Category: Computer Software

A figurine-based video game emanates from Europe

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Hanakai Studio’s Prodigy uses NFC to marry the real with the digital | Polygon

Premier contact avec Prodigy, le jeu vidéo français à figurines qui voit grand | 01Net (France – French language / Langue Française)

From the horse’s mouth

Hanakai Studios

Video

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My Comments

France is advancing forward with a new video-game concept which utilises NFC technology.

The game which is called Prodigy is a role-playing game which integrates the traditional “Dungeons And Dragons” metaphors with the video and computer aspect using NFC-equipped figurines and cards. These are played on a special LED-equipped NFC-reader mat that is connected to a regular computer which runs the game.

But what do I see of this? I see this as a way where a studio outside the USA or Japan are innovating when it comes to computer gaming by offering a new concept and play methodology rather than modelling on what these “game hubs” have already been offering. Similarly, it is capitalising on the “Dungeons And Dragons” that is associated with most role-playing games

Like a lot of these projects, it will be funded by a crowdfunding campaign in the form of Kickstarter. I do see some great things coming from Europe with mobile casual games successes from Irelend (King.com  – Candy Crush Saga) and Finland (Rovio – Angry Birds franchise) and could see the powers that be in the European Union headquarters in Brussels promote European-produced games, especially from those countries where titles are just consumed in their domestic markets..

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Quality control to arrive for regular-computer gaming

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PC Gaming Alliance Launching Certification Program in March | Tom’s Hardware

From the horse’s mouth

PC Gaming Alliance

Program Page

My Comments

Sony VAIO Fit 15e on dining table

Quality is now part of the games experience on these computers

A major part of the personal computer’s history has been about integrating the playing of games on these computers and every personal-computer platform had ended up with many different game titles available in a retail context or, in some cases, available for download. This has been the basis for heroes like Leisure Suit Larry and Carmen Sandiego in the late 1980s and early 1990s let alone people practising flying and golfing or solving puzzles on these computers as a spare-time activity.

There are those of us who still like to game on with our regular computers, be they desktops, all-in-ones or laptops or that they run Windows, MacOS X or Linux. This is although mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, along with games consoles of the XBox One and PS4 variety are being viable alternatives to the regular computer. Similarly, newer tablet and touchscreen-equipped convertible computers have been showing up, working under Windows 8.1 which is still considered a “regular-computer” operating system. This has extended to the likes of the Sony VAIO Tap 20 and its ilk which have a strong gaming appeal.

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer

HP Envy X2 detachable-screen hybrid tablet-notebook computer – now to be a viable games machine

Of course, a significant amount of time on a regular computer is spent on various games whether they be conquering many worlds, setting up many empires, mimicking real life or engaging in car races or test flights. And I wouldn’t put it past flight attendants who work the long-haul flights to see these games being played on laptops through these flights.

But, unlike the games consoles and the mobile platforms where there is oversight through the companies behind these platforms, there hasn’t been a strong level of oversight when it comes to game quality. Some people have continued to raise issues about EA’s software quality especially in the light of the recent SimCity fiasco.

Sony VAIO Tap 20 adaptive all-in-one computer as a desktop

These “adaptive all-in-one” computers like the Sony VAIO Tap 20 are ending up as games machines

There have been a few quality-assurance programs out theire like the Microsoft “Games For Windows” program and Apple’s developer-assistance program for the Macintosh platform along with Valve’s Steam ecosystem. But the PC Gaming Alliance want to have a quality-assurance platform that is open and not bound to a particular developer in order to keep with the open nature of the regular-computing platforms.

One technical goal is to have a regular computer paint the graphics for a game to the 720p HD specification at 30 frames per second under load as a median requirement. This could allow the game to run on a modest processor like the Intel i5 processors which could typify a modest computer. Similarly, games titles that benefit from a console-style game controller as their user interface should benefit from these controllers and the games should take advantage of large-screen displays. The latter requirement would come in to its own with someone who wants to connect their laptop to a large-screen TV or projector to get the most out of their game.

Personally, I would like to see this apply across Windows, Macintosh and Linux builds of a game title so that no matter the platform, there is consistent software quality across the games. The companies representing these platforms could then be part of this alliance in order to encourage quality games development for their platforms.

Similarly, the games would have to be as though they are a part of the operating environment like what used to happen with Sierra’s and Broderbund’s output where these games worked smoothly with their host platform, exploiting what these platforms offered. It could also encompass network-game compatibility whether online or local-hosted and encompass multi-platform games where console players cam play alongside regular-computer or mobile-device players or play part of a game across different devices.

