Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hardware and Software--The Lines Are Blurring

I am a regular reader of Walt Mossberg's column over at The Wall Street Journal. His take on new technology, and new devices might seem biased at first, but his views are very close to those of the lay customer, not a technically adept one. It is this ability of his to continue having his ear to the ground that has fueled my admiration, and respect for his analysis.

This new post by him triggered memories of a conversation with a friend a few years ago. Her assertion was that Web Services would dictate who won and lost in the technology business. What neither of us could have predicted at that point was the important part that Hardware would play in the success of software services. Apple's iTunes service in isolation is pedestrian. It is the seamless integration of the service with the iTunes client and the iPod player that make it unique, and exemplary. this three-pronged attack of the iPod has decimated the rest of the competition to date. The competition is catching on though:
Microsoft has essentially set up a small Apple, called the Entertainment & Devices Division, run by savvy, strategic company veteran Robbie Bach, who was running Excel when I first met him many years ago. The division not only designs both the hardware and core software for the Xbox game consoles and Zune music players, but also operates online marketplaces and communities for both. And the company is considering other such end-to-end products, which would include Microsoft-designed hardware.

Sony, meanwhile, also taking lessons from both Apple and its own PlayStation game console business, has set up a software development group in California, run by a former Apple executive. Its mission is to develop distinctive Sony software that can run on most of the company’s products. And Sony is also trying to compete online, to match Microsoft’s great success with Xbox Live and Apple’s iTunes.
The question that comes to mind is a year from today, which service provider will be consider the trend setter, which one would be the laggard, and which one would be the upstart...

Monday, May 28, 2007

Another Chapter Ends...

I move to my new address today. After having packed all weekend, I can safely say that I am mentally exhausted. The ordeal has just started - I am going to pick up the U-Haul in an hour, and my friends will be here within a few hours to help me move the big boxes, TV, couch and mattress. All the other stuff can be moved over the next couple days since my lease isn't up till the 31st.

There have been many changes in me since I moved into this apartment, many crazy events since September 2003; the most eventful has to be the time when I thought I lost my passport. Among other things, I cultivated a love for Art, started biking to work, serial dated and then took myself off the market for TOO long, sighed when I first noticed black turn gray, got myself a DVR, fell in and out of love more than once, and hosted two crazy parties. Am I emotional about moving out, hells yeah. Is it time to move out, double hells yeah!

Now, the moment to drive out and pick up my U-Haul has arrived. Here is to 17751, and all the memories I have of this place. Adios...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

DVD upscaling to 1080p coming to PLAYSTATION3

If I had an HDMI TV, I'd go out and buy a PS3 today. This feature is now the Ace Up Sony's sleeve; it is up to Microsoft to come up with a counter punch to the upscaling feature. The truth is, I don't have an HDMI TV, and I don't have $600 to spare...

As I think about this some more, I can't take my mind off the Nintendo Wii. The Wii's sales lead me to believe that people don't want High Definition graphics, or the ability to watch DVDs on their console. They have dedicated DVD players, and would much rather opt for an immersive (and easy) gaming experience. Given that I am not a hard-core gamer, would I buy a PS3 or XBox 360? Yes I would, if I didn't have to part with upwards of $500 (the XBox 360 Basic console is for dunce hats). So for now, I'd be hard pressed to strike the Wii off my list.

Procrastinator No More!

Because I read this:
Procrastination is like masturbation; in the end you're just screwing yourself.
'Nuff is eNuff!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Jordin Sparks? Blake Lewis?

After tonight's performances, there is no question in my mind about who should be the next American Idol, neither should there be one in the minds of the show's other viewers. Jordin Sparks is BOMB! I have rooted for her since I first started watching this show, and have voted for her over the last four weeks. This comment from Simon leaves little else to be said:
"Jordin, you *just* wiped the floor with Blake on that song."
In my opinion though, the singer with most range was Melinda Dolittle, who was booted off the show last week. That's a moot point though, so back to the current contestants. If Blake wins, it will establish the fact that American Idol is a popularity contest more than a singing competition, regardless of what Randy might want you to believe. Truth is, life is a popularity contest. So let it be with Caesar Idol.

This post reminds me of a similar conversation we had last night prior to watching the 24 Season finale. Rajit quashed our Google vs Live discussion with with the following cogent point:
"... it is not the better product that wins, it is the better marketed, and therefore more popular one, that is the eventual winner."
Who is the more popular one of the two in your opinion?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

No More Portable Media Center Devices

If you have been reading this space, I work on the Zune team. The user interface of the Zune 1.0 release was based on the Portable Media Center (PMC) codebase. PMC was conceptualized in order to take the Media Center PC experience to hand-held devices, and to create an eco-system of Media Center devices, and establish Microsoft's presence in the living room.

