Archive for the ‘Write Up’ category

The greatest game console of all time?

February 7, 2008

few days ago, blogger Don Reisinger made the bold declaration that the Super Nintendo was the greatest video game system of all time. The SNES was indeed a great console with lots of great games, but it’s still a leap to call it the greatest system ever made. In an industry that’s over 30 years old, that’s seen dozens upon dozens of home video game systems, simply calling out Nintendo’s second console as the best ever seems simplistic.

To a certain extent, though, Don is right. The Super Nintendo could be considered the greatest console of all time. It presented a huge leap in technology from the NES, and its superlative selection of great games make it a system I’d be proud to keep next to my TV to this day. Some of my fondest young gaming memories revolve around the SNES and the countless hours I spent in front of it. Many of my favorite games are SNES titles, and they’re still great to play today (thank you, Virtual Console, since my original SNES is long gone).  

The Super Nintendo isn’t the only choice, though. It might not even be the best choice for best console. The SNES took a huge leap forward from the NES, but it went in the same direction as the NES took from the Atari. It did everything the NES did, and it did a far better job of it, but it didn’t really offer much else. A look at some of the greatest games of the system offer enough proof of that: Super Mario World, Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Mega Man X, and Final Fantasy VI were all sequels. They’re all fantastic games, but they owe everything to the original NES games: Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, and Final Fantasy. 

Several other consoles could also be called the greatest gaming system. They all offer a great advancement from the previous generation, they all feature massive libraries of great games, and they all have a shot at beating the Super Nintendo for the superlative title. 

Nintendo Entertainment System:  Brought gaming back from the brink  

The NES helped start it all, and pulled North America back from the brink after the console gaming crash. The home video game system market almost died in 1983 and 1984, when the field became flooded with everything from Atari to Colecovision to Intellivision to Vectrex to the Bally Astrocade. There were practically more systems on the market than decent games to play with them, and people weren’t biting. The Nintendo Entertainment System helped revitalize the industry when it came out in the U.S. in late 1985.  Of course, Nintendo’s first home system wasn’t great simply because what it did to the market. The 8-bit console found dozens of great games, from franchise firsts like Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda, to great third-party titles like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Final Fantasy, to classic sports games like Super Tecmo Bowl, Super Dodgeball, and Blades of Steel. The millions of grown-up gamers who helped make the game industry so successful owe much of their childhood memories to time spent on Nintendo’s 8-bit console.  

The case against: The NES’ games haven’t aged very well. While SNES titles like Final Fantasy VI, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are still a blast to play, the original Final Fantasy,, Super Mario Brothers, Metroid, and The Legend of Zelda can’t readily compare. They score big on the nostalgia factor, but the SNES offers broader, deeper, prettier games that feature all the best parts of the NES titles without the ugliness or simplicity. It doesn’t help that for every great game on the NES, there were easily 10 horrible pieces of shovelware pushed out.  

Great games: Super Mario Brothers, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Castlevania, Super Dodgeball, Duck Hunt, StarTropics, Ducktales, Final Fantasy  

Sony PlayStation: Gaming made for grown-ups

If you had an NES in your childhood living room, you probably had a PlayStation in your college dorm room. While the NES helped make home video games popular again, the PlayStation helped legitimize the industry as a form of entertainment for adults, as well as kids. Titles like Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, and Metal Gear Solid tied great graphics with surprisingly mature and deep storytelling to present gaming experiences that adults could proudly play.  

The PlayStation really gave developers the opportunity to actually show gamers the story, not just tell them. The system’s combination of optical storage and 3D graphics let games use rendered cut scenes, voice acting, and even video footage to tell their stories. Previous systems like the SNES and NES offered dramatic storytelling at times (like the excellent Final Fantasy 7), and systems like the Phillips CD-i and Sega Saturn used optical discs to pack movies and sound into games, but the PlayStation was the first system to really take advantage of both to inject much-needed maturity into an industry that was still seen as primarily for young children.  

