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posted 11/20/2012 8:04:26 AM

Late this morning, Robert Johnson sent me a link to Paul Thurrott story "Windows 8 Sales Well Below Projections, Plenty of Blame to Go Around" -- "Uncertainty could turn Windows 8 into the next Vista". The lead sentence is frightening: "Sales of Windows 8 PCs are well below Microsoftís internal projections and have been described inside the company as disappointing". Uh-oh.

Robert asked my opinion, and I'll give it. Relax. Slow start isn't surprising at all. I've said for more than a year that Windows 8 wouldn't be big. It's a transitional operating system coming when most businesses just upgraded to Windows 7 or are in process of doing so and when tablets capture consumer interests more.

Perhaps Microsoft managers drank their own Kool-Aid and simply expected too much too soon. Look at the economy. Target and Walmart posted disappointing results this week, sending stocks downward. Retail is weak right now, which surely affects consumer PC buying. Besides, something is missing: Compelling designs at affordable prices.

I'm surprised at how lackluster are Windows 8 computers and how over-priced they are. Reality is this: Companies like Dell and HP drove down prices long ago. Consumers expect to pay bottom dollar, but, suddenly, everyone wants to be Apple this release cycle. Windows 8 slates selling for one-thousand bucks compete with Android tablets or iPads selling for less than $500. New Windows PC designs I've seen ask too much but give too little. ASUS and Microsoft stand nearly alone offering reasonably feature- and price-competitive models.

Then there is Microsoft's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde user interface. Among several of Thurrott's on-the-money statements: "Itís a floor wax. No, itís a dessert topping. Microsoftís new whatever-the-F-it-is operating system is a confusing, Frankensteinís monster mix of old and new that hides a great desktop upgrade under a crazy Metro front-end".

The two-motif approach doesn't work, particularly on Surface. If users can't install legacy apps on the desktop, why have it at all? Windows RT should be an all Modern UI affair, with Windows 8 Pro presenting the desktop by default on any computer without touchscreen.

Thurrott is right about Windows RT: "Imagine Apple announcing a major new version of iOS and then releasing a new tablet that runs Mac OS X instead of that new iOS version. Doesnít make a lick of sense, does it? Well, thatís what Microsoft did".

Windows 8's greatest risk is Microsoft. I rightly faulted the company for killing off the Windows Vista "Wow" marketing campaign and making other strategic changes soon after launch. Like Windows 8, the executive responsible for managing Vista's development and launch left the company. In the wake of Jim Allchin's departure and concerns about slow early sales, Microsoft wrongly shifted marketing strategies, which as much anything else doomed Vista. History repeats. Steven Sinofsky is out, and if Thurrott is right Microsoft sees slower-than-expected sales. The temptation will be to shift strategies, particularly marketing. Change now would repeat past mistakes. Stay the course, Microsoft.

Windows XP sales started slowly, too. Microsoft released during a recession and six weeks after the Twin Towers fell. Consumers' mood was grim. Yet despite early hurdles, XP proved to be the most endearing release ever. Just because Windows 8 stumble starts doesn't mean it's already finished.

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Blizzard hacked for real this time -- ch
posted 8/11/2012 3:21:43 AM

In May we read that game maker Blizzard, developer of a series of popular games including World of Warcraft, Diablo III and Starcraft, was hacked, but that turned out to just be individual compromised accounts from some of its users. Now we read, from Blizzard itself rather than a third party, that they have been hacked and information compromised on their networks. So how are they doing with the breach?

"This week, our security team found an unauthorized and illegal access into our internal network here at Blizzard", the company says. So did they respond well? It seems they got the jump on things and responded quickly, a smart move: "We quickly took steps to close off this access and began working with law enforcement and security experts to investigate what happened."

Next they were specific with what classes of data were, and werenít compromised, another smart move: "Some data was illegally accessed, including a list of email addresses for global users, outside of China". Interesting data point: China users seemed to be exempt. Also they note: "We also know that cryptographically scrambled versions of passwords (not actual passwords) for players on North American servers were taken".

But what steps were in place to slow down or stymie would-be hackers? Blizzard continues: "We use Secure Remote Password protocol (SRP) to protect these passwords, which is designed to make it extremely difficult to extract the actual password, and also means that each password would have to be deciphered individually".

And Blizzard took precautions notifying their userbase: "As a precaution, however, we recommend that players on North American servers change their password". Blizzard includes a link to do so, which is helpful. They also suggest changing other passwords you may have used which are similar on other websites, which is a good idea.