Could this be a chance for EA and others to lose their tarnished image when it comes to software quality for regular-computer gaming?

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Even small businesses can benefit from a standard operating environment

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Even small businesses can benefit from a standard operating environment

My Comments

HP Elitebook 2560p at Intercontinental at Relto, MelbourneWhat is a standard operating environment?

A standard operating environment is a set of hardware and software specifications required for computer systems operated in a business or other organisation. This can range from a particular hardware build for the regular computers, through a particular version of the computer’s operating systems to the mix of application software that runs on these computers including the version of these programs.

Small businesses who run a few computers may find the concept of a standard operating environment very foreign because their IT situation tends to work on an organic basis. This is typically where computers and peripherals are purchased one at a time on an “as-needed” basis.

Where is this often seen?

Large organisations who maintain many computers run the computers on a standard operating environment in order for make the task of deploying or supporting these computers easier for the organisation’s IT staff. Some of these organisations also place value on the standard operating environment as a way to assure system and organisational security along with employee productivity.

Similarly, IT contractors and value-added resellers who set up computing environments for small businesses such as POS systems for retail work on a standard operating environment when supplying these systems. This is more so if the systems are being offered on a “turnkey” basis.

Why is this advantageous

The advantages offered by a standard operating environment mean that it is easier to diagnose problems that crop up on these computers, train users on how to operate these computers and deploy any newer computers.

This is facilitated with practices like installing software on a new computer from a baseline disk image that you keep or specifying to an IT supplier the make-up of your machines that you are buying. The use of group policies and similar functions supported by the desktop operating systems can be used as a tool to lock down the standard operating environment.

There is also the ability to test new software on a few machines to “smoke out” any problems with the software or test-drive new hardware specifications before you call it as being part of your environment.

Can multiple standard operating environments exist?

You can create multiple standard operating environments for particular computer-usage functions.

One way this can be achieved is through a “modular” standard operating environment that has a baseline specification for hardware, operating system, Web browser, security, office-productivity and other software; along with a list of other software that matches the computer’s function such as accounting, video-editing or other software. This would work well if your computing equipment is based on the same platform such as Windows or Macintosh.

Another way would be to create a few standard-operating-environments which can pertain to particular hardware platforms such as creating a Windows environment, an Apple Macintosh environment and an Android tablet environment. These would appeal to organisations that work with different platforms based on their prowess.

What to avoid

Inability to roll out system-improvement patches and updates

A mistake that can be easily made with a standard operating environment is to “freeze” the software specification to the exact version you are running. This habit may preclude the deployment of critical updates, security patches and other incremental revisions  that are necessary to keep a system that runs smoothly and is secure in your business environment.

There was a situation where a video-surveillance system with cameras that ran older firmware that couldn’t work with anything newer than an older version of Windows server. This system’s server which was on its own network with the cameras had been compromised due to a weakness in the software.

To avoid this, make sure that when you call a standard operating environment, you use the major versions of the software as your defined versions. As well, assess the standard operating environment every few years so you can run newer software in to the equation.

Systems that shirk the established software interfaces and device classes

Another mistake that can occur is avoiding updates or upgrades that don’t touch established interfaces for hardware and software.

Currently, we are seeing class-wide interface specifications for particular hardware and software like the Mass-Storage Class, Audio Class and Human Interface Device classes for USB connections; A2DP/AVRCP Profile, Headset/Handsfree Profile and Human Interface Device Profiles for Bluetooth; along with SMB/CIFS, DLNA and WebDAV for network-based setups.  These have allowed the use of devices that do the job better with a standard operating environment because it is feasible to upgrade the devices to suit one’s needs without deploying new software that could break the setup.

This is also important as newer hardware that will supersede your existing hardware becomes part of the equation and you find existing hardware approaching the end if its useful life. Here, you may have to run software components to allow your legacy software to benefit from the industry standards or, as I have mentioned before,, factor in the industry standards when you revise the standard operating environment.

How to go about it

This could be applied by using “downgrade rights” for operating systems that are supplied with computers if your organisation runs an earlier version of that operating system. It can also include buying equipment from the same dealer such as a business-focused computer store rather than Harvey Norman or the like.

Also identifying a “mix” of hardware and software that is working together yet is able to take the latest updates and patches that assure security, stability and performance can be a useful method for determining a standard operating environment. For a small business, this could mean identifying a computer like a laptop that you can tolerate as a “testbed” computer and using that to take updates before organising mass updates.

Similarly you can use this machine to test-drive new software versions to see how they run and whether it is worth it to deploy them in to the standard operating environment. This, along with flexibility to use particular productivity-boosting tools avoids the creation of a standard operating environment that is reminiscent of that ordinary old Ford station wagon.

