Tag Archives: Microsoft

Friday Morning in a Hot Spell

It has been close to 100 degrees here almost all week… which is actually pretty normal in Silicon Valley at this time of year.  My memories from childhood and the start of school always included some really hot days a week or two into things, just in time to find that the air conditioning in one building or another had broken down over the summer.  And so my daughter gets to experience the same.

So in the cool of the evening I am throwing together a few items too short for posts of their own.  The return of bullet point Friday!

  • Asheron’s Busy Signal

Asheron’s Call was put into unsupported limbo, being free but essentially unsupported, by Turbine some time back.  Now we are getting a taste of what that might mean in the long term.  MMO Fallout reported earlier this week that the game had been brought down for maintenance a couple weeks back and failed to come up again and has been unavailable ever since.

asherons_call_full_logoThe thread reporting the problem has been updated and indicates that moving that transferring the Asheron’s Call to Turbine’s new data center, where the LOTRO servers are going as well, would be expedited, but that the game would not be up again until that happened.  The statement was that the game should be up by Friday.

They just did not say which Friday.

However, it appears it might be today, as people at the end of the forum thread are reporting that they can log in.  There has been no official announcement or update since August 31.

Addendum: Turbine posted about the servers being up on Facebook, though no word yet in the official forums, where players are looking for compensation for the down time.  I say refund them double their money!  Wait, the game is free?

  • The Wonder about Drunder

Daybreak announced their isle of misfit players, the Drunder prison server, back in August.  However, we haven’t heard much since.  Over at Atheren’s Adventures there was a report of a thread about the new server over on the Daybreak forums.

Fortress of Drunder is included on the Drunder server

Fortress of Drunder is included on the Drunder server

The thread kicks off with a post from somebody who has been banished to the new server and has found that it isn’t actually working yet.  How do you open a ticket on a server where you have been denied all support?  Anyway, there is clearly a hole in the system if people so banned can still post on the forums.  The rest of the forum thread is mostly scorn for cheaters, questions about what gets your there (as opposed to just outright banned), and why Daybreak has bothered with this at all.  Key comment from the announcement thread:

Update from drunder: server was a complete flop, no one plays there. Banned people continue to just make new accounts.

Still some of the old SOE “Hey, let’s just try this!” moxie left in Daybreak I guess.

  • Transfers Begin in Middle-Earth

The server consolidation effort for Lord of the Rings Online, which was referenced at the beginning of the year in the Producer’s Letter and for which we finally got some concrete details early last month, looks to be kicking off next week.

There is a post up on the forums indicating that the first two servers up for free, one-way transfers will be the US server Elendilmir and the EU server Estel.

Players on EU servers will be able to transfer to one of the following servers:

  • Belegaer
  • Evernight
  • Gwaihir
  • Laurelin
  • Sirannon

Players on US servers will be able to transfer to one of the following servers:

  • Arkenstone
  • Crickhollow
  • Gladden
  • Landroval

The US server Brandywine remains off the list of possible destinations for the time being.

  • Saying No to Windows 10

Long gone are the days when I would install a new operating system on day one or, heaven forbid, during beta.  I think the last beta OS I installed on a machine I owned was Mac OS 7.1, part of the System 7 chain of releases, and I regretted it.  I don’t even want to  get into the pros and cons of Windows 10.  I am happy and everything is working on Windows 7, so there is no reason to change.  I’ll move when I need to.

However, Microsoft seems quite intent on telling me about Windows 10 every day when I start up my system.  I am not interested in a “free” copy of Windows 10.

This, every single day

This, every single day

Finally sick of that, I decided to try to at least do away with that notification.  As it turns out, Microsoft slipped that in as part of the Windows Update cycle as KB3035583.  Uninstalling that update removed the daily reminder about Windows 10.

Unfortunately, Microsoft is so eager to hand out copies of Windows 10 that they might be pushing it to people who haven’t even opted in.  Just what I need clogging up space on my SSD.  Something else to fix.

On to 64-Bit Gaming

A long tale that is vaguely related to video games and recent news that has been sitting half finished in my drafts folder for over 18 months.