The case against: Like the NES, the PlayStation suffered from a deluge of shovelware that outnumbered its decent games. Like the SNES, most of the great games on the PlayStation were retreads and sequels of older systems’ games. Many of the games, like Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy 7, took their series in some great new directions, but they still didn’t offer much new besides prettier graphics and deeper stories.  

Great games: Resident Evil, Final Fantasy 7, Metal Gear Solid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Silent Hill, Tekken 3, Final Fantasy Tactics, Xenogears  

Microsoft Xbox 360: Putting it all online Though it’s horribly premature to consider any competitor in the current console war the “best game system ever,” the Xbox 360 still deserves some consideration. Microsoft’s second game system has done the best job so far of connecting a home console to the Internet and bringing the entire experience together with ease and (relative) stability. After a successful test run on the original Xbox, Xbox Live has bloomed into a full-featured online service. Xbox Live Arcade offers a surprisingly large library of fun, downloadable games, from classic titles (like the aforementioned PlayStation game Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) to esoteric board games (like Catan and Carcassonne).  

While online competition was once the sole purveyance of PCs, the Xbox 360 and the for-pay Xbox Live Gold service has made everything from casual death matches to sports tournaments easy to set up and execute. Previous systems, like the Sega Dreamcast, the PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox, laid the groundwork for online console play, but the Xbox 360 managed to execute it the most successfully. Voice and text chat both in and out of games, easy communication between friends enjoying different games, and a buddy list you can view and edit over the Web make the system one of the easiest to take online. Of course, the other two consoles have made available both downloadable games and multiplayer, but they don’t do it quite as well. The Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console lets gamers enjoy some of the best games from the NES, SNES, and other classic systems, and the PlayStation Network offers both new games and classic PlayStation titles for download. Unfortunately, the Wii’s multiplayer component feels incomplete and awkward, and the PS3’s library isn’t as large and its interface isn’t nearly as friendly as it could have been. The Xbox 360 simply manages to hit its mark and, like the NES and the PlayStation, take gaming forward.  

The case against: The Xbox 360 has been plagued by quality control issues since it came out, and the red ring of death has caused a great deal of bitterness. The system itself has some great games, but it doesn’t offer many truly remarkable exclusive titles; with a few exceptions, the Xbox 360’s best games are either PC ports or cross-platform titles that are also on the PS3. In certain ways, the Xbox 360 is little more than a PC in a shiny console wrapper.  

Great games: Mass Effect, Bioshock, Call of Duty 4, Halo 3, Gears of War, Puzzle Quest, Catan, Carcassonne, Alien Hominid HD  

The final verdict:  Depends on what you mean by “greatest”  

Gaming is so subjective that there is no single “greatest” system ever. It might sound like a cop-out, but it really depends on what standards you’re using and what generation you grew up in. I loved the SNES, and would personally call it the greatest system of all time. However, the NES and PlayStation could both easily be called the best, based on the standards they set and the advances they presented to gaming. Even the Xbox 360 could be called the best, if you consider how much it’s done in terms of connecting console gamers to each other and making new games and content accessible.

In the end, it depends. My heart says SNES, my head says NES, and my hands say PlayStation (because nobody ever got Nintendo Thumb from the Dual Shock controller). Some of my best gaming memories were from the Super Nintendo, but I still have to give credit where credit is due.

Microsoft bids $44.6 billion for Yahoo

February 7, 2008

Microsoft went public Friday with a $44.6 billion cash-and-stock bid to acquire Yahoo. 

In its response, Yahoo called the Microsoft bid “unsolicited” but did not reject it.  

Microsoft’s offer, which was contained in the letter to Yahoo’s board, amounts to $31 a share and represents a 62 percent premium over Yahoo’s closing price on Thursday. Microsoft said it will offer shareholders the option of cash or stock. 

“We have great respect for Yahoo, and together, we can offer an increasingly exciting set of solutions for consumers, publishers, and advertisers while becoming better positioned to compete in the online-services market,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.  

Yahoo said in a responding statement that its board “will evaluate this proposal carefully and promptly, in the context of Yahoo’s strategic plans, and pursue the best course of action to maximize long-term value for shareholders.”  

