Apple design honcho Jonathan Ive and other, lesser-known colleagues. (Most Jobs patents relate to industrial design; some are for software; none are for circuitry or other under-the-hood technologies.)

Rummaging through Google Patent Search‘s records of patents credited in part to Steve Jobs is an absorbing way to reflect on some of his accomplishments and failures–and maybe even to learn some new things about what makes the man tick.Yes, his name is on the patents for most of the iconic computers, MP3 players, and other gizmos sold by Apple from 1998 to the present. (I’ve written about some of them before.) But you know what? It’s not the famous, obvious stuff that I find most interesting–it’s the sidelights, loose ends, and mysteries. I’ll look at ten of those in a moment.

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