Category Archives: Technology

The modern day console wars – Xbox

I recently upgraded my games console from the Xbox 360 S to the Xbox One S, upon looking for technical information on the S model before i purchased it, i came across the following article which i though was worth sharing.

Microsoft’s Xbox group is in a weird place.  It has sold an estimated 30 to 50 million Xbox One consoles, putting Microsoft in a distant second place in the console race behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 with more than 75 million.

And Nintendo’s Switch console? It’s a runaway success.

Nintendo”Super Mario Odyssey” is available only on the Nintendo Switch. Over 9.7 million copies were sold between its launch in October and the end of 2017.
In just over a year, Nintendo sold more than 17 million Switch consoles; it’s the fastest-selling console in US history. Nintendo attributes this success primarily to one thing: a lot of really good games you can play only on the Switch.

The Xbox One, by comparison, isn’t doing so great – though on paper it’s competitive with or outright better than the competition from Sony and Nintendo.

Starting at £230, the Xbox One is cheap and jammed with great games to boot. Even the lowest-end model of the Xbox One supports HDR, a high-end video technology that makes games look better on TVs that support it.

It does everything a set-top box like the Apple TV does, like let you watch Netflix. And it plays blockbuster games.

The PlayStation 4 has many of the same games, like the latest “Call of Duty,” and a bunch of great exclusive games, including the critically acclaimed “God of War.”

Though the Nintendo Switch doesn’t have third-party blockbusters like “Call of Duty,” it has a big edge in terms of exclusives – there’s no other way to play the latest “Super Mario” games. That’s a pretty big advantage.

And if you already own a PlayStation 4 or PC? There simply aren’t many major Xbox exclusive games that make the Xbox One worth owning. And this year’s big Xbox One game, “Crackdown 3,” just got delayed to February 2019.

crackdown 3Microsoft”Crackdown 3″ has been shown off by Microsoft for several years, but has yet to launch.
So what’s Microsoft going to do? That’s the big question.

Here are some ways it could go:

1. Microsoft could buy a game publisher or development studio, which was rumored earlier this year.
The latest rumors suggest Microsoft is considering an acquisition of some sort- a game-development studio or publisher that could bolster Microsoft’s stable of intellectual properties.

The companies most recently rumored as acquisition targets are:

1EA, the maker of “Madden NFL” and “FIFA,” among many others. Valve, the operator of Steam and the maker of “DOTA 2,” “Half-Life,” and much more. PUBG Corp., the South Korean subsidiary of Bluehole Studio that makes/manages the very popular “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.”
But does that make any sense?

Michael Pachter, a senior analyst at Wedbush, told Business Insider earlier this year that there was “close to zero probability of buying EA.”

There’s a good reason for that, and it’s the same reason that Microsoft’s unlikely to buy most any of the other major game publishers, like Ubisoft, Activision, Take-Two Interactive, or Bethesda Softworks.

EA, like many other major game publishers, has a business dependent on making games for every platform, including Sony’s and Nintendo’s. If Microsoft were to buy one of these publishers, it would be to keep that publisher’s games for the Xbox platform.

That makes any such acquisition a poor business choice. Not only would the publisher cost Microsoft a ton of money up front to buy, but it would be difficult to make money back on the investment when it’s suddenly limited to developing for only Xbox.

“That would lower EA revenues – by a lot, unlikely to be made up by growth on Xbox – and would make a purchase prohibitively expensive,” Pachter said.

Though EA has a large library of intellectual property, losing the revenue of selling that intellectual property on competing platforms would hurt too much. This same scenario applies directly to the other big publishers, from Activision (“Call of Duty”) to Ubisoft (“Assassin’s Creed”).

2. Microsoft could lean in to its PC business and walk away from consoles altogether.
There’s a major initiative called Xbox Play Anywhere at Microsoft’s Xbox division that’s years deep now.

The concept is simple: Any game published by Microsoft will come to the Xbox One and Windows 10. You buy it once and get it both places. If you save a game in one place, you can pick up the game where you left off on the other device. It’s pretty sweet!

And it may very well be the future of the Xbox business.

“The next platform might end up being the PC,” Pachter said. “The Xbox Anywhere initiative seems to acknowledge that a Windows 10 PC works fine as a game console.”