The deal comes as Microsoft and Yahoo have both struggled to compete against Google. Microsoft didn’t mention Google by name in its announcement, but it did indicate that its acquisition bid was aimed squarely at its rival.  

“Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player, who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition,” Microsoft said. “Together, Microsoft and Yahoo can offer a credible alternative.”  

In a conference call Friday morning, Ballmer said that Microsoft and Yahoo “really do share a vision for the potential of online services.”  

Microsoft said in its statement that it believes that it can get all of the needed regulatory approvals and that the deal, if ultimately approved by Yahoo shareholders, could be completed in the second half of the year. 

Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupiter Research, said it’s “clear that there is increased pressure on Microsoft from Google, and they recognize that. Way back when, Yahoo wasn’t that interested in a Microsoft deal. What a difference two years make. Microsoft has a pile of money, and Yahoo has experienced problems of its own. Ballmer, in the past, has historically not loved these types of deals. It is indicative of how different the world is now.

 Gartenberg added that the deal “absolutely” makes sense. “But there is a lot to be done in the details. Getting this deal done might be the easiest part. The real challenge is what happens when they finish the deal. This is not a panacea–the details will be what matters,” he said.  Rumors that Microsoft was interested in Yahoo have bubbled up from time to time, including the past two springs, on the eve of Microsoft advertising conferences. 

The move would be by far the largest acquisition ever for Microsoft. Its largest prior deal, also in the online-advertising space, was last year’s $6 billion deal to acquire Aquantive. Asked on the conference call why Microsoft still needs Yahoo after buying Aquantive, Ballmer pointed to Yahoo’s reach with consumers.  

“Certainly from a consumer perspective, there’s no better way to increase scale and capacity than this acquisition,” Ballmer said.  

Microsoft also pointed to the intense investments needed in data centers and technology needed to compete with Google.  

“Scale matters,” said Kevin Johnson, president of the Microsoft division that houses Windows and online advertising. “Some of the scale economics can kick in rather rapidly.”

Ultimately, Ballmer said, the deal should help Microsoft become profitable in online advertising.  

“We’ve been losing money,” Ballmer said. “Our plan would be to not lose money in the future.” In a letter sent to Yahoo’s board late Thursday, Microsoft confirmed that it has had talks with Yahoo since 2006 but that its suggestions of an acquisition had been rebuffed.  

“In late 2006 and early 2007, we jointly explored a broad range of ways in which our two companies might work together,” Microsoft said. “These discussions were based on a vision that the online businesses of Microsoft and Yahoo should be aligned in some way to create a more effective competitor in the online marketplace. We discussed a number of alternatives ranging from commercial partnerships to a merger proposal, which you rejected.”  

The letter goes on to say that an offer in February 2007 was also rejected. Although at one time, Microsoft was open to other kinds of partnerships with Yahoo, the company says now it just wants to own Yahoo outright.

“While a commercial partnership may have made sense at one time, Microsoft believes that the only alternative now is the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo that we are proposing,” Microsoft said in the letter.  

In the conference call, Ballmer said that when Microsoft first talked to Yahoo more than a year ago, it believed that a merger would have benefits to both companies. “We believe now in those benefits more than ever,” Ballmer said.  

The public offer follows Yahoo’s disappointing earnings report on Tuesday, which sent the company’s shares down. Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang said Tuesday that the company is facing “headwinds.” He also announced 1,000 layoffs 

Terry Semel, Yahoo’s former CEO, who left that position last summer but remained as nonexecutive chairman of the board, left the company altogether on Thursday. 

Microsoft’s move validates Yahoo’s value and could bring out other prospective buyers, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Land. However, Microsoft doesn’t have enough of a plan as to how it would integrate Yahoo into the company, he said.  

Unlike with Microsoft’s Aquantive and Tellme acquisitions, Microsoft and its Live brands have a lot of overlap with Yahoo, including e-mail, portal, advertising, and search.  

