Thursday, September 11, 2008

DRM Kills Spore (for me)

Four days after it was released in my area, the much anticipated game Spore has, in my opinion, failed due to its draconian DRM.

I purchased a copy after returning from France (where it had been released already), how could I not - my ten year-old son had been counting down to this date for 126 days. And in all respects, sounds like a great game that interests my son as well as mine. Little did I realize the DRM issue that was flaming rapidly on numerous sites or how a bug in that system would limit my use of my legally purchased game.

Googling 'spore drm' will give you a large amount of hits. Focus on the ones simply in the last week. Interesting reading - the one star comments on Amazon itself are very good. Abet, its mostly about politics right not the game itself? Keep reading.

For those still not in the know, Spore requires activation online with a limit of 3 times.

My son and I installed the game on a 24" iMac, installed and started up effortlessly (the fact that it supported the Mac was a part of the excitement of this release). I had to use the serial number on startup and then create a EA account (not sure if this last part is mandatory or not). Then my son logged in and tried to start the game - asked for the serial number again then tried to connect to the license server - failed miserably. Another Google, seems we are not alone - seems to have hit Mac as well as Windows users of the game. Might be a bug, but who knows - the EA representative would only state 'we are looking into it'. Thank you very much, purchased the game and can't fucking play it!

So when you read the articles about how bad DRM is and specifically how negative the press is for Spore - consider what happens when there is a bug in that system, the game you purchased is useless, and you can only play the game for as long as EA has a license server for it (they retire online support regarily for what they call old titles). Will you re-install more than 3 times in the lifetime of the game? Any way you look at it, DRM is bad.

In all repects EA Games chose to implement a DRM strategy that hurts legitimate purchasers of their product. While those that are willing to break the rules (and the laws) have been able to download and play the game (except the online experience) since the first day it was released - without the restrictions I must endure. How is this fair?

I hope Will Wright, who in all respects designed a fantastic game is rethinking his relationship with EA. (what I am really hoping is that Will Wright is not the driving force behind their DRM decisions, and perhaps he considers legal action)

I'm not sure where this leaves me - a great game killed by the licensing limitations and politics of a large company (read: the ties). I do know that I won't be giving anyone the game for Christmas this year, nor will I be recommending the game to anyone. When someone asks if they should download the game rather than purchase it, how shall I answer?

You have to make your own decisions.

Friday, June 06, 2008

No Love for the HP2133 Mininote

Maybe I should have called this post, I Hate Closed Hardware instead.

When I attended Linuxfest NorthWest 2008 I stood before the HP booth and fondled the HP 2133 Mininote. A bit larger and heaver than the EeePC that was in my bag at the time (running Ubuntu Gutsy, thank you very much), but with more of everything (CPU, drive, resolution). It was perfect for my summer of traveling, I convinced myself.

So I ordered one.

In fact I ordered the KX870AT version - yes, the one with Microsoft Windows Vista pre-installed. Simply because I wanted better hardware than what was available for the SLED version - I had no intentions of using Vista on this device (beyond giving it a test).

It arrives, the box is so nice and light - opening it, I love the feel of the hardware, from the keyboard to the brushed metal case. I plug it in and turn it on - thus begins my 5 hour introduction to Vista on the Mininote. There must be some tie at HP, or perhaps a lawyer from MS, that forces this operating system on this hardware - because I can not imagine any technical person alive willing to live with the pain of watching this device crawl with Vista installed (public execution is too good for this person).

Part of my pain was trying to create recovery discs - there simply was no way to do it from the device. The instructions that came with the device, online at HP, were all stating the same thing - use an application that was not installed on the device. I must have fucked up right? A Google later, discovered I wasn't alone - far from it. No problem, I call HP Support. Now I have no beef with the people I talked too at HP Support - but the woman that I finally got wanted me to burn a windows backup and did not seem to understand my request for recovery discs instead. I got a little grumpy (those that know me are shocked right?) and told her just to ship the recovery discs and I'll pay for it - well she did ship them, no charge and I received 3 business days later (seemed she did understand the difference from a backup and a recovery disk after all).

Okay, scrub Vista off this device (spouting shit all the while about the guy who should be shot for making the decision to pair the two together) - lets get back into Linux. I had such high hopes.

I did a little research, seems you have to tweak Ubuntu Hardy to get it installed - no problem. Right? No joy, no graphics acceleration or it craps out something else - have to hack to get the earphone to work and for the life of me I can't figure out why network manager can see the wireless networks but can't connect.

Okay, I'm moaning in pain at this point.

So I don't want SLED, why not see if OpenSuse 10.3 will do just as well - ha, fat chance. Maybe version 11 that comes out in 12 days (from now) - you would think they would incorporate the drivers and configuration right? Geez, I hope so. I will try it again later - after the pain ebbs away.

What the hell is the devices' problem anyways? I blame the closed source, the VIA Chrome 9 (yes they just released open drivers - maybe I have early adapter syndrome) and the Broadcom wireless (someone firebomb their offices for me please).

Anyways, I'm a little bitter about the whole thing - I lost a weekend to this device and its still not to a base level that I'm happy with. I placed it on my shelf and there it sits - having to remind myself that this is what happens when you buy out of lust rather than love.

My recommendation is to stay away from this device, all models - but if you really love the outer shell like I did, to wait to see if the distros better support it or HP makes better decisions on hardware. I've my EeePC, as claustrophobic as the screen and keyboard feel - I'll use it over the Mininote any day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Considering Joomla

Need to retool our corporate website - and a contractor recommended Joomla as a solution. Joomla is an Open Source Content Management System (CMS) written in PHP and will run on a variety of environments.