One way that I would prefer for establishing a standard operating environment is to call a baseline software specification for each computing platform you are using i.e. Windows, MacOS X, etc. This covers the operating system and the desktop productivity suite that you run with. As for the class of computer to use, you could call a baseline specification for the different hardware classes such as desktops, laptops, etc. For function-specific software, you can then call a mix of software that does the job to full effect and this may be assisted by an IT contractor which focuses on the business class you are representing.

Conclusion

The idea of a standard operationg environment can come in to its own when your business matures and you start to acquire a significant number of computers and could be a way to describe a business “growing up”. But there needs to be a proper way of going about it and allowing for software performance, security and stability updates.

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Why do I support DropBox and where do I see it be relevant?

Through this Website, I will cite and highlight Dropbox when I am talking about cloud-based file-share services and how they can be used.

One feature that I like about Dropbox is that it is not tied to a particular vendor like Microsoft or Apple. Here, you can benefit from the fact that you can share or exchange files with other users no matter their desktop or mobile computing platform. This includes the provision of first-party and third-party software that strengthens the link between the operating platforms and Dropbox.

This is extended to some NAS vendors providing software support for the Dropbox platform through desktop software or software that is part of the NAS’s operating system. Increasingly, Dropbox integration is becoming a function for many network-enabled multifunction printers where you could print from or scan to a Dropbox folder.  To the same extent, there are people who are building server-side software that integrates their server to the Dropbox platform, making it become an “on-ramp” or “shadow store” for Dropbox.

Like similar file-storage services, Dropbox is not a social network although it can work with Facebook and Twitter. For example, it can work as a file store for Facebook Groups as well as supporting single sign-on with these services.

There is a free entry-level allowance but you can buy more capacity or do things to increase capacity like inviting others to the Dropbox ecosystem so they integrate it with their regular computer. Some vendors like Samsung also provide free extra capacity to users who integrate it with their devices.

Dropbox has answered business’s needs by offering a business package that has secure encrypted storage, the ability to remotely unlink devices and other manageability expectations. This has even extended to having on one login a Dropbox personal account for personal data and a Dropbox For Business account for work data.

The main use I see for DropBox is to exchange a large number of files or large files like videos between two or more different people rather than serving simply as personal or business offsite storage.

For example, I would upload a large collection of photos or videos to a folder on Dropbox and share this folder with other people that I choose. Or it could be to pass a large document between two or more people as part of the revision process for that document. or want to work the one document across two different computers such as a desktop and an Ultrabook. Similarly, I may use Dropbox to create a reference library of documents such as reference manuals for business or for that shared property that you are responsible for.

What I see Dropbox as is simply a agile cross-platform invitation-only file exchange for individuals and small businesses.

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Want to check on what is being printed using Windows 8.1

Modern User Interface - Device Charm menu when print job is in progress

Modern User Interface – Device Charm menu when print job is in progress

Those of you who have moved to Windows 8 and 8.1 may have found it difficult to know what’s printing when you send out a print job to your printer. Here, you may be used to the “Devices And Printers” window since Windows Vista where you could click on the printer icon to check what print jobs are being printed at a given time.

Here this routine has been simplified in Windows 8 and is available in both the Desktop and the Modern UI views as a consolidated list. This is easier for those of you who have two or more printers like a laser printer that you run as a “printing press” alongside a baseline inkjet printer for ordinary document printing.

Modern User Interface (Metro User Interface)

  1. Bring forward Charms (hidden task-specific option buttons) on right side.
    Touchscreen users simply swipe from the top right-hand corner while mouse users move the pointer in to the top right-hand corner.
  2. Click or touch Devices.
    The “Check Printing Status” text lights up when a print job is pending or in progress
  3. Click “Check Printing Status” to view the jobs list
Right click on Printer icon in Desktop notification area to bring up these options when a print job is in progress

Right click on Printer icon in Desktop notification area to bring up these options when a print job is in progress

Traditional Desktop User Interface

  1. Right click Printer icon in Notifications area in Taskbar
  2. Click on Printer icon
  3. Click on Open All Active Printers for all jobs sent to all printers
  4. Click “name of printer” to show this printer
  5. Desktop UI users can also follow the Modern UI steps as another way to bring up the pending print jobs.

Microsoft could improve on this by having the Devices Charm change colour when a print job is in progress or change to a different colour when something needs attention.

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Official app for Facebook now on Windows 8.1

Facebook client for Windows 8Those of you who like using your Sony VAIO Tap 20, HP x2 Series, Sony VAIO Duo 11 or other Window 8 touch laptop to stalk on Facebook can now do so using a Facebook client that is written to be part of the operating system’s Modern user interface.

