Tag: Microsoft

A Tale of Two OS Updates

This morning, I woke up to find my phone had an OS update pending. So I installed it. My android update:

  • Took about 45 minutes from start to finish.
  • Didn’t delete any of my data.
  • Didn’t result in any of my apps breaking.
  • Didn’t result in any of my settings being reset back to defaults.
  • Didn’t result in my being logged out of anything I had been logged into before the update.
  • Didn’t result in my apps even losing their state. Even my open browser tabs were still there after rebooting. (Granted, maybe if I’d had some form filled out, but not submitted yet, I wouldn’t expect the data to be retained there, but otherwise, everything is exactly as it was before the update.)
  • Was done with my consent.

And, after the upgrade, everything pretty much works same as it did before, ALBEIT FASTER. The phone feels snappy again.

I didn’t have to learn anything to pick up where I left off.

The only thing new that I have noticed? My icons have rounder edges. That’s it. Frankly, I don’t really even care for that, but it’s pretty acceptable, and if it’s useful in quickly identifying Android 6 from 5 at a glance, ok. I’ll take it. This is as it should be for a mature UI. No paradigm shift, reinventing, or pointless reorganization. And it doesn’t feel sluggish and laggy anymore, like it had been lately.

All in all, thank you Google and the Android team.

Microsoft Windows, take note.

I’m running Windows 7 on my home PCs, and at work. We both didn’t want Windows 8, not even after the release of 8.1.

Now that Windows 10 is out, I have been receiving all kinds of news about how Windows 10 is spyware, that it reports all sorts of information back to Microsoft, more than it ever has in the past, and that it even moves your own files to their servers. Microsoft also plan on making Windows 10 a subscription-based service, instead of something you pay for once and own a perpetual license for, along with entitlement to free updates for the life of the product. I’m not interested in this, and I hope to make Windows 7 the last version of Microsoft’s operating system I ever run.

Apparently most Windows users agree with me, because despite making the Windows 10 upgrade available to users of Windows 7 and 8 for free for almost a year, they’ve only seen about 300 million users of Windows 10, after predicting 3 billion. Microsoft is desperate to hit the goal they promised, and so has taken to some decidedly underhanded tactics to force the upgrade on unsuspecting users. I’ve had to repeatedly remove Windows Updates for Win7 that would nag me to upgrade to Win10 for free. Even after removing and then hiding the update so that it should not have been re-downloaded, I’ve had it come back several times on various Win7 systems that I maintain. I’ve even taken to using a 3rd party blocker app called GWX Control Panel to monitor my systems to ensure that the blocking configuration I’ve set up isn’t being overridden by Microsoft.

Since then, I haven’t personally experience further problems, but I’m now reading about a new nag window that would treat closing the window as consent to install.

Since Microsoft doesn’t seem to respect the fact that its users are people with agency who own the computer they are running Windows on, and thus must grant consent to install software or updates, I’ve taken to calling this behavior “Windows Update Rape”. It’s an ugly word, but such strong language seems to be warranted as Microsoft continue to pretend that they are acting in user’s best interest and with their consent.

To be clear, this sort of behavior *should* be considered illegal, and by my understanding of the law, it is. My computer is my property, and if I don’t want to take an update that is freely offered for whatever reason, I should not be compelled to, nor should I be repeatedly harassed to take the upgrade, nor should the vendor resort to trickery or usurp control over my computer outright. No license terms should be able to change this.

Microsoft deserves to be sued by billions of users for hundreds of billions of dollars, and I would love to see the antitrust actions taken by the US Federal government against the company during the Windows 95/browser wars era resumed. These abuses are unacceptable and have completely ruined any trust that I may have put in Microsoft.

Microsoft should not be allowed to get away with this. Customers should be up in arms, storming the offices in Redmond, taking justice into their own hands, stringing up executives, writing a message of warning with their entrails to other companies that might dare to think they can get away with these abuses.

I’m not kidding.

Microsoft is a malware and spyware vendor, and needs to be stopped.

Microsoft pulls a XBox One-80

Yesterday, Microsoft backed away from its earlier announcements regarding their XBox One policies.

It’s good that companies listen to customers and respond to their concerns, but it doesn’t quite make up for thinking the right way from the beginning. I don’t know that Microsoft has seen the light, and doubt very much that they have. More likely they are stepping back and re-thinking how their strategy failed, and plotting a new, less direct course to get where they wanted to take the market.

But at least they seem to have listened this time. For now.

XBox One: Why REAL ownership matters, and will always matter.

On ArsTechnica, today, I read the following in defense of XBox One:

“This is a big change, consumers don’t always love change, and there’s a lot of education we have to provide to make sure that people understand.”

…a lot of the way people have responded to Microsoft’s moves was “kind of as we expected.” But the implication … was that this temporary confusion and discomfort among the audience would be worth it as gamers and consumers adjust to a console world without game discs.