What were you doing in 1997?

One of the tasks I had at work during that year was “WinLogo certification” for our software.  That was the term used at the time for going through the process of getting Microsoft to declare you compatible with their operating system.

Anybody could, of course, claim that they were  Windows 95 compatible.  But to get the official Microsoft Windows compatible logo on your software, Microsoft had to affirm that your software was indeed up to spec.

win95_designI think it says something that in searching for that logo the best one I could come up with was in .gif format… is there anything in that format these days that isn’t also animated?  I feel cheated that the logo isn’t moving.  Also, I feel old.

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

I was installing Windows 95, which was the style at the time

Moving on.

For logo you had to go through a Microsoft approved testing lab.  The closest one to us was down in Los Angeles because the Microsoft position has nearly always been, “Screw Silicon Valley.”

Getting that logo on our product was my job for a couple months, and it was kind of a big deal for the company.  We made most of our money through OEM agreements with computer manufacturers like HP, Dell, Compaq, Micron and a few other, and for them to keep their Windows logo (and be able to sell the Windows OS) they had to make sure that all of the crap shovelware fine software they included on your new computer was also Win logo certified.  So that was dropped in my lap, which was kind of odd.  I was the new guy, so I understood getting the crap assignment.  But given how much of our income was riding on it, I am not sure that “stick it to the new guy” was the optimum strategy for success.

In the end I did succeed, so I guess their trust was well founded.  And I actually enjoyed the whole thing in a perverse way sort of way.  It involved a lot of minutia and making sure everything was “just so.”  And while I have forgotten most of the arcana involved with the process over the years… I moved to enterprise level software on Windows shortly thereafter, and enterprise doesn’t really care about that sort of thing, then eventually to Linux based enterprise level software, which double-double doesn’t care about that stuff… two things stand out in my mind fourteen years later.

First, I had to fly down to LAX, rent a car, and drive out to the certifying lab because could not figure out how to run our installer.  And, seriously, it wasn’t hard.  It was in freaking InstallShield.  And we had sent them a computer all setup with the right hardware.  All they had to do was put the CD-ROM in the drive.  I don’t know how they managed to mess that up.

Anyway, I had to travel about a thousand miles round trip in a day to pretty much press “Next,” “Next,” “Next,” and “OK.”  Not the biggest travel fiasco I ever had… there was that one trip down to New Mexico with another company to figure out why we were having so many hardware defects only to find out that the guy soldering on the power connector was Red/Green colorblind… but it certainly wasn’t the most efficient method.  And it worked, so blunt force method for the win I guess.

Second was the 32-bit requirement for the certification.  In order to get that Win logo approval, your application had to be 32-bit.  No 16-bit executables or DLLs or whatever were allowed.

Which seemed kind of silly at the time, since Windows 95 would run 16-bit software just fine.  There was a ton of 16-bit software laying around, left over from the Windows 3.1 days.  Hell, Microsoft was installing some 16-bit code with the Windows 95 operating system.  And it shouldn’t have been an issue because our software was all 32-bit already.

Unfortunately, the version of InstallShield we were using was not.

Here is how the software check worked.  The lab would run a program that would scan and catalog everything on the hard drive.  Then you would run your installer.  After that, they would run their scan again, it would identify all changes to the system and list out all of the components installed.  They gave you the software so you could run it yourself in preparation for the certification.  I ran it many times.

And every time I ran it, it came back with several items highlighted in red because they contained 16-bit code.

I was quickly able to identify the offending DLLs as being part of InstallShield.  And, since there was a process for getting an exemption for 16-bit code under certain circumstances, it was deemed a better use of the company’s time to have me get the exemption than to upgrade our version of InstallShield.  Given the number of hoops we had to jump through in order to get through each computer manufacturer’s OEM process and that the installer had to support both Windows NT 4.0 and Windows 95, both of which included a number of special OEM requirements, and had to do so in seven languages (I could install Windows NT 4.0 in Japanese without a hitch… eventually) I could see the point.

