Chances are you've heard a lot about the various solutions out there that allow you to run Windows on your Intel Mac, namely Parallels Desktop, VMware Fusion, and Boot Camp. All three offer slightly different feature sets, and there's a lot of information about each option floating around out there. Comparing and choosing between the three packages can be daunting, but MacTech Magazine has just simplified that task quite a bit by performing and publishing an extensive set of virtualization benchmarks.
The benchmarks are easily the most comprehensive for Mac OS X virtualization, and focus mainly on time-measurable tasks and benchmarks. Both Windows XP and Vista were tested on a MacBook, MacBook Pro, and a Mac Pro, with baseline tests being run on a Fujitsu laptop. Some cross-platform tests (like opening a PDF attachment with Adobe Reader on Windows and with Preview) were also performed. So which one should you use? I won't spoil the results too much, but their overall answer is "it depends." I bet you didn't see what one coming.
(NB: These tests were run under Tiger (10.4.10) because Leopard had not yet been released at the time of testing, so some things may have changed slightly since then.)
Seriously though, recommendations vary according to a number of factors, including which version of Windows you'd like to run and just what you'll be doing with your virtual machines. MacTech recommends that anyone looking for Windows integration should run Windows XP under Parallels, but recommends VMware Fusion if Vista will be used. A few other reasons for running Fusion are discussed, but Parallels seems to be the winner for most everyday situations. No matter the results, these in-depth benchmarks are a great way to compare various features of the three packages. Anyone thinking of buying or changing virtualization solutions should definitely check it out.
For the late gift-givers and the forgetful gamers comes one easy present for the casual games fan in your life. PopCap Games, makers of such digital crack as Peggle and Bookworm, are selling everything on its site for half price from now until January 3. If you're interested in killing someone's productivity, you now have a less expensive way to go about it.
You can also send a gift certificate via the site, for the truly lazy.
Purchasing the gift certificate
takes less than a minute via any major credit cardThe certificate arrives via email
within a few minutes and can be sent directly to the recipient, or forwarded by
the purchaser. It can also be printed out and mailed in a card or stuffed in a
stocking (standard CD jewel cases won’t fit in most stockings).The gift giver doesn't need
to know which game(s) would be most enjoyed by the recipient—the gift
certificate can be applied to any of the four dozen games available on
PopCap’s Website.Even the recipient of the gift
certificate doesn’t need to choose a game "blindly"—thanks to PopCap's "try before you buy" policy, any and all
games on the site can be played by the recipient, after which the preferred
game(s) can be "purchased" via the gift certificate instantly.To redeem the gift certificate,
the recipient simply enters the certificate code during the normal check-out
process on PopCap.com.
No one in my extended family knows who UbiSoft is, but PopCap is a household name. Cutting all the prices in half gives you some significant savings, and and you don't even have to get up from your desk. The wonders of technology…
Santa, a long-time Ars reader and forum denizen, forwarded us a copy of Google's Christmas wish list for 2007:
Sign up for 700MHz spectrum bid, terrify rivalsConvince FTC that acquisition of massive advertising firm a good ideaBake buttery shortbread cookiesProfit!!!
Santa was miffed that he'll having nothing to deliver to the Googlers this year now that the FTC has approved the company's pending merger with fellow ad giant DoubleClick (the other three items are already fait accompli, including the cookies). In its announcement today closing the investigation into the merger, the FTC concluded that the deal "is unlikely to substantially lessen competition." Europe may not be so understanding, though.
The FTC vote was 4-1, with the assenting commissioners noting that they did not have the legal authority to block the deal based on privacy concerns; antitrust considerations alone were their remit. The FTC concluded that competition in the online advertising market was vigorous and "will likely increase" in the wake of the merger.
Clearly knowing that this would be a controversial decision, the FTC decided to release a voluntary set of "behavioral advertising privacy principles" (PDF)this morning as well. While the Commission won't do anything to halt the Google/DoubleClick merger, it does expect the combined company (and all others in the behavioral advertising space) to abide by a set of general principles.
