Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Yahoo's Struggle Continues

On MGS4 and Zach & Miri

Before I get to the news, there were a couple of things I wanted to talk about. I beat Metal Gear Solid 4 last week, and a part of me wants to write a review for it but I think that it's past the point that it needs reviews. Still, I wanted to say a few words. I felt like it I may have enjoyed the first game best just because it was so revolutionary to me, but this was by far the the best game in the series. The gameplay took the concept of a cinematic experience (especially with the score) where you always feel connected to the main character to an entirely new level. There was never a cutscene where I didn't think I could be dropped in any second, and yet I was invariably excited with terror at what I had to do next. It was not very predictable and once the game had convinced me that basically anything could happen (that didn't take long), I was convinced that this was one of the best games I'd ever played. The story I think suffered at some points, especially with cutscenes that focused too much on unimportant details leaving vital details ambiguous, but the animation throughout the game was incredible with very little glitchiness or hints of aliasing. The presentation was impeccable and even though I felt like the gameplay elements I had come to love in the first half of the game started to degrade as I got closer to the end, I thought it was great how it incorporated elements from multiple action games (including past entries in the series) to the point that it had something for everyone. Speaking of which, the boss battles were always enjoyable and cute in how they were homages to the past games. Anyway, if you have a PS3 then you should at least rent this game but I think it's worth buying. It's really a hallmark of the system's capabilities and how to do espionage action right.

All I want to say about it though I went to Austin over the weekend and had a blast. The first thought I had when I entered Texas was that I was home, but I really do feel at home right here in my Seattle apartment. Maybe there's just a difference between home and comfort though. Or does that sound crazy? It was nice to enjoy Tex-mex and visit 6th Street and see friends and watch a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. Speaking of which, I saw Zach and Miri Make a Porno.

I have mixed feelings about this movie. I kind of went in with high expectations because I'm a fan of some of his other recent movies (Clerks II, Clerks, Dogma, Mallrats), but I was let down overall. The premise of the movie is that Zach and Miri are best friends that live together and when they need money to pay the rent they decide to make a porno, and hilarity, theoretically, ensues. I didn't have a problem with this plot, but I feel like they could've done a lot more with it. For 80% of the jokes I felt like I just chuckled rather than laughed. Even though it's a romantic comedy, I kind of expected more on the comedy part of that equation. More than the friends I went to see it with, I thought that it was kind of sweet in the end, which reminded me of The Girl Next Door, a movie that I admit to really enjoying and even owning. However, unlike that movie I felt like this one was wholly unmemorable other than a couple of moments and didn't feel as real or as fun. Despite all these gripes, this is still really good for a romantic comedy, and half decent as just a comedy, but I'd say that it's really more of a rental. I give it a C+ because I liked the cast, it had some good jokes and sweet moments, and the movie was happy overall, I just wish it was more of a Kevin Smith movie.

Yahoo Gets Desperate

Yahoo's situation this year has been under much discussion this year, and if you look back in my archives from this spring then you'll find plenty of information about what happened. In a nutshell, they played hardball with Microsoft in their bid to acquire Yahoo, and Microsoft backed out from the deal once they were eyeball to eyeball.

Things haven't gotten much better for them since. They tried to cut costs and ultimately had to layoff over a thousand people, and rumors sprouted up last month (which ended up being true) that more layoffs would be on the way. This is definitely not the happiest pf times for Yahoo employees. Talks were in motion that Google would partner with Yahoo to offer their ads on Yahoo's searches, but Google decided against it last week in fear of possible ensuing litigation. Some people believe that this was always the intention since it seems a little out of character for Google, but I don't think that this is the case and there's probably more afoot here than any of us are aware of. Maybe Google believed previously that it was a legal case they could win and later came to the conclusion that it wasn't as likely to be a worthwhile thing to fight for.

Part of the reason why I don't believe in that theory is that Yahoo clearly was not prepared for it. In a seemingly desperate move, CEO Jerry Yang has stated that they would be willing to re-consider another offer from Microsoft. He says now that they would've been willing to make a deal with Microsoft this spring, which is very different from the image that the media seemed to have that Yahoo was trying to stick it out for the long haul and didn't want to be acquired by them. I'm pretty disappointed in Yahoo's leadership. While I didn't think it made sense for them to ask for money from Microsoft and it seemed to me like this implied that they really didn't want to go to the boys in Redmond, it makes much less sense for them to come out when they're most vulnerable and signal that they don't feel they're competent enough to steer this company (#2 in online search, mind you) to a bright future. Instead, they want Ballmer to raid Yahoo's resources.