Of course, that didn’t make the exception process any easier.  One of the rules of any sort of exception procedure seems to be to say “No” to any first request on the theory that it will weed out those looking for an easy exit and then only those with a real need will move forward.  So on we went with that process, with Microsoft making it extremely frustrating to complete, with them responding with rejections that seemed to indicate that they had not bothered to actually read our submission.  As I recall, one of the acceptable reasons for an exception was third party DLLs that were not used during run time.  We would point out that it was just the uninstall that had a couple of 16-bit DLLs and that our software was all 32-bit.

This was made all the more frustrating by the fact that Windows 95, by necessity, had to run 16-bit software.  There was a huge library of software available and Microsoft was not at all keen to piss off its installed base… and maybe save IBM from itself on the OS/2 front along the way… by turning its back on that foundation.  So it wasn’t as though we were shipping something that didn’t work.  Our software did not even violate the rules, it was just the installer… an installer that almost no customer would ever use because our software came pre-installed.

Eventually we hit some sort of persistence threshold and were granted our logo certification.  By that point I had moved on to another company, but I was friends with the person who took over for me so got to hear the ongoing tale of getting Microsoft to grant us our exemption.

And then, for at least the next decade, actually being a 32-bit application was not all that meaningful.  I went on playing the original, 16-bit version of Civilization II for a long time on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows 2000 Professional, and then on Windows XP.  16 bit applications were supported, and remain so, on Microsoft’s 32-bit operating systems… at least to the extent that they support anything.  A lot of apps have been broken by changes and updates over the years, 16 and 32-bit alike.

16-bit apps didn’t lose support until Microsoft got to 64-bit operating systems.  But almost nobody went there initially.  It wasn’t even practical until Windows Vista… which had its own serious problems and which was effectively rejected by the marketplace… and didn’t really start becoming a popular choice until Windows 7 came along about five years back.

By which time the market had probably weaned itself off of 16-bit applications.  Even I had to finally give up the 16-bit version of Civilization II and go with the 32-bit version, the Civilization II Gold Edition, that could at least be patched to work with Windows 7 64-bit.

That is basically the inertia of the market.  Getting millions of people to upgrade both their computer and get onto a 64-bit operating system took a while, and the groundwork for that started way back with Windows 95 and the push to get developers onto 32-bit apps.  What I was doing in 1997 was part of the many steps to get to the point where companies could make these sorts of system requirement announcements:

It is almost a requirement to have a 64-bit client to play in the big leagues these day.  The bleeding edge gamers all have 64-bit systems and lots of memory and get kind of antsy if you don’t support their hardware to its fullest extent.

But it was a bit of a surprise to find somebody actually dropping support for their 32-bit client.  Daybreak just announced that 32-bit support is on its way out for PlanetSide 2.

We wanted to let you know that with the next Game Update (tentatively scheduled for next week), PlanetSide 2 will no longer support the use of the 32-bit Operating System client. We do note, based on our internal metrics, that a very small group of folks are still using this client. We hope this doesn’t prove too inconvenient to anyone impacted, and we appreciate your understanding.

That is actually a big step and I would be interested to know how big “a very small group of folks” really is.  And I wonder if we’ll hear anything else like that at E3 this week. (Topical!)

I suppose by the time most mainstream software finally becomes 64-bit only we’ll be about ready for 128-bit operating systems.

The Notch Timeline

Remember when Facebook announced they were buying Occulus Rift back in March?

Well, the outrage or discomfort or whatever passed with time it seems.

I am sure getting over that event had nothing to do with the current rumor that Notch is selling out to Microsoft for something like two billion dollars, something that surely must have been in play for at least a month now.  Mojang may soon be taking orders from Redmond.

Powered by Microsoft

Powered by Microsoft

This is why I mark these sorts of moment in time.  It is interesting to see how things change.  I am going to bet he is over his problems with Windows 8 as well.