To quote the article:

When Microsoft announced its line of Portable Media Center devices back in 2004, it did so amid speculation that the company was preparing one or more iPod killers. In theory, the combination of Windows XP MCE and a PMC device would create (or at least approximate) the sort of digital hub that Apple and other computer manufacturers have talked about creating for any number of years.
This idea has run its course, and since the vision document was first drafted, the PMC platform hasn't produced a single winner. To add insult to injury, PMC based devices have been consistently panned by industry watchers, and their tepid reviews have finally rung the death knell for the platform.

According to a post made by David Bono on the microsoft.public.windows.mediacenter.portable newsgroup:
Microsoft is no longer licensing the PMC software... As part of the ongoing review of our product investments, we have decided to take what we have learned from our investments in Portable Media Center and focus our product and marketing resources on building media experiences on connected Windows Mobile powered devices.
Here is my analysis of this announcement:

1. With the impending release of the iPhone, it isn't a stretch to realise that Microsoft is feeling the heat to release a device on par with the iPhone. There was a time when Microsoft wasn't renowned for its prowess in Industrial Design; with the exception of the great keyboards, mice and the Digital Sound System, Microsoft had no appealing customer releases. The XBox 360 has turned this tide; the success of the console has given us the expertise, experience, chutzpah even, to make the right and dare I say bold, Industrial Design decisions to woo customers. I am going to go on a limb and say that it isn't imperative that a Windows Mobile powered phone makes an appearance from the Microsoft stables in the immediate future. That would be a fool-hardy move. The first step would be to create a compelling software platform that trumps the iPhone's software stack.

2. As a Zune employee, this announcement rings in a happy note for me. There is now a distinct possibility for the Zune platform to emerge as the de facto consumer media device platform at Microsoft, like the XBox is for Gaming. Consumer devices is a nascent area of development at Microsoft. Being on the team that has the potential to become a standard within THE company known for creating multiple solutions for the same problem is both heartening and invigorating.

To the future...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bubba Sparx, Jordin Sparks

II had put my money on Jordin Sparks making it through to the finals of American Idol. It sucks to be right, doesn't it? :) To all other Jordin fans out there, get ready to call. To all the people who work in call centres with access to multiple phone lines, get ready to call next week. I didn't think I'd ever do it, but I called the Idol hotline yesterday. Ya judge me all you want...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A weekend of no work

Small accomplishments, yes, that is what this blog chronicles. First the demo on Friday, and then a weekend of no working - a first since I joined the Zune org. How did I celebrate the weekend? Went to the most useless KUBE 93 Car show in Ghetto Tac and spent the rest of the evening hanging with Jyot and Mausaji. Watched a 24 Season 4 re-run on CW and passed out.

Interesting observation - I have generally been more tired these days than I used to be earlier. I don't know what to attribute this exhaustion to, but it has affected my workouts, and my general ability to get around. Maybe I am infected with the obesity epidemic; repeat after me - OBESITYYYY...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

My 1st Demo

For the first time in my Microsoft career, I picked up a mic and addressed a gathering of about a 100 people. Though the demo lasted only a couple of minutes, but it was plain exhilarating to talk about my work in front an audience that agreed with me, commiserated with me when things seemed to go awry, and clapped when I was done. I was given 12 hour notice that I was to present my feature. I spent six of those hour sleeping, and the rest of the time preparing my demo device and a backup, writing up the text of what I was going to say, and practicing till I had it down pat.

Twenty minutes before the presentations were to start, I recited my spiel to an audience of two who recommended some changes, which totally threw a spanner in my works. Not to worry I told myself; Billg's opening speech, which would last at least 1/2 an hour would buy me enough time to rehearse the abridged spiel. Bill spoke for like 45 minutes, me being the last one whose question he answered, and I finally spoke about my feature at 12:30, an hour and a half after the proceedings had begun. The coolest one minute of my Microsoft life; and by the way, my demo worked flawlessly...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Constructors, Destructors and Virtual Functions in C++

Can I call a virtual function in a C++ constructor or destructor? The answer is - that's bad JUJU. In C++, if you call a virtual function from a constructor or destructor, the compiler calls the instance of the virtual function defined for the class being constructed (Base::Foo if called from Base::Base), not the most derived instance. This is because the vtable is not fully initialized until the most derived constructor executes i.e., the derived class is not created yet. Similarly, when you call a virtual function from a destructor, the C++ runtime calls the base class function because the derived class has already been destroyed.