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Hacking The Vista Screensavers

Long Zheng has posted instructions for changing the options in the screensavers that come with Windows Vista RC1. The screensavers don’t come with properties for you to change, but there are registry keys that can be modified to significantly alter them, like adding extra, thinner or thicker ribbons in the Ribbons screensaver. He’s even included the .reg files so you can, with just a click or two, activate the modifications he shows. Possibly, the shipping version of Vista will contain options for you to set, but if it doesn’t, at least you have the registry.
(via Digg)

September 12th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Vista, Windows, General | no comments

“Atlas” Gets Normal Name

Microsoft’s Atlas, a set of tools and technologies designed to make coding in AJAX easier, has finally gotten a product name, or rather, a set of product names (AJAX is short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, a popular mix of existing technologies).

The client-side JavaScript library, which works with any browser and off any server, even non-Microsoft ASP.NET ones, will be called the Microsoft AJAX Framework. The server-side functionality that integrates with ASP.NET are to be called ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX Extensions. The collection of free, shared source controls and components currently called the Atlas Control Toolkit will be renamed the ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit.

Good to see Microsoft listened to the community feedback and did not try to rename an existing technology for itself. Sticking with what we’ve all been using is a good thing. All Microsoft is doing, rather than its normal practice of “make it proprietary and steal the market”, is to instead provide better tools for developing with a popular technology, as well as provide more advantages for those sites who ouse its ASP.NET infrastructure.

September 12th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Developers, General | no comments

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20% Off 20 Games At Windows Marketplace

The Windows Marketplace is running a sale on games, with 20 of the most popular PC games selling for 20% off through the end of the month. On sale is World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Call of Duty 2, GRAW, and City of Heroes/City of Villains, among others. Not a bad deal.

The PC game market isn’t doing so well lately. Mostly, that’s the fault of the manufacturers, who spent so long pushing the features of the latest and greatest graphics cards that many hardcore gamers gave up on upgrading their PC and just bought a game console. For the PC game market to rebound, two things have to happen:

  • System requirements must be easier to meet and understand.
  • Piracy must be made more difficult.

Microsoft is in a position to accomplish both.

For the first, Microsoft should release a basic spec, based on the Windows Experience Index, that publishers can put on their boxes to indicate recommended system requirements. For example, for a current spec, Microsoft could require X amount of processor, X amount of RAM, and an X capable graphics card, and call that Games For Windows 2006 requirements. Any game that could run on that system at 30 frames per second or better, would get to put a Games For Windows 2006 sticker on the box.

As the years went buy, Microsoft would release a new spec every year. Publishers would test their games on systems that met each year’s requirements, and if the game topped 30 FPS, it would get the sticker. If a game came out in 2008, but was coded well enough to get 2006/2007/2008 certification, it would sell better, because it could run on more and older computers. Gamers who have systems certified for the 2006 requirements would know not to buy games with the 2008 sticker. Simplicity. Help consumers, and they’ll buy more games.

As for piracy, as much as I may hate copy protection, no one can deny that piracy is extraordinarily rampant in the PC game industry. I wouldn’t release a PC game if I were a publisher, since piracy is so damn easy. Microsoft has a decent system for stopping piracy: Windows Genuine Advantage. Tie every game to the Windows install, and BAM! significantly reduced piracy. Microsoft also gets the benefit that games won’t run on non-Genuine Windows.

Can it be done? Sure. Will it be done? I don’t see Microsoft making any steps in the right direction. For the sake of the industy, I hope they do.

September 12th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Windows, General | no comments

Norton: Nothing’s Worse For Windows

ThePCSpy did an analysis of many major Windows programs in order to determine which one slows down Windows the most. Included were McAfee SecurityCentre, Microsoft Office 2003, OpenOffice 2.0.3, Windows Live Messenger 8, Yahoo Instant Messenger 8.0, AOL Instant Messenger 1.5 Preview, Trillian 3.1 Basic, Gaim 1.5.0, Apple QuickTime 7.1, DivX 6.3, Kazaa 3, Azureus, uTorrent 1.4, BitComet 0.7, WinRAR, WinZIP, Adobe Photoshop CS2, Java Runtime, .NET Framework Runtime 2.0, DirectX 9.0c, and several other programs, codec and font packs.

The absolute worst offender, no surprise to me, was Norton Internet Security 2006. Anyone who has used Norton to protect their system knows that nothing ruins a computer faster, making your computer run so slow that any security benefit just isn’t worth it. Now, you’ve got some amount of proof. Norton increased boot time on a completely clean system to 118.33 seconds, up 43 seconds from 75, and delayed the system by almost 58%.

