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WinInfo Short Takes: Week of December 19

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A short clarification about my comments last week about the December Vista CTP and the feature complete Vista build that Microsoft had promised: Early this month during a conference call with the press, Microsoft revealed that it would ship two key Vista-related deliverables in December. The first, the December Vista CTP, is due next week and will include a number of new features when compared with the previous build that testers got, the October CTP. The second is an internal release only: Microsoft is basically saying that it will complete the feature set for Windows Vista by the end of the month. But the point I was trying to make last week was simply that this feature complete build of Vista won't make it into testers' hands. Instead, a future CTP--in January or February 2006--will be the next build testers get, and the first they'll see that is feature complete. I hope this clarifies things.

I recently discovered that Half-Life 2, which is arguably the greatest first person shooter ever made, and a candidate for best game of all time, was released a while back for the original Xbox (but not the Xbox 360). Despite the fact that I am in the middle of an Xbox 360 launch game review death march, I thought it would be fun to take a few days off, plow through the Xbox version of Half-Life 2 (which does work on Xbox 360 as well, according to Microsoft's compatibility list), write a quick review, and then get on with the Xbox 360 games (none of which, incidentally, are as good as Half-Life 2, with the possible exceptions of Call of Duty 2 and Kameo). Sounds easy, right? Well, about 100 minutes into the game, on a level called Water Hazard, I've run into huge and constant bugs that have basically ruined the game. The problem is, I don't know if the bugs are inherent to the game itself or are caused by the compatibility shim Microsoft created to let it run on the 360. And naturally, I don't want to start over again on a classic Xbox console to find out. Here's what happens: In many sequences in which you're driving a boat, you can drive right through the scenery and into a netherworld that is "behind" or even "under" the level you're supposed to be traversing. Once this happens, you have to restart at the last saved game point; there's no way to fix it. I kind of got around this by driving carefully and, seriously, driving backwards, which doesn't trigger the bug. But more recently, I've hit another more serious bug: The game simply freezes 30 seconds after my last saved game, every time, no matter what I do. This one seems impossible to get around. I'm curious if anyone else has had issues with Half-Life 2 on Xbox or Xbox 360. I'd really like to get a handle on this one.

By the way, I just wanted to mention that Windows One Care is up to date. Sorry, only One Care beta testers will understand why that's funny. Or at least sad.

Short Takes

Intel: You Haven't Lived Until You've ViiV'ed
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2006 in January in Las Vegas, microprocessor giant Intel will finally unveil its new PC hardware platform that's aimed at consumer-oriented media centers. It's duubbed ViiV, which is the Roman numeral 64, as in 64-bits, and is pronounced "vive". ViiV-based PCs will use technology Intel originally developed for its mobile-oriented Centrino platform, providing desktop systems with the low heat consumption of that platform, but with desktop-level performance. It's likely that ViiV-powered PCs will utilize a dual-core chip that's currently codenamed Yonah and is expected to replace today's Pentium M chips. According to Intel, Yonah consumes almost 30 percent less heat than today's Pentium M chips, but provides 60 percent more performance. And Yonah, incidentally, will likely be a key player in Apple's move next year to Intel chips. What does this all mean to you? After a few years of stagnation, the PC is getting ready to move up in the world again. From where I sit, it can't happen fast enough.

Xbox 360 is Only Bright Spot this Holiday Season
With Christmas bearing down on us like a freight train full of leaden fruitcake, the NPD Group has bad news for video game retailers: With the sole exception of the Xbox 360, which has been a runaway smash, holiday season 2006 has thus far been a total bust for the video game industry. In November, US video game sales were down 18 percent year-over-year to $700 million. Major publishers, such as Activision and Electronic Arts, are starting to warn that calendar year 2005 video game revenues will be down sharply because of poor holiday sales. While a sales downturn is typical when console makers switch to new platforms, game makers had hoped that this transition would go smoother. Guess not.

