Xbox One S: The Upgrade Nobody Should Buy

Daniel Perez hasn’t given a final verdict yet, but has a review in-progress of the new Xbox One S that is out today:

When the original Xbox One was revealed, there was quite the uproar as to its size and design. Microsoft didn’t change the overall shape of the Xbox One S, but what it did change makes it look less like my grandmother’s VCR. It’s smaller, white, and offers an interesting use of textures to various parts of its body. While the holes located at the front of the console appear to be for aesthetics, the holes surrounding its perimeter are obviously for venting purposes as I can spot smaller vents that aim directly into them.

It also finally did away with the infamous Xbox power brick as its power supply has been squeezed into the new console’s body. Without a power brick to weigh it down, the Xbox One S feels more portable than ever when combined with its reduction in size and weight. It also has done away with a dedicated Kinect port, which we’re sure won’t surprise many considering how Microsoft has been slowly steering away from motion-based gaming.

It also displays 4K UHD Blu-ray discs as well as upscaling games and other videos to 4K if you have the appropriate display. It sounds like a good upgrade, until you realize that the other new Xbox, codenamed Scorpio, will be out next year with a healthier tech upgrade that actually has more powerful guts than this Xbox One S.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update Out With Bash

Bash on Ubuntu on Windows

Windows 10 has been out for a year as a free upgrade from Windows 7, 8, and 8.1. Excepting some hacky workarounds the upgrade is no-longer available for free to users. Brett Howse has an article with the major changes that are available today in the Windows 10 anniversary update.

The biggest feature for me is the awkwardly named Bash on Ubuntu on Windows. Microsoft has a long history of picking poor names for their UNIX subsystems including the awkwardly named Services for Unix. Services for Unix was Microsoft’s hedge of interoperability to please third-party businesses, but it was always hindered by Microsoft’s desire to compete with Linux. The options to install and update applications were limited to what you could compile because SFU didn’t include any kind of package management system. The only choices left were either shelling out to a Linux machine, cygwin (which is a huge pain in the ass), dual-booting, or installing Linux in a virtual machine.

Bash on Ubuntu on Windows been available in a preview form to beta testers (Windows Insiders) for a while, it’s a more complete version of command-line utilities and an environment you would commonly get on a Linux desktop or server developed with Ubuntu‘s owner, Canonical. Though you still have to jump through some hoops to install it, it’s very promising that BoUoW includes Ubuntu’s package management system and  native Linux command-line utilities that haven’t been recompiled for Windows.

I hope this extends to GUI applications some day, but the focus for Microsoft this time is on attracting developers.

Even Thurrott Is Frustrated With The Windows 10 Upgrade Scheme

Paul Thurrott:

Last week, Microsoft silently changed Get Windows 10 yet again. And this time, it has gone beyond the social engineering scheme that has been fooling people into inadvertently upgrading to Windows 10 for months. This time, it actually changed the behavior of the window that appears so that if you click the “Close” window box, you are actually agreeing to the upgrade. Without you knowing what just happened.

Previously, closing this window would correctly signal that you do not want the upgrade. So Microsoft didn’t change the wording in the window. It didn’t make an “Upgrade now” button bigger, or a non-existent “don’t ever upgrade” button smaller. It pulled a switcheroonie. It’s like going out to your car in the morning and discovering that the gas pedal now applies the brakes, while the brake pedal washes the windshield. Have a fun commute!

The violation of trust here is almost indescribable. It’s bad enough that Microsoft has been training Windows 7 and 8.1 users–i.e. most Windows users–to not trust Windows 10 because of this horrible, unstoppable advertisement. But now they will not trust their own sanity because all they’ll remember is that they dismissed the advertisement by clicking the Close windows box. Why on earth did Windows 10 just install on my PC?!?

Microsoft Lays Off 1,850

Microsoft’s press release:

Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced plans to streamline the company’s smartphone hardware business, which will impact up to 1,850 jobs. As a result, the company will record an impairment and restructuring charge of approximately $950 million, of which approximately $200 million will relate to severance payments.