Yahoo is a profitable, billion dollar company despite what their ridiculous stock price may hint at, so this move is disappointing. I was hoping that they'd come up with a plan to focus on what has made the company successful in the past, but instead it's like they're throwing in the towel, or at least that's the public perception of things. That's not quite the image you want to give to investors, especially with Microsoft being coy about the possibility of making another offer to buy Yahoo. I feel that it's less likely to concern regulators than Google partnering with Yahoo, and I still think that it would be better for Yahoo than letting its current management deteriorate what made Yahoo the top search engine and one of the best Internet companies in the world once upon a time.

More on Windows 7

I found a few more articles that kind of supplement what I went over last time about Windows 7, though I'm still unclear about what lives in the clouds vs. what's on your desktop. Anyway, Neowin posted an excellent video from PDC going over what makes the new taskbar special, and it blew me away just a little. I won't be fully convinced that it's better than the current taskbar without using it for a week, but it really does seem like a lot of time was invested in making it something that really enriches the user experience.

It's also slightly faster at booting than Vista and much faster than XP, which may help build the case in weening Vista haters off of XP.

I mentioned last week that a public beta could be ready before the end of this year (though more likely will be available early next year), and it looks like they're looking to release the whole thing next holiday season. They're being smart to not commit to such a timeframe yet, and I think that it could be a possibility given the positive feedback as far as stability goes from the PDC build that was distrbuted. It'd be smart for them to have it out before summer 2010, which gives Vista a healthy 3 years as the Windows OS as opposed to the 5 years granted to XP. I think this would not only help save the Windows brand but help compete with Mac OS X, which has a more frequent (and regular) release schedule.

Meanwhile, I think we should all pay our respects to Windows 3, for which Microsoft will no longer issue licenses. I think that Windows 3.1 is one of those software releases that will be in a book of computing history that our children will read, and with good reason. The fact that it's still used in embedded systems today is either impressive or depressing (because it implies that nothing better is widely used and/or available, but I don't know a whole lot about embedded systems so I can't speak to this).

Spotlight on YouTube

It's no secret that one thing no one has really figure about YouTube is how to properly monetize it. Adding in advertisements without alienating your user base is not as easy as it sounds. and YouTube has been wrestling with it ever since Google acquired them. After all, you can't provide contextual ads for all user-submitted content in case they're contrary to the brand advertised or inappropriate or infringe a copyright.

They're now in negotiation with multiple movie studios to stream full-length movies or sanctioned clips from them, with royalties provided by ad revenues. Not only that, but they've started testing the waters with full-length TV shows. The main gripes about these shows are that the quality still isn't that great, there's quite a bit of advertising tacked on (pre-, mid-, and post-rolls, in some cases), and they're not in a centralized location. The combination of these two deals means that they stand to be in direct competition with the likes of Hulu and Joost, and while these two companies came after YouTube it definitely seems like they have a better handle on how to properly deliver this content. Still, they don't have the user base that YouTube has so it's not improbably for YouTube to end up on top, but selection is important so this is all pending more finality on these deals.

CNN Has Holograms?

Meanwhile, has anyone noticed that CNN started using holograms? I saw one last week when I tuned in during the election coverage and saw the words " via Hologram" at the bottom of the screen, but I wrote it off as an old technology that I hadn't seen before because I don't watch CNN generally. I was wrong though, it is new. It was the least of my concerns that night though as opposed to witnessing history (not because Obama won, but because someone other than an old, rich White guy won), but it piqued the interest of many people in the aftermath of the election. Is it really a Star Wars-esque hologram? Some people don't seem to think so. Apparently, they're really tomograms since they're just images that are recreated in 3-D for your television screen and were not projected live in studio. that would help explain why the interviewee always seemed shorter than the person who was actually in the studio. Still, I think that this is a stepping stone to having holograms, so it's still noteworthy.

Quick Notes

I'm pretty sleepy so, per normal, I'm going to run through the other stories I have tagged here rather quickly.

Amazon is started to use frustration-free packaging on certain products that are easier to open and more environmentally friendly. I thought that this was a pretty creative innovation and can't wait to see it on more products.

Firefox has hit a record 19.97% market share in the browser market, which means that it almost has a fifth of the market that used to largely belong to Internet explorer just a few years ago.

Comcast has been experimenting with P4P, which just optimizes P2P based on physical locality, and found an 80% performance boost in P2P file downloads. This was a small trial though and more have to be done to verify these findings, but it's refreshing that Comcast is doing something right.

For a trip down hacking memory lane, check out this list of the 10 worst computer viruses of all time.

Enjoy the rest of your week, everyone! Hopefully, it won't rain too much here in Seattle (yeah right).

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