Rage3D Kombuting // February 22nd edition

Author: Pete Vagiakos
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: February 22nd, 2013

This week: Geforce GTX Titan, Ubuntu, Playstation 4 and Outlook.com

Is it a blog? Is it my rumblings with a spice of memes? Is it Stuff That Are Entirely My Opinion And Do Not Reflect That of Rage3D? Guilty as charged on all accounts. Enjoy and comment away :)

Geforce GTX Titan unveiled!

So the cat is out of the bag, so to speak. NVIDIA has unveiled its latest and greatest, which is called, as we said last week, the Geforce GTX Titan. You can read up our very own Rage3D preview of the card and its features to get a better grip about what NVIDIA is offering, so we won't delve on details and benchmarks about the card here; what we will do though, is comment on availability, and whether it changes the graphics card landscape.

So why did NVIDIA release this card, what did it hope to accomplish? The answer, according to Lars Weinand, Sr. Technical Marketing Manager EMEA at NVIDIA, is pretty straight forward:

The GPU of GeForce TITAN is the flagship of our Kepler architecture. It is packed with computing performance and we decided to release it in a Tesla version first, to drive GPU computing to the next level. And it is by far the fasted gaming GPU on the planet. It would be such a waste to not release a GeForce version with this GPU. Customers asked for it and we ourselves were waiting for it to be released as well. It's just a beautiful card in every way - which I say not because I have to say it. I really mean it!

NVIDIA did this simply because they could. When the GeForce GTX 680 was released last year, it was a common secret that it was not the card everyone was initially expecting. Everyone thought the guys from Santa Clara were going to release the GK110 last year, their answer to the very successful Radeon 7970 by AMD. Instead, we got the GK104, a card initially destined for the upper midrange segment of the market. But, the card was a screamer. It could easily handle even the most demanding games, it was silent, and it was consistently faster than AMD's champion. The yields were excellent too, which meant that NVIDIA could have loads of cards on the market without the usual availability issues that plague high-end cards when they are released. The rest is pretty much well known. AMD released a 1GHz edition of its 7970 card in order to reclaim the fastest single GPU card throne - in the meantime, GK110 was released as a Tesla card, and waited better yields and chip improvements in order to come out as a gaming graphics card. And, for those of you who have been waiting, the card is here and frankly, there's no contest.The card is easily the fastest single GPU card around, and if you pair more in SLI mode, you have unheard levels of performance. Unfortunately, even though the card oozes quality, it is also expensive. As in very expensive; I don't remember a single GPU card to cost that much in ages. So, if you have the wallet for it, go ahead and grab it already. AMD could have more tricks up their sleeve for later this year, but until they release a card, Titan, the crown jewel of the Kepler architecture, is king. No doubt about it.

Ubuntu branching out to tablets

So we now have a more complete picture of what Mark Shuttleworth, CEO of Canonical, wants to do with the Ubuntu family of operating systems - a video went live on Ubuntu's website, illustrating the tablet interface of Ubuntu, and how they plan to differentiate themselves with new features in order to catch on to a very competitive mobile landscape. After carefully viewing the video, I remain highly cautious about Ubuntu's future in general. And here are some of the reasons:

