The Zune HD and Windows 7 as test case

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Freddie

Freddie deBoer used to blog at lhote.blogspot.com, and may again someday. Now he blogs here.

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  1. Avatar Jaybird
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    says:

    I suspect that it will down to games.

    Gaming was the big downfall of Vista… one of the things that games in earlier OSes did was stuff like “talk directly to the video card” or “talk directly to the speakers”. What Vista wanted, however, was “you talk to me and *I* will talk to the video card/speakers for you.”

    Despite claims, this meant that a computer that ran a game just fine on XP would not necessarily run the same game perfectly well on Vista… better upgrade the memory to be safe. And the processor. Maybe the motherboard. To get the same performance on a top of the line game with Vista as you got with XP, you had to run with better hardware.

    Now, one of the things that no one could have imagined was that the majority of gamers were guys who did stuff like “post to the internet”. Well, it appeared to them that Microsoft began screwing with their games (additionally, there were a *LOT* of DRM problems at the same time that this happened) which resulted in *HUGE* resentment for the (perceived) collusion between the game designers and Microsoft… which resulted in essay after essay after essay after essay being posted to the internets.

    Now Vista was perfectly fine for the vast, vast, vast majority of stuff that the vast majority of people would want to do. Word processing, email, internet surfing, downloading music legally, listening to it on one’s mp3 player. It was a fine upgrade from XP for those folks.

    But if you wanted to play something more demanding on your system than WoW, you were going to have a problem with Vista. And you were going to post about it, by god.

    If Windows 7 hampers gameplay the way that Vista did, Windows 7 will be pilloried again by the gamers who are left using PC as their primary or secondary platform… even if it gives dramatic improvements to the stuff like word processing, email, surfing, and music enjoyment.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      An OS that was built specifically with games in mind would be nice – strip out a lot of the unnecessary stuff, have the performance really geared toward games and gamers….Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        (Despite my best efforts, I cannot make this post sound like I’m not a fanboy. Know that I tried.)

        Microsoft has one of those. They installed it on the 360.Report

        • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird
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          says:

          Right – but I want to install it on my own custom pc. Why can’t they make one that can do that?Report

          • Avatar EngineerScotty in reply to E.D. Kain
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            says:

            Because, then they can’t collect a percentage of every game sold.

            Game developers like consoles better than PCs, generally, because a) you have nicer input devices, b) you don’t have zillions of different hardware devices to support, and c) they’re harder to pirate.

            Console developers (MS, Nintendo, Sony being the main players) all have pretty much the same business model–3rd party game developers pay the console manufacturer a fee for every unit manufacturered. These things are all sold for below cost FTMP (the Wii might be an exception), and the console maker makes it up on its cut of game sales.
            One interesting exception is the Nintendo DS handheld, which has a far more open architecture.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to EngineerScotty
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              says:

              I think that that might be the dynamic today, but as recently as PS2 dominance, there was a different one.

              When I first started gaming, consoles (Atari 2600! Intellivision! Colecovision!) had games for hand/eye co-ordination and computers had games for “smart” people (Infocom games, baby).

              As the years went by, consoles got “smarter” (Final Fantasy VII, baby!) and computers got twitchier (Doom) but things didn’t officially flip until the magic mark of $999 for a home computer and Windows 95.

              At that point, you could use a computer if you didn’t know how to type or, indeed, didn’t know how to use a computer. So computers had to deal with the tension of making games that were easy enough to install that dad could sit down and do it if need be but difficult to copy and trade. And the most successful ways to making stuff more difficult to copy/trade involved making the games somewhat more difficult to install and start playing (cd keys have foiled relatives of mine). Meanwhile, consoles did the same thing that they always did. You sit down. You put in the game. You start playing.

              Only truly 133+ gamers kept using computers (dude, the modding community is insane (and I say that in the most complimentary way)) and they lived/died by tweaking their boxes and pushing limits.

              If you want the hardest of hardcore first person shooters, you still want a computer. If you have the best of the best of the best systems, you’d prefer to play Oblivion or Fallout 3 on a computer to playing it on a 360.

              If all you care about is “good enough” and/or “easy”, you want a console.

              Of course, with the advent of the current generation (dude, the specs of the 360 and PS3 are INSANE), one can get a nigh-ideal gaming box for $400.

              And companies are learning that, sure, piracy was a problem biting into profits for computer game companies, used-game stores are biting into console profits.

