Saturday, 17 October 2009

PC Gamers Need To Vote!

I've just been to Dells IdeaStorm web site and submitted an idea asking Dell to help the PC gaming industry establish a long term base level of hardware to help bolster the PC gaming industry and pull it out of decline. I'll post the text of the idea below. But first let me say PC gamers need to do something to push the hardware and software industry together to establish a base level of hardware that will support all games at decent settings.

When developers develop for the Wii or Playstation they know it's a long term commitment. The hardware will be supported for at least the next 5 to 10 years. It takes on average 3 to 5 years to develop, test and polish a major gaming title. If not, then longer. Microsoft want to refresh Windows every 2 to 3 years. As we've seen with Vista there is no guarantee of backwards compatibility.

So a game which started development with one Windows platform in mind might suddenly become usless unless the developers alter the game to support the new platform. This is very costly and time consuming. We need a better solution for PC gaming than Windows!

The Dell IdeaStorm post: Establish A Base Level For PC Gaming Hardware.

Ever since games consoles could hold their own against the processing muscle of the PC, the PC gaming industry has been in decline. There are a number of reasons for this. Which I will detail below.

1) The PC as a gaming platform shifts far too rapidly for games developers to keep up with. There is no base level of hardware to target. This makes it very difficult and costly for games developers to develop for the PC.

When a games developer target the Playstation, they know the hardware spec will be good for at least 5 to 10 years. Typically it can take 3 to 5 years just to develop, test and polish a game for distribution. So an unchanging stable platform is absolutely essential!

2) Security is an issue!!! Increasingly modern games are becoming on-line affairs. We no longer pit our wits against AI. We join virtual battle with each other. However PC gamers are at a disadvantage. Windows.

Making Windows secure for on-line activities can be a costly business. PC gamers take a hit in the wallet and performance of their gaming rigs. As though Windows it's self wasn't enough of a resource hog. PC gamers need to shell out for anti-virus software, anti-malware software, spam filters and firewalls.

Now it's true all this software can be had for free. But the free versions are always crippled in some way. They're never as fully functional as their paid for equivalents. Even worse! Some malware has now started pretending to me anti-malware! Gamers who get duped risk losing their passwords and privet details. Including payment details. Credit card numbers, bank account numbers and the like. The potential for fraud here is massive!

The solution is quite simple and one the likes of Sony has been using for years now. Don't use Windows for gaming. The Sony Playstation doesn't use Windows as it's OS. But the games run just fine all the same. The graphics are excellent and the games have on-line connectivity. Nobody seems to be worried about viruses or malware.

Dell already supports Ubuntu. The World of Goo and the Penumbra Trilogy both run flawlessly on Linux and sold well. It might be an old game now but Doom 3 runs perfect with no loss of detail or functionality. Clearly Linux can handle complex and demanding on-line multi-player games.

A secure PC platform for gamers is essential! That security shouldn't bring with it a performance cost. Gamers should not be installing additional software just to make their gaming rigs secure. Linux is the answer.

3) Performance and Stability. Anybody who has played a game on Windows knows the frustration of BSODs at just the wrong moment. It's unacceptable. All gamers also know the reason they need PCs with fans so loud they are in danger of suffering industrial deafness is because Windows needs a reasonably beefy system just for its' self if its' to be responsive and sprightly.

Adding a demanding game with high resolution graphics and a web connection adds a load Windows often just can't handle. So Windows throws it's hands in the air and hides behind a BSOD. The problem is resource management. Windows just can't do it well enough.

Linux on the other hand does a much better job out of the box. No tweaking. No over clocking to squeeze some sort of performance out of the processors. No industrial refrigeration required. That doesn't mean Linux can run Halo on the BBC Micro. But it does mean more of the systems resources are freed to help the game run smoother with greater stability.

But even Linux software crashes sometimes. So what then? Well Linux crashes in a graceful manner. Normally the app will simply shut down and the user will return to the desktop. In very bad crashes the user will be kicked out to the log-in screen. However the system will almost never lock up completely in a BSOD like scenario no matter how badly the game is written.