Other figures:

Software Mean Boot Time
System Delay
System Delay
Norton Internet Security 2006 118.33 43.33 57.78
Yahoo Instant Messenger 8.0 85.67 10.67 14.22
AOL Instant Messenger 1.5 Preview 85.33 10.33 13.78
McAfee SecurityCentre 83.67 8.67 11.56
.NET Framework Runtime2.0 81.67 6.67 8.89
Microsoft Office 2003(v11) Pro. 80.00 5.00 6.67
Windows Live Messenger(MSNM8) 80.00 5.00 6.67
Adobe Photoshop CS 2 79.33 4.33 5.78
QuickTime 7.1 78.67 3.67 4.89
DirectX 9.0c 78.67 3.67 4.89

I don’t know what the numbers for Windows Live OneCare are (and hopefully Oli will give it a test), but considering that Norton scored as poorly as expected, this is your best reason to get a subscription to OneCare. It’s still just $20.

(via Download Squad)

September 12th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | OneCare, Security, General | 2 comments

Apple Announces New iPods, Media Center Extender

Apple today announced a whole bunch of stuff that you can read about on every single blog out there. I’m just going to look at how this affects Microsoft.

Apple’s biggest move was discounting the iPod. For the first time since April of 2003, Apple has dropped the price on its flagship iPod, with the 30-gigabyte model now costing fifty dollars less, at $250. They also cancelled the 60-gig model, replacing it with a new 80-gig iPod that still costs fifty dollars less than the old 60-gig ($350). The new iPod is also brighter and has a better battery.

This greatly affect Microsoft’s Zune strategy. Regardless of features, most consumers make a simple form factor/capacity comparison. In the full-size category, Apple has set a new bar at $250, while the Zune is rumored at $300. If Microsoft hopes to compete, it will have to drop the Zune’s price accordingly, which will cut into its profit margin.

The iPod notoriously has a giant profit margin, so Apple seems to be willing to sacrifice quite a bit of that to hold onto their massive market share. That is a ballsy move by Apple, one completely unnecessary until now, since Apple had no real competition, and indicated that they are willing to take on Microsoft with everything they’ve got. Microsoft used to fight a good fight, but we’ll have to wait and see if they’ve got what it takes to compete in this one.

Besides that, Apple introduced iTV, although a lot of its details are still unknown. The device acts similar to a Media Center Extender, streaming media over built-in wifi or ethernet from a computer to a TV. It works with both PCs and Macs, and costs $300.

Now, that’s a pretty good device, especially if you buy a ton of stuff from the iTunes TV and new Movie Store, but Microsoft already has a $300 box that does media streaming from a Windows PC: The Xbox 360. While there are advantages and disadvantages of the features of both the Apple and Microsoft solutions, including media formats, interface, speed, looks, and other things, there remain two killer features:

  • The Xbox 360 is an Xbox 360, and it plays video games.
  • Windows Media Center is a DVR, and records and plays back TV shows.

With both boxes costing $300, Apple made it real easy to run comparisons. Of course, iTV has built-in wifi, and probably the biggest mistake Microsoft made with the 360 was not giving it wifi. Still, iTV has yet to be released, and by the time it hits stores sometime in 2007, maybe Microsoft will either rectify that mistake, or drop the price of the 360. Historically, console prices drop every 18 months, which means a Xbox 360 Core system may cost $250 or less by May 2007, making the addition of wifi an affordable one.

As long as Microsoft is selling a next generation game console/DVR for the same price as iTV, Apple’s box will be a hard sell. Still, it has a small form factor, and, no doubt, it will “just work”. Using an Xbox 360 as a Media Center Extender under Windows Vista is not always a perfect solution, as evidenced by the hairs I have pulled out testing it these last few weeks.

However, a Media Center Extender can be bought for $230. They include wifi, and “just work”, too. As long as Apple does not include a DVR with its operating system, its Front Row application and devices like iTV will not have even the moderate success Media Center has. iTV seems like a nice peripheral, but there simply isn’t enough features in there. Microsoft can claim that for the same $300, you get an Xbox which does all that iTV does plus games and DVR, and for seventy dollars less, you can stream Media Center, which does all that iTV does plus DVR.

Of course, Apple always gets the better shake from the press, so watch the media act like this has never been done before. They certainly did with Front Row.

As an aside: doesn’t the new iTunes album art remind you of the same exact view in Windows Media Player 11? Eh, whatever.