              I expect to see a lot of turmoil in the next generation because of that, myself.Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                Totally. I see more and more subscription type games, or games that only really function online – thus needing official accounts, etc. – as the likely way forward for many games in the future to avoid piracy issues and so forth. We’ll see.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to E.D. Kain
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                says:

                (Aside: I was sitting down to play Mass Effect the other day, looking forward to playing my Paragon and bring Saren to justice… during an xbox live outage. It told me that since I had downloaded Bring Down The Sky and since my game had Bring Down The Sky content saved in the save file and since it couldn’t connect to Xbox Live to confirm that I had paid for the download myself rather than downloaded it and given the hard drive to a friend… I couldn’t play my game at all. I had the option of starting a new, Bring Down The Skyless game from the beginning, however. I was *LIVID*.)Report

              • Avatar Sully Fick in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                In game-making circles, the advent of online DRM validation is considered to be the death-blow to games that use it. Of course, publishers will keep using it, though.

                A large percentage of people (who legally purchased a copy of Spore) were thought to have downloaded the cracked copy, so they didn’t have to have an online connection to play the game. No real numbers, but a lot of anecdotal evidence.

                Preventing a gamer from playing a game when they want to play it is A Really Bad Idea(tm).Report

              • Avatar Jon H in reply to Jaybird
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                says:

                “Infocom games, baby”

                People are still making these. And there’s an awesome GUI environment for writing new ones, called Inform 7. It uses quasi-english. To create a room, you write “The torture chamber is a room”. Click “build” and you’ve got a running Infocom-style game with one room, the torture chamber. (Uh, then you add details and more rooms: “East of the torture chamber is the dungeon.” Click build.) It’s sweet.Report

            • Avatar Sully Fick in reply to EngineerScotty
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              says:

              This is entirely correct. I’ve worked previously making both computer games and console games.

              But the order (for developers) is: 1) standardized hardware, 2) harder to pirate, 3) input devices. And, the order (for publishers) is: 1) harder to pirate, 2) easier testing on standardized hardware, 3) harder to pirate.

              MS is still selling Xbox’s at a loss. Sony is probably breaking even now. Nintendo has been making money on the Wii for some time now.

              For developers there is also a TON of support (though I can only speak of Japanese companies – Sony and Nintendo). They provide a ton of code, classes, bug support, testing, etc. And, this is beyond the help you get from your publisher.

              Back in the late 90’s Sony got $10-15 per unit – for every game sold (Nintendo usually got more, but it was negotiated). They make a mint on the software and just try to break even on the hardware.

              There is no computer OS built for games because computers are not built for games. They’re built for business tasks.Report

    • Avatar Chad in reply to Jaybird
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      says:

      Here’s my personal experience with Windows XP/Vista/7:
      I purchased a Toshiba laptop, 1.6×2 processor with 1gb of memory. It came with Vista installed. It ran like a dog and the only game I plated, WOW, was terrible. After running various Linux flavors, I managed to scrounge up the drivers I needed to install XP. Everything ran fine. WOW wasn’t the least bit laggy (in graphics performance, I mean). Later I installed Windows 7. Everything ran better than in Vista but WOW still took a bit of a graphics performance hit compared to XP. This included turning all the extras off (like Aero).

      So, there may still be gamer backlash, but since it is an improvement over Vista it may get a pass even if it still chews more memory then XP.Report

  2. Avatar Zach
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    says:

    Windows 7 works well, which is nice, but there’s still no compelling reason to upgrade from any previous operating system for business or personal users. I don’t see Microsoft showing the same sort of growth they once did in their OS business ever again (similarly, there’s little reason to upgrade their Office suite). I think they’ve started to recognize the need to break into new markets with the focus on the Zune, Xbox, Bing, etc in a more committed way than before. None of that seems like enough keep such a massive company growing at the rate folks expect Microsoft to grow, though.

    The new Zune looks cool, but it’s been more than two years since Apple’s last major portable UI change (iPhone). The odds of them not having something already developed that beats the whizbang factor of this are basically zero. Microsoft would need to do something radical like sell it at a huge loss for years (cf Xbox) to make it work for them.Report

  3. Avatar EngineerScotty
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    says:

    A pox on the houses of both Microsoft and Apple, if you ask me..Report

  4. Avatar greginak
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    says:

    There are various Linux desktop OS’s that can beat windows like a rented elf. And they are free.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to greginak
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      says:

      But again – not for games….Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to E.D. Kain
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        says:

        Ohhh way to carry water for The Man.