  • The gesture-driven interface is here to stay, and it is certainly not the most intuitive. Yes, it is something fresh, but it is still unproven and I am not so sure how Canonical will pull it off.
  • One of the main features Shuttleworth presented was Side Stage; the "unique" ability to run more than one application at the same time, enabling you to multitask on your tablet. Windows 8 users are probably laughing with the uniqueness of it of course, since it seems to be a direct rip-off from the exact same functionality in the Windows 8 Metro interface. And don't forget that Samsung has built-in multitasking functionality in its tablets too, allowing Android apps to run in a window, if so desired. And if only phone apps are allowed to run on Side Stage mode, like it was hinted in the video, well, it's a limited feature already.
  • An operating system lives and dies by its apps. And Ubuntu is severely lacking in this department. You can ask Microsoft and Nokia about that; they have all the marketing money in the world, and still the Windows App Market is lacking with applications. Although the situation is slowly improving, the heavy hitters are still missing. Canonical promises web apps running as first-class citizens, which is really a pretty way of saying "if you want to run Gmail, no need to have a native app for that, visit a webpage". Kind of backwards-thinking, this one.
  • My core concern though, is Unity itself. Calling it not very stable on the desktop is an understatement, and it is one of the reasons Ubuntu is not the most popular Linux distribution anymore, believe it or not (it is No.3, behind Linux Mint and Mageia, a fork of Mandriva, according to DistroWatch). To be honest I don't like it too; hence I am using Gnome Shell on my Linux machines (even though I am using Cinnamon lately; but more on that in the end of this article). The very early adopters who installed Ubuntu in their phones and tablets yesterday describe an OS which is still in early stages of development, with many bugs, and certainly not in the polished state we are shown in the promo videos we watched. Until Ubuntu is stable enough to be a viable alternative in phones and tablets, Google, Apple and Microsoft will have released more than one version of their respective operating systems.
  • I am certain that some tech savvy users will do so without much hesitation, but for the most people, changing operating systems in their phones is a big no-no. So who's going to bundle it? Most devices don't have enough space for dual boot, so popular manufacturers like Samsung and HTC would have to choose Ubuntu over Android, or Windows Phone. Honestly, I don't see that happening.
  • After reading first looks and preview articles about Ubuntu in some sites, I think that some journalists are under the impression that apps written for Ubuntu Desktop will run fine on tablets and smartphones. I can totally see this becoming a Windows RT/ Windows 8 mess all over again. Different architecture, different programs. And even if some applications were written for both x86 and ARM architectures, we are talking about Linux applications which are written specifically to be used with a keyboard and mouse, not your finger. That's the reason Microsoft wants all the new applications to be written in Metro.

Don't get me wrong, I don't have anything against Canonical; far from it. They have helped tremendously towards making Linux a more viable choice for the average desktop user. If you disagree, go load up Debian on your PC, and be instantly amazed about how many things you will have to tweak by hand, things that you nowadays take for granted with every Ubuntu installation. But I am not quite sure they needed to expand their development resources like that, especially since Ubuntu on the desktop can still be even better. They seem to have drawn a path of their own, their own vision about how things should work on the desktop and mobile space and are prepare to walk the walk until the end. Time will tell whether this is a good idea or not.

Sony's PlayStation 4 through the eyes of a PC Gamer

As I've said in the past, I am not a console person. I have always played games on my PC even back in the 80s, no Amiga, no Spectrum, no Amstrad 6128, no nothing. One can argue that I have lost some of the best games of that decade that way (I didn't, thankfully, I had friends that owned them), but my "keyboard and mouse" gameplay was enough for me. I still remember coughing up mucho dineros to get my very first 3Dfx Voodoo card, when I caught a glimpse of GLQuake running at 1fpm (yes, that's per minute) on my then Diamond Stealth 3D 2000 card. Good times, when gaming was still the primary focus.

The reason I am going all nostalgic on you guys is because, well, the Playstation 4 was announced, and focus on gaming seems to be back. First of all, here are some specifications for the new console by Sony:

  • Custom x86-64 AMD Jaguar APU with 8 CPU cores and a "next-gen" Radeon GPU core, giving 1.84 Teraflops of floating point calculation power. The GPU part will certainly be DX11.1+ level and GCN-based; not very sure about its performance though since it will definitely be an enhanced APU compared to the Jaguar chips we'll see from AMD in the near future. If I had to take a (wild, wild) guess, I'd put the graphics capabilities near to those of a Radeon 7850, which is about 30-40% slower than a modern Radeon 7970 card.
  • 8GB GDDR5 RAM with a 176GB/s bandwidth. Don't have anything against Rambus or anything but... ok, I do have something against Rambus. Glad to see it gone.
  • 6x CAV Blu-ray drive (hardly a surprise, this one) - no mention on hard disk capacity though, guess that's still undecided.
  • USB 3.0 port / Gigabit Ethernet / 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi / Bluetooth 2.1 / HDMI / analog A/V out / optical digital output
  • Dualshock 4 controller (which is curvier; I like the looks of it, plus it has the now obligatory touch screen in the middle, which I hope won't get in the way) / PlayStation Eye camera system (compatible with PlayStation Move)