A robust OS like Linux is essential for high-end demanding games. Linux is that OS.

Dell needs to serve its' gamers better. Help the PC industry establish a base level of hardware by producing a gaming rig and commiting to that hardware spec for 5 to 10 years. Preferably 10 years.

Choose hardware that is Linux compatible. The XPS 700 series is already Linux compatible. This will allow the industry and gamers to choose their OS. Gamers who want more security and performance can choose Linux. Gamers who want to be compatible with yesterday can choose Windows. Or we can dual boot and be compatible with everything.

Don't be Gartner Sheep!

Okay I'm confused. But since when was it written in law that people or businesses absolutely had to refresh their hardware? Surely it's good business sense to only buy what you need? Right?

Apparently not. Gartner has decided it's time we all bought new PCs. Why exactly? Well obviously because Microsoft are bring out Windows 7. Since nobody bought Windows Vista it's time we upgraded right?

Wrong! The time to upgrade or refresh is when you can predict your current IT investment is no longer going to meet your needs. How close you can wait until that time comes depends on how large your organisation is and how efficently it can move through the refresh cycle. A single person working self employed can make the transition in as little as a few hours. Larger business will take days to weeks. While other will take months or even as much as a year or more for full deployment of a new operating system.

So given that this guilt trip induced refresh can be so costly in terms of money, lost man hours and man hours expended on the refresh, what is the single most crucial question to ask? What's in it for me? What will Windows 7 deliver that other operating systems can't? Is it security? Better resource management? Cloud connectivity and integration?

Do you really want to trust a Microsoft cloud solution after the Sidekick debacle?

One of the most recently touted selling points for Windows 7 has been it's ability to run Windows XP software. This might come as a shock to some. Windows XP runs Windows XP software! But if you're running a business and you're gullable enough to follow the fasion trends the like of Gartner demand then at least look around before commiting all your money to Microsoft.

There are alternative options out there. Some other operating systems also run Windows XP software. Intall WINE on an Ubuntu desktop or laptop and it'll run most XP software just fine. It might struggle with MS Office. However comes pre-bundled with Ubuntu. For free!

So please do consider refreshing your hardware and software. But when you do. Ask yourself what your business really needs. Do you need Windows 7? Would a cloud solution be better? Could you ditch the Microsoft lock-in cycle all together and use something completly different? What software do you use? What do you use it for? Is it unique? Could you migrate? Would migration save you money? How much money? Will Windows 7 be good value for money? Windows needs licences, Ubuntu doesn't. Can you reuse your old hardware?

Can you save money on an IT refresh during a recession?

Consider your options people! Don't be sheep!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

How Bad Is The Malware Issue?

Okay this is just a quick post to pose the question. Just how bad is the malware problem really? It's a fair question to ask. Indeed a very important question to ask since some pundits claim 9 in every 10 PCs sold in the world has Microsoft Windows pre-installed.

That's a lot of PCs running an OS that is not only the prime target for criminals, but has also been criticised time and again for being too lax with security. As people depend on their PCs more and more for essential basic services in modern life like banking, security becomes a major issue. One that flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Traditionally home users have taken second place in the security stakes. Especially on the Microsoft Windows platform. Without third-party products, which cost extra to the consumer, Windows is wide open. Windows 7 clearly doesn't address this security issue. If it did Microsoft would be pushing their "Security Essentials" free product. Well at least it's free.

But back to my question. How bad is the malware issue? Well since subscribing to the Avira Anti-Virus update notifications about a year ago I've had 1573 update notifications. The vast majority of which are simply virus definition updates. None of these notifications are duplicates. 1573 from 1st October 2008 until 9th October 2009.

My advice to anybody using the web to do essential things like banking is to use a secure platform. Windows is not that platform. It's just to big a target with too many holes.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Desktop Linux Is Ready!