That doesn’t mean saying goodbye to Xbox as a platform. It could live on in software form – for instance, as a user-friendly interface on your TV. Maybe Xbox as we know it becomes a component of another device, like an Apple TV or a Roku.

In the short term, Microsoft is unlikely to abandon the Xbox console. But you can perhaps expect Microsoft to shift its focus toward the PC.

“There probably will be a next generation,” Pachter said, “but it is likely to be smaller.”

3. Microsoft buys Valve, thus acquiring Steam (and much more).
Steam, Valve’s computer-based storefront and platform for gaming, is huge; somewhere in the ballpark of 200 million people use it every month.

If Microsoft’s looking to the future of Xbox as a computer-based platform that works anywhere, instead of only on a dedicated piece of hardware created by Microsoft, buying Valve would be a way to bolster that initiative.

Not only does Valve have Steam, which brings a huge chunk of new users andhas a lucrative storefront, but it also owns a bunch of classic gaming intellectual property. The “Half-Life” franchise, for instance, could finally see its long-promised third installment as a big Xbox exclusive.

But Valve is a private company, and there’s no way to know how much it’s worth. Valve takes a 30% cut, on average, of Steam sales, and Steam is the most widely used game store on Earth. Pachter estimated Valve did “around $2 billion in Steam sales” in 2017.

All of this is to say that Valve could be outrageously expensive to buy, and it’s entirely possible it’s not up for sale.

4. Microsoft comes out with a new Xbox in an attempt to start a new “generation” before Sony.
Microsoft just released the extremely powerful $500 Xbox One X in late 2017, so I’d call this one the least likely possibility.

That said, Microsoft could very well surprise everyone with an early launch of the successor to the Xbox One.

The Xbox One is coming up on five years since its launch, making that an early sunsetting – game console “generations” tend to last five to 10 years. It would be an especially surprising move, given the relatively recent launch of a significantly updated Xbox One console in the Xbox One X and what it means for the Xbox platform.

In so many words, the Xbox One X offers a major update to the hardware while retaining compatibility with existing Xbox One games, which look and run better on the Xbox One X but must be playable on the original Xbox One from 2013.

Think of it like smartphones: You expect your old apps to work on your new phone. Microsoft could be moving toward this approach, where the Xbox One is “The Xbox” and new consoles are upgrades. Your game library moves forward with you, and that’s that.

It fits in well with the Play Anywhere initiative, but it might be difficult to pull off from a technical perspective. At some point, new games will require newer hardware, which could leave owners of older consoles out in the cold.

5. The Xbox becomes a streaming game platform.
Forget about downloading games. Maybe Xbox’s future is being the Netflix of gaming.

Microsoft has been working on a streaming service for gaming “that doesn’t require a console,” Bloomberg described Phil Spencer, an executive vice president, as saying in November 2017.

There’s already a service called Xbox Game Pass that offers a Netflix-like instant library of games on Xbox One, but games must be downloaded individually (not streamed instantly, like Netflix).

The new streaming service is expected to launch some point in the next three years, and it’s entirely possible it won’t require a dedicated piece of hardware made by Microsoft – like, say, an Xbox One – to play games.

Would such a service offer access to a library of games, or would games be sold a la carte? It’s unclear.

None of the few existing services like this – such as PlayStation Now from Sony – have been very successful. PlayStation Now, for instance, has a library mostly of old games. Moreover, streaming services introduce technical problems, like network latency, that can turn gaming into a mess.

These hurdles could no doubt be overcome. But it’s an uphill battle.

Original article Ben Gilbert https://amp.businessinsider.com/what-is-the-future-of-the-xbox-one-2018-2

BBC Computer Literacy Project available on iPlayer

Original article by Rob Thubron on https://www.techspot.com/news/75281-bbc-makes-computer-literacy-project-archives-available-public.html

In context: For many people in the 1980s, everything they thought they knew about I.T. came from War Games. In the UK, the BBC tried to change this with the ‘Computer Literacy Project,’ which included a series of TV programs that “inspired a generation of coders,” and led to the commissioning of its own computer, the Micro. Now, it is opening up the project’s archives to the public.
The project ran from 1980 to 1989, with the TV shows introducing much of the UK to the world of computers. Some famous guests included Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak, and there was plenty of coverage of machines such as the Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum.

