Friday, January 23, 2015

Welcome do double digits Mr. Windows

This past week was big for Microsoft and it's future with Windows. Windows 10 was given star status at a press reveal, showing off all of the new features that will be coming in this highly anticipated update to many of our desktops. I watched the live blog of the event, and have been reading over a lot of the reviews of the new technology that Microsoft is looking to deploy.

My initial reaction is to be impressed. Much of what was wrong with Windows in the past seems to be a focal point for fixing in Windows 10. A few key things stood out to me as areas that I'm anxious to see more.

First, I have to applaud Microsoft for being willing to step back from a design decision (Metro) that didn't pan out they way that they wanted it to. They took what they learned from that experience and have incorporated it into the regular desktop experience in a way that is much more seamless and useful. In fact, Microsoft is ahead of the curve in how they are presenting a user interface experience that crosses form factors. The ability of a single operating system to work on multiple devices, and change it's UI as the device itself may change, is very innovative and remarkable. Tablets have been adapting their user experience based on size and orientation of the tablet screen, but very few operating systems have had to deal with the possibility of being a full desktop OS and a tablet OS while switching between the two seamlessly as the user alters how the device is configured.

Second, the fact that this same OS will work on so many devices is the panacea that many people thought Apple was opening up with the first iPhone. When the original iPhone was released, people were impressed that it was running some type of version of Mac OS X under the covers. However, the version of iOS never really allowed apps to cross the boundary of devices, and for all intents and purposes the two operating systems are wholly distinct and unique. From a developer perspective there are a lot of shared methodologies, but you still need to write multiple apps for Mac OS X and iOS. Windows is seeking to change that with Windows 10, but putting the same OS on every device, an app developer can create an app that crosses all different types of user experiences, as well as physical form factors. This could be a huge game changer... if Microsoft can convince app developers to sign on to their new paradigm.

Of course, I should mention the cool VR and augemented reality goggles that Microsoft was showing. Honestly, my only thought is that if it gets us one step closer to a Star Trek holo-deck, I'm all for it!

Perhaps the biggest reveal of the day, however, was Microsoft's new CEO, Satya Nadella, admitting that Microsoft can no longer exist simply as the operating system that you NEED to use. They want to change into being the operating system that you WANT to use, and eventually LOVE to use. This is a huge shift in how most people think of Microsoft and Windows. Most tech companies have learned from Apple over the past decade that technology isn't about convincing people that you have the fastest RAM or the most best graphics rendering engines. It's about selling people on the vision that you have for how people should interact with technology. People don't by what you do, they buy why you do it.

I'm very excited to see the new world that Windows 10 is trying to create. I've never been a huge Microsoft fan, but I feel like the Microsoft that was on display this week is a much more humble, yet confident company. One that is looking to the future and trying to create a technology world that all of us will want to be a part of.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The resurgence of U

For Christmas this past year, we decided to get a Wii U as our family gift. My wife and I have owned various Nintendo consoles for much of our life, and we thought that the newest entry to the franchise would be a nice fit for our family. The Wii U has been out for a while now and hasn't been the hottest selling console by a long shot, so the question could be asked, why would we buy a Wii U now? The answer is that Nintendo has really decided to focus on some amazing new games for 2014/2015 that are only available on the Wii U.

After the disappointing 2013 holiday season for Nintendo many questioned if the Wii U was a complete flop, and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of Nintendo's console life. With only a few games of much interest, there wasn't much of a reason to buy a Wii U. Then in 2014 Nintendo started to revive it's most powerful asset, its catalog of great characters and games, launching new and exciting titles that got people interested in what Nintendo was doing again. In the middle of 2014 Mario Kart 8 arrived and has proved itself to be one of the best Mario Karts of the series. The gameplay is classic Mario Kart, with fun tracks and race dynamics, and now even adds online play. It was everything that old Gamecube and N64 fans knew and loved about Nintendo Games.

The titles continued to arrive through the Christmas season with a new Smash Bros. and great hybrid titles like Hyrule Warriors. Even the late 2013 release of Super Mario 3D World got some added attention with a spin-off game called Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. Nintendo hasn't been shy about talking about 2015 as well, looking ahead at a new Zelda open world game and even more in the Mario franchise like Mario Maker Wii U.