While the exact details of the method of breaching their systems still remain to be investigated, it seems they are keeping their users well-informed and provide helpful recommendations, a step in the right direction. While no one wants to be on the receiving side of a breach, importantly, Blizzard pushes information out to the users from the source though a FAQ here, which is proactive. A lot of consumer-facing websites could learn from the things Blizzard is doing right.

If you are a Blizzard user, my colleague David Harley identifies passwords to avoid. Go for a new password that is long (over 8 characters) and hard to guess (not based on things other people might know about you) and use a mixture of upper- and lower-case letters with numbers and punctuation characters if allowed


Microsoft DX10&9
posted 2/15/2008 10:10:45 AM

DirectX 10 (DX10) has been one of the hottest topics for discussion and news coverage since the first DX10 compliant hardware appeared in the second half of last year. Touted as the biggest milestone in games development since programmable shaders were introduced with DirectX 8, nearly seven years ago, DX10 has generated a lot of buzz. Unlike the older versions of DirectX which were each built on top of the previous version, DirectX 10 is a completely new beast. With Windows Vista, Microsoft fundamentally changed the way drivers are designed, and they also completely redesigned DirectX from the ground up.

Before DirectX 10, each new version of DirectX was an incremental improvement over the previous version and it was also backwards compatible. This meant that many of the limitations of the previous versions were carried forward to each new version of DirectX. Microsoft broke this cycle by completely redesigning DirectX 10. The overhaul of both DirectX and the way drivers work in Vista is so complete that Vista actually comes with multiple versions of DirectX in order to support DX10 while still remaining backwards compatible with older software.

While DirectX 10 has seen heavy coverage both in the press and in forum discussions across the 'net, most of the discussion has been centered around the potential of DX10 since, at least initially, no one had any actual real-world, reproducible performance data. Since the first DX10 game didn't appear until June, nearly seven months after DX10 hardware first hit the shelves, no one had any idea how DX10 hardware and software would perform until rather recently. Due to its reliance on Vista's new driver model, DirectX 10 is only available for Vista and there are no plans to make a version available for Windows XP. Thanks in part to the relatively slow uptake of Vista, especially in gaming circles, developers didn't have a huge incentive to implement DirectX 10 in their games and as a result, games with DX10 support have been somewhat slow in coming.

One of the biggest issues holding back the maturation of DirectX 10 is the need for DirectX 9 support for the immediate future. It will take years for DX10 hardware to be ubiquitous and until then developers will be unwilling to alienate the section of the market that still uses DX9 hardware by releasing a DX10 exclusive game. This forces developers to compromise between DX9 and DX10 and currently the logical choice is to lean towards DX9 since most of the hardware out there today doesn't support the newer API. However, it's been nearly a year since the first DX10 hardware appeared and there are now several DX10 capable games on the market. And it looks like things are about to really pick up.

This holiday season is shaping up to be one of the most exciting for PC gamers in years with dozens of highly anticipated PC games set to be released. Hotly anticipated titles like Crysis, Hellgate: London, Unreal Tournament 3 and the PC version of Gears of War are all due to arrive in the coming months and they share another thing in common; they all feature DirectX 10 support. In fact, the holiday release cycle has already started and two highly anticipated DX10 games, Bioshock and World in Conflict, have already been launched. With all of these big holiday releases right around the corner, we think it's about time we looked at the current state of DirectX 10 and answer the big question; are we ready?


Could video-on-demand overtake HD discs
posted 2/15/2008 10:06:09 AM

According to analysts, just three years from now, 129 million people worldwide will be subscribing to Direct-to-Home Video, most likely with high definition. Will HD optical drives plummet into a niche market along the way?

The ongoing battle between the rivaling Blu-ray and HD DVD formats for high-definition optical drives keeps capturing huge attention, even though the combined Blu-ray and HD DVD market today only consists of a few million units sold, give or take a few depending on who is doing the counting.

Recent reports by industry analysts suggest that high-def components might always remain a "niche market," and that in any event, these consoles are already starting to be dwarfed by HD video content being beamed to homes over the Internet, cable, satellite, and other broadband networks.

Bpth Blu-ray and/or HD DVD formats "must start to make an impact on the HDTV viewer next year if hi-def [consoles are] to become more than just a niche market," said Richard Cooper, an analyst at Screen Digest, in a report published in December.

Yet in marked contrast, the direct-to-home video (DTHV) pay-TV market will add up to 129 million subscribers worldwide by 2011, according to a report issued this week by In-Stat. What's more, the firm expects HD content to be a major driver behind DTHV, which accommodates video on demand (VoD) over the user's choice of delivery systems.

