Nintendo dislikes “strange” relationships

An interesting story coming out of the Register and from Kotaku this week, apparently a new Tamogatchi game, which is Nintendo’s answer to the Sims, allowed gay relationships, marriage and children – at least, gay relationships between men in anycase.

Despite making a lot of noise, most of it positive, this “feature’ has been removed in an update patch as a bug, stating (depending on your translation) that it removes “Human relations that have become strange/funny”.  Nintendo have stated categorically that this was a bug, and never and intended feature.

This will no doubt be disappointing for anyone who bought the game with this in mind, and i’m sure there will be some. It’s disappointing in general to see a company as influential as Nintendo taking this sort of stance – particularly given that very mainstream games such as The Sims, Mass Effect, Dragons Age and Fable have all featured gay relationship options in their various romance segments.


Scribd get greedy

The other day I was looking about the net for a couple of free books that I knew were around somewhere.  I had copies backed up somewhere on my file server, but I had a pretty good idea of where to find them on the net and downloading only takes a moment, so it just seemed simpler to do it that way.  I’m lazy like that.

The books in question? A series of non-fiction on writing, written by S.L. Viehl.  She has written an excellent series that includes some planning worksheets that i’ve found useful in the past and kindly made them available free online.

I tracked them down on Scribd, where they have always lived, and was quite surprised to find I couldn’t download them. Apparently their policies have changed and in order to download, i’d have to pay a fee.  I could still read online however.  This was annoying, but I still had copies somewhere on my server, and – as it turns out – my own transcribed copies of the worksheets anyway.  I shrugged and went about my business.

A few days later, I came across this.

It turns out that Scribd has started doing this to the authors of free works, but neglected to tell them!

This, then, is somewhat more serious.  Scribd has, in effect, begun to sell work that it has no right to sell, profiting of the copyright’s of others without permission.  It’s quite nefarious, in some ways, to build up a name as a provider of free hosting and then capture the intellectual property of your users and sell it for profit.  Make no mistake, whatever their justifications that is what they have done.

In the meantime, if you have works you wish to make public and freely downloadable, try Google Docs.

The HTML5 video battle: Part II

This is a quick update to yesterday’s post titled “Google opens the VP8 Codec“.  In that post I described the lay of the land for current software developers interested in the online video space, the battle around which codec will become the defacto standard for HTML5 video, and what it all means for us.

Almost as soon as I posted, it needed updating – the news is coming quick and fast.  All of the involved companies seem to realise that this is a major turning point in the web and they all want it going their way.  Most of the contenders realise that they themselves don’t have the sway to push this issue by themselves and it is quickly devolving into a fight between two camps.  Team Google, and Team Apple, with two different technologies and two completely opposed philosophical outlooks on the way the technology world should work.

In my previous post I accidental missed one of the contenders here, as they are really of only tangential influence in the current debate.  To summarise once more, the five players in this drama are Apple, Google, Microsoft, the Mozilla foundation and Opera Software – each has its own browser with its own dedicated followers and a greater or smaller percentage of the overall browser market: Safari, Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera.

To catch up on the basics of the issues, please view my last post – we will now deal with the rapidly changing landscape and how it already differs from what I laid out yesterday.  There is no doubt that everyone was waiting for this announcement from Google, given the speed that the other players have made their responses.

To start, Firefox and Opera both supported the Ogg Theora codec as the default (and only) HTML5 video codec.  Mozilla have been very vocal on this point, routinely calling for support in preventing H.264 from becoming a patent encumbered defacto standard.  It was announced yesterday that current developer editions, from the nightly builds, of Firefox and Opera also support VP8 – throwing their weight behind Google and the newly opened codec.

These three then, Firefox, Opera and Chrome, represent a majority amount of the browser marketplace.  According to the W3 Schools market share report, these three contenders represent 62.2% of the Browser market share.

It is no surprise then that Microsoft, despite reservations, announced support for VP8 in Internet Explorer 8.  Not native support, it must be said, however they have stated that anyone who has the VP8 codec installed themselves will be able to view VP8 video via the HTML5 video tag in IE8.  This to me is a very defensive position for Microsoft, obviously they’re still worried about patent attacks and so don’t want to bundle a potentially encumbered codec with their own browser.  However this move also shows that they realise they can’t ignore the potential of VP8 to break through H.264’s stranglehold and become the web standard.  They can’t decide which camp to bet on, so they’re betting both.