“We’re trying to do something pretty big in terms of moving the industry forward for console gaming into the digital world. We believe the digital world is the future, and we believe digital is better.”

[Microsoft] made a comparison to the world of home movie viewing, where inconvenient trips to Blockbuster Video have been replaced with Netflix streaming on practically any device instantly. On Xbox One, having all games exist as cloud-connected downloads enables new features like being able to access your entire library at a friend’s house with a single login, or loaning games to up to ten “family members” digitally and remotely.

Immediately, I want to point out that Netflix (and Hulu) didn’t replace owning a copy — my copy — of a movie. They replaced movie rental and scheduled broadcast television — with something better and that eliminated inconveniences.

With Netflix and Hulu, you don’t have to program a DVR, or go to a store, or deal with rental returns and late fees. And assuming you only want to watch a thing once or twice, and don’t care to own a copy of it for all time, it’s great.

But online streaming on-demand services cannot replace certain aspects of owning a copy. And those things are very important. Users of these services know already that what is available today may not be available tomorrow. If the copyright owner decides to stop licensing the programming through the service, it will not be available any longer on the service. But a physical copy that you own can always be played, whenever you want to, as long as you own it. So if you want to guarantee availability of something forever, you can only do so if you own your copy.

And the copy you own will remain the edition you bought forever — no 1984-style “memory hole” for the old edition when the producers decide to release a new cut as the canonical version. No forced upgrades pushed over the network, eliminating or changing some scene that some group found objectionable for some reason, and managed to successfully pressure the studio into changing.

Video productions are re-cut and re-edited all the time, and for the most part people don’t notice it, or care. But sometimes the changes can drastically change the meaning. In the 1990’s, singer Sinead O’Connor once made an appearance on Saturday Night Live,  during which she unleashed a storm of controversy by tearing up a photo of Pope John Paul II on live television. NBC and SNL immediately distanced themselves from the incident and claimed to have had nothing to do with it, apologized for the offense it may have caused Catholic viewers, and claimed that it was something that O’Connor did on her own without informing the producers of her plans. This act of protest was never rebroadcast, and to my knowledge cannot be seen in any format today. Today, apart from viewers memories of the incident, it may as well not have happened. Unless someone with a VCR happened to tape that episode and kept it, as I’m sure many may have done, it would be lost forever, imprisoned in NBC’s video archive, if it exists at all. O’Connor’s act was an act of political speech, and whether you agree with her message or not, she had a right to say what she wanted, in the way she wanted. Of course, NBC and SNL own the rights to the video of the event, and have the right to not to make it available if they want, or edit it in whatever way they choose. But it was also broadcast to millions of homes over the public airwaves, and those who witnessed it own their memories of the event. And, for those who have have their own copy, and because you can own and control your own copy, NBC is not able to suppress it completely, or to compel holders of copies to surrender or destroy them. If need be, it could be proved that the incident happened, and, although they haven’t gone so far as to deny that the incident never took place, they certainly don’t like to bring it up, and if NBC wanted to pretend that it never happened, people can contradict the official histories, not just with memories and eyewitness testimony, but with evidence. Owning your own copy can help save The Truth from the memory hole. It gives you the power to own a little bit of the The Truth, outside of your own skull.

If you’re not a political person, you’re probably thinking “Whoa, you’ve gone off the deep end. This is just entertainment we’re talking about. Movies, TV, and videogames. We’re not talking about the news, or matters of public record. Surely this isn’t important stuff, get a grip.” But games do get censored, or pulled from the marketplace, and this can effect people who already own them, if they give up control of the copy that they purchased to DRM. Moreover, wherever DRM technologies make inroads, it tends to result in their becoming more accepted and likely to be used elsewhere. If we accept DRM for television, movies, and games, the technologies are then already in place, and may be used by hard news and official government content providers. Even if they were only used for entertainment, this is our culture — do we really want it to be completely controlled by corporate copyright holders?

Microsoft’s XBox One distribution offers to replace ownership of a physical copy with something worse. It might beat rentals, but it sucks compared to buying. It’s not the digital distribution and decoupling from physical media, it’s the DRM and the licensing vs. owning a copy.

There are pros and cons to decoupling software from physical media, but on the whole I am fine with owning my copy of a computer file, vs. owning a disc or ROM cartridge that came in a box. But de-coupling need not be accompanied by artificial limitations of use imposed by DRM and the need to authenticate a license to a copyrighted work. A license-to-access model is inferior to a model of owning a copy.

Learning from history

I have, in my personal game collection, consoles from Atari, Mattel, Coleco, Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft. The oldest of these systems were built in the 1970’s. They are still fully playable, barring hardware failure.