Microsoft on Track for 3 Million Xbox 360's
And speaking of video game sales, Microsoft announced this week that it is "on track" to sell 3 million Xbox 360 consoles within the first 90 days of the system's availability. While the company wouldn't say how many consoles have been sold so far, Microsoft did note that 1.3 million video game titles have been sold for the system since November 18. I guess that's not too shabby, given the console availability problems that have dogged potential Xbox 360 customers. But it pales in the face of the millions of previous generation Xbox, PlayStation 2, and GameCube consoles and games that will be sold by the end of the year as well.

Creative Takes Patent Battle to Apple
As one might expect, electronics giant Creative isn't going to let its recently acquired MP3 player patent go to waste. No, Creative is going to do what any respectful second-tier company would do in the face of an adversary that they can't beat in the open market. They're going to sue. In this case, the intended victim is Apple Computer, which took Creative's MP3 UI and ran with it in the hyper-successful iPod. Now, Creative wants payback, literally, and it intends to ask Apple for royalties on each iPod Apple has sold. If (or, ahem, when) Apple refuses, Creative will sue. "Hopefully this will be friendly, but people have to respect intellectual property," Creative CEO Sim Wong Ho said this week. Heads up, Sim. It won't be friendly.

Firefox Continues to Gain on IE
Thanks to the November launch of Firefox 1.5, the first major version of Mozilla's Web browser since the 2004 release of the initial version, market share for Mozilla jumped to 8.84 last month, according to Net Applications. Meanwhile, Internet Explorer (IE) usage dropped by half a point to 86.08. At this rate, Firefox usage will outpace IE by 2077. Or something.

CEO For a Day
OK, this one is kind of nice. Last week, a 10 year old California boy appeared on the NBC show "Three Wishes" where he asked to be Microsoft CEO for a day. Citing his love of Bill Gates (who is the chairman, not CEO, of Microsoft), Kiyaan Vazirzadeh was permitted to run the company for a day in November, just before the launch of Xbox 360. Naturally, he got to meet Bill Gates and, if I understand 10 year old kids like I think I do, I'm sure he pummeled Gates in whatever video game they no doubt played. But talk about a lost opportunity. The kid should have settled with the EU while he was there too.

Finally, Microsoft Patches IE Bugs
Microsoft this week finally patched a widely reported flaw in Internet Explorer (IE) that had been letting hackers break into Windows systems around the globe. I know, I know, it's shocking to hear that IE should have a vulnerability like that. But at least it's fixed now, along with three other IE bugs. Yes, seriously. Maybe it's just me, but IE 7 can't come fast enough.

Firefox Vulnerability Exploited
And since we're talking about IE issues, let's be fair for a moment and turn our attention back to media darling Mozilla Firefox, which, surprise, suffered from its own exploited software flaw this week. The flaw is only found in older versions of Firefox, however, so users can fix the problem by simply updating to 1.5, the latest version. Soon, we'll be suggesting the same fix for IE users as well: If IE 7 turns out the way I think it will, Microsoft will finally have a serious contender on its hands.

Microsoft Teams with ... Google?
You don't hear much about Microsoft teaming up with Google these days because, well, they hate each other, so if you're into that kind of thing, you might want to drink this one right up: Google and Microsoft are both working together to back an Internet research lab that will help budding entrepreneurs reach mass audiences faster than ever before. Sun Microsystems is also providing financial assistance to the lab, which is being incubated at the University of California at Berkley. But don't worry, folks, Google and Microsoft aren't burying any hatchets, despite their ability to work together on this one project. "We are not going into this with the idea that we are going to be collaborating with Google or that they will be collaborating with us," a Microsoft representative said. Whew.

Corrections to this Article:

  • In Friday's Short Takes, I noted that the Intel ViiV brand was taken from the Roman numeral 64, as in 64-bits. However, as many readers pointed out, VIIV is not 64, but is rather the numbers 6 and 4 in succession. To be fair, I actually knew that, since I'm a student of Super Bowls and motion picture copyrights. But for the record, LXIV is 64 and ViiV is simply a silly pseudo-word that Intel figures it can copyright. God help us all. --Paul
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