My first impression is that Joomla is very nice - slick - I play around on the demo site. So I, naturally, want to give it a try on my own box and am surprised that such a large project does not have a package in Ubuntu or Debian. Five minutes in and already a red-flag. Looking a little deeper, I see the reason for no Debian package is that there is an issue with the Joomla license not being 'free' ("perhaps they should stop calling themselves Open Source then?") - and unresolveable since 02 Sep 2005 (I never tried the home grown package here). Bigger red flag at this point. I go to the Joomla site directly and install from source - within 10 minutes I'm up and configuring my site. Nice. My biggest issue with the install is that the 1.5 tar.bz2 package did not create a top level subfolder, but extracted to my current folder - what the hell, I haven't seen that in years... (I started to think the Joomla developers, or maintainers, are MS Windows users... reinforced later, throughout my review of the tool).

Through my usage of Joomla it quickly became apparent that the use of the tool would greatly enhance the visual aspect of our corporate site while also changing how we use our site (which may be a good thing). This is a CMS after all. Yet I didn't want our site to look 'like a Joomla site' - if you get my meaning. We use version control heavily as well as relying on our development process - use of Joomla would break both of these from my initial perspective. We also have a requirement that we scale our site horizontally - and I am unsure if Joomla would support this fully.

It really comes down to using the tool as a CMS - which is more an aspect of how our corporation wants to work rather than a consideration of Joomla or not. If we are and we can live with the reduction of process and the comfort of version control - then it looks like a fine tool.

I recommend that our contractor not deliver to us a 'Joomla solution' but an open standard XHTML, CSS with visual prototypes and optional wireframes. In this way, it won't matter if we choose Joomla or another solution - but get the design aspects that we are paying for.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dell ships to CA

Some time ago I voted on Dell's Idea Storm website. Bring us Linux on the consumer products, give me Ubuntu I voted! Dell listened (thank you!) and started to do limited releases out, what feels like, the back door of their site - but only to the United States but there were promises to (eventually) come to Canada.

Let me get one thing straight - I am not a patient guy.

I tried to order a laptop in the states, ship it to a guy I knew who could use it for a month or two before sending it north - but that fell through. I looked at mail drops south of the border that I could drive south to pick up, just never got around to it.

Then Dell started to ship to Canada. Glory glory.

But, by that time I was pissed at them (and I still have a bad taste in my mouth from my past Dell support incidents), so I sat on it for a while. But like most toys, my head turned and I went back onto and purchased a lower range laptop (maxed out on options of course).

I purchased the Dell Inspiron 1420n. (in red if you must know)

My first impression upon opening the box was how sparse the parts and documentation was. No problem. The unit is a nice 14.1 inch glossy display doing 1440x900, wanted open sourced drivers so left the Intel x3100 video card, 4GB RAM, 160GB 7200RPM SATA drive, Intel Core 2 Duo T5450 1.66GHz CPU. A little lower on the specs that I normally use (mostly on a MacBook Pro now) but since this wasn't intended to by my main system, it should suffice. I think the lower CPU will hurt the most - especially if I start compiling stuff (I tend to play with Gentoo a bit).

Boots fine, resolution is correct, Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon pre-installed, sound works, suspect, wireless. Good. I see that there is an ISO on the machine with a link on my desktop, okay I burn (two) a DL DVD with the image. The two documents that came in the box were of little help - Product Information Guide was less than helpful and the Owners Manual that was written for Windows XP users. Nothing telling me how to restore, that I should burn the ISO - nothing. 3D acceleration is not turned on - something about Compiz Fusion not supporting the chipset (but there is an easy fix, see below).

Since all was working and because I can't just use a distribution if a new version is available - I do a network upgrade of the operating system to Ubuntu Hardy Heron. Sound and the modem breaks - but luckily I found (though the Ubuntu Forums) an online Dell support wiki (definitely bookmark this page). Site also includes links to drivers and the reinstall ISO images. The upgrade fixed the 3D acceleration problem.

I've only had the laptop for a day, so I can not give you a detailed review of using it - but it feels like a good piece of kit, sturdier than my prior Dell laptops one that I expect to get full use of in the coming months.

Linuxfest Northwest 2008!

I do not attend many Linux conferences but have known about the event just south of the border for me, called Linuxfest Northwest. At this time of year (as well as the fall), work is especially challenging as I have to put on the tie as well as act the part in numerous corporate events. It was nice to steal away for a weekend to attend this affair.

Last year I attended Ubuntu Live. It was fun, it was educational and it was definitely different than Linuxfest Northwest. Ubuntu Live was definitely more corporate, with some big name speakers. I got less out of the sessions than the keynotes, which were a wide range of topics but in general very high level (if you get my meaning). This weekend at Linuxfest Northwest it definitely felt different - more grassroots, friendlier even.

The event is free, no charge for attending, no charge for the sessions. There are numerous topic sessions to choose for. Lots of different types of people in attendance, from kids (I know, I know, I'm sounding... and getting!... old), to older couples to just us normal geeks. There were numerous vendors of all types, from Oracle to local LUGs and hardware manufacturers. This was about Linux, about the community that we speak about so much and about having fun.

I enjoyed myself immensely and plan on attending again next year. If in the neighbourhood, I'd recommend you do the same!