But the most significant element of the Computer Literacy Project was its introduction of the 8-bit BBC Micro. Part of the UK government’s plans to place microcomputers in schools, Cambridge-based Acorn created the BBC-branded machine, which was released in 1981 and sold until 1994. It featured a 2MHz CPU and 16 – 32 KB of memory. Demand for the Micro was so great that the accompanying 10-part TV series was delayed for a month.

Steve Furber, who led the design of the BBC Micro and the first Arm chip, said: “The BBC Micro not only gave folk access to a computer, but it also gave them easy access to its inner workings, something that has been lost with most of today’s very sophisticated technology.”

The BBC Micro ended up in an estimated 60 percent of UK primary schools and 85 percent of secondary schools and was still being used up until the early 1990s.

Those interested in a piece of tech history can check out any of the 267 shows, the BBC Micro’s 166 pieces of original software, and over 2,509 clips for free right here. It will be available for the next three months, after which time the BBC will decide whether to turn it into a permanent feature.
https://computer-literacy-project.pilots.bbcconnectedstudio.co.uk/

ANDROID WARNING: Smartphone owners put on alert about terrifying FRANKENSTEIN virus

ANDROID smartphone fans are being put on alert about a terrifying ‘Frankenstein’ virus that cybercriminals are looking to spread.

Android users are being warned about a new ‘Frankenstein’ virus that combines the worst features of different malware to form a dangerous threat.

Dubbed MysteryBot, the malware blends features of ransomware, keyloggers and banking trojans to create a virus that can attack on many fronts.

Security researchers from ThreatFabric discovered the malware, and said it appears to be related to the well-known LokiBot Android banking trojan.

Speaking to Bleeping Computer, a ThreatFabric spokesperson said: “Based on our analysis of the code of both Trojans, we believe that there is indeed a link between the creator(s) of LokiBot and MysteryBot.

“This is justified by the fact that MysteryBot is clearly based on the LokiBot bot code.”

MysteryBot is capable of taking control of infected devices, with the ability to read messages, gather contact information and steal sensitive e-mails.

While Android malware tends to attack older versions of the Google mobile OS, MysteryBot can target recent pieces of software like Android 7 and Oreo.

It uses an overlay screen to display fake login pages on top of legitimate apps for the Google mobile OS, so cybercriminals can steal sensitive user credentials.

MysteryBot also has a unique keylogger feature.

Other malware takes screenshots the moment a user presses a key on the touch-based keyboard to figure out what the user is typing.

Whereas MysteryBot records the location of a touch gesture instead.

It then tries to guess what the user has pressed based on points users touched the screen and the positioning of the virtual keyboard.

MysteryBot also has a ransomware module which means it can encrypt files and then store them in a password protected ZIP archive.

Once encryption is complete a message pops up accusing the victim of having watched adult content.

It then demands that an e-mail address is entered so that a password can be sent out.

A victim will then presumably be asked for payment in exchange for the data to allegedly behanded back.

ThreatFabric researchers wrote: “The enhanced overlay attacks also running on the latest Android versions combined with advanced keylogging and the potential under-development features will allow MysteryBot to harvest a broad set of personal identifiable information in order to perform fraud.”

MysteryBot currently isn’t widespread and is still in development.

But Android users should be wary of any apps they download which ask for a lot of permissions.

ThreatFabric said the current versions of MysteryBot they have spotted have been designed as a Flash Player app for Android.

A ThreatFabric spokesperson said: “In general, the consumer must be aware that all of the so called ‘Flash Player (update) apps’ that can be found in and outside the various app stores are malware.

“Many web sites still require visitors to have support for Flash (which has not been available on Android for many years) causing Android users to try and find an app that will let them use that web site.

“In the end they will just end up installing malware.”

The news comes after Express.co.uk recently reported on popular Android apps that were found to collect users’ sensitive data.

Android smartphone fans were put on alert about apps found on the Google Play Store that can collect sensitive data from millions of users.

The data collection shock was discovered by Andrey Meshkov, co-founder of Adguard, who described it as a “huge spyware campaign”.

According to Meshkov’s findings, the data collection campaign affects Android apps as well as extensions for the market leading Google Chrome internet browser.

The security expert said once a victim is logged into their Facebook account the Chrome extensions scrape data immediately after the browser starts up.