Notably absent, believe it or not, was the console itself - I am sure that Sony is still tweaking the final design; after all, the new PlayStation won't be available until the end of the year. So, overall? When I closed the live feed, I came out with a good vibe about what Sony is trying to do here. A console lives and dies by the games it has, and Sony made sure the PlayStation 4 will have some impressive games in its launch window and an even more impressive list of developers behind it. We even saw gameplay videos, which is rare so early in the development process; goes to show you what happens when you work with an already proven base (AMD) to build a console. Killzone Shadowfall was looking good, Watch Dogs was as impressive as it was the first time I saw a video of it on last year's E3, got excited by seeing Quantic Dream's work with the new console (one of the developers I really miss on the PC, I absolutely love their games) and Jonathan Blow's (of Braid fame) "The Witness", and I said "wow" when I saw Blizzard and Bungie up there, presenting Diablo 3 and Destiny, respectively. Oh, and a new Final Fantasy, Knack, DriveClub, inFAMOUS: Second Son plus Capcom's new engine weren't too shabby either. I won't even comment on the share features, since I think they are a tad overrated and in the "me too" bandwagon, but the whole presentation left a good taste in my mouth. Graphics-wise, it's not going to surpass the PC, but then again, that's not the point with the next-gen consoles, and Sony knows it. If anything, PC ports will be almost effortless since the underlying tech is essentially the same. So good news all around; Microsoft, it's your move now!

You can view all the videos and games from the presentation in this convenient Youtube playlist

From Hotmail to Outlook: a tale of 7 months

It was August 1st when I bid farewell to my @hotmail.com address, which has served me well since 1997, for a new shiny @outlook.com one, and adopted the new Outlook.com website. This week, Microsoft announced that the move to the new website layout will be gradually forced on everyone, so you can forget the old Windows Live interface. As far as I am aware, you won't be forced to change your email address (from hotmail.com to outlook.com) if you don't want to, so that's good news there. So after seven months of using the new interface, I believe the move is good news for everyone still actively using Hotmail, and here are some of the reasons why.

One of the good things about Metro, is the beauty in simplicity. Outlook.com is clean, simple, easily accessible and adheres to the new design paradigm brought to you by Windows 8, and an evolution from the old Windows Live interface, which was slowly getting the Metro treatment in its past iterations. But the improvements are not only on the surface. One of the major problems people had with Hotmail was spam; its spam filters were not catching enough spam mails, cluttering your inbox. I was very happy to find out that the spam filter in Outlook.com has improved significantly, and the event of a spam mail ending up on my Inbox is a rarity these days.

Apart from integration with stuff like Skydrive, Outlook.com brings forth two new features that I actually miss whenever I go to my Gmail, showing the work Microsoft's team has put to make it one of the best webmails around. The first feature is Aliases. Essentially you are allowed to create dummy email addresses, which you can use for various purposes. So, if your email is jim @outlook.com, you can have a [email protected] for work-related stuff, a [email protected] for your newsletters, a [email protected] for your forum registrations and so on; and then create rules which will place the emails you receive in each alias on a different folder. This makes email management super efficient and you'll wonder how you were able to live without it for so long. And speaking of filters, Outlook.com has a cool feature called Sweep. What this does, is that you can select an email, and you can make a rule to move or copy all similar emails to a said folder.

I can't say I have replaced my Gmail address with Outlook, and believe me, that was never the issue. My Gmail is used nowadays for my personal emails only, whereas I have Outlook for practically everything else, newsletters, deals, magazines, forums, you name it. That way I can have a better control of what I receive and where it ends up. The only thing that's sorely lacking is IMAP support, but since I don't use a desktop email application anymore, I haven't actually missed it. If you haven't tried already, you should; it's a definite improvement over Hotmail and guess what. Your @hotmail.com address still works as an alias, and you will be forced to use it anyway since Microsoft took it out of beta this week and will migrate all Hotmail users to it eventually. So take the plunge and you won't regret it.

For those of you who follow me on the social networks (@Kombatant on Twitter, Panagiotis Vagiakos on Google+) you already know next week's Kombuting will be a special edition. A few days ago I installed Linux Mint 14.1 (Cinnamon edition) and I am in the process of documenting all the good (and not so good) things I encountered with the new star in the Linux distribution space. So stay tuned next Friday for a quite lengthy presentation; as always, same Komb-time, same Komb-site.