That’s a lot of weasel words to say they’re firing almost two thousand people. 

“We are focusing our phone efforts where we have differentiation – with enterprises that value security, manageability and our Continuum capability, and consumers who value the same,” said Satya Nadella, chief executive officer of Microsoft. “We will continue to innovate across devices and on our cloud services across all mobile platforms.”

The weasel wording continues on to say that Microsoft won’t be developing features for actual people with Windows phone devices and will instead focus on what businesses want, which is a shame since Windows phones were better and more secure than Android in many ways.

Here Microsoft, I streamlined your press press release:

Our phone business hasn’t been successful with people because we focused on what businesses want. We will continue to focus on businesses by firing almost two thousand people who worked on or supported features that people might want. Regrettably, we will have to pay them money so that they don’t cause a scene.

Halo 3 on Windows

Ian Birnbaum:

Halo 3 is coming to PC. Eight years after Master Chief’s last great multiplayer playground hit the Xbox 360, it’s coming alive, for free, on the PC–but not at the hands of Microsoft. Or Bungie. In one of the strangest things to happen on PC this year, Halo 3’s protracted PC birth is coming from a group of modders transforming the free-to-play, Russia-only beta Halo Onlineinto their favorite Halo game.

For years, Halo was a crucial console-exclusive system-seller for Microsoft. When it finally came to the PC again earlier this spring but was region-locked, fans moved fast. They created Eldorito, a mod that cracked the Russia-only restriction within a week of Halo Online’s reveal. Named as a portmanteau of El Dorado, the name of the Halo Online executable, and Dorito, Microsoft’s favorite corporate sponsor, Eldorito has been programmed over the past few months by a group of between ten and twenty modders. Because Halo Online is built over the top of a more-or-less complete version of Halo 3’s engine, the Eldorito modders have been working to pull what they really want from the shell of Halo Online: Halo 3 on PC. I spent a week chatting with one of the modders to learn more about a project that, for better or worse, is the only version of Halo we’re likely to get on PC any time soon.

[…]

When asked if releasing a mainline Halo game on PC would hurt Xbox One sales, the same source issued a non-answer. “It’s about delivering on the right Halo experience to meet expectations for PC gamers. We’re excited to be bringing Halo Wars 2 [a sequel to Halo Wars, the 2009 RTS] to both Windows 10 and consoles in fall of 2016. Additionally, PC gamers will also be able to stream gameplay from Halo 5: Guardians on Xbox One to their PC using Windows 10.”

Basically: PC gamers are welcome to play Halo on PC, as long as they purchase an Xbox first. That seems to suggest that, at least in Microsoft’s eyes, Halo on PC really would have an impact on Xbox sales.

Microsoft’s largest gaming platform, Windows, is still a second-class citizen to Xbox. Every new feature of Windows 10 for gaming is Xbox-branded or related. I understand that Xbox-as-a-braaaaaand is a big thing they’re putting lots of money into, and the Xbox hardware and software has worked better together than any other Microsoft product, but it doesn’t make it any less absurd to shovel console and computer playing together into this one brand. Keep gamertags and achievements in your programs, Xbox streaming is interesting, but no other developers or publishers are going to use your gamertags and achievements on Windows after the Games for Windows Live fiasco.

I almost wish that Microsoft would at least more actively try to destroy Windows for gaming to force Valve’s hand to move to Linux & SteamOS instead of this death-by-a-thousand Xbox-huge blunders like this Russian-only Free-to-Play Halo. It feels like Microsoft thinks that Windows gamers can’t be trusted with the full experience if it isn’t streamed from an Xbox.

