Christopher Kalos

Technology, Hobbies, and New Ideas

An avid techie since childhood, I've finally decided that it's time to establish my own presence on the web, as opposed to outsourcing it to a bunch of social network pages.

Here you'll find musings, my professional history, and anything that catches my interest.

As will become obvious as this page grows, I'm an Apple user, through and through:  When I work, I use the best tools for the job.  Sometimes that's Microsoft-based, sometimes it's Apple-based, and often, it's Linux-based.  Once I'm at home, though, I find that comfort, simplicity, and ease of use trump all of the flexibility in the world.   

Cool counts for a lot.  Simplicity counts for a lot more.


Xbox One, Microsoft, and conviction

First off, let's start with the fact that I'm an occasional PC gamer, and mostly a console gamer.  This goes back to my switch to Mac:  While I enjoy a good number of indie games via Steam, the fact is that I miss out on a lot of PC games, so the consoles fill in most of the gaps.

Of course, when the Xbox One announcement came around, I thought that there were some poor ideas in there, primarily the proposals that the Kinect would be "always on" and that the unit would have to "check in" every 24 hours.

Well, I live in an area with great broadband, but above-ground power lines.  Sometimes, things go bad.  Sometimes, a tree takes out a few lines, a substation is disabled, etc.  These things happen.  When they happen to ME, it's irrelevant:  I can't power up my consoles anyway.  When they happen to my broadband provider's switch in the next town, however, I'm suddenly dead in the water until it's fixed.

 (This, I might add, is why I keep a POTS line at home.  No matter how bad things get, I have always been able to dial 911.)

These aren't edge cases.  There are areas poorly served by broadband.  Demographics with intermittent access, including vast swaths of our Armed Forces.  Most importantly:  Customers.

What's the harm, I wonder, in someone playing games on their DRM-equipped gaming system with zero internet access for a few days?  That someone's going to rip out the hard drive, copy the data, and give it to a dozen friends?  Do you think THAT little of your customers that they're going to resort to piracy?  Ridiculous.  I have a device with DRM-enabled games with me right now, and those games play fine for weeks without Internet access: It's called an iPad. This is far from a relevant problem, but Microsoft painted a picture in which it was.

As for the Kinect, I get that they're really just trying to get the Xbox One to be an active participant in all TV-related activities.  That doesn't mean that it shouldn't have an off switch.  Accept that some customers are paranoid, and let them disable it. Warn them that they'll lose features.  Make some games with killer features based on Kinect, and stop worrying about it.  

Instead, we get a dramatic reversal.  No constant check-in.  Remove the Family Pass.  Drag us away from a system which was the opening salvo in an attack on $60 games, nigh-worthless resale value at GameStop, and profits going to the hands of GameStop execs instead of game designers.

Why?  Because Sony's marketing team was clever enough to capitalize on the weaknesses of Microsoft's marketing team.

Change the message, NOT the vision. It's a common Microsoft problem, ranging from their infighting between the old Tablet PC team and the Office team in the XP days to the unwillingness to embrace the overall vision of Longhorn, resulting in Vista, a half-baked product, or the capitulation in Windows 8.1 to "bring back" the Start Button.  

(They're not really bringing it back, at least not in the way that people hoped.) 

Microsoft has a few good ideas right now.  Live Tiles, which move the user to a data-centric interaction model. An OS that can, when used properly, embrace both a tablet and a desktop UI all at once. A gaming juggernaut in the US. Brilliantly simple motion gaming, without the extra gadgets in-hand. Digital distribution of content. Subscriptions to their Office suite, the 800-pound gorilla in productivity software. There's all the slowly growing parts of an overall ecosystem to rival Apple and Google.  Against Apple, they have overwhelming marketshare. Against Google, they're already pitching themselves as the company that doesn't sell your personal information.  This may be hyperbole, but that's how marketing tends to work.

When using a Windows Phone/Windows 8 system properly these days, that's not a Start Screen.  That's a dashboard.  It's the access to everything you might want, and a single pane of glass into the key things that you need.  It's the Windows Mobile Today Screen, the iOS Notification Center, the PalmOS fast access keys, all in one place.

Xbox One was merely the extension into the living room, moving all of your content to the digital realm where possible, removing the need for easily-scratched discs, and tying together the application and content ecosystems with one Microsoft Account. 

Sound familiar? iCloud Backup? Android's long-envied Google Account tie-in? WebOS' Synergy, to a certain extent?

Instead, Microsoft looked at the precipice, and instead of leaping forward, stepped back. Again. 

I could've accepted a compromise. I wanted a compromise, frankly. What we got was a cop-out, and one that may resign the next generation of console gaming to your cell phone.  I have games that I downloaded in 2008, on an iPhone 3G, on my current iPhone.  It's handy. It's nice. It is, honestly, how things should be. I download games to my Vita instead of schlepping to the store, and with PS Plus, I've downloaded the "free" version of launch games that I have on cards. My content follows me, now.  We've all embraced it, but if I described it as a system where my licenses could disappear on a whim?  Where the Wi-Fi is always on, checking where I am? Suddenly, we go from location-enhanced gaming to grabbing our tinfoil hats.

I'm certainly more than a little disappointed, but with any luck, MS' next move will be a gradual series of patches to enable as much of the One's potential while slowly convincing us all to move away from disc-based media. It's an inevitability, and one that we should accept for its conveniences, as opposed to balking at the more esoteric conspiracy theories.