Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Windows Vista Drops...And A Collective "So What?" Rises From The Masses

Microsoft's new operating system, the long-awaited Windows Vista, went on sale today in the U.S. In fact, it went on sale at midnight, so all the MS fans clamouring for a new OS could get their groove on as soon as possible. But what's so great about Microsoft's shiny new OS anyway? Can it make you coffee? Can it do the laundry? Okay, maybe those are unreasonable standards. But seriously - what's so special about Vista?

Let's focus first on the things that Vista does right:

  1. Improved searching. This is something that computer users have been requesting for some time. The old Windows search was slow and frustrating at best, and the new model is a big step forward. Unfortunately, this system relies on indexing and a series of meta tags, since the new file system was dropped from the Vista feature list early on.
  2. Revised GUI. This may not be a positive to some. While the new interface, called Aero, is nice (it's the shiny part of "shiny" and "new"), many claim that it's still not as slick as Mac's OS X. Personally, I'm no Mac fan, and I think the new look is pretty snazzy. Too bad they screwed up the Start menu.
  3. All new packaging. Okay, maybe that's the end of this list...

There are certainly a few more items we could have included, but there's a reason they're not listed. More on that later. For now, let's move on to the minuses of the new OS:

  1. High price. As usual, the price of the OS has gone up, with the full version of Vista Ultimate Edition (the top offering) retailing for $399. A savvy consumer could actually put together a decent PC for that money. Unfortunately, that PC wouldn't take advantage of one of the systems top selling points. Which leads us to:
  2. Heavy system requirements for the new GUI. Unless your PC was a high-end model purchased within the past year or so, it probably won't be able to display the new Aero interface. That doesn't mean that Vista won't run - it will. It will just look exactly like XP.
  3. Tougher DRM. This newest version of Windows has tougher DRM built right into the very core, to satisfy Hollywood and the music industry. What does that mean for the average consumer? Well, it depends on what you use your PC for. But, it's fairly certain that Vista will not make your experiences with purchasing and using music and movies online any easier.
  4. Too many versions. There are now more flavors of Windows to choose from than ever, which is sure to make things more challenging for the average consumer. Many consumers will end up buying one of the cheaper versions, only to realize that they'll have to pay more for a feature they thought was included.

Now before I get any hate comments, don't get me wrong - Vista is a decent OS. In fact, it's probably the best OS Microsoft has ever delivered. It's just that the upgrades aren't really that revolutionary - they're simply evolutionary. This is why the positives list was cut short. A lot of the items touted for Vista can already be done in XP.

Will the new OS be a success? Undoubtedly. The vast majority of consumer PCs sold from this point on will have Vista, so market penetration will not be an issue. But should you go out and upgrade? Well, unless you're one of those people that has to be the first on the block to have something, the answer is no. My advice is stick with XP, at least until the first Vista service pack is released. But even then, your money is probably better spent elsewhere.

And hey, don't worry - a newer version of Windows will be coming soon. Microsoft has pledged to deliver newer OSes on a faster schedule, to ensure that you, the consumer, have more chances than ever to be parted from your hard-earned money. Kudos to you, Microsoft - where would we be without you...

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Best Of Slamdance 2007

So most of you are probably saying, what the heck is Slamdance? Well...think of it as Sundance's little brother. Movies are limited to less than a $1 million budget, so that $37 art house movie you made in college could be a contender. There's more to Slamdance than just movies, but let's start with some top film picks:

American Zombie. As I mentioned in the Sundance picks, zombies were big at both festivals. What's interesting about this flick is that it takes the stance of a documentary (or mockumentary), looking at zombie life in modern L.A. as they struggle to have their lifestyle accepted by the masses. They lead normal, almost boring lives, occupying normal jobs, and they have real dreams to reach something more. The movie ends with the zombie clan attending a "political rally" known as Live Dead, which forces the audience and filmmakers to come to a harsh realization about the zombie lifestyle. The overall plot metaphors make this movie deeper than one would imagine from the title, and it's definitely worth some attention.

Over The GW. This film, which is based on a true story, follows the saga of two siblings attending a rehab clinic in New Jersey. What was supposed to be a 30 day stay turns into a 2.5 year nightmare for the two, where they are subjected to torture and brainwashing - they actually come to believe that they will die should they leave the clinic. The film, which is meant to open the publics eyes to the real corruption that occurs in these environments, has a powerful message.

