Tag: microsoft

Windows Live Essentials Review – Sky’s the 25GB Limit!

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Did you know that a new version of Windows Live Essentials is on the way? Well it is, and the beta is already available for free download.

Live Essentials contains a load of programs, including Mail, Movie Maker, Family Safety and more. I don’t use these however 😉 and so I’m sorry! I will be reviewing Messenger, Outlook Connector, Sync and SkyDrive.

There’s lots to discuss here – the new version of Messenger for example is substantially different to your old version, but as you will see, it’s a lot better.

On with the review then, and let’s leave Messenger to the end. We’ll start with Outlook Connector, which is pretty simple. Have you noticed how these days all your social networks talk to each other, authorizing each other to see this and that data? Well Outlook Connector is a plugin for, strangely, Outlook. It allows you to add Facebook, Live Messenger, Linked In, and MySpace to your Outlook, and it will link up all your contacts or get you to do it.
What does this give you? Outlook gets a brand new ‘People Pane’ where you can see recent emails and social network info from your contacts. Simple but nice. I tend to be a little OCD so I like everything to be tidily linked.

Now onto Sync. For me, this is a dream. It’s a little app that runs on startup, and it allows you to associate each PC you use with your Live account. Live keeps track of any PC running Sync and can keep folders and program settings synced between the two. It’s remarkably fast, detecting changes instantly and updating the other PCs. It also stored these files optionally on the special 2GB ‘Synced Storage’ SkyDrive; this is not part of the 25GB I will discuss in a minute, it’s extra!
Sync also has one unobvious function. It has a brilliant remote control function, allowing you to finally, seamlessly control one PC from another in a secure way using your Live account. Once the particular PC is enabled for remote access Sync its done!

Finally Live Messenger. Well hold on guys. It’s now much bigger looking and more useful in this modern age. Facebook integration. Yes, Messenger now incorporates a social feed, taking your social feeds from Live and Facebook and combining them into a nice interface. Additionally, the chat now allows you to chat on Facebook Chat too. Useful.
The chat window has had an overhaul too. New drawings for emoticons, and the ability to share files stored on your SkyDrive such as photos are here.
Oh, and ‘block’ is now just called ‘appear invisible to’ lol

The title mentioned 25GB. So time for SkyDrive. You probably have heard of online cloud storage before. Meh, right? Well, reconsider. Hard drives in your PC don’t last forever. Any freak error, flood, fire, theft, crash and your precious memories, gone. And with Microsoft now giving every user 25GB of free storage, you have no excuse. It even links with their new Photo Album app.
I recommend using something like SDExplorer, which allows you to mount your storage as a drive on your PC, giving you traditional explorer functions. Be warned however that this app has horrendously slow transfer speeds.

Well, in summary:

Pros:

  • Finally a modern set of Windows apps
  • Facebook integration is nice in Outlook and Messenger
  • Sync tool is the best of the lot – sync all my uni and PC stuff, and also allow remote control
  • SkyDrive storage now has all my photos backed up and safe
  • Beta seems bug-free to me

Cons:

  • Messenger is much less minimalist (at least by default) and some may not like this change
  • Lacking in other social network integration in Outlook and Messenger (e.g. Twitter)

I am actually pretty impressed, visually it all fits nice with Windows 7  and the apps themselves (at least the ones I reviewed) are great.

N.B. – I can’t vouch for the other parts of the Essentials Pack!!!

Peace, out!

Matt

Limbo – The Edge of Hell?

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Electricity is not your friend, and signs can be a death hazard. Luckily, this sign is broken, much like the fractured world you pass through, with no explanation for how or why it is.
Those spikes in that pit don't look inviting
In 'Limbo' you play as a young boy in a desolate world, where you are but an insignificant silhouette, hunting for your sister.
Limbo is an Xbox Live Arcade game, developed by PlayDead. It is available for 1200 Microsoft points, and makes up part of their ‘Summer of Arcade’ campaign.

If you keep an ear out on the Xbox Live Arcade scene, you will probably have heard about ‘Limbo’ by now. I purchased the game and had the pleasure of playing through it this past weekend. Why don’t I tell you a little?

Please be aware that there might be some very minor spoilers in this article.