"HD is rapidly becoming a key differentiator in the US, and some Western European countries like the UK have exhibited strong growth potential for high definition," observed Michael Inouye, an In-Stat analyst.

As evidence, Inouye cited a growth rate of 273% in HD subscribers for the UK's BSkyB satellite network between the third quarter of 2006 and the same period a year later.

But much more recently, as part of its annual earnings report today, US-based Comcast announced the addition of 1.8 million additional subscribers to "advanced" Comcast services such as HDTV and DVR.

Video sports programming is a strong emerging market for HDTV, with football teams such as the New York Giants, New York Jets, and Dallas Cowboys now upgrading their stadiums to support HD broadcasting. A study released by Comcast at the end of January showed that 47% of consumers expected to make an effort to watch the 2008 Super Bowl game in HD video.

Curiously, the exact opposite seems to hold true, at the moment, in the DVD market, where HD content isn't yet much of a driver at all.

"High-definition content is not the primary motivator for consumers to embrace next-generation optical disks," according to a recent report by Jupitermedia. In that study, conducted by analysts Michael Gartenberg and Ina Mitskaviets, only 24% of consumers cited HD content as a motivator to upgrade their home DVD equipment.

Gartenberg and Mitskaviets pointed to several factors behind consumer hesitance, including the lack of "broad unified hardware support" in the current Blu-ray/HD DVD space; an absence of "deep content support" for Blu-ray and DVD; and the lack of a "clear and visible consumer value proposition" for buying HD drives as opposed to ordinary DVD drives.

Meanwhile, "the growth and penetration of broadband is facilitating content delivery directly to consumers without the need for any optical disk," according to the report. "Combined with portability and the ability to move content from room to room as well as on to portable devices, the market for downloaded video content continues to grow each day."

The Jupiter analysts further noted that, although much of the content -- including downloads from Apple's iTunes -- remains lower than that of DVD discs, Microsoft is now offering full 720p encoded movies and TV shows via its Xbox Live Video Marketplace.

According to reports by other analyst firms, although the dramatic increases in the VoD market will happen over all channels, the Internet will lag behind cable for some time.

In-Stat's Inouve estimates that digital satellite pay TV revenues will skyrocket to $96 billion by 2011.

By comparison, a study published in December by the research group Understanding and Solutions says that online video today represents only 1% of the US home entertainment market...and that single percentage ponit is currently driven by iTunes and Xbox Live.

"Online video services and title availability are limited, pricing strategies are enbryonic, and the technology infrastructure has yet to catch up," said Mai Hoang, an Understanding and Solutions analyst.

By 2011, though, online video will step to an 8% share, representing $2.9 billion in consumer spending, according to the U&S analyst.

Moreover, the current Blu-ray and HD DVD format war might not even really matter all that much four years from now, with VoD rising to the forefront.

"Multiple formats will co-exist in the future, and no one format will control the home entertainment landscape," Hoang predicted. "The new generation of high-definition video formats will also help to shore up packaged media's presence within home entertainment revenue streams."
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Microsoft:We misjudged demandof Xbox 360
posted 2/15/2008 10:05:08 AM

Microsoft admitted Wednesday that it sales for its flagship Xbox 360 game console were in fact so strong that it hasn't been able to maintain inventory levels.

Redmond may be playing the expectations game as NPD data listing monthly console sales is due shortly, and may show some weakness due to these supply problems. Microsoft's game marketing chief Jeff Bell said it could have an impact on its sales.

"We're literally out of stock in many stores," Bell told Reuters. January and February numbers are expected to be affected most, but the company is ramping up production and will likely be able to meet demand by spring.

In December, Microsoft sold some 1.26 million units, one of its best months ever. The surge in sales allowed it to keep pace with Nintendo's Wii, which sold 1.35 million consoles during the same period.

The shortages also apparently are upsetting retailers, more of which find themselves "on allocation" -- meaning Microsoft is sending consoles to the locations where it is selling the best, while others may not be getting many consoles if at all.

Nintendo's Wii is expected to surpass Microsoft as the next-generation console with the largest installed base sometime this year, according to iSuppli. By the end of 2008, the Wii will have shipped 30.2 million units, surpassing the Xbox 360's install base of 25.7 million units, the firm projects.

Worse yet, the PlayStation 3 is expected to surpass Microsoft by 2011, reaching 38.4 million units. However, unlike the previous generation its market share could stay close to even, with the PS3 garnering a 35.4% share, Wii 34.8%, and Xbox 360 29.8%.

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