In a blog post, Meshkov said all Facebook data is scraped and it even tries to go through a victim’s purchase history.

Other data that is targeted includes posts, sponsored posts, tweets, YouTube videos and adverts a victim has seen and interacted with.

This data is then collected and sent to a third-party firm called Unimania who it is claimed then sells the data to other parties for revenue.

Adguard said a number of Android apps on the Google Play Store have been found to operate in the same way as the offending Chrome extensions.

The ad blocker in their research pinpointed two Android apps with millions of installs.

One of these is an alternative Facebook client called Fast which has been downloaded more than 10 million times.

The other app is Fast Lite, run by the same developers, which the Google Play Store says has over one million installs.

Both apps mention Unimania in the privacy policy.

These apps, in the aftermath of Meshkov’s findings being published, have been removed from the Google Play Store.

Original article by DION DASSANAYAKE https://www.express.co.uk/life-style/science-technology/974906/Android-warning-malware-virus-alert-keylogger-banking-trojan-ransomware

Free up space after Windows creators updates.

Microsoft recently released the latest major update for Windows 10 but you may not know that Windows keeps a copy of the old operating system after it does feature updates, mainly to make it easier to roll back the update if issues are encountered, but that it means that the old installation of Windows takes up numerous Gigabytes of space on your HDD that can slow the system down.

It is recommended to remove the old installation files only if you are confident that you don’t need to roll back to the previous version. If you are in doubt, create a backup of the main Windows partition so that you may restore it should the need arise to roll back the Windows version.

Whenever you update your system, Windows will automatically cache all its Windows update install files. Though this may seem strange, this does help if ever you are needed to roll back the Windows updates. Using the cache, Windows does the updates without needing to download them again. downside is that the Windows update folder can grow in size and take up GBs of hard drive space. If space is limited, clearing the Windows update cache can help you regain that lost hard drive space. Moreover, clearing the update cache also helps in situations where the update files are corrupted. Here is how you can clear the Windows update cache in Windows 10.

There are a few ways to do it, but this should be the easiest to follow for all users.

Hit the Windows key, then type “disk cleanup”, and select the drive where Windows is installed (usually C:).
look for “Previous Windows installations”.  If it is not there click on “Clean up system files” & follow the prompts
You can also check other entries to free up more disk space if you wish.
Hit “ok” once you have checked all entries to start.
Confirm “are you sure you want to permanently delete these files”.
Windows will remove files and frees up the disk space in the process.
Close the dialog box to return to windows.

The latest version update to Windows 10  comes with an automatic clean up option that you may wish to activate. Windows 10 will usually delete previous versions of Windows 10 ten days after installation of the update. This gives you more than a week to determine whether the new version is stable and functional before the old version gets deleted.  The main advantage of this method is that it is automated. Set it once, and you never have to worry about cleaning up disk space manually again. The downside is that the previous installation files are deleted after exactly ten days. This means that you only have ten days to test the new version, and also that disk space won’t be freed up earlier.

Clearing the update cache in Windows is easy, but probably not as straightforward as it should be in some cases. Although we can use the Disk Cleanup Utility, it may not clear the update cache completely, so if you are going to use the manual method, you may also need to stop the Windows update service before clearing the update cache. To do that, search for “Services” in the Start menu and open it. If you are using your system as a standard user, then open it as an administrator using the right-click menu.  Once you have done a cache clean it also makes sense to a defrag of your drive if you are using an IDE or SATA based system as opposed to an SSD in a more modern or updated PC or laptop.

 

Computers I’ve owned – Sinclair ZX Spectrum

Well it’s been 35 years since the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched so i think it’s only fair to pair homage to it with my latest addition to the Computers i’ve owned section.

I’ve actually owned a few of these, albeit in there original Sinclair incarnation pre Amstrad buy out of the company in 1986 & later the +3 model.  Many people may not know this but now the Amstrad brand is now owned by Sky TV & with it they inherit all the rights to the Sinclair product line. Viglen of course absorbed the computer side of Amstrad as well, although this is it’s PC & Word processor division but i believe the Sinclair name is now still property of Sky itself as they bought out Amstrad mainly to continue development of the TV receiver boxes.