Those principles suggest that any website collecting behavioral data for advertising purposes should "provide a clear, consumer-friendly, and prominent statement that data is being collected to provide ads targeted to the consumer." Consumers should also have the right to decide if they want this to happen.
In a lengthy dissenting statement, FTC Commissioner Pamela Jones Harbour accepted that the merger could create "some efficiencies." But she worries that it has "greater potential to harm competition, and it also threatens privacy. By closing its investigation without imposing any conditions or other safeguards, the Commission is asking consumers to bear too much of the risk of both types of harm."
The decision is certain to generate controversy, especially in the light of FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras' decision not to recuse herself in the case after it was alleged that her husband, an antitrust lawyer at a prominent DC law firm, was helping to represent DoubleClick (it turns out that his firm represents them only in Europe). Fellow Commissioner William Kovacic also decided not to recuse himself (his wife works at the same law firm).
Under a European microscope
Europe has yet to weigh in on the deal, though, and seems far more likely than the US to impose significant restrictions on the merger. Neelie Kroes, the EU's Competition Commissioner, came under more pressure this week to block the deal when BEUC, a European consumers' organization, sent a letter to her office.
That letter made the now-familiar point that a combined Google/DoubleClick would have tremendous control over both search advertising and non-search ads. It also claimed that the merger could "push up prices for advertisers" and that after the merger, "there will be no real alternative to the combined entity for advertisers and web publishers."
And, of course, the new company would be a "data collection colossus."
The EU is already conducting a thorough look at the deal after preliminary investigation turned up serious competition concerns. That review will be completed by early April, at which time we'll find out if Europe's more aggressive approach to antitrust regulation will throw up any serious roadblocks.
Well, no one ever said that Mac users weren't good for the economy. Market research firm NPD Group released its quarterly Digital Music Monitor report today, which found that noticeably more Mac users purchase music than their PC-using brethren. A full half of all Mac users had reported paying for music through various digital methods (not the least of which being iTunes, of course), while only 16 percent of PC users had done the same.
But not only were they more likely to be up on digital downloads, Mac users bought more CDs too. While some 28 percent of PC users reported buying physical CDs to get their music fix, Mac users seemed to edge them out once again at 32 percent. NPD also said that Mac users were more likely to actually use their digital music players too: 34 percent of Mac users had put music onto their MP3 players, compared to only 16 percent of PC users. (This one is kind of an odd data point, because it's unclear whether all of these people have music players to put music onto and they're just not, or whether this is a percentage of the population that owns portable players to begin with.)
Either way, the data shows an obvious trend. Mac users seem to be more tuned-in to their music collections than most. But that's not all: the typical Mac-using demographic is young, educated, affluent, and trendy, which often translates to being on top of new tech trends like digital downloads. Okay, so digital downloads aren't "new" to most of us, but they are for most of the general population, like our parents and other family members. And let's face it: whether we like it or not, most of the general population is made up of PC users.
"There's still a cultural divide between Apple consumers and the rest of the computing world, and that's especially apparent when it comes to the way they interact with music," NPD Group VP Russ Crupnick said in a statement. "Mac users are not only more active in digital music, they are also more likely to buy CDs, which helps debunk the myth that digital music consumers stop buying music in CD format."
Of course, even Mac users can't save lagging CD sales (there simply aren't enough of us). But when it comes to digital distribution and other newfangled technologies, Mac users like to ride out the kinks before the rest of the population catches up. Let's see if we can do the same for online video in the coming year(s), hmm?
It's hard to wrap your mind around the absurd amount of time 3D Realms has had Duke Nukem Forever in development. The game was announced back in 1997, and the Quake II engine was licensed to fuel the title. This was big news, and even now, Duke Nukem 3D is still warmly regarded as one of the better early first-person shooters; the combination of violent game play, strippers, and inventive weaponry made for some great multiplayer. If you've never placed a trip-bomb inside a teleporter and then waited for someone to come through, you missed out. The sequel has since gone through multiple engine changes, multiple publishers, and has become one of the lamest running jokes in the industry. Today, we finally get a sneak peak at Duke Nukem Forever as ShackNews has the exclusive 70-second look at the game.