Disabling Windows 10’s Built-in Spyware and P2P Update Sharing

Alec Meer:

Windows 10‘s privacy settings very much need to be frowned at. Essentially: unless you pay close attention to the fluffy options offered when you first install Microsoft’s new operating system, it’s going to quietly track your behaviour and use it to fire targeted ads at you, as well as keeping tabs on your location history, data from messages, calendars, contacts and God knows what else. It is a bit scary, despite coming off the back of Microsoft’s own pledge to offer ‘real transparency’. You may or may not be OK with this yourself, but in any event at least some of this stuff can be turned off after the fact. I’ll explain how to do that below.

There’s a whole list of things you may want to do in Alec’s article. I disagree with his suggestion to stop using a Microsoft account for login, it’s a great feature that certain settings are shared between my laptop and desktop Windows installations, Cortana is similarly useful, but everything else is sound.

Additionally, the peer-to-peer sharing of Windows updates is gross just like the Blizzard updater and should be disabled.

To disable p2p sharing of Windows updates, do this:

  1. Go to the Settings program from the start menu:Start
  2. Click Update & security on this screen:Settings
  3. Click Advanced Options:Windows update
  4. Click Choose how updates are delivered:Advanced options
  5. Click the first toggle option and set it to off:ChoosegooseOff

Now your computer won’t share updates with others.

Windows 10 Impressions

Windows 10

About a month ago I moved my desktop Windows installation to the Windows Insider Preview Program, which gets you an early and unfinished version of Windows 10. Tomorrow the first regular Windows upgrades to 10 will begin.

Kind of like Chrome’s different update channels, there are two different paths in the preview program. The different update channels, or paths, or rings as Microsoft likes to call them determine how quickly you’ll get updates and in what condition they’re in and exactly how broken you’d like your machine at any time.

I chose the default slow ring because I’d rather my gaming computer’s operating system wasn’t completely broken during my preview program experience, just somewhat broken.

That is exactly how I ended up with a fairly broken Windows 10 installation the first night where I could use it for maybe ten minutes before a giant error message was displayed telling me that I had to log out immediately. This message would go away if I rebooted my computer. Logging out just made it happen again the next time I logged in. This is just the nature of pre-release software. When I next updated to a newer pre-release version of Windows 10, no more errors for a while.

Well, I did have to reinstall the Visual Studio C++ redistributable files manually so that Logitech’s awful gaming software could run at start-up, but that wasn’t a system-ending disaster like the first prerelease I tried.

In Windows 10 there are now just two Windows Update settings for how updates are delivered to your computer and neither of them lets you choose if you want the updates downloaded and installed. Towards the end of my pre-release Windows experience I ran into issues with Windows Update forcing new versions of Nvidia’s Geforce graphics driver. Despite having the driver for my video card installed manually through the Geforce Experience desktop program, Windows Update would attempt to install newer versions itself. Throughout this mess the driver would incorrectly choose which output to use and I would end up having to turn on my TV in order to regain control of my desktop. Not fun. There is a program that Microsoft offers to reject particular updates, it is not sufficient for resolving this issue as the next version that comes via Windows Update will need to be rejected as well. I would recommend that anyone who doesn’t want to run into this mess let Windows Update handle the driver installation for their video card and not install the driver manually. These issues may be resolved in the shipping version of Windows 10.

Everything else seemed to work fine once that was sorted out and my older games continued to work just as they had before. I’m about 40 or 50 hours into Fallout: New Vegas and it continues to run in Windows 10 just like it did in Windows 8.1.

But hey, there are new features in Windows 10!

When you clicked the Windows-logo button in Windows 8.1, or if you pressed a Windows key on your keyboard in 8 or 8.1, you would be removed from the familiar desktop and whisked away to the tiled application launcher called the start screen. This start screen felt more at home for the tiled phone and tablet apps that you could get from the Windows app store that nobody uses unless they’re on a phone or a tablet.

I don’t mind when interfaces change and provide some kind of progress. People get upset, but they usually adjust to it.

Though I didn’t agree entirely with the general sentiment, I understand why the start-screen replacing the start-menu put so many people off of Windows 8 and 8.1. The start-screen was just so unfamiliar. It never even made sense to keep calling this Windows when it was presented on a tablet or phone where you could only run one or two programs at a time. Overlapping and arranging applications is part of why the operating system could be called Windows in the first place.