September 12th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Apple, General | no comments

Windows Live Replaces MSN Search

Microsoft is officially releasing Windows Live, having Windows Live Search replace MSN Search (exactly 22 months after it originally released MSN Search). Live Search and leave beta, and Live Search becomes the new destination for users searching from the MSN homepage. The changeover hasn’t completed, but it is underway right now.

The millions of users who use MSN are going to eventually run a search. When they do, they will find something different enough from what they are used to on Google that they might decide to take a look around. They might discover Live Search’s neverending search results. They might discover Live’s Image Search, with its expanding thumbnails, resizing slider, scratchpad and great preview mode (and a really cool new “Related People” mode that is damn near perfect!). They might discover Windows Live Local, with its great map dragging, easy pushpins, saved and shareable locations, overhead and 3/4 views.

They might discover a whole bunch of other great Live services, like Spaces, QnA and Expo, or try the new Live Mail. They might download and install some great software, like Live Mail Desktop, Live Messenger, or OneCare. Or they might not.

It’s a lot to hope for, certainly, and it would be great for Microsoft if it all worked out. If there’s a chance to have a slam dunk, this is it. Windows Live is a ton of great technology, at exactly the right time, while none of its rivals are taking as many chances. MSN has a lot of users who don’t know what Web 2.0 is, and they might discover AJAX for the very first time when they hit that search box. If they love it, it will be Microsoft that introduces them to Web 2.0, and Windows Live Search that replaces their Google.

Will it pull off? We’ll see if the market share starts inching up by the end of the year.

Gary Price:

Image search results pages also includes a slider to let the user determine the layout of the page and a pulldown to limit to specific sizes of images. Each image also includes a link to a “scratchpad” where you can store images. The AJAX drag and drop to the scratchpad is nice.

Searching for image of people, for example (Warren Buffet) includes a a list of related names. Btw, has been using Zoom technology with their image database since the beginning of the year. You’ll not only find related names of people but also ideas to narrow or expand your search. Warren Buffet example at Zoom is also available with web search at Ask while Live Search only offers related searches. blog:

Search page changes
First, the page is much faster. The search box is wider and we’re including messaging for key new features. You’ll also notice that the Jewel (the drop down in the upper left hand corner) is now available on this page.

Direct URLs to personalized page and search
This has been a popular request by many users. Now you can type (soon and go directly to the search page. Similiarly you can type and and go directly to the personalized page.

Accessibility is now accessible including screen reader mode which can be enabled via the ‘Options’ dialog.

Associated Press:

The release also is part of the Redmond software company’s push to offer a number of free, Web-based services under its new “Live” brand name. The approach has been aimed at helping the company establish a fresh, separate Internet brand for those services, but it also has confused some users more familiar with the company’s traditional MSN Internet branding strategy.

“In general, I don’t think a lot of consumers outside of computer enthusiasts … are aware of Windows Live or know what it is,” said Matt Rosoff, independent researcher with Directions on Microsoft.

Microsoft plans to use Live Search on its MSN portal, and it also planning to promote Live Search later this fall. But Rosoff said the company needs to do more — whether it’s a massive marketing push or some sort of broader tie-in with other products — to tell uses what Live is, and persuade them to switch from Google and others.

Mike Torres notes that they’ve added back all the MSN Search smart answers, so none of the cool features are lost in the changeover. Also:

One thing that no one is talking about (at least not yet) is the pretty significant update to the mobile search experience. There’s a new user interface, support for instant answers like Encarta and finance, some new scopes like news and maps, lots of changes to local search (bigger maps!) and more. You can check it out from your phone at The team is blogging here:


Live is Microsoft’s key play for the future and new company leader Ray Ozzie has been a vocal advocate of Live in particular and web based software as a service in general. places new emphasis on customization, RSS, blogs, video and other areas of emerging interest. was to fulfill a similar function, but when Start lost steam last fall the team posted to their blog calling for engineers interested in working on

The company says that MSN attracts 465 million unique users worldwide per month. It’s long been believed that the MSN brand was being fazed out and would be replaced by as the intended home page and search engine for Microsoft’s huge user base. You could say that has a much more contemporary feel to it than MSN - or you could say that it’s a weak attempt to mimic Google’s sparse interface that ends up looking unfriendly and awkward. Today’s announcement also underlines the strangeness that Microsoft’s new YouTube competitor is being launched under the MSN brand.

September 12th, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Local, Expo, Mail, Live, Messenger, MSN, Windows, Spaces, General | one comment