“Microsoft suffers in that they are conflicted over two different brands, and now they’re going to have to be conflicted over three,” Sullivan said. “If Microsoft wants to be a leader in search, this is a way for them to climb up and be No. 2 against Google. And it validates that Yahoo isn’t a loser. It’s a company that’s worth a lot of money.”  

A merger might give Google some extra competition, but it wouldn’t unseat it as the top search provider, and it would take some time to convince advertisers that they would do better on a Microsoft-Yahoo platform over Google’s highly successful ad business, said Mark Mahaney of Citigroup.  

“If Yahoo wants to remain independent, it will need to show investors that it is willing to take radical, value-creating steps,” and outsourcing search to Google is one of its few options, Mahaney wrote in a research note.

Imran Khan of J.P. Morgan Securities thinks that regulators will approve the deal.  

“Yahoo is better off inside a larger company with (a) strong balance sheet and technology,” Khan wrote in a research note. A merger of Microsoft and Yahoo could give them the scale, in terms of search traffic, that they need to compete against Google and provide a boost on the ad side, he added.

“A combination of Yahoo’s relationships (with DSL providers), and Microsoft’s applications and devices, could create a very well positioned potential competitor,” Khan wrote. Microsoft’s financial advisers are Morgan Stanley and The Blackstone Group.  

By Ina Fried

Harvey Diamond…Blog Creator & Administrator

January 24, 2008

Hey Everyone!

Harvey Diamond here, and I’m back from a nice looooong break from the blog.
 
Have you become frustrated with what’s going on in the tech game?   It seems that many manufacturers are often doing one of two things:

 (1) They either rush to release products and software before their competitor(s) and therefore, don’t take the time to test it and make sure it’s really up to par, or…

(2) They don’t bother creating and selling quality products because they feel most people will quickly buy a newer product before they get a chance to realize how much the old one sucks!  Either way, don’t fear – we still have quite a few companies that take the time to provide quality and innovative products. – the kind of things savvy, and even not-so-savvy consumers can depend on.  I’m here to update you on it all.
 
I know I’ve kept you all waiting long enough, so don’t hesitate to delve into these latest tasty tech topics….

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Apple TV Untethers From Mac, Price Dropped

January 23, 2008

Acknowledging the failure of the Apple TV, Apple CEO Steve Jobs showed attendees of his Macworld Expo keynote address today a new software upgrade to Apple TV that turns the device into a substantially different product.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the new and improved Apple TV will ship in about two weeks, coinciding with the release of the software update for existing Apple TV users. Apple has also dropped the price of the Apple TV. The entry-level 40GB model now costs $229, while the 160GB version will retail for $329, a $70 price reduction for either model. 

The Apple TV was originally designed to be an accessory for iTunes and a television. And that was “not what people wanted,” said Jobs. The upgrade addresses many of the Apple TV’s shortcomings, and unlike the iPod touch software update also announced Tuesday, it will be totally free for current owners.

 What’s Different? 

The upgraded Apple TV operates as a standalone device. While it will still synchronize content with your computer, no computer is required to operate it. Once it’s connected to your television and your computer network, you can rent movies directly on your widescreen TV, using Apple‘s new iTunes Movie Rentals feature, navigating using the Apple TV’s remote. iTunes Movie Rentals cost $2.99 for “library” titles, $3.99 for new releases. 

Apple TV users can also rent movies from iTunes in High Definition (HD) for a dollar more — $3.99 for library titles, and $4.99 for new releases. The HD movies available from the iTunes Store are encoded in 720 progressive (720p). Many (but not all) of the HD digital movie downloads are encoded in Dolby 5.1 surround sound. Apple counts more than 100 HD titles at launch, with more coming “quickly.” 

The Apple TV can also retrieve photos from your computer, or Flickr and .Mac. And you can watch videos from YouTube — more than 50 million, according to Jobs. Anything that you buy or rent through the iTunes Store via the Apple TV — movies, music, television shows — will be automatically synched back to your computer, as well.

Know When to buy a PC

January 23, 2008

There are four best times of the year to buy a laptop or desktop PC. The first three are the holiday shopping season, the back-to-school period in August and September, and inventory clearance time in late January and February. 