Whilst native support would have been better, this is still a partial win for VP8 supporters and raises the total Browser market share of VP8 compatible browsers to 78.4%, assuming that VP8 support will be coming only for IE8.  This is a near overwhelming victory, as the remaining market-share is split between IE7 and 6, who combined equal about 17.2% of the market share (hands up if you can’t believe that IE6 still commands 7.9%.  Upgrade people!) and Safari, the last remaining hold-out, with a tiny market share of only 3.7%.

Given that IE7 and 6 are unlikely to be upgraded at all for HTML5 support, we can effectively count out 17.2% of the market from this discussion – they’re unlikely to get any codec until they upgrade. So only 82.1% of the market are actually involved in this discussion at all. What this means then is for all the people who will be able to access HTML5 video, 95.4% will be able to access VP8 (either natively or by installing the codec themselves).The 4.5% using Safari will be the only ones who cannot.

Compare this to Ogg Theora, supported by only Firefox, Chrome and Opera, and you have a potential market of 75% of the browser market.  Still a goodly amount, but you’re missing anyone using Safari or Internet Explorer.

H.264 is supported by Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer.  This is the only codec safari users can see and is supported by only 40% of the potential marketplace.

Numbers like this would normally mean that VP8 was a clear winner already and the battle was over before it began, H.264 is a no-starter.  What does Apple and the mighty Steve Jobs have to say about this?

According to an article at The Register: VP8 is a bad choice because it will be liable to the same attacks as Ogg Theora on the patent front, and it performs slower and with worse compression than H.264.  Their evidence for the poor performance?  As linked in the article, a paper written by college student supporter of H.264 and contributor to an open source decoder of same, who claims VP8 performs poorly and will not rival H.264 in any way, and the spec is poor and unlikely to be corrected by Google.

This is the reality distortion field in full effect and it will be interesting to see the Jobs supporters rally behind this particular piece of FUD.  I am not qualified personally to judge the quality of VP8 vs H.264.  A quick search on the net shows the world is divided between those that think it is better, those who claim it is not and those who really don’t see any difference.  I think the quality issue for web video is itself a non-starter, the 95% support ratio would, under normal circumstances, push that aside as it has in technological battles before.  Quality of tech generally comes second to ease of use and compatibility with content.  If all the sites you like use VP8, you’re unlikely to care that H.264 is better.

That said, this move shows the supreme arrogance of the Apple community.  What Jobs is saying with a one line email is that we believe VP8 is no threat because a college student said so.  Now this college student might be the worlds best video codec analyst, but… how is anyone to know? One college student’s opinion versus Google’s engineers, On2’s original developers, and every other person who has played with the tech and pronounced it good.

Enough on that, as I said, it’s likely a non-issue.  The real issue is that Apple is holding firm – no VP8 support, H.264 only.  What does this mean for us?

I’d love to call this one for VP8 with overwhelming support, Google standing behind it stating they are completely unafraid of potential patent trolls and 95% of the available market supporting the codec.

We can’t though.  Apple, despite having only a 3.3% share of the browser market, has a 100% share of the iPhone market.  With no support for Flash, currently H.264 is the only way to get video to those devices.  Sure, overall this portion of the market is relatively small, and Android will no doubt have VP8 support – but the issue is this.  This battle will, in the end, be decided by us.  The developers.  If the majority of sites go VP8 as the defacto standard, Apple will more and more feel the pressure to include support for it in the iPhone Safari client as the iPhone users get more and more frustrated at their inability to view those sites.

The question remaining is how many developers are willing to cut out such a, some would say inordinately visible, section of their market?  iPhone uptake is pushing many of the larger sites towards HTML5, and with that as their driver they are unlikely to choose a video codec that the iPhone doesn’t support.

The battle is far from over everyone, and we still can’t call a winner here.  Don’t doubt for a second that Jobs understands the mindshare and brand power he wields with his “magical” devices, and don’t doubt that he will use every ounce of leverage he has to make the world conform to his reality distortion field.

I will continue to update as more news comes in, however for now I think my previous advice still stands.  The safest route is H.264 with a Flash backup for Opera and Firefox who don’t support it.

My preferred option? I have to say i’m weighing in with VP8 here.  I had really thought we’d left behind the time when we coded the same page in different ways to cater for differences in browsers.  We need a standard web, and that means, a standard video codec.

Thoughts anyone? Have I missed anything or am I just plain nuts? Let me know in the comments.