This isn't the first time we've seen video of the elusive title. In 1998 there was a short video shown at E3 that depicted a busty sidekick and the signature Duke Nukem wailing guitars. Then the Quake II engine was promptly dropped for the Unreal Engine. The next video was shown at E3 again, in 2001. This time the setting was Las Vegas, with a modern look and alien antagonists. When Carl of Game.Ars visited E3 in 2001 he spoke about Richard Garriot's Tabula Rasa, and he then made a joke about the length of Duke Nukem Forever's development cycle.
That was six years ago.
"Last Saturday we had our annual company Christmas party. It was a lot of fun as usual but it featured one special surprise. It turns out that several people had been secretly working late nights and into the wee hours of the morning preparing a special video for those at the party," George Broussard, director of the title posted on the official 3D Realms board yesterday. "They created a short teaser for Duke Nukem Forever." After promising to share the new footage today, the message boards across the Internet went insane with jokes and incredulous comments. Surely there can't be much to see, the punters cried. There is no way the game exists!
After watching the footage, there isn't much to talk about. There are only quick blasts of what appear to be in-engine play between scenes of the newly updated Duke Nukem doing bicep curls, although the tentacled aliens still seem to be a large part of the game. The pig-based aliens also make a return from Duke Nukem 3D. "I'm looking for some alien toilet to park my bricks," Duke drawls, "Who's first?" Not the most grammatically correct tough guy on the planet, but it gets the message across.
We're promised more looks at the game in the future and, while this shows almost nothing of the game, its setting, or the graphical quality, it does show that work is being done. One day, far in the future, Duke Nukem Forever will be released. And then what will we make fun of?
Members of Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest II team have confirmed allegations of unfair relations between a member of the development team and Unhallowed Triad, a guild operating on the EQII test server, according to MMO site Massively. The scandal surfaced several days ago, and, a couple of hundred-page forum threads later, it was revealed that SOE transferred characters from EQII's test server to a live server, violating SOE's own end user license agreement.
Bruce Ferguson, EQII's senior producer, responded in the SOE forums, stating that the move was intended "to show kindness to some valued members of our testing community who have been working diligently to improve EverQuest II for the last three years." Bruce went on to assure community members that the characters moved were stripped of test equipment. Massively suggests this claim is false, and hasa laundry list of other grievancesas well.
A ridiculous amount of time and money is invested into MMOs by players every year, and as the genre grows alongside its player base, the ethics behind developer and community interaction become moreimportant. Early this year, CCP's space-faring MMORPG EVE Online was embroiled in scandal over alleged developer misconduct in which an employee of CCP distributed in-game items to one of the largest corporations in the game, Band of Brothers. When asked directly about the scandal at this year's EVE Fanfest in Reykjavik, a representative of CCP (somewhat angrily) declined to comment.
But whether they like it or not, these questions of ethicswon't simply go away, and they require a measured and honest response to keepthe fanbase—and by extension profit margins—intact. In games where the mighty banhammer falls heavy on those misguided players who even brush with the EULA, is it so much to expect that the developers offer it the same respect?
In Google's never-ending quest to collect and utilize the world's information, the company today introduced a new translation feature to its Google Talk chat client. Delivered as a series of chat bots, these tools can quickly translate a phrase or paragraph for you, and they can even be added to group chats to act as real-time translators. The inaugural attempt is certainly a big step in the right direction, but as with any attempt to bridge language barriers with automation, things sometimes get lost in translation.
Google lists out about 30 total language bots in the announcement post on the Google Talk blog. The bots are all logically named according to their translation duty, such as [email protected], signifying an English to Korean translation. Just like Google's other language services, English is the dominant language across the translations, though some non-English bots such as fr2de do exist. Users must add a bot to their Gmail contact list in order to communicate with the bot or use it in a group chat. Once added though, these bots will do their job both in Gmail and other Google Talk implementations like the iGoogle start page, but group chats don't appear to work in third-party clients such as Apple's iChat.