Here, you have a 3-pane dashboard with a presence list of the friends you interact with on the right-hand side, the News Feed in the centre of your screen and the grey “selection” menu on the left. The right hand top corner has a one-touch access point for status updates, pending friend requests and conversations that are taking place. There is the same ease in which you can browse what is available, including photos whether as a screen show or as a tiled arrangement.

I have even browsed through various photo albums in a “slide-show” view and the viewing experience comes across very smoothly. For example, when a photo initially appears, you see it looking soft and less detailed but it arrives with more detail coming through. There is the ability to zoom in on an image as well as flick through the slideshows.

Even mouse users, which covers most desktop users, are cared for because you can still use your rodent to scroll up and down using its thumbwheel. The thumbwheel works properly with scrolling the various columns for the News Feeds, the chat you are having, the presence list and the like independently – it depends on what you are actually hovering over. If you flip through photos in someone’s album, you can use the thumbwheel to “speed” through them. Using the SHIFT key with the thumbwheel allows you to detail in and out of the photos.

Its behaviour through a conversation is as expected but I would like to see a “typing” indicator so I can know if they are typing a reply at a particular moment.

This is certainly an application that appears to be mature from the start rather than one that is bug-ridden and failing too frequently. Give this a go on your Windows 8 laptop as something to work the Modern UI with.

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A rush to release software can leave gaping holes for bugs and exploits

Article

iOS 7.0.2 Is Here, And It Fixes The iPhone’s Major Security Hole | Gizmodo

My Comments

The recent release of the iOS 7 operating system, like with the iOS 6 operating system with its Apple Maps product, has shown something that is very real with the way computer software and hardware has been developed.

In the case of the iOS 7 operating system, there was a gap concerning the lockout system which required the user to key in a PIN number in to their iOS device but someone could bypass that requirement easily. Apple had released the iOS 7.0.2 update just lately to fix this bug that was missed through the development process for this operating system. This operating system and the devices it runs on are at an increased risk of this behaviour because Apple keeps the marketing hype high as possible for as long as possible because they see it as the consumer-facing mobile operating system for most people.

Similarly various functions in Windows 8 weren’t as polished as most of us would like them to be so we are expecting great things out of Windows 8.1 with some improved “polish” to these functions.

As well, the Apple Maps program which was to oust Google’s Maps from the iPhone and iPad was rushed and there have been issues where there has been misnavigation going on with this program.

This happens more so with anything that affects popular consumer-facing devices and programs. Here, the software developers are put under pressure by the vendor’s marketing team to get the operating system update, firmware or other programs released as soon as possible so that the product can be marketed and sold while the hype surrounding it is still alive. Then the vendor has to wait for the bug reports to come in, whether via their support channels or the technology press, so that these can be fixed and released as part of a point update.

I often deem a software version number of x.x.x, preferable with a middle number greater than 1, such as 8.1.1 or 7.1.2 as being a “mature” version of the software in question. This is because bugs including security exploits and performance weaknesses have been identified and rectified since the original release of the program.

As for iOS devices, I would recommend that those of you who are running iOS 6 to run iOS 7.0.2 or hold off upgrading until a higher version number, preferable a 7.1 number appears.

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Samsung’s Knox security platform available to consumers and small business

Article

Samsung opens up Knox security platform to all consumers

From the horse’s mouth

Samsung

Product Page

Lookout

Press Release

Product Page

My Comments

With the increased trend for BYOD and smartphone/tablet-based computing, there has been the call for mobile device management and mobile application management in order to achieve the goal of corporate data security.

Typically the solutions that are being offered out there are very costly and require an in-house information-technology team to manage them. This also includes the requirement to implement corporate messaging systems like Microsoft Exchange ActiveDirectory and use them as data hubs for these systems. This kind of situation may not appeal to personal users who value the security of their personal data. Nor does it work well for small organisations where one person is effectively the “chief cook and bottle-washer” for that organisation. You may be lucky to benefit from this technology if you deal with an IT value-added reseller that works with these systems and pitches them to these organisations.

But the security realities are still the same, especially with personal data or if your business hub is your briefcase, a corner of a room at home, a small office, or a small shop.

Here, Samsung has opened up the Knox security platform for their Galaxy-based Android mobile devices in a manner that makes the platform available to everyone by partnering with Lookout . It implements sandboxing so you can corral private data and have it treated more securely compared to other data. This includes allowing applications that you pre-approve to touch that data and limit what they can do to the data. For larger business setups, it could allow business data to be “wiped off” the smartphone when a user leaves the business without personal data being affected, but this context could be implemented when a smartphone is being retired from active service or you effectively “hand the keys over” to someone else as, per se, part of selling your business.