I am not particularly concerned one way or another about Notch cashing out.  Big companies tend to destroy the little companies they buy more often than not, and that fate for Mojang wouldn’t make me happy.  And I am sure a legion of his fans are pissed, but they were pissed about his EULA already, calling him literally worse than EA at one point.  But it is his company, if he wants to cash out, he should go for it.  He can buy himself a whole bunch of new socks with that pile of dough.

I am mostly interested to see that his attitude seemed to soften a bit as a dump truck of money loomed in his direction.

Addendum: And Notch sells it all for 2.5 Billion.  Here is his statement, where he says it is not about the money but about his sanity… though I am betting the money helped a lot.

Side Notes About Used Games

There has been a bit of a controversial breeze blowing through the console news, with the rumor being that Microsoft will be putting an end to the used game market with their next generation console by simply not allowing it to play used games.

Used games and piracy are the two things that keep some big game publishing execs up at night building enormous castles in the sky with all the wealth that could be theirs if only they could be rid of these meddlesome practices.

Not that I am unsympathetic to people whose software is being pirated.  I work in software as well, and it irks.

But with the threat of a final solution to the used game problem potentially on the horizon, it was extremely refreshing to hear somebody from EA come out and say that the used games market is not 100% evil.

Basically, in their view, used games have helped prop up the traditional retail channel for the last few years, which is still an important source of game sales.

Oh, and the fact that people who buy new games can then turn around and trade them in for credit increases the likelihood that they will then buy another new game.  So the used games market might actually be boosting new game sales, at least in certain segments of the market.

Using Used to sell New

Using Used to sell New

But they still want to kill the used market because… despite the above… they still hate it and can’t stop telling themselves that every used game sale would have been a new game sale if not for that damn gray market.

At the other end of the equation there is GameStop, a company that pretty much depends on used games to stay open.  They are upset.

No surprise there.

And they have some numbers that say some gamers won’t buy Microsoft’s icky new console if it doesn’t support used games.  And while I cannot speak to the validity of their poll, they are probably right to be worried.  The end of the used game market probably means the end of GameStop in the medium-to-long term.

And GameFly too, while we’re at it.  All those game rentals would have been new game sales, right?

Microsoft dreams of having control over things in the way that Steam does.  And they have been headed that way with things like direct purchases through XBLA.  Of course, Steam itself is in a bit of a fix in Europe, where the European High Court ruled that digital content should be transferable.  The concept of used might not be going away… and Microsoft throwing in against used will probably just inflame the issue in Europe.  They like Microsoft even less than most people here do.

And I expect typical Microsoft avarice when it comes to pricing, at least initially, which will stoke people’s ire even more so.  Steam thrives in part because of their massive sales, which rope in the buyers who didn’t have to have a given game on day one for list price.  Will Microsoft relent on the $60 price tag for games when there is no used market?  I bet not.

My only solace in all of this is that it does not impact me for the most part.

While we have two consoles, a Wii and a PlayStation 3, but I doubt that we will be jumping on the next generation.  I have been a PC gamer since 1983… wow, 30 years… and will likely remain so.  Our PS3 is mostly used to play Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix, and our Wii hasn’t been on in months.

And, even when we were playing consoles more, I was not a big spender in the used game market.

Once in a while I would buy a used game from GameStop.

But I do not buy used games to save money or to stick it to the publisher.  I buy them because a given game I want simple isn’t available new any more.

Quite a while back I wanted Tetris for the Nintendo DS.  However, it was no longer being published and so was simply not available new.  It was even hard to find used.  GameStop had a copy for me, for which I paid nearly list price.  And not a penny of that went to Nintendo.  But not because I wouldn’t have given them the money.  However, I am sure that would lump me in with those killing single player games in the eyes of some.

Likewise, I had to go looking for a copy of Civilization II in order to be able to play it on Windows 7 64-bit.  The used market was the only choice.  The same went for Mario Kart Double Dash, a Game Cube game my daughter and I wanted to play on the Wii.

Of course, with another aspect of the next console generation… doing away with backward compatibility… the out of print game issue won’t rear its head any time soon.  Still, at some point, unless we go completely to digital distribution, there will games that have had their production run and are no longer available.

So where do used games sit in your world view?

