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Gears of War For $44

I just pulled the trigger on Gears of War, after about a week of staring at various prices. The reason: Google made me an offer I could not refuse. Google Checkout is taking $20 off almost anything over $50 at a bunch of shops, including Buy.com, which makes the $60 Gears of War just $44.39, including shipping. Who could resist?

Other things you can pick up (before shipping):

  • Obviously, any $60 game for $40
  • Rainbow Six Vegas for $35.79
  • Xbox Live Wireless Headset for $35.74
  • Wireless controller for $35.74 (after $10 discount)
  • Wired Controller $25.32
  • Wifi adapter for $79.99
  • Xbox Live Gold 12-months subscription + wired headset + Live Arcade game + 200 Microsoft Points for $39.99
  • Xbox 360 Hard Drive for $79.99
  • Xbox Live Vision Gold Pack (Vision camera + headset + 12 months Live Gold + 3 Live Arcade games + 200 MS Points) - $51.02

In other Gears of War news, the game has sold an amazing 1 million copies already, easilly on track to be the top-selling 360 game yet. Microsoft’s Gamerscore blog reports:

The battle continues to rage on Xbox Live as well, as more than 850,000 unique gamers have engaged in 10 million gameplay sessions while unlocking an impressive 7 million Achievements. On top of being the #1 title on Xbox Live, “Gears of War” has also driven new members to the network, as paid registrations per day have skyrocketed more than 50 percent since the game’s launch.

More at Kotaku and Major Nelson

November 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Gears of War, Xbox Live, Xbox 360, Xbox, General | no comments



If I Wanted A Lack Of Choice, I’d Buy A Mac

Joel On Software has a particularly heinous article decrying the shut down UI in Windows Vista. While the UI is terrible, and quite possibly the worst new part of the Vista Start Menu, his suggestions almost make you think he never actually uses Windows.

The main mistake Joel makes is quoting Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice”, which argues that more choice is too hard for our “exhausted brains”. Choice is the single biggest arguement between Windows and Mac systems, with the Mac built on the idea of doing something a specific and perfect way, and Windows built on letting the user decide how they want to do it. Redundancies and choice are the second most important reason to use Windows (the first being backwards compatibility), and without it, Windows would just be a Mac.

If you don’t understand that choice is important to Windows users, then you don’t understand Windows, and you aren’t fit to give advice.

Among Joel’s ideas: Merging Sleep and Hibernate. Really? Joel, do you understand the difference between the two? It isn’t trivial, and users complained about not having easy access to the hibernate function. This is very important. Sleep puts the computer in a temporary low-power state, similar to the old Suspend, and after a while, activates Hibernate mode. This is useful when going back and forth from the computer, allowing you to turn it on and off at will, with a one-second response time, but still forces the computer to go into a zero-power mode if you leave for a while.

While Sleep is a great mode, and the default way of shutting down Vista systems, it does not completely replace Hibernate and Shut Down. Hibernate is still necessary for laptops, since Sleeping the laptop and then putting it in a bag will overheat the system within seconds. Shutting down the computer is still something people do, and getting rid of that button would be just annoying.

Joel also argues that Restart should be eliminated, since you can just hit the power button. Really? Fifteen years of operating system research would have taught you that restart is there for a reason, and few Windows users would want that one to go away. You must have no idea how annoying most power buttons are, and how easy it is to hit restart and trust the computer to handle things from that point.

The one decent arguement: Eliminate the “Switch User” button. Hitting “Lock” is plenty, and the lock screen has a button to switch users. This is unnecessary, and only eliminates one click, as well as speeding up the user experience (try both, and you’ll see what I mean).

Plus, he claims that there are “fifteen different ways to shut down a laptop”, except that he includes in those fifteen different buttons that perform the same function. In fact, there are just seven ways, one more than in Windows XP, and that one extra is Sleep, a great new feature.

The final solution he recommends: Knock it down to just one button.

So now we’ve got exactly one log off button left. Call it “b’bye”. When you click b’bye, the screen is locked and any RAM that hasn’t already been copied out to flash is written. You can log back on, or anyone else can log on and get their own session, or you can unplug the whole computer.

So, now we’ve gone back to the dark ages of unplugging the computer to shut it down?!? Plus, laptop users have no means of quick-hibernating, users who want to switch users or lock the system have a 30-second countdown before the system goes to sleep, and there’s a giant stupid “b’bye” button confuses everyone who’s used Windows the last eleven years? Holy crap!

vista-shutdown-ui.png

Lets be honest, you can’t eliminate Shut Down, and every office needs a dedicated “Lock” button. Laptop users won’t be able to move around their portables without a quick hibernate. Microsoft did the smart thing and left in all the choices, while still presenting users with just two buttons: Sleep and Lock. That’s not so bad, Joel, is it? Two buttons!

I agree that the expanding menu is awful, and should be replaced by a larger UX with big buttons and lots of descriptive text (like in Office 2007). However, the default options, which contain just two damn buttons, are perfect, and I’d like to see a better solution that doesn’t annoy 95% of computer users.