The ZX Spectrum 8-bit (Z80A) computer was released in 1982 by Sinclair Research Ltd. Originally released in 16K and also a 48K version which was the one to have.  The Spectrum evolved through a variety of versions including the Spectrum+ which added a better Sinclair QL style keyboard to the original board following criticism about the rubber key dead flesh feeling keyboard. The + model also featured a reset switch was just a push button which shorted out the circuit board to reset the machine.. basic but it did the job. Also, the 16k model wasn’t transferred with the upgraded keyboard to the Spectrum+ & killed off.  The higher spec (& now rarer) Spectrum 128 (128K RAM), the +2 with fitted tape drive), and +3 which was essentailly identical to the +2 model but came with a 3 inch Amstrad floppy drive instead. Notably, the latter two systems we created by Amstrad & not Sinclair.
The Spectrum is based on a Zilog Z80 A CPU running at 3.5 MHz. The original model had 16 KB (16×1024 bytes) of ROM and either 16 KB or 48 KB of RAM depending on which model you bought although why would you buy the 16k version?   Video is done through a built in RF Modulator – no extenal modulator to use the computer on a TV by converting a monitor output like on similar computers of the era such as the VIC20 etc.  Sound on the original Spectrum was not produced through the TV however, instead the sound was done through an internal bleeper which was basically a small mono headphone type speaker fixed to the main board although if you had the right leads & a TV with an external audio in, you could use the “Ear” port on the unit to send sound to a TV or amplifier, but would you really want to?   The “ear” port can drive headphones as we say but it’s main function was to send save files to a tape recorder and the other port for connecting a domestic tape recorder so you could load from cassette tape.

I bought my 1st spectrum when i was about 16 years old, I bought it from an old college friend for a bargain 2nd hand price of (if i remember correctly) about £35 which at the time was a weeks income to me.  It was an original 48k model with everything included, tape recorder, leads, loads & loads of games on cassette & some original Sinclair software.  I also learned a lot about computer repair from the Spectrum as i was training in electronics at the time & having took the lid off i wanted to know what each part of the computer board was doing.

Later, i then acquired an old 16k model which i upgraded to 48k by installing the additional memory chips Although as time went on the keyboard was not functional, i’d replaced the membrane (which was the common problem) but it seemed to be the plastic casing had warped not allowing for good key contact. As luck would have it i managed to pick up a Spectrum+ 48 which had a good keyboard however the main board was on it’s last legs so i transferred the upgraded 16k board into the 48k keyboard.  The last unit i acquired was an Amstrad variation.  the Spectrum +3 with working disk drive – many of the drives on +3 models were rumoured to fail quite often & it’s sometimes said because Amstrad used the better models for the CPC range or the PCW machines, alhough personally i can’t see any difference & think many of the failures were down to abuse rather than mechanical or electrical gizmo’s failing because the machines were still seen more as a toy than the other Amstrad machines.

There was also the original 128k version which i never owned, mainly as i was put off because the keyboard had a huge heatsink down the side which used to give off lots of heat.. health & safety today probably wouldn’t allow such a thing, however i bet it was nice in winter & saved on the heating bills in those cold 1980’s winters in many schoolboy’s bedrooms.

The +3 was a good machine, however i was a bit limited as i couldn’t find a lead to connect a cassette recorder so i was restricted to the disks i got with the machine & hand programming as the majoity of games etc were still on cassette & usually sold in many high street newsagents & petrol stations for just £1.99 or £2.99 by then. but with a decent keyboard & real computer feel compared to it’s predecessor, programming by hand wasn’t a problem.  Both the Spectrum +2, & +3 had two BASIC modes, the 48k BASIC to remain compatible with the original rubber keyed model & the 128k mode from the 128k with the heatsink.  The +3 however was a close cousin of the CPC464 / CPC664 & CPCP6128 especially in the way it loaded from the disk drive as the spectrum after all was designed to be only used with cassette tapes.

I later discovered that original Spectrum games could be downloaded & played on the Amstrad emailer although these days i mostly use emulation or remakes.

I really could go on for ages talking about the Spectrum & how i cut my teeth in computer repair with it, but i’ll save that for further updates.  I will howeer urge anyone into 8 bit machines to watch the Docudrama “Micro Men” which you can view here.  I will however leave you with a clip above of the programme click which sir Clive tells us how the British computer industry boomed before the market got gobbled up in the consumer world of Microsoft & the likes.