Using a bot for simple translation is as easy as starting a chat with it and typing your phrase, sentence or paragraph. To translate a chat between you and at least one other person, bots for each translation direction will need to be added. For example: if an English speaker wants to use Google Talk to speak with a Chinese speaker, each participant will need to add the relevant translation bot to their contact list, or one participant can add both as contacts, then bring them into the chat. Either way, this end of the process can be a bit clunky, and there is much room for improvement. One way would be to simply check each user's default language and automatically add bots (or at least offer) when two different native language speakers begin to chat.
Once users are set up to chat and the proper bots are brought in, chatting and translating is a mixed bag. In tests across various languages including English, French, and German, the bots at times exhibited surprising translation abilities for things like colloquialisms, but dropped the ball other times with basic "hello, how are you" statements like. By extension, these bots are only as good as Google's translation dictionaries, which some feel can leave much to be desired.
Another bizarre problem in testing was that some combinations of bots would begin to translate each other. When translating English to German, for example, the English bot would occasionally re-translate a statement that was just converted from English to German. This problem was erratic though, hinting that it could simply be a bug which can likely be fixed soon, as the service just debuted today.
All things considered, Google Talk's automated translation abilities are certainly a welcome communication innovation. Users will simply need to remain patient and understanding when mistranslations inevitably happen. Google's language dictionaries will undoubtedly improve over the coming months and years, bringing even more users together through the simple power of chat.
As this trip around Sol comes to a close, the annual tradition of creating "best of the year" lists is in full swing. Here, we cover Science magazine's top scientific breakthroughs of 2007. As one can see at a quick glance, a diverse set of scientific fields are represented, from genetics to neuroscience to computer science. We'll start out withthe breakthrough thatearned top honors, then continue onto the nine runners-up, in no particular order.
Science's Breakthrough of the Year: human genetic variation
Nearly seven years ago, the human genome was first sequenced. Since then, continued rapid advancement in the field of genomics has allowed us to look even closer at ourselves to see what makes us, well, us. From studying our genetic makeup, scientists have found that there are about 15 million places along the genome where a person or population can differ. By the end of 2007, more than 3 million of these single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) were identified. An international scientific undertaking known as the HapMap Project is seeking to quantify the differences within the human genome by tracking these SNPs.
Using the catalog created by the HapMap Project, scientists are able to carry out genome-wide associationstudies. In doing so, they can look at hundreds of thousands of SNPs in a large number of people,then cross reference the distribution of SNPs with various symptoms that test subjects report. By examining any correlations that come out of such an statistical analysis, researchers can associate a risk of symptom with a singleSNP (or a set of them).
In the past year alone, researchers linked more then a dozen diseases tofifty genes and their variants. While the link is often minimal, and a mechanism is not immediately known, the sheer number of people involved in the studies make the statistics hard to ignore. Studies published this year have found gene variants that hint at a predisposition for type 1 and 2 diabetes, Crohn's disease, heart disease, breast cancer, restless leg syndrome, atrial fibrillation, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and colorectal cancer, among others.
In addition to the basic scientific breakthroughs that have made these discoveries possible, this field of work has opened up an entire new avenue of business: personal genomics. A host of companies have sprung up to offer a glimpse into one's personal genome and all the risk factors it may contain. Depending on how much money you are willing to spend, you can receive a quick once-over of your genome—for a mere $1,000-$2,500—or a complete sequencing of the entire thing that costsupwards of $1 million.
As usual, technology is outpacing ethics. Many feel that the information gained from these tests could be used against a person. An insurance company refusing coverage due to a known risk is the canonical example. A separate concern comes from the personal side: if a person finds out they have a predisposition to an incurable disease, even if it is still a very slight risk, the person may worry needlessly. Regardless of how this arena of business turns out, the gigantic leaps forward in genomic technology has earned Science magazine's Breakthrough of the Year award for 2007.