Google opens the VP8 Codec

In case anyone missed the news this morning, at Google’s developers conference they announced the long awaited and suspected open sourcing of the VP8 video codec. In a quick follow-up, Adobe announced the release of a new add-on kit for Dreamweaver CS5 supporting the new(ish) HTML5 tags and utilising VP8 as the video codec of choice for the new <video> tag.

What does this mean for us?

The HTML5 video landscape is a complicated one that has been causing a fair amount of confusion over the last few months.  Basically what we are seeing are the biggest, most important tech companies of the time squaring off against each other over the argument of video codecs, and the whole mess exists because the standards committee do not specify a codec that must be used for interoperability in the standard itself.

There are four key players in this drama and they are the usual suspects, Apple, Microsoft and Google, joined by the Mozilla foundation.  Combined they represent a massive majority of the browser traffic on the web through their four key browser products.  Safari, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome and Firefox.

These browsers are all split in which video codecs they are going to (or already do) support for the video tag in HTML5.  Apple and Microsoft have joined forces and both Safari and Internet Explorer support the H.264 codec exclusively, much to the consternation of many developers and interest groups.  H.264 is, although a great codec, heavily patent encumbered which has financial consequences for anyone wishing to work with the codec.  As many have correctly pointed out, this introduces a potentially insurmountable barrier of entry for many developers and companies who are unable, or unwilling, to pay licence fees required.

Just what licence fees are required and who has to pay them is another scarily murky area.  It’s well known that both Apple and Microsoft are paying heavy licence fees for the right to use the codec in their browsers, but what of developers and content producers? Are they required to pay a licence fee to use the codec?  Opinion is divided on this topic.

In response to this, Mozilla spoke out against the codec and has refused to add support for it into their Firefox browser (though support is being added for non-patent encumbered countries via the Wildfox fork).  Instead, the Firefox browser supports the open source Ogg Theora codec.

Apple has, quite famously,claimed that Ogg Theora is breaching several patents and issued a statement around Ogg Theora, claiming that a “pool of patents” is being drawn together to “go after” Ogg Theora. Whether or not they will personally be involved in this attack is not clear.

Google appears to be taking advantage of the chaos to push uptake of their Chrome browser by taking the sensible route (someone had to) and supporting both codecs.  As well as this, they have now opened VP8 codec as previously mentioned, offering an alternative to both H.264 and Ogg Theora that is guaranteed protection from patent attacks. (At least, until someone attempts to claim that it too violates H.264’s patents).

So what we have is a fractured landscape, now containing three separate codecs.  At this point, from the user’s point of view, Google Chrome has to be the logical choice as it will support all three codecs and thus you wont consistently come across sites whose video you are unable to view.  Given that Mozilla’s stated reason for boycotting H.264 is to “avoid helping uptake and de-facto standardisation of a patent encumbered codec”, it will be interested to see if they write support for VP8 into the Firefox browser.

What this means for developers is more complicated.  By offering a truly free and patent unencumbered codec Google has taken a big step towards standardising the platform and providing a web-video solution that could truly cross all browsers.  Unfortunately for that to work, all of the other browsers will have to come to the party and support VP8 in their own browsers, and in the short term this seems unlikely.  Apple in particular seem devoted to the H.264 codec and will likely fight any solution that seeks to minimise its use.  The fact that they have been visibly antagonistic towards Google over the last few months is unlikely to help matters.

So unfortunately, the best choice for developers in the current situation is probably H.264.  It is supported currently by all major browsers except for Firefox as a straight HTML5 video tag.  For firefox users, we’re back to where we were years ago, writing pages that display different content for different browsers. H.264 is also one of the codecs supported natively by Flash, so a solution that wont require keeping two different encoded version of each document is to embed a flash player in the page when the browser is detected as Firefox.

What we’ll have then is a page that can be viewed on all browsers except Firefox on HTML5 (including iPhone and iPad browsers), and viewed using a flash player plugin on Firefox.

For the near future that seems to be the best option.  It does leave the question of content creator licensing open and it certainly isn’t optimal, but barring an unusual act of respect for developers and open standards on the part of Apple, it is likely to be the situation we are stuck with for some time.

Nintex Workflow 2007

Recently I’ve been working on site with a local client helping to set up a new SharePoint 2007 based intranet site. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time would realise that this is really a bit of a homecoming for me; its the work I started out doing so many years ago.

I’ve learnt a lot these last few days, looking at things once again from a customers perspective. Our client was quite technical himself and I was there less to design and build the intranet site itself and more to provide the benefit of my experience and bootstrap his own learning.

