Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just when I start thinking vista can't be that bad it assures me it is...

Recently I was thinking how long it would take before I cave into the peer pressure of all the computer users of the world and finally make the move to Vista. But Vista being the bastard child of operating systems it would seem constantly gives me a reminder of why it's a bad idea to give it a shot even after SP1. After reading this list I have decided that there are just too many fundemental things I can't live without mostly in the realm of customization. To put the matter simply I have always enjoyed window's philosophy of allowing the user to work as they want rather than dictating their work flow as is the Apple philosophy.

So without further adeu here's a list of features in XP that aren't in Vista that I simply can't live without. Antonnated with my comments of course.

Shell
  • The File Types tab has been removed from Folder Options.
  • It is not possible to override AutoPlay by pressing the SHIFT key
Ok I might be the only one that needs to go in and put custom file handlers in my menus every now and then but seriously your hurting all your power users by removing these two. When I'm inserting a potentially dangerous CD I used to be able to rely on holding shift to bypass auto-installs apprently this feature was too complicated to include into vista.

  • [Explorer removed] the ability to customize the standard toolbar's layout and buttons.
seriously? I have completely changed my toolbar layout there's cut copy paste as part of mine as well as delete, moveto copyto... etc. Why are you going to dictate a once sized menu fits all? Are we getting Apple envy here? Trust me windows users don't like being told we have to work within the restictions of some arbitrary design descisions just because it makes our menu bars minimalistic and follows some dumb founded asthetic.

  • The "Status" bar no longer shows the total space used by a folder
Provide less information to the user? Why...

  • The RunAs feature in the shell has been replaced with "Run as administrator", and no longer allows alternate credentials
This wouldn't be much a problem if Administrator worked like sudo in linux. Fact is it does not too much of the RunAs is profile dependent thus not being able to shift credentials is frustrating. In a multi user system it's not unheard of to RunAs a lower privallaged user with another account just to check to see if certain software breaks. Without this it's frustrating and I would have to enter the user's accounts to fix their problems. Or worse temporarily escalate their privallages to administrator in order to perform the fix.

  • Dragging and dropping a folder or file into a Win32 console window no longer pastes the path of the folder or file.
Some idiot at Microsoft forgot that people used the console still. To be honest the console they included in XP isn't all that bad... they've been trying to bury it ever since win95 but cmd.exe still has some features that can only be done there.

Network
  • Can not browse a domain structure. All computers on the network are displayed in a unified list. The list can be "filtered" to display only computers from the desired domain
This totally baffles me, Flat network architecture just doesn't make sense. Everything in networking is hierarchical. Vista in all their wisdom decided to fire all their network techs and get their humanaties department to design the network view here.

Audio
  • Since Windows Vista features a rewritten audio stack and does not inherit the Hardware Abstraction Layer for audio that was present under prior versions of Windows, there is no hardware acceleration of DirectSound and DirectSound3D APIs. DirectSound is emulated entirely in software. As a result, hardware acceleration and 3D spatialization utilizing DirectSound3D is no longer supported.
I decided to copy this line directly here to point out something quite serious. Too much of Vista is not so much an OS as it is a virtual machine. Hardware needs to run fast and efficiently. If my audio card has hardware direct 3D I'm not going to be happy when the supposed upgrade removes this feature. Essentially I just paid for hardware that I'll never access now. I don't think you can argue this one in any logical way not allowing hardware acceleration when previous versions of windows did is just plain stupid. This is not the same as hardware makers not porting their drivers no Vista just doesn't have support for DirectSound and might never will!

  • The ability to customize the Windows startup sound has been removed.
You can't be serious about this one! I can't begin to tell you how stupid this one is, it's equivalent to all macs having the same mundane "dong" sound when they start up, many mac users have wanted to change that one. It's more excusable in that case since the sound is built into the BIOS so it's harder to change. I see no reason for any modern OS to not allow changing of the startup sound.

Startup Shutdown
  • There is no progress bar indicating the hibernation status on Windows Vista
On a 2GB ram machine hibernation takes about 20-30 sec... Not having a progress bar isn't a real confidence giver.

  • Although it is possible to customize the action Windows takes when the hardware Power button is pressed, it is no longer possible to set power options to ask the user every time what action to take upon pressing it (currently a make or break feature for me)
I have this on, on every XP and Linux machine, On laptops it's expecially nice to be able to just push the power button and then tell your computer to standby while other times tell it to actually shut down. It also prevents accidental shut downs due to the button being hit by accident. The only argument I can see for removing it is the same idiodic logic that apple uses. I.E. our users are too stupid to realize they need to select an option after they hit the power button.

  • Sound Recorder in Windows Vista can no longer open audio files. Moreover, it cannot save in lossless (uncompressed) WAV format when run without using any switches; instead, it saves in lossy 96 kbit/s WMA format.
Sound recorder must support standard WAV. No exceptions.