Stem Cells from Skin Cells: Last year, scientists in Japan created induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells by inserting a mere four genes into mouse tail cells. These iPS cells looked and acted like embryonic stem cells. Over the summer a series of papers demonstrated how one could use mice skin cells to form these iPS cells. Then, in a shockingly fast sequence of events, not one but two research teams reported accomplishing the same feat with human skin cells. This is hailed as a victory by many scientists and politicians, as it potentially removes the need for use of human embryos in stem cell research.Origin of Cosmic Bullets: It hasbeen known since the 1960s that the Earth is bombarded by high energy cosmic particles. These particles are smaller thanatoms yet hit the Earth with the force of a golf ball landing on a fairway—that is an energy level 100 million timeshigher then any particle accelerator has been able to achieve to date. The question of their origin may have been solved this year by researchers at the Pierre Auger Observatory in Argentina. Their answer: these particles come from active galactic nuclei, supermassive black holes at the center of some galaxies. However, without a mechanism to explain how these particles, protons in this case, reach these incredible energies (in excess of 60 EeV), the debate rages on.Seeing Your Senses: While everyone knows the five basic senses, a detailed molecular understanding of how they work has yet to be elucidated. This year a pair of crystallographers published a set of four papers in Science, Nature, and Nature Methods reporting on the structure of the β2-adrenergic receptor. This molecule is one of a family of nearly 1,000 membrane-spanning molecules called G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs). GPCRs help clue us into our surroundings through taste, smell, touch, hearing,and sight, and they help manage our internal body conditions.Transition Metal Oxides: Diodes and transistors arethe building blocks of the modern digital age. They owe their existence to the fact that when two semiconducting materials are put next to each other, all sorts of interesting physics result. This year material scientists found that if different transition metal oxides are grown in layers, very interesting things can occur. At a sharp interface between two types of oxides, the effect of the various crystal structures can change the positions of atoms along the interface, or even affect the electron charge distribution around certain atoms. In a pair of examples, researchers grew together two insulating materials that made a conducting interface, and another researcher created a superconducting interface from two insulators.Quantum Spin Hall Effect: When theorists and experimentalists team up in science, breakthroughs happen. This year, a team of theoretical physicists predicted that mercury telluride (HgTe) sandwiched between two semiconducting materials should exhibit what is known as the quantum spin Hall effect (QSHE). When they began working with a group of experimental physicists, the combined team started down the path of proving this assertion. The quantum spin Hall effect was demonstrated, but only at temperatures below 10 K. If this can be reproduced at room temperatures, the effect could lead to a new generation of low-power "spintronic" computing devices.Specialized Immune Cells: When you get sick, two types of immune cells are created. Some of the cells become "short-lived soldiers" whose job it is to fight off the disease. Other cells become long term memory cells that hang around for years or decades in case the same disease is encountered again. In March, a team of American researchers showed that a T cell could divide in an asymmetric manner that would allow for specialization as soldiers or memory cells. While no practical applications have yet come from this, it holds the potential to give vaccines a further kick.Molecular Control: No specific breakthrough is cited here. Instead the mention is shared by chemists around the world for various breakthroughs in control over chemical reactions. When making a commodity chemical, the less steps it takes, the better. As any chemical engineer will tell you, separations and purifications between steps are expensive, and the cost of extra steps is passed on to the consumer. This year saw a flurry of advanced chemistry research that allows chemists to carry out reactions at selected sites on complex molecules, and thus has cut multiple steps in very long synthesis chains. In the end, this can potentially result in cheaper materials and pharmaceuticals for consumers.Memory and Imagination: Neuroscience researchers this year found that there is a similarity between how our brain recollects memories and imagines new scenarios. In January, UK researchers showed that patients with amnesia—caused by damage to the hippocampus—had a difficult time imagining hypothetical situations as well as recalling old memories. Later in the spring, a separate brain imaging study of healthy young adults showed that similar neural pathways were used to both recall past events and imagine future scenarios—both used a part of the hippocampus.Perfect Checkers: A team of Canadian computer science researchers proved that a game of checkers, if played perfectly, will end in a draw—no matter what. This proof is the culmination of 18 years of research and represents "the most complicated game ever 'solved'." In a game of US checkers, there around 5×1020 possible different configurations. Drawing from a database of 39 trillion possible arrangements of 10 or fewer pieces on the board, the researchers found which would lead to a win for red,a win for black, or a draw. They then demonstrated that a specific opening sequence, played perfectly, would invariably lead to a configuration that ended in a draw.