For a long time Linux was criticised as being too complicated and difficult for non-technical people to use. Personally I don't think that was ever really the case. I mean if Linux came pre-installed like Windows then the OEM would tweak it and install it to suit their hardware.

However Canonical has gone out of it's way now to prove to bury this myth once and for all. Take a look at the installation slide show for Ubuntu 9.10. Linux is ready for the desktop. It's ready for the mass market. It's ready for anybody that wants to use it. It doesn't matter if it's pre-installed or installed after market.

With respect to the basic installation, Ubuntu is now on par with Windows XP, Vista and even Windows 7. After the compiz effects have been enabled Ubuntu goes well beyond what Windows 7 is offering in terms of entertaining and useful desktop effects. And lets not forget the host of free software applications available directly from Canonicals Ubuntu repositories. Which contain everything from games to office productivity suits to web browsers to e-mail clients to extremely powerful tools for ICT professionals.

Ubuntu is also an OS well suited to "power users" with it's extremely high degree of customisability. There's nothing that can't be changed or tweaked. You can even change the entire desktop environment!

Now since Windows 7 has been available for testing many different sources have been quoting "boot times" of 20 to 30 seconds for Windows 7. It's become something of a selling point due to the fact Vista was so slow and a 6 month old installation of XP crawled along at a snails pace.

Well a default installation of Ubuntu 9.04 boots in around 15 to 20 seconds. From a cold start. Potentially 5 to 10 seconds faster than Microsofts latest and greatest Windows 7. The "boot times" for which by the way are actually restore from hibernation times!

At the time of writing, 10th October 2009, we're about 19 days from the final release of Ubuntu 9.10. Windows 7 will be out on October 22nd 2009. Ubuntu 9.10 has already been quoted as being able to boot from a cold start in 5 seconds when installed to an SSD.

So desktop Linux can now claim feature parity with desktop Windows. And as an added bonus it can also claim faster boot times as well as many other advantages. Linux is ready! Ubuntu is ready!

Microsoft and Apple are not the only game in town any longer!

Saturday, 3 October 2009

In the time it takes your computer to boot up ...

"In the time it takes your computer to boot up ..." is a phrase I have heard over and over. What people should be saying is "in the time it takes Microsoft Windows to boot up you could go make a cup of tea, some toast, cook a Sunday lunch and dash out to the shops." This generalisation bothers me. It bothers me because not all computers are the same. They might contain the same hardware. But the software that makes that hardware do useful things makes all the difference.

Even with Linux, which generally boots fairly quickly the hardware and software setup makes all the difference. With an SSD drive at it's disposal Ubuntu 9.10 will boot in 5 seconds. Without the SSD drive it will be more like 10 to 15 seconds. The last time I tested Windows 7 Beta 1 on my Dell XPS 720, which has an Intel Core 2 Quad CPU runnung at 2.66 GHz and 8 GB of RAM, I was still counting Windows boot times from a cold start in minutes. Ubuntu 9.04 boots in 15 to 20 seconds on the same machine.

So bloggers and particuarly Priya Ganapati who is the latest offender to annoy me with this rediculous generalisation. Get it right! If you're talking about Windows PCs then say so. If your talking about Macs? Say so. If you're talking about Linux based PCs. Say so!

This is an important distinction to make. The PC landscape is changing rapidly. New OS players are coming into the market and they're all fighting for their slice of the pie. People tend to look to the media, blogs, forums etc to help them understand and figure out the differences between new products coming to the market. So it's important to get it right. Slow boot times are no longer an issue for everybody.

Apple seems to be able to do no wrong. Even though some of their business practices are worse than Microsofts'. Google is trying to muscle in with Android and Chrome OS. Both Linux based OSs. And of course we can't forget Linux it's self. Ubuntu is making good ground. Canonical, the parent developers of Ubuntu, are gaining support from the likes of IBM, Intel, Dell, HP and Sun Microsystems. All big names with interests in making Linux  success.

So in the time it takes your PC to boot. Try and see if you can figure out with OS you're running!