One question that may need to be asked is whether this solution may allow many data corrals so you as a small-business operator or professional have greater control over data such as intellectual property that pertains to different contracts or a person who has business work but also does volunteer work for a charity.

At least Samsung have taken the step to offer enterprise-desired security solutions to the “rest of us” rather than fencing it off for the “big end of town” and is something that could be encouraged for data security or similar application classes.

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Software that can make a large display image touch-enabled now on sale

Article

Microsoft’s ‘touch screen’ for any surface goes on sale | Microsoft – CNET News

You Can Turn Any Surface Into a Touchscreen With a $150 App | Gizmodo

From the horse’s mouth

Ubi Interactive

Home Page

My Comments

You have hit on to the Windows 8 “Modern UI” as a way to start programs and have tried it on a touch-enabled Ultrabook. Or you have seen a computer desktop user interface projected on that wall and, to help the person who is operating that user interface, you point to key items on that image as a guide.

If you do want that touch-enabled user interface on a large wall, you would expect to pay heaps for a special projector and camera combination or a large touch-enabled LCD fiatscreen monitor. But Ubi Interactive, who is different from the Ubisoft games studio,  have integrated Microsoft’s Kinect technology implemented in the XBox 360 with a special camera sensor to allow you to use any old display system such as that economy data projector or a common flatscreen TV to make a projected image touch-interactive. Here, you just need to also purchase the Kinect for Windows camera kit for your WIndows PC but it can work with your XBox’s Kinect camera but is not guaranteed to do so.

It honours the gesture-based touch practices like sweeping across the screen to pan or “pinching” to zoom in and out because the display combination is seen by Windows 8 as the same as a typical touchscreen display.

The software adds US$149 to the equation for a single interactive point on a 45” screen but you can option up to larger screen areas and increased points of interactivity for up to US$1499. I would personally like to see the cheaper versions allow two-finger interactivity in a similar vein to what is expected for a device’s touchscreen so you can “spin” or “pinch-to-zoom” on the display rather than just point.

But what I see of this is that a large touchscreen display can be built around hardware you can easily get your hands on at most computer or consumer-electronics stores just by adding the software. Then think of playing a strategy game like Civilization V on the living-room wall just by pointing out units to be moved or engaged.

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What about integrating NAS devices and cloud storage in desktop media-management software

There is a distinct reality that faces people who use regular computers as part of their personal or business media workflow. This is where they use the desktop media management software like iTunes, Windows Media Player, iPhoto or Windows Live Photo Gallery to curate the media collection that is on the hard disk but transfer it out to a network-attached storage device for safeguarding and continual avaiability. This could extend to us integrating content hosted on an online storage service like Dropbox or GMail.

This is being augmented by the trend with these devices effectively becoming the hub for our home media networks. But what happens is that we could do something like import photos from a digital camera or a smartphone; scan 35mm and Polaroid snapshots; rip content from optical disks or simply buy content from online services on a “download-to-own” basis, with all this content ending up on the hard disk. Typically the content is managed and curated on the regular-computer’s hard disk so as to provide fast and reliable data transfer through this process, before it is copied over the network.

But we have to make a routine out of synchronising the material that we prepare on our computers to the NAS and do this very frequently. Typically the task involves us synchronising the material using the file-system tools or third-party backup / file-sync tools. We then have to repeat this process if we update the metadata such as adding location and people tags to the pictures or simply reposition files to different folders.

Some of us may even adopt a storage strategy where we keep newer material on the computer while older material resides on the NAS. This may be done as a way to conserve the hard-disk space occupied by our media. Similarly, those of us who use laptops on the road may want the hard disks on these machines as a staging post for our media, whether to keep selected music or video content to have on the road or a temporary download point for our digital pictures like I did with the Acer Aspire S3 when I used it on my Sydney trip.

I would like to see an improved ability with media-management software to allow for integration of “off-system” resources as part of our media workflow rather than just a viewing location. This could be implemented with rules-based synchronisation that could work on a schedule, especially when we shut down the computer or put it to sleep. The file-modified test would be based on whether a file was new or had its metadata modified.

Similarly, it could be implemented through the positioning of a NAS or collection of NAS devices as primary storage locations while the local hard disk and online storage locations serve as secondary storage locations.

This may not just involve desktop media-management software but also involve working with file-synchronisation / data-backup software and data management software that is part of a network-attached-storage device or online storage service.

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