Quote of the Day – Microsoft

Like Blanche DuBois, Microsoft has relied on the kindness of strangers.

-Robert X. Cringely, in the post Steve Balmer’s Dilemma

I read Robert X. Cringely not so much because he is right all the time… because he isn’t… but because he throws out scenarios that make you think about the industry in new ways.

Are there parallels in the MMO and gaming world to that Cringely post about Microsoft’s future?

How Useful is the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor?

Not very.

I swear, some days it is like they don’t want to sell me a new operating system.

But let me pull back and tell my minor tale.

I thought I had better do some research into another aspect of the upgrade equation.  I thought I had better look into how much software I am going to have to buy upgrades for in order to get going with Windows 7.

It is fun to talk about the hardware, and it cost there can add up, but you cannot ignore the software end of things either.

As in the past, Microsoft has a utility you can run on your system to help you with that information.

I remember past versions of that utility, used for operating systems long gone.  It was a utility of negativity.  There was the inevitable short list of items that were compatible, and then the huge, arm-length list of items of that were either known to be incompatible or were unknown.  And unknown was always assumed to be incompatible.

But even with all the negativity, the utility at least told you something.  You got a hint at what might work or might not.

So I grabbed the current utility, the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor to see what it had to say.

I downloaded it, installed it, and ran it.  It churned for about 10 minutes on my computer and then Microsoft’s Grand Software Vizier came up with its report.

The Magic Advisor Says...

Seven items total were mentioned.

Six were listed as fully compatible.

Four of those were from Microsoft.

One of them was the damn Upgrade Advisor.  Glad to know that will still work after I upgrade!

And they weren’t really sure about Steam.

But none of the other applications on my machine was mentioned anywhere.  Not a one.

You would think that World of Warcraft might have been deemed significant enough for notice.  Or maybe Microsoft Office 2003.  Have you heard of that before?  Is it going to run on Windows 7?

Yes, it told me a few other things.  It said my PC was capable of running Windows 7.  I had figured that one out myself.  And it told me it had never heard of our printer before.  Who are these Epson people?  How long have they been making printers?

Nice work there Microsoft.  Really a bang up job.

I was invited to go to their compatibility web site and search for individual applications.  You know, something you would expect this particular application to handle for me.

I tried that for a bit.  It appears to serve as a showcase for companies to display the latest version of their software with no mention of software they might have been selling up to very recently.  I’m looking at you Corel.

Well, I guess it is going to take a dive into the pool to tell me how deep the water really is.

What to do with $40 Million?

Ars Technica reported over the weekend (via Private Equity Hub, which unfortunately charges for their content, so I couldn’t follow up on details) that Turbine has secured $40 million in additional venture capital (bringing their total up to $88 million) and will be announcing a new project soon.

That brings up two immediate question.

First, what will Turbine’s new project be? Another MMO surely, but an original IP or will they be licensing again?

So far they have two original IP MMOs:

Asheron’s Call – success
Asheron’s Call 2 – failure

And two licensed IP MMOs:

Lord of the Rings Online – success
Dungeons and Dragons Online – still open, but hardly a smash

Which route to go?

Second, what is the cash out plan? Those venture capitalist dollars are not angel investments, they will want their money back somehow.

For the second question, there are two obvious routes, go public and sell the company to somebody bigger.

Going public for the sake of going public (to pay off the VCs) is almost always a mistake and ends up damaging the company in the end.

But selling to another company can also shake things up more than people like. Plus, my thoughts immediately stray to one big company that wants to get into the MMO market, but that has failed to so far: Microsoft.

The cash out plan is almost inevitable because of the venture capital involved. It is just a question of how and when.

On the new project though, speculation can go wild. What will Turbine do?

Is their commitment to Dungeons and Dragons and their relationship with Wizards of the Coast strong enough that there might be another IP in that domain they want to try? Say, a nice outdoors IP like Forgotten Realms?

Or will Turbine lay down the sword this time and pick up the gun or the laser?

What will be the next project?

What do you think Turbine should do?

[addendum: Turbine’s Press Release]