Even back then, there were very early attempts at online play and distribution of games. They were ahead of their time, but from the earliest days the game industry tried to figure out ways to get people to subscribe to a service that would allow them to sell games directly to customers, replacing traditional retail distribution with digital download over a modem connection.

These services are long gone. Any games that were distributed exclusively via these means are exceedingly rare. If they exist at all, it’s only because someone who downloaded the game never erased it from their media (typically an audio cassette tape, or possibly a floppy disk), and because the game didn’t depend on the online service in order to run. This last bit is absolutely crucial. If these games could not be played if they depended on the continued existence of servers which were closed down by the vendor when they were no longer profitable, these games could not be played today.

“Well, who cares? Who cares about these old games?”

It turns out, a lot of people. Everyone who owns them, and would like to continue to be able to enjoy them. Anyone who wants to introduce their favorite games from their childhood to youngsters today. Collectors. Historians. Game designers.

“But popular games get re-packaged and re-sold with each generation!”

I suppose they do. Nothing wrong with that. It’s a good thing.

But what if your favorite game isn’t one of the few lucky popular games that gets chosen to live on? What if you want to play the games on the original hardware? What if you don’t want to have to re-buy games that you already own in order to play them again on your current-generation console?

“But you can’t go out to a retail outlet and buy a traditionally distributed game that isn’t being made anymore. So why should it matter that you can’t buy a digitally distributed game anymore?”

Because, the games that were sold while it was available are still available. They are tangible, transferrable, resellable goods, and as long as they remain physically intact, and someone in the world wants to enjoy them, there is a market for them. It might be garage sales and flea markets and eBay, but it’s possible to find and buy a videogame that was made in 1977. It might not be easy in some cases, but it’s possible, and it’s no more complicated than finding the game, plugging it in, and playing it.

I guess it may be starting to become more difficult now that old-fashioned NTSC CRT TVs are disappearing, along with their antequated analog signal input jacks, but the point is that there’s no need to negotiate the right to play the game with the copyright holder. If you have it, you can play it.

Digitally downloaded games could be just as transferrable — far more transferrable, in fact. Files are easy to share and copy. Compared to making a copy of a printed circuit board and ROM chip, it’s dead simple. The future should be making it easier to do things, not harder.

But if games have dependencies on network-based resources that the player does not control in order to function, this all changes. It seems likely that game companies will sell the client, but not the server. But when the company no longer sees value in maintaining the servers, and decides to take them down rather than sell them to someone who’d become a competitor, or release the source code so that the player community can host their own servers, that will be the end of that game.

The level of dependency may vary considerably, from simple license/subscription validation, to enabling multiplayer features, updates, and downloadable content, to online leaderboard and achievement data. From the gamer’s perspective, the possibilities are rich, but they all disappear when the servers go offline. Nothing can compel a company to release the server software as a product or as a freebie once they decide to end-of-life an obsolete title, but without the server side, the clients are potentially useless, and at the very least are diminished.

Furthermore, servers can be used to killswitch the client, or to force unwanted upgrades. What if you liked the 1.0 version of your favorite game, but hated what they did with 1.1? If you can’t roll back, if you can’t decline an upgrade, there’s not much you can do. Game companies that serve the player’s interests well should design their upgrade systems to allow the player to play the game in an earlier version mode if they desire. And server code should be made available (whether for free or as a product) once the parent company decides it’s time to shut things down, so that players can continue to have full access to the complete experience indefinitely, as long as there’s a community who wants it. Of course, security concerns will mean that any code running on a network node will need to be patched, so it would be best if the source code is available to enable patches to be made.

Obviously, many of those requirements for libre software are too much for most game companies in their current thinking. “Allow our obsolete products to continue to be sold so that we have to continue to compete with ourselves? Release our server source code, are they mad?” While it’s difficult to imagine many companies doing anything like this in today’s market, these are the sort of things that gamers need as consumers, and the culture needs from the vantage point of the historian. Some companies, notably Id Software, have opensourced their older game engines, so it’s not unthinkable that the same could also happen with server technologies, though there are certainly many obstacles, such as software patents, and the fact that many game design studios license third party engines.

Still, even if it’s a highly unlikely ideal, it’s important as a point of comparison, to know just how much you “own” the things that you “buy”, and a target for the consumer to strive to push the market toward. Consumers do have power when they act collectively. It is only for us to realize this, and seize the power that is within our grasp.

XBOX One: No thanks

Microsoft’s recent announcement of their next-generation console, the XBOX One, has raised a lot of ire in the gamer community.

The two major issues are “digital rights management” and privacy.