In Windows 10, clicking the Windows logo in the lower left presents you with something that at first glance looks like a modern start menu. If you look a little closer you’ll see you’ve been fooled again. This is a hybrid start menu. In addition to adding the tiles from the start screen in a bizarre pop-up box that takes visual priority and space in the interface over your list of programs.

This is even worse than the start screen and feels like another step backwards from the company that couldn’t stick to their plans for the Xbox One.

At least on the start screen every tile and application icon wasn’t crowded together in a smaller visible area. Here, desktop programs are fighting with tiled applications for space. The programs in this new start-menu/screen hybrid are named similarly and only have slightly different icons from their desktop application counterparts. There are two versions of Skype here in bizarro land.

Do you have the desktop version of Skype already installed? The tile-lovers at Microsoft don’t care. They’ve stuffed a tile that looks confusingly similar to the regular Skype icon into this new franken-start-menu to confuse you even if you already have the desktop version installed. If you click this false Skype you’re presented with a simple screen encouraging you to download this terrible version. Don’t do it. It will be very confusing for anyone who isn’t technically savvy to upgrade to Windows 10 and try to launch Skype.

The only improvement to running these phone and tablet apps on your desktop in Windows 10 is that tiled apps are now windows. No more full-screen calculators on a 27 inch monitor unless you intentionally hit the maximize button. Finally, progress.

One actual improvement that I’ve been excited about since first hearing about it was the ability to stream games from my Xbox One to Windows 10.

Game streaming works very well if you can look past the image quality degradation in the process. Compared to the same image on my TV some extra compression artifacts and color banding were visible in this pre-release version of the Xbox streaming software. The only real disappointment is that you can’t use a mouse and keyboard to play the Master Chief Collection. Instead you can use either a gamepad plugged into your desktop or the wireless gamepad going to your Xbox One to control streamed games from your Xbox One. With a kid on the way I can see this as a useful feature for when the little one is watching cartoons and mom or dad need to go hunt some aliens.

I had some fun playing Halo 3: ODST again, but it would be better if original Xbox, 360, and One games just worked on Windows 10 machines without relying on streaming. Emulator authors are already working on it, but haven’t been as successful as authors of emulators for older consoles.

Another new feature is the ability to record your desktop computer gameplay and share it via the Xbox app. You would be better served by using the Open Broadcaster Software instead. You’ll notice a pattern here. These new gaming features feel like more insincerity from what should be the most successful computer gaming platform in the world. Instead of Windows 10 gaming improvements, these feel like the Xbox console encroaching into Windows territory just like with the old Games for Windows Live system.

Perhaps DirectX 12 will be useful in this regard, but without any games that require it I can’t say that it helps today. Microsoft touts that it will improve performance for games that are limited by the CPU today. My understanding is that games are more limited by the GPU if you have a discrete graphics card already. So, I guess it might help out the Surface devices. Hooray for them. Even Microsoft’s Xbox spokesperson Larry Hyrb can’t come up with more than DirectX 12 when describing the actual upgrades in 10 for gamers.

The only exclusive gaming experience in Windows 10 at launch will be Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition. If nothing else, Microsoft is excellent at creating the most ridiculously long names for products. I can’t speak to the quality of Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition, it wasn’t included in the preview program and will be a beta when it is released on the same day as Windows 10. This version of Minecraft will be free to those who already have purchased the game directly from Mojang’s website. The main upgrade to this version appears to be that it won’t require Java. Which is good, because Java in 2015 is awful.

Cortana is another new feature in Windows 10. Named after the Halo video game character, she is supposed to be like Apple’s Siri, but a little bit more conversational and unfortunately she seems more likely to boot you off to Microsoft’s Bing web search. Like Apple’s “Hey, Siri,” you can have Cortana listen for the catch-phrase “Hey, Cortana” and then she will then keep listening for a command of some kind which is handy when you quickly want to check the weather before heading out.