        There are actually a couple ways to get most/many winblowz games to work on linux (not being fanboyish in anyway)Report

        • Avatar North in reply to greginak
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          says:

          Maybe, but speaking personally I have neither the time nor the technical knowledge to do so. Which is why the open sourcers remain in the minority. But I love that they’re out there. Maybe one day they’ll amass the collective creativity to create something user friendly, easy and free… at which point it shall rampage across the interverse and devour poor Microsoft alive. (Though Apple might survive.. mac fanbois are an odd bunch).Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to North
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            says:

            Mircosuck has such a market dominance in the desktop world that is really doesn’t matter what other options are out there. There are linux’s that are easy, free and don’t require tech capability. There is a constant buzz in the linux world about when the big break through will come and people will open up to linux. It is an example of a market that is not rewarding innovation.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to greginak
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              says:

              There are linux’s that are easy, free and don’t require tech capability

              Which one? I’ve been told that Ubuntu is the easiest, but every time I’ve tried it (and Mandriva) I have run into a roadblock. Videos suddenly stop working or it no longer recognizes wireless or there is an application that I cannot install on the system even though I am running what appears to be the right version.

              I’ve got approaching ten years as an IT professional, so I’m relatively capable. While I am sure that every problem I’ve run into, they have not been able to accomplish the effortlessness of making a switch for non-dedicated people worthwhile.

              I’m with North. I would love Linux to wipe Windows off the face of the earth. But first I would like a Linux I can use without the hassle and headaches that I have run into.Report

  5. Avatar Moff
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    says:

    Not to nitpick, but isn’t the argument about Microsoft packaging Explorer with Windows not so much that it comes with it (as Safari does with OS X), but that it’s built to be an integral part of the OS? Like, weren’t they trying to build a seamless experience between browsing websites and your own hard drive? (Which is not necessarily to be argued against, but is qualitatively different from simply including a browser-as-application.) Also, even though Apple might produce more consumer products, I’m pretty confident Microsoft dwarfs them when it comes to corporate software, which is what I think a lot of folks’ concern is.

    Anyway, I’d love it if they started making truly great products. Apple could use the kick in the pants.Report

    • Avatar Chad in reply to Moff
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      says:

      Actually, the reasons you listed was Microsoft’s reasoning as to why it should be allowed to leave IE bundled with the OS. Now, flash forward a decade or so and you have Google Chrome OS coming down the pipe where the browser is the OS (conceptually, not technically). Hmm….

      Okay, they are two different executions. As you said, MS was attempting to build a seamless experience of browsing the web and the hdd. Google is putting everything on the web and would probably be happy to do without any more hdd than it needs. But still, it always makes me wonder if or when the hammer’s gonna fall in Google’s direction.Report

      • Avatar Moff in reply to Chad
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        says:

        Yeah, but wasn’t Microsoft essentially presenting the seamless experience as innovation (which, again, isn’t to say it isn’t) and the counterargument was “It may be, but it would give you more leverage than is healthy”? Like, both sides were saying the same thing, just arguing for different spins. That’s how I understood it, but I’m kind of talking out of my ass.

        I can’t imagine Google won’t get hit with a monopoly suit someday, but it’ll certainly be interesting to hear what the plaintiff thinks should be done. You can order Microsoft not to engineer its OS a certain way; how do you tell the most popular search engine and online-app provider to, uh, stop being the most popular?Report

  6. Avatar Trumwill
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    says:

    Is the iPod that big a deal anymore? And as such, is an awesome Zune that big of a deal? The goalposts have moved to the iPhone where Microsoft is not faring very well.

    Macheads will probably ignore Win7. Vista was mostly a juicy and convenient target. They don’t deny that the XBox is a good console, generally. They just ignore it or ignore that it was made by Microsoft.Report

  7. Avatar Jon H
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    says:

    “when Apple, in fact, produces a far broader range of products than Microsoft).”

    Er, I don’t believe that’s the case. I mean, there were Microsoft wristwatches at one point. They have a large-business accounting software division, that sells 7 different packages (ERP, CRM, etc). They have a hospital information systems division (“Amalga”). Corporate CRM – to – PC emulation software – to – wristwatches – to – game consoles is a wider range than Apple’s, which is pretty tightly focused (computers, iphone/ipod, a few networking accessories, home media creation software, pro media creation software). Apple offers one wired keyboard, and one wireless keyboard. Microsoft sells, like, 20 different keyboards or “desktop sets” of keyboard and mouse. Ten different webcams.

    They’ve been dropping products recently (Encarta, Flight Simulator, Money, etc) so their range is getting closer to Apple’s. It’s probably fairly close, but I think it likely that Microsoft has more products.Report

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