Operating system designers have to consider these features very carefully, because they are features used every single day. Those buttons will be clicked literally billions of times by Windows users, and annoying people billions of times is not something Microsoft has a strong desire to do.

November 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Vista, Windows, General | 9 comments

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Microsoft Licenses Office 2007 UI

Microsoft has done a cool and smart thing, and decided to let (almost) everyone use the Office 2007 UI.

Office 2007 features an entirely innovative UI; while it takes cues from some previous ideas, it is hard for anyone to point out any previous software which uses even a similar UI system, and Microsoft could have easilly copyrighted and maybe even patented the entire system, and kept it entirely exclusive for a long time. Even smarter, they could have limited use of it only to Windows applications.

Instead, they decided to free it.

So, anyone can license the UI, and as long as they license it, they don’t get sued. And since licensing is free, that’s a pretty good deal. Of course, since you have to get the free license, that means Microsoft gets to make a few demands in how it is used (which is the whole reason its a license, and not generally hefker*).

The first rule is a doozy: The UI can be used for any software program, except one that competes directly with Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Outlook or Access. Microsoft may be giving away their innovation, but not so you can clone the software. Design whatever the hell you want, but no email clients allowed, or word processors, and so on.

That’s going to be the biggest bone of contention, but it’s exactly the biggest reason Microsoft wrote the license. They worked hard creating this, and through blogs like Jensen Harris’, they are giving away the reasons behind it, reasons that include tons of expensive research and user studies. They didn’t do all this work so someone could clone their software, but they don’t mind if you use the same concepts in the next version of Photoshop.

And it isn’t all bad. The rules allow creation of applications on non-Windows platforms. Microsoft would have been well within its right (and typical late-90s evil) to bar the UI from Macs and Linux, but they didn’t. They figured the non-compete portion is enough. I have no idea how the license protects future Microsoft software that bears the UI, but I guess that’s something Microsoft will just have to deal with.

Other than the non-compete, the licensing requires you comply with certain user experience guidelines, while suggesting others. The reason behind the requirements: The UI guys know which parts of the user experience, if left out, will leave a really crappy application, and sour everyone on the experience of this new type of UI. If you are going to ruin it, the license says, just stay home.

Some examples:

  • The Ribbon must change its layout if the windows is resized. This is so windows do not have to be fixed size, or that horrible hacks ensue if the windows gets too small for the full Ribbon. These changes must be in real time. How this is accomplished has several requirements and several optional suggestions.
  • There are specific rules for how the Ribbon pages over when the application is too small for even the most minimal Ribbon.
  • The Ribbon should, but does not have to, completely dissapear if the application is resized below 300×250.
  • The title bar does not need to be modified to use UI elements.
  • The theme can be in any color scheme desired by the developer, not just Office blue.
  • The application must include a Quick Access Toolbar, when usable.

The fully detailed 120 page UI guidelines will be released soon. For now, you can read a preview to get an idea of what to expect, and check out the Office UI development website for updates. Channel 9 also has a video (complete with an appearance by a lawyer!).

Some companies that have partnered with Microsoft over the licensing (some were even involved in drafting the license, making sure it didn’t hamper them too much):

  • 90Degree Software
  • Attachmate
  • Falafel Software, Inc.
  • DevComponents LLC
  • Developer Express
  • ILOG, Inc.
  • Infragistics, Inc.
  • Syncfusion Inc.
  • Telerik Corp.
  • Xceed
  • Objective Computing
  • ABB
  • Mindjet
  • Serena Software
  • Divelements

* - Hefker - literally: ownerless. For more, do a Google search

November 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Developers, Office, Applications, General | 4 comments

Podcatching For The Zune

A new program, FeedYourZune, adds podcasting support to the Zune, a feature some consider sorely missing from the player (and from all of Microsoft’s media offerings). FeedYourZune is a full-fledged RSS reader and podcast player, and will automatically download and sync both audio and video podcasts to a Zune player. It also includes integrated channel guides for discovering new ‘casts, supports Bit Torrent, and has some other cool advanced features.
(via PodcastingNews and MED)

November 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | Zune, Windows Media, General | no comments

Arrested Development Free On MSN Video

MSN Video is putting up Arrested Development for free starting now, with three new episodes coming every three weeks at arresteddevelopment.msn.com. All 53 episodes will be made available within the next year for completely free viewing, letting plenty of people get to see the show that critics loved, but nobody saw the first time around.

msn-video-arrested-development.jpg

MSN Video is using this time to announce improvements to their user experience. The site now features a better player that saves the user’s position for picking up later, as well an instant replay button to jump back 15 seconds, and linking to specific moments within a video. The player also features a pretty good full-screen experience within the same browser window. The player does not appear to be using technlogy from Soapbox.

November 22nd, 2006 Posted by Nathan Weinberg | MSN, General | no comments