As is usual in these sort of situations, his own explorations prior to engaging me showed me a few things I hadn’t encountered myself to this point. One of these was Nintex Workflow, a third party add-on to SharePoint 2007.

I have, as a rule, stayed away from third party add-ons in the past. In my regular role I design and develop solutions to be deployed to client servers and so we tend to stay away from including third part controls, over which we have no control, to our solutions lest they cause unknown problems we might be unable to resolve.

Nintex Workflow however is far too tempting to pass up. Traditionally our method has been to suggest the built in workflows wherever possible, and to use SharePoint designer as another (uncomfortable) option for simple workflows. SharePoint designer has the advantage of being fast and simple, however workflows created this way must be created in-situ as they are hard-wired into the environment they are created in. This is not a great situation for us, as we prefer to develop off site on test systems and create a deployment package wherever possible.

The other option of course is to use completely custom workflows. This is a powerful option that provides full control over every aspect of the workflow, but has its own disadvantages. One of these is that even tiny changes to the workflow often require a complete rebuild and redeploy to make it happen.

Nintex Workflow takes SharePoint designer workflows and custom workflows, sticks them in a blender and serves you up the result. It provides a visual editor inside the SharePoint environment itself in order to plot out the workflow flowchart and a massive library of components ranging from built-in approval/feedback tasks similar to the standard SharePoint ones all the way to the ability to make calls to external web-services. They also provide the ability to import and export workflows, which would likely aid in deployment.

A quick dart around their website reveals they are also providing an SDK to allow developers to create their own specialised components (one of the few saving graces of SharePoint designer workflows) and a version is currently in the works targeting SharePoint 2010.

Whilst working on-site I’ve created several small workflows for their new intranet and it really is the simplest, most powerful SharePoint workflow tool I’ve yet used. If you’re maintaining, or planning, on complicated workflows, you really should give it a look.

Nintex Workflow 2007

Disclosure: I am not affiliated with Nintex in any way, have received no compensation of any kind for this review, and in fact have never had any communication with them whatsoever. I just really do think this is a great product.

What you have to give up to write

Apparently an “aspiring novelist’s letter” inspired a post over at Whatever yesterday- whoever that was, I bet they were -awesome-.

That aside, the post is an excellent comment on what is actually a significant problem: the prevalent idea that you must be willing to sacrifice everything in order to be a professional writer.

There are people who write sheerly for the enjoyment of it, but far and away the majority of people write to one day see themselves in print, and many dream of giving up their day job and being a full time writer themselves.

To these people the words of those who have “Made It”, the John Scalzi’s and Lawrence Block’s, mean a great deal – and there are a lot of writers out there who are writing books, blogs and articles aimed at these aspiring novelists.

A lot of these books are full of stories about the pain that it can take to become a writer. I think some people probably think they are doing a kindness by preparing others for the pain that there dreams may lead them through: but some of the stories are horrific. They tend to go something like this:

A friend of mine quit his job to become a writer. His first book sucked but he kept trying. He ran out of money but he got a subsistence job to live on and kept trying. His wife left him and took the kids, and his dog died and he was living under a bridge but he kept trying and then his twentieth book took off and now he’s living the dream!

Sure, this is an extreme example (but not -that- extreme, compared to some of the similar stories out there), but there are a lot of them. It has bled into sort of a global belief that in order to be a writer you have to be willing to sacrifice everything – kids, wife, house, your entire life. Only then are you dedicated enough to being a writer, to your dreams and your art, that you can fight your way through the struggle.

At an intellectual level, I don’t believe that. I believe that with hard consistent work and a supportive family you can one day live the dream without having to sacrifice all else that you love. But it is this sort of irrational belief that curls up in your stomach like one of Conan’s serpents and squeezes the confidence out of you, the courage from your heart, until at midnight you are sweating in your bed and staring at the ceiling and you realise that you really -don’t- want it enough to give up your family.

I had that moment. I’ll say it without reservation, there is -nothing- in this world that I want enough to give up my family. I get up in the morning, go to work and slog through anything they throw at my purely so I can go home and see my daughter’s smile and talk with my wife.

So a big thank you to Scalzi for saying what we already knew, but needed to hear someone else say.

I am reminded of an anecdote I read once, went something like this:

A man with a burning desire to play violin met a traveling violin master and begged the master to listen to him play.

“If you tell me I have potential”, he said, “I will devote my life to the violin, but I would never want to do that if I had no chance of success.”

He played and the Master sat, and afterwards said. “I am sorry, you do