Sunday, February 17, 2008

HD Format War Over

We have a winner in the format war to be the next DVD! It will be official next week.

HD-DVD, the format designed and promoted by Toshiba is dead and buried. Rumours surfaced last week that Toshiba will be launching a range of Blu-ray players shortly.

Blu-ray designed and promoted by Sony is the winner. And mostly because of the Playstation 3. There are about 10 million of the beasts in people's living rooms, compared to about 100,000 other Hi-def players.

In terms of sales the HD-DVD separate players have sold better, solely because they are cheaper than Blu-ray separate players.

Numerous studios and more importantly large retailers have thrown their support behind Blu-ray since the new year. Their selection has been driven solely by consumer demand. Blu-ray movies are significantly outselling HD-DVD movies.

According to What Hi-Fi the Playstation 3 is the best Blu-ray player on the market. It won all their reviews on the basis of picture quality. It also supports the latest version of Blu-ray. Lastly it is the cheapest Blu-ray player. You basically get the games and media console for free!

If you are buying a Blu-ray player make sure it can be upgraded to the latest version of Blu-ray compatibility. As the versions evolve better interactive features are becoming possible. If you are after a damn good player for normal quality DVDs there are some absolute bargain HD-DVD players out their that will do a brilliant job!


Embracing Vista

I am running Vista on my main PC. I have been for over a month.


Firstly because SP1 is all but officially finished. On the 11th January Microsoft released an almost final version of service pack 1 for use by anyone who is interested. Ie Me!. Most major corporations refused to evaluate Vista until it had time to 'bed in'. Plenty of people were classing the launch version of Vista as a beta, and were waiting for the first service pack. Well here it is!

Secondly I am fed up with having to format my computer and re-install XP from scratch every couple of months. XP seemed to develop quirks and problems that would eventually become such an issue a re-install was the only option. I had done this so many times I had the rebuild down to 3-4 hours and knew exactly what to backup and where to find it.

Lastly because Microsoft's claim that Vista is more secure seems to have stood the test of time. I have not seen any stories of viruses breaking into the protected kernel or any other other such major problem being found in Vista's security. It has had its share of critical security patches, but not as many as XP or other software.

I have previously criticised and joked about Vista. My gripes can be summarised as:

First - the new UAC or User Account Control. Whenever you install anything or change any global user settings you are bombarded with security prompts asking you to confirm the changes. Now more programs are vista compatible there are less prompts during installation. There is also a very neat solution to this problem. I have mentioned it before on here but I have now found a much easier way to enable it.

On the start menu, right-click Computer and select Manage. Confirm the action at the security prompt.

Expand Local Users and Group in the left tree and select Users. Double-click Administrator and uncheck the account is disabled box. Click OK. Now right-click Administrator and click Set Password. Enter a strong password when prompted. When you login as Administrator you bypass UAC but it is still active for all your other users.

Second the lack of new features. When Vista was announced many moons ago we were promised some really ground-breaking and much needed improvements. Not many of these promises were actually delivered. When you compare XP and Vista on a major functionality basis there are not many changes.

Thirdly the many different versions and the unjustifiably high price tag. Vista Ultimate which is the best version available retails at £323 on DVD from Ebuyer. However I recommend buying the OEM version - it is exactly the same software but without the shiney box and it retails for £106. This version is only meant to be sold to PC manufacturers to pre-install. It has slightly different terms and conditions but all that matters is you are not meant to be able to move your license to a different computer after it has been activated. In practice I don't know how strongly this will be enforced, or how many times you are allowed to reassign the expensive version.

Also bear in mind some hardware that works perfectly in XP will be obsolete and need replacing when upgrading to Vista, which will add to the cost of upgrading.

After installing Vista I found it to be extremely sluggish. When my computer was idle I found my CPU usage was about 20%!!

SP1 does improve this - but - the cause of this sluggishness can be explained by Vista's improved search system. After an install the system will comb your hard disks and generate an index for the search subsystem. This is why it runs slow.

Turn off the power save features and leave your computer switched on for a day or two. In this time it will complete building the index and setting up other tuning systems. I found once this has completed the system will run about as fast as XP!

So after installing, turn on the Administrator account and use it to setup your computer without UAC annoying you. Leave your computer on for a couple of days to build its indexes etc. Then you can think about Vista's benefits!


Ps. My PC is only a fairly old Pentium 4, 3.0GHz with HT (Single Core with HyperThreading) and 1.5Gb RAM.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Search engine wars.

This week Microsoft has made a generous offer to buy Yahoo. This has been described as a shotgun wedding with Google holding the gun!

I remember back in 2004 Microsoft launched a massive campaign to promote its own search engine MSN Search. Aside from lots of prime time TV adverts they claimed to index millions more pages than Google (8 million vs Google's 2 million). Within a week the number of pages Google claimed to index rose to 10 million!

Ask Jeeves has also been working to boost its service. They have some great features on their page. When they launched they cornered a niche in the market - that you could ask them a question and they would find the answer. This contrasted Google's approach where you had to ask the answer to get confirmation you were right. Now they want Google's business they have rebranded and tried to compete as an alternative to Google.

Google differentiated from Yahoo when it launched because every result at Yahoo was part of a category. After a search you had to zoom into the right category to find related results.

I'll give Microsoft some free advice. All that matters for a search engine is that I find what I am looking for. First time and every time!

When I saw the ad campaign in 2004 I did go to MSN search. I ran a search and could not find what I wanted in the top results. I went to Google and found what I wanted in the top 3 results. Needless to say I havn't been back since.

MSN is absolutly awful at finding what you want. What takes the mick is last time I needed software for my Microsoft Mouse I couldn't even find the correct page on the Microsoft search site.

One let down like that and they lost a customer for a long time. The beauty of the web for a customer is there is never any tie-in to a certain site or system. If one day you find better answers on a different site you just make a new favourite and never go back.

Finally coming back to the larger picture could you imagine the world if Microsoft was running the most successful and popular search engine? They already have the most successful desktop operating system with an extremely large momentum preventing any competition. Do you reckon they would abuse their power if they could control everyone's search results and internet usage?

My last thought is could this determination to make a bigger impact on the Internet be a sign they are worried about the future of their operating system monopoly? I am currently running Vista SP1 and will report how I find it soon!