So as you can see Vista has yet again gave me many more reasons not to make the switch. Some of these reasons are just aggravating other's are just plain essential and break Vista for the power users that have grown accustomed to them. For the most part though it does feel like Vista is taking away more than it's giving back. I'm not saying that XP is fantastic but, it has stood the test of time and it has been refined. However if an OS upgrade is in my horizon and the one linux machine on my desk is any indication the rest of the XP's will be migrating to the linux enviroment as Microsoft has finally gave me a reason to jump ship.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

ToJam3

A month ago 4 of us met together and formed a team to participate in ToJam3. The premise was to come up with a complete game from scratch, start to finish in 48 hours. ToJam3 is quite a competition to create any large piece of software in 48 hours is a challange let alone worry about a full playable game which brings in huge challenges as far as game play is concerned.

I'm now finally glad to announce that our team Team Any Key has completed with a silver award making it one of the best games at the event beating out over 30 other teams to win this coveted title.

The premis behind "debugger" our game was that it would be a bug squishing game similar to the game wack-a-mole keyboard buttons would be mapped to screen areas. When you mashed the keys on your keyboard you'd also be attempting to squish the bugs on the screen. A lot of details where changed in order to include their manditory required assets. Such as the cheese was incorporated since the game required the usage of cheese somehow.

Our original ideas involved limiting the squishing to 2 keys at once therefor allowing the only the index figer to be usable. However during play testing we found that being able to mash areas of the screen was a lot more fun. And most keyboards are designed so that there is a physical limitation of not more than 10 keys usually that can be pressed down at the same time so we didn't have to worry much about people using their entire palms.

What started out as a peripherial experiment taking a conventional peripherial and using it in a new and novel way got fleshed out into a game on the first day. Actual game elements were added:

1. You were required to protect the cheese.
2. Bugs will attempt to eat your cheese.
3. We required the ability to spawn bugs in waves.

After comming up with a proper class diagram our team immediately went to work in parallel. Using good software design principles (our team is not very into the Agile models that seem to be all the rage in the video game industry these days) we took a very structured approach mostly this ment we were building things with a bottom up approach. The odd part to this is while most other teams had experimental units working earily and things being displayed dispite having written hacked code, we didn't have anything working or that could be displayed yet because most of our basic units were part of the core framework for our game. However we realized having used proper software development methods before (for software engineering) that our model of development means that everything works at once when the last module reaches completion. Amazingly this is excactly how it worked out, while other teams appeared to have a quick initial build our first build was completed well ahead of the other teams and was relatively complete aside form level balancing and creation of additional assets.

At this point all video game developers and extreme coders would cry foul and claim that you just can't use proper software methods for a project with such a short deadline. I will assure you that you can. In the end we spent the equivalent amount of time play testing adding new assets mostly bugs and better bug a.i. as we actually did for the actual code. The end result was that even in the first version which was completed in 48 hours felt polished. Version 2.0 was completed in 1 additional day after the event most of the work was just extending existing classes and adding some of the bells and whistles that we were unable to do at the event.

In the end after playing some of the other entries in the competition if feels like there are a lot of other solid entries in the competition. The only problems I can see with them is some felt incomplete other's were hard to understand and a few obviously had broken code so bad that you couldn't actually play. But there are a lot of gems and finished products in the list and as the organizer stated managing to place in 2nd is an amazing feat. A feat that this Software Engineer will not forget anytime soon, well until the next one.

Maybe game design is in my future who knows, creating this game was a heck of a lot more fun than playing games in my opinion. Don't get me wrong I'm no code junkie, I don't live for code, but when something you've designed comes to life as a game and you see how people laugh and can get so much joy out of it. It makes you think that maybe games are just as important as designing avoinics, safety critical controls systems or anything else a Software Engineer can do. For this Software Engineer it might just be a carrer changer.

Wanted: Movie Review

I'm usually not one to respond well to other mediums transfered into movie format. That's why I was so excited when I heard about the movie "Wanted". Finally a movie that's not based off a comic book or a previous movie somewhere. Well I found out later that this movie was based off a graphic novel but I realize now that it's ok. Being as obscure as it is many people will feel like this movie was made for the big screen, and not some cheesy last minute transfer tweaked to fit on the theatre format.

Wanted is a movie about assassins, not new. But the plot to wanted is so much more. I won't spoil it by giving away any details but I will say that any viewer that loves movies where your challenged to think and constantly change your perceptions of what's actually going on beneath the conspiracy will absolutely fall in love with this movie the way I did. The main cast pulls the movie off relatively well, oddly enough the smaller names do a lot better job in this movies than the big names like Anglia Jolie. From the introduction of the main character to the many scenes along the way everything to the movie felt well structured and logically thought out.

It's rare for me to rave about a movie this much but I guess I've been so dissapointed with lacklustre movies recently especially movies that challenge your mind that Wanted turned out to be a very refreshing change. Although the large scale fight sequences often felt like they were being drawn out for too long and a few parts required you to dispell disbelief for physics breaking fictional rules. The entire story felt like it was being told in such a way that it challanged the viewer to constantly get involved and think about what they were seeing taking the experience of wanted from a passive one to a more active one. This is definetly not a movie you can fall asleep in and expect to understand what's going on every step of the way. But if you like movies that force you to think a little than what you put in will pay itself back.

Wanted gets a highly recommended in my book.