So that's what Science thinks werethe biggest breakthroughs of the year. Readers should keep an eye out for Nobel Intent'stake onthe biggest science stories of the yearin the upcoming week. To see how these breakthroughs compare to those from last year, feel free to check out Ars Technica's coverage from a year ago.
Yesterday, we talked about Nintendo's stance against forced bundles, and we gave some instructions about how to fight back against scuzzy retailers. I've already received some great leads, and I'm following up on them. Before we start reporting on that, though, I thought I'd share another e-mail I received from an independent retailer who has a very different perspective on bundling.
"I am a single independent video game store with annual sales of above $700,000. The markup on consoles is less than 1 percent, and games are around 14 percent," he writes. Running any game store is a hard business, and these margins don't help. What's worse is dealing with the distributors. "My distributors tell us that Nintendo has an 'attach rate' and we are often forced to purchase four games with each console. We pay $246 per console. If we sell the console for $249.99 retail, it's a $3.99 markup. If a person pays by credit card we lose money."
So how do you deal with distributors while trying to turn a profit? "We sell the units with a three-game attach rate. We call it a choice bundle. A customer buys a Wii and three games of their choice. 99 percent are more than willing to do it… Basically the distribution network for product is controlled by the distributors, not Nintendo and not the retailers. If I didn't lose money on each sale of the console, we wouldn't need to make bundles."
He also complains that they've only been able to purchase 15 Wii systems so far in December, and no Wiimotes or Wii Zappers in a long time. It's a hard business when you don't have the buying power of the chains, and bundles are one way to deal with it. "The key is not forcing them to buy a memory card or some crap they don't want," he tells me. He also says it's rough when practically every customer wants to buy the system to put it on eBay for their own profit.
It's a hard position to be in, and this is one of the reasons why independent game stores often focus on repair or selling used products. I thought it might be interesting to look at the this issue from the point of view of the little guy before trashing some really terrible behavior on the part of other stores tomorrow.
It's coming. The Hall of Shame.
As part of a $500 million push into the sphere of video games, MTV has announced a partnership with blockbuster film producer Jerry Bruckheimer to create original game properties. Bruckheimer, best known for his myriad executive producer credits on projects such as CSI and Pirates of the Caribbean, will form the creative head of a new MTV Games studio looking to bridge the gender gap in games and haul in the sort of cash that his film and TV properties are commonly known for.
And what sort of games will they make? Since the film studios claim ownership over Bruckheimer's previous projects, it's unlikely we'll be seeing revivals of some of his more classic credits like Coyote Ugly or Kangaroo Jack. Bruckheimer's new studio will instead focus on original titles, backed by truckloads of cash and one of the biggest names in Hollywood.
"Video games represent a new and innovative medium for what we've always tried to do, which is to tell great stories. But this medium is unique in that it gives the player control over how those stories unfold," said Jerry Bruckheimer. "I look forward to working with MTV Games to create new original game stories, always looking for ways to innovate the medium."
The question remains: does Bruckheimer know one thing about game development, or is his name worth more than his creative input? Honestly, we've had exploding cars in games for a while, so it's hard to pinpoint what Bruckheimer may bring to the table. Bruckheimer does have plans to use his lengthy list of industry pals to his advantage, telling the Daily Variety that "when I moved to TV, I got people from features to join, and I plan to rely on the same talent pool and marry them with the gaming community."
Will a widely-recognized name and loads of cash be enough to ensure commercial success in the oh-so-finicky realm of gaming? Can Jerry Bruckheimer conquer yet another medium? Will Nicholas Cage make it out alive? (Explosions, cars, cars jumping over explosions.)