You awake in the dark world with very little aplomb, a quiet opening of two pale white eyes against a black backdrop which is your character. The world, too, is dark and foreboding, quiet, with an ill breeze. Hope you are ok with that, as there is not a speck of colour to be found (intentionally obviously). The world of Limbo is but a shade of gray, a fitting decal for the edge of hell. Oh, as is the gore.

Sailing through the world of Limbo
Sailing through the world of Limbo. Even the water is but a gray form, still and unmoving. The light shines on the boat as you reach the shore, to explore further.

The atmosphere this creates is remarkable. I recommend playing this game in a dark, quiet room, giving it the attention it deserves. It will really enhance the experience. There are chilling moments, with animal attacks to insects, pointy spike-traps and death falls, rising water and falling elevators. It will freak you out. As will all the sudden deaths in various, often violent ways.

So, let’s get down to business. Review, eh? Ok. Well I loved the game. It really suits my style of gaming, and if I had to compare it to a recent game, I would have to say it is like Braid, in a sense. The game is as much for its art than the game itself. However, it is very different in design and play than Braid.

Electrical signs can be a death hazard.
Electricity is not your friend. Luckily, this sign is broken, much like the fractured world you pass through, with no explanation for how or why it is.

I have a few minor gripes with the game. Firstly, I currently have 104% completion. Nitpicking I know, but why not just go up to 100%? It’s a blatant attempt to play to the hunter-gatherer instincts, specifically the gatherer part :P. I’ll add to this that whilst I’m happy in that the game doesn’t repeat its puzzle types, towards the end the puzzles become harder, yes, but in my opinion, a little less interesting. In the beginning, you have some clever puzzles including encounters with a terrifying creature of nightmare proportions. These later dry up a bit and become timing-based physics puzzles in a much more mechanical environment.

Often, this boils down to dying enough times to work out the sequence, the rhythm, the timing or a jump or fall. Luckily, frequent checkpoints avoid you tearing out your brain in frustration.

The second gripe is the length. The game is not too long – I would set an estimated time for about 5 hours. This flows nicely into my final gripe, the price. Microsoft / PlayDead have set a price of 1200 Microsoft points, which is fair, however it is above the odds a little bit – I think they might sell more if it were only 800 (and actually I believe it will fall to that price in a while).

I am nitpicking. The game is excellent for those who like this type of game, which I am. I thoroughly enjoyed playing, and even once complete, I played through a few more bits to collect the various, and for once challenging, achievements. I am tired of getting achievements for ‘doing the tutorial’ or just for ‘completing mission 3’. It’s nice to see a game be a bit more cryptic with its rewards, although of course the solutions are widely available online by this stage.

Pros:

  • Extremely atmospheric
  • Fair pricing
  • Artistic
  • Good musical score
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Violent
  • Interesting story concept
  • Inventive achievements

Cons:

  • Could have been cheaper
  • A little short
  • In places, the game is a little too trial-and-death-and-error

Overall, I’d give it a 8 out of 10, an excellent score but falling just below a 9 due to the length. A totally recommended buy, but if you are feeling the pinch a bit, I’d suggest maybe waiting a little as I believe that it will drop to 800 points in a few months.

Virus Alert – PDF Exploit

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Just a heads up that there is currently a nasty exploit on PDF files doing the rounds. It’s based on a vulnerability in Adobe PDF Reader / Acrobat 9.2 and lower, and can act through browser plugins.

The best protection is to avoid any untrusted PDF files. Most antivirus software does not detect affected PDFs as of yet. Failing that, DEP affords some protection – if it’s available to you its likely already turned on. Outlook users should be sure that Outlook isn’t set to automatically preview PDF files, this might trigger the exploit.

Peace out!

Christmas iTunes woes

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My brother got an iPod Touch for Christmas, and of course that means iTunes! He had previously not used iTunes, as he didn’t have an ipod and didn’t have a great music collection. So, as the older, techy brother, my job for Christmas morning is to set him up, ready to go…

Just one problem… iTunes was being a total whore. It seemed like it would do nothing but freeze, freeze, freeze. If opened from a desktop / start menu shortcut, it would load up but freeze as soon as you try to play a song, or download from the store. Read More