I just spent a few minutes playing a movie guessing game with Cortana, it’s fun up until she misinterprets what I’m saying and launches a movie editing program.

Surprisingly, that is pretty much it for front-facing new features in Windows 10 that I care about. There are new versions of Microsoft’s web browser, music, e-mail, calendar, and photo programs but I don’t do anything besides playing games on Windows. All of my work is on my Macbook Pro.

I did briefly try out the new e-mail and calendar programs, but they’re from bizarro tile land, and not terribly useful. The mail app can’t seem to display a unified inbox when you have multiple accounts, so I suppose that feature is reserved for the desktop Outlook program. Outlook 2013 still prompts you to enter the password your Internet Service Provider gave you when you go to set up your first e-mail account. Even the least tech savvy people have learned their lessons from moving ISPs and losing their e-mail at one time or another and won’t make the same mistake again. At least the new mail app properly understands how to configure a non-Outlook server account. Outlook 2013 did not understand any of my non-outlook server e-mail account and was confused by the idea that it should support them. I was eventually able to get an account into it in order to compare it with the new Windows 10 mail app and would not want to repeat the experience. Stick with web-mail or the Windows 10 mail app.

There are performance improvements in Windows 10. I don’t have any interest in benchmarking them, but they’ll be doubly improved for anyone who rejected Windows 8 or Windows 7. Start-up times in particular are faster for anyone coming from Windows 7 and the desktop was as speedy and responsive as it should have been, even in the pre-release version of Windows that I was using.

Overall, I feel like Windows 10 is not as big an upgrade to 8.1 as it might have been if Microsoft hadn’t been held back by the start-screen grumblings from desktop users. It is still an important step for users who didn’t upgrade to Windows 8 and 8.1 from the unsupported Windows XP or Windows 7, but it feels like 10 could have been more if Microsoft had continued down whatever path they were going in Windows 8. Microsoft continues to be freightened of torpedoing legacy compatbility and moving on. Even their advertising copy for Windows 10 reads:

This is the one that you’ve been waiting for.

Despite the confusing terminology with an asterisk Microsoft is using to encourage upgrades I would encourage anyone who is currently using Windows as a gaming platform to upgrade after a month or two. Those who aren’t reliant on the latest technology for fun should probably hold off until later this year but certainly before uncle Scrooge’s free upgrade offer ends.

Unless Apple starts treating games as a serious need for Mac OS X or the Year of the Linux desktop finally gets here, we don’t have a better option.

Microsoft Xbox E3 2015 News

Watching the Xbox press briefing this morning. Here’s what got announced:

  • Stop saying IP. Holy crap that terminology is dumb.
  • Halo 5 has 12 v 12 multiplayer that looks like battlefield and what looks like 4 player co-op.
  • Something new from the folks behind Metroid Prime but it was just a trailer instead of gameplay footage. Robots and power spheres in the desert called ReCore.
  • Xbox One, like the 360, will have limited backwards compatibility with some Xbox 360 games. There’s a list of 100 games that’ll be available later this year. People on the invite-only dashboard preview program can get access to some of them today. More games will be added later on until Microsoft stops caring and they have already put the onus on developers/publishers to approve their games for backwards compatibility during the conference.
  • Fallout 4 mods will work on the Xbox One at no cost. Fallout 4 comes out this November.
  • Xbox One Elite controller, it’s customizable, changeable parts, paddles and extra buttons on the back.
  • Electronic Arts’ Access Vault garbage having more games available. Access Vault is EA’s subscription thing ($5/month) where you get early access to games via download.
  • Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.
  • An advertisement for a new Ford car preceded a Forza Motorsport 6 reel.
  • Dark Souls III. Early 2016.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: The Division beta this December exclusively for Xbox.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6 Vegas 1 & 2 backwards compatibility this December. They’re free if you buy The Division. I loved Vegas 1 & 2.
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow 6: Seige comes out October 15th.
  • Tacoma from Fullbright looks awesome. Timed exclusive for Xbox and Windows. No specific date but out in 2016.
  • Ashen, not Ashens.
  • Beyond Eyes, Summer 2015. It’s a third person game.
  • Cuphead, 2D platformer that looks like the original Mickey Mouse and old Betty Boop cartoons. Exclusive. 2016.
  • Unfinished games come to Xbox with Game Preview. It’s Microsoft’s answer to Steam’s Early Access. Each game will have some kind of free trial version. The Long Dark, Sheltered, Elite: Dangerous, DayZ are the first announced games for it. All are already on Steam. Elite: Dangerous and The Long Dark will be available later today.
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider, end of the year. Xbox exclusive. Pre-order now to commit your money before you know if it’s any good or not.
  • The rumored Rare game collection is real. RC Pro-Am, Solar JetmanKiller-Instinct, Battletoads, Blast Corps, 30 games total. $30. It’s called Rare Reply and it’ll be out August 4th. Battletoads still sucks. No Goldeneye, no Donkey Kong Country, of course.
  • Sea of Thieves from Rare, exclusive multiplayer Pirate adventuring.
  • Fable Legends. Free2play for Windows and Xbox.
  • A bunch of VR stuff. They’re working with Valve VR as well as Oculus to display games in 2d in both headsets when streamed from an Xbox One to Windows. Mixed-reality with Microsoft’s Hololens.
  • Apparently Mojang is pronounced Mo-yang. What.
  • Hololens will work with Minecraft. It’s 2D and displayed wherever as long as you have a Hololens device. Or it can be displayed on a physical table and it’s augmented reality-ified. Nifty.
  • Gears of War: Ultimate Edition. August 25th. Xbox One version of the first Gears. 1-week public beta starts today.
  • New Gears of War. Looks good. Dark. Seems less bro-ver-the-top. It’s just called Gears 4. Late 2016.
  • There’s a new Xbox One UI coming.
  • I just got an e-mail from the Elite: Dangerous developer, Frontier, encouraging me to buy Elite for the Xbox One with a £5 gift code for the Elite store if I do. I don’t really see any reason why I would do that when I  have it on my computer and can display that on my TV with a long HDMI cable and a wireless controller. Or a Steam Link. Or a Steam Machine.
  • No Call of Duty at this event, no mention of Xbox on the Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 banner outside the E3 building.

That’s it.

Dongler

The Xbox One controller is getting an update. It’ll have a 3.5mm headset jack and better bumpers. More importantly, Microsoft is finally going to release the wireless dongle for computers to accept connections from XBone controllers. Previously you could connect it with a USB cable, it’ll be good to stop using the one from my Steam Controller.

I’ve got the wireless dingus for 360 controllers to connect to PC, but those adapters are not as easy to find anymore and the newer XBone controller is superior to the aging 360 pads in most ways. Hopefully this also puts an end to the days of people trying to use 360 play-n-charge kits to connect their gamepads to a computer. That never worked because the play-n-charge kit delivered power without a data signal.

There’s no release date yet for the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows other than “this fall.” It’ll cost $25 when it is released or $80 in a bundle with the updated controller.

The new controller will be available on it’s own much sooner, on June 16th for $60, to coincide with a new version of the Xbox One that includes a 1 terabyte hard drive at $400. That’s $50 more than the 500 gigabyte Xbox One. The hard drive will still not be user-replacable on either version of the console because Microsoft:

  1. Doesn’t trust their users to swap hard drives
  2. They don’t understand the value of designing that functionality
  3. They want to give people a reason to buy new consoles.

Pick one. Any way you look at the hard drive situation on the Xbox, it’s insulting to users.

You could take this to mean that Microsoft just wants to be ready in case Valve’s Steam Controller gains more of a foothold. You might be right, but I don’t take that this latest push from Microsoft to mean much. They’ve pretended to care about Windows gaming before.