All this is to talk about how Nintendo has found a way to become relevant again. One of the strengths of Nintendo, since the days of the NES, has been the quality of their games. This quality isn't found in incredible groundbreaking graphics, but in new ways to have 'fun'. There are dozens of game studios out there that are focusing on making the most realistic games, with incredible graphics and sound. Nintendo will always lose when it comes to that battle. Where Nintendo shines is in engaging the player, with a rich world, and creative interactions.

Over the past few weeks my wife, my youngest son, and I have embarked on the journey that is Super Mario 3D World. We've had an incredible amount of fun trying to tackle every level of that game, and we still aren't done. The gameplay is engaging and challenging to each of us, despite the generational difference. The characters are fun and silly, and the puzzles, although requiring skill, are not dependent on super high twitch capabilities.

I've also spent hours playing through Hyrule Warriors, a Zelda riff on Dynasty Warriors. This is an incredible hack-n-slash game that will never win any awards for amazing graphics, but it's soooo satisfying to perform a huge combo attack in the middle of 50 enemies and send them all flying to their doom. The adventure mode is also proving to have massive longevity, trying to get the best score you can in every level to unlock new challenges.

My youngest is also a 3DS fan and has been loving the new releases that Nintendo has been putting on that platform, like the new Pokemon game and Zelda titles. Nintendo is even re-platforming some of it's classic Zelda games for the 3DS as a way to experience them again in a new format. Plus, Nintendo has started to recognize the power of connected gaming, which was one of my major complaints about the Wii a few years ago. The Wii U shop is full of games to play (with more coming all the time), major titles are available to purchase digitally, and many titles are getting online capabilities. That's a major step in the right direction for Nintendo.

It seems that Nintendo has finally re-awakened to what made it great in the first place. Great games and amazing amounts of fun while playing, even with friends who aren't in the same room. Although we're not into the Amiibo figures, they have been selling like crazy and people love being able to interact with these classic characters in a new way. If Nintendo can continue this focus on making video game playing fun for the whole family, it will hopefully have success, despite not having the best and most flashiest graphics system out there.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

CES 2015 quick notes

One of the fun technology events every year is the Consumer Electronic Show. I've never had the opportunity to attend this in person, but maybe now that I have family in Vegas I should try and make it out some year. CES is a huge event that highlights some of the cool and crazy stuff that all the big consumer electronics companies are working on, and attempting to bring to market. Since I've been laid up sick for the past day and a half, I've been catching up on the news feeds of all the stuff that's currently coming out.

Although CES isn't strictly laptop and computer focused, computer companies still play a major role. This year, I'm seeing a lot of emphasis on thin and light computing devices. ASUS and Lenovo have both released some exceptionally light weight laptops, and hybrid tablets, that give the MacBook Air line a run for it's money. Additionally, HP is building off the success of it's Stream line of Chromebook competitors with an HP Stream Mini box.

Most of these devices rely on cloud services to operate, and unless you're going to try and set up your own cloud, like a friend of mine, you're probably already comfortable using most of these ecosystems. In the past couple weeks of using my Chromebook, I haven't even really noticed, or lamented, the lack of internal storage. That's what most of the big players right now want you to be comfortable with, because the other big concept that is all over CES this year is the Internet of Things. In general IoT is just a buzzword for devices that connect to the internet. The real panacea with all of these devices is getting them to talk to one another, a problem that some companies are working on, but are probably a few years from realizing.

Apart from all the cool gadgets that are being showcased, the one item in particular that caught my eye was an announcement from Dish Network. They are starting up a service at the end of the month called Sling TV. The idea is that for $20/month you get live streaming of TNT, TBS, CNN, Food Network, HGTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, the Disney Channel, ESPN, and ESPN2. It's all delivered over the internet, and is contract free. This is exactly the service I've been looking for, and you can bet that we're going to probably give this a try as soon as it comes out.

So there's a few thoughts on a couple things I've seen come out of CES this year. My RSS feed has been exploding so I'm sure I've missed a bunch of stuff, so maybe later today I'll dive into all the automobile announcements.