American Fork. This lighter tale (figuratively speaking) follows a grocery store clerk named Tracy as he tries to open the eyes of those around him to the wonders life has to offer. And he does this while still dealing with his own issues (not the least of which is his enormous weight problem). The movie follows along through his adventures with dance class, mentoring problem teens, and passing his driving test. This is definitely a strange one.

The Death Of Michael Smith. This movie, which was shot in Detroit, had a budget of only $541, which is remarkable in itself. Even more remarkable is the fact that the movie is actually good. The film follows three men, all with the same name, that are linked to the murder of an inner city kid. The story is told in multiple non-linear parts, giving it a unique feel (it's not Go by any means), yet it's still easy to follow. Check this one out, if for nothing else, than to see that good movies can really be made on a real budget.

As I said, Slamdance isn't just about movies - they also judge video games. In fact, the controversy of this first game really made a name for this year's festival:

Super Columbine Massacre RPG! Yes, you read that one right - this is a video game about the Columbine school shooting. Now, I know what you're thinking - someones just trying to cash in on a tragedy. However, that's not the case, as the game is actually distributed freely. According to the game's creator, the RPG was made to raise awareness about the incident, to try and prevent future school violence. Despite that, the game was pulled by the conference organizers for fear of lawsuits. Unfortunately, it was only pulled after the game made it to the finals. Yes, this is actually a good game that some people enjoyed. Removing the game from the competition caused quite a backlash from other participants at the festival. Some even pulled their own games in protest, saying that the festival was violating the publisher's first amendment rights. It's easy to understand both sides of the argument, but personally, I think the game should have remained. Censorship is wrong - only the public has a right to decide.

Plasma Pong. There were other games at the festival, and one of which was actually a Pong update. This fast paced version takes the game for a "physics spin", using kinetic models to affect the ball in different ways. Luckily, you don't need a Ph.D. to play the game, since it is fun - although not particularly deep.

The Blob. This is not an adaptation of the cult-classic horror film, but instead seems to draw its inspiration from another game: Katamari Damacy. In this game, you maneuver a large blob that absorbs color in order to paint a city. There's not much of a plot, and this was certainly not the most entertaining game at the festival, but I thought it was worth a mention considering the popularity of Katamari.

So that's it for now from the festival you've probably never heard of. To learn more, check out the website here.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Notes From The 2007 Sundance Film Festival

The 2007 Sundance Film Festival wraps up tomorrow, and as always, some great films premiered. Here are some of the standouts you'll want to see:

Chasing Ghosts. This film is my top pick, since it deals with a very important topic - video games. Specifically, classic video games, and how they became such a mainstay in our culture. Some of the top game players of the past are profiled, and are reunited for the first time in years. Also featured is footage from the 1982 Video Game Award Championships, an event that was nationally televised. This is a documentary, but don't let that scare you away. This is a genuinely good film that deserves your attention.

Finishing The Game. The search to find the next Bruce Lee is on! This comedy spoof takes a look at the process for finding a man to step into the shoes left empty by the sudden death of action star Bruce Lee. Set in the 1970s, the film explores the racism and hypocrisy in Hollywood from a lighter point of view. But it's certainly not a bring down - the witty comedy and 70s style make this one a must see.

The Signal. We all know that the media shapes our culture, right? Well, this film takes that idea a step too far. When a mysterious signal starts to be broadcast from every TV, radio, and cell phone, no one knows what it means - until it begins to turn people into psychotic killers. Suddenly, chaos ensues, and no one is safe. What's more, the signal is so powerful that some of the victims return as zombies (this was not the only film to include zombie undertones - it was a popular theme at Sundance and Slamdance). If you're looking for a film to scare you and make you think, this is the one.

For more info on these films, as well as everything else that premiered at Sundance this year, head on over to the filmguide on the Sundance website.

The Atomic Playground Is Open

Recess is here, so that means it's time for the Atomic Playground. This is the brand new internet destination for news and discussions about anything. That's right, it's all fair game on the playground.

I'm the resident guru at this playground, and they call me kidd kilroy. This isn't my first trip down the slide, so I know how the games work.

It's gonna be real, and it's gonna be fun, but no promises about it being real fun. So hop on the merry-go-round or grab a swing, cause the playground is open 24/7/365.