The Kinect is a motion sensing control interface that was introduced late in the life cycle of the XBox 360 product line, and has been generally accepted by users as a novel method of control by motion, similar in certain respects to the Nintendo Wii’s Wiimote. With XBox One, the Kinect interface is mandatory, and always on. The Kinect isn’t just a motion sensor. Unlike the Wiimote, it uses a camera and microphone to, essentially, bug your living room. This allows the XBox One to respond to voice commands, like the USS Enterprise‘s shipboard computer on Star Trek, and do other things that are pretty neat. But it also allows Microsoft to watch you live at all hours and in all states of undress, all day every day, like the two-way televisions of George Orwell’s 1984. It turns the home into a zone of no expectation of privacy.

Microsoft’s response to these concerns has been weak. They claim that you can control what the XBox is allowed to do, but can you really? It’s always on, always connected to the internet, and running Microsoft’s operating system — how hard is it for someone to gain unauthorized access to the XBox and use it to spy on you? How easy is it to imagine Microsoft rolling over for government requests to use this technology to monitor citizens suspected of “un-American” activities? How often in the past have we seen large technology companies like Yahoo! and Facebook decide to re-set user-configured preferences to defaults that they prefer, and quietly allow the savvy user who pays attention to re-opt out, again and again, until they wear down and accept the service provider’s preferences? It’s a virtual certainty that Microsoft’s click-through EULA and ToS will grant them the ability to do whatever they want with the information they gather through the device, and hold them not harmless and not liable for any damages caused or enabled by the device. And they’ll turn around and claim that they do nothing with the information that you do not authorize, as though you have control. In reality, the only control that you have at all is whether to buy the device or not.

We are already living in an age where the general public has more or less accepted a total erosion of the expectation of privacy. Is this a step too far? For anyone who thinks about it even for a moment, it would seem to be. Yet, almost no one seems to behave as though they think about it at all. We use the services of Google, Facebook, Twitter, and so on, sharing very personal information about ourselves, often in full public view, and certainly in full view of the service provider, their partners, and anyone who eventually buys them out. We willingly pay Verizon, AT&T, and others hundreds of dollars a year for the convenience of carrying tracking devices that monitor our locations, what we read, who we know, what we buy. We send emails un-encrypted, containing sensitive personal information that is easily intercepted and re-transmitted to anyone in the world. The NSA sucks all of it up into giant datacenters, and apart from a few headlines, barely any notice is paid. And for the most part, nothing happens, and we don’t seem to care.


In a nutshell, DRM, as implemented for XBox One, means that you do not own the game you thought you bought. You don’t even own the copy — the physical media you own, but all the physical media is a transport vessel. The data on the media is intellectual property, owned by the copyright holder, who controls how it can be used. You own the “license” to play the publisher’s intellectual property — under their terms, which they can change at any time, for as long as they continue to exist, or decide to continue allowing their intellectual property to be made available.

You do not retain the ability to transfer your “rights” to someone else, either as a gift, loan, or re-sale — unless the publisher decides to allow it, and then only through some approved process wholly controlled by them.

It is an extremely raw deal for the consumer, and something which no one should allow to stand.

Of course, ridiculous, draconian licensing terms are nothing new to commercial software. It’s been around for decades, from the earliest days of Microsoft and the personal computer. It’s just that, for most of this time, it hasn’t mattered to consumers, because there was no way to enforce many of the terms stipulated in EULAs, and circumvention was trivial.

It’s been all over the internet by now, with virtually every source that I’ve been able to find coming out against Microsoft’s policies. Here are just a few links:

  1. http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/main
  2. http://www.polygon.com/2013/6/7/4406170/xbox-one-internet-trade-policy
  3. http://www.nowgamer.com/features/1955108/xbox_one_its_for_publishers_not_for_you.html
  4. http://www.giantbomb.com/articles/major-publishers-silent-on-xbox-one-used-game-poli/1100-4659/
  5. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-22812743
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9APmJHu8DNs
  7. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1StPJgWkN-U
  8. http://techland.time.com/2013/06/07/microsofts-xbox-one-used-games-policies-are-clear-as-mud/
  9. https://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2013/06/07/microsofts-xbox-one-how-things-have-changed/
  10. http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=580169

Final Thoughts

All of this comes at a time when the game industry is struggling to figure out a business model that works. The internet, digital distribution, piracy, in-game purchase, free-to-play, freemium, lowered barriers to entry enabling indie developers and hobbyist developers, and other rapid changes have made it very difficult for many companies to remain profitable. This response by Microsoft is the most heavy-handed, top-down approach that we’ve seen so far, and cannot be the future of videogaming entertainment.

It is a future with no history — when the publishers DRM servers are shut off, an entire generation of gaming will be lost forever, never to be seen again. And so it must be a future with no future, as well. An informed consumer who understands the issues at play and what’s at stake, could only reject a product offered on these terms. It is up to gamers to educate the general public to stand firm against this.

There are alternatives. The upstart Ouya console is perhaps the best of them in the current generation.