The fourth time is variable from year to year and involves product transitions. “When a new technology is introduced, the channel typically tries to flush the older stuff,” says technology analyst Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates. “That’s not predictable as a time of year, but has to do with when products are launched.” 

The larger issue is this: How much computing power do you need? “If you’re just doing word processing [or Web surfing], for example, you might do very well with an older computer,” says Richard Doble, editor of Savvy-Discounts.com, an online shopping guide. If modest performance is unlikely to be a stumbling block, a close-out model may be a good choice. 

If your computing needs aren’t too demanding–consisting primarily of word processing and Web surfing, for example–closeout models may be a good choice. Vendor outlet sites, such as Dell Outlet and HP Business Outlet are good online destinations for finding closeout, overstocked, and refurbished laptops and desktops. At press time, for instance, Dell Outlet was selling a refurbished Vostro 1700 laptop for $700; an identically equipped new model at the main Dell site cost $1363 (or $900 during a limited-time sale).

Speed up Windows XP and Vista by turning off unnecessary services

January 22, 2008

The fact is, you don’t need all of the services that Windows starts automatically when it boots. Disabling the non-essential services frees up memory and processor cycles for more important tasks. The trick is knowing which of Windows’ automatic services you can do without: Disabling the wrong service can render your system unusable. If you’re careful, you can figure out which automatically enabled services your PC can do without. 

Things would be so much simpler if I could just list which services to disable, but each Windows configuration is unique, so there’s no way to predict which ones are required on your system. That’s why I rely on sites such as Charles Sparks’ BlackViper.com. 

First, play it safe by setting a restore point


Start by backing up the Registry (the page also describes how to restore it). Next, open the Services applet: In XP, click Start>Run, type services.msc, and press Enter; in Vista, press the Windows key, type services.msc, and press Enter. (Avoid the temptation to access your services via Msconfig, a.k.a. the System Configuration utility.) 
BlackViper.com’s list of XP services shows the default settings with Service Pack 2 installed. Likewise, the site’s Vista services list assumes that you’ve downloaded and installed all “important” updates for that OS. You’ll likely find more services on your system than are listed there, most of which were installed by software you or the PC’s vendor added. You may also find services on the BlackViper.com list that aren’t on your machine (especially if you use XP Home); some OEMs choose not to install some services. Work your way through the services, disabling those enabled by default that you deem unnecessary. You can play it safe by setting a service on Manual, which starts it only when Windows decides that your system needs it. Unfortunately, some services set to Manual won’t start when they should, so you may need to reset these to Automatic.

To determine which other services a particular entry requires (and which other services require it), double-click its entry in the Services list to open its Properties dialog box, and click the Dependencies tab. Along with the suggestions on the BlackViper.com site, look for services relating to hardware you no longer use. Other candidates for disabling are Remote Registry, Themes (if you’re happy with Windows’ Classic appearance), and Windows Firewall (only if your system is protected by a third-party firewall). Note that changes you make here apply to all users on the system.

24 Million Yacht…or…Floating Prison???

September 11, 2007

Judging by its photos, the “118 WallyPower” doesn’t look like a luxury yacht. If anything, it has a post-apocalyptic design that gives it the appearance of a maximum-security prison on the high seas, kind of like a water-borne “Badonkadonk” tank we featured recently. But for those who have the means to purchase one–for $23,903,925 (be sure you have exact change)–we suppose it can look like anything they want.

And if its fortress-like exterior doesn’t provide enough security, the vessel can outrun any potential perpetrators with three gas-turbine engines that pack 16,800 HP capable of reaching 60 knots. Accommodations inside the seagoing monolith are apparently far less foreboding, according to BornRich, with “solid teak decks, a full kitchen, six Panasonic LCD TVs and an all-glass dining and lounge area.” For the price, though, we’d expect the yacht to carry more than the recommended six passengers. After all, that comes to roughly $4 million per head. (Or $2 million, if you include the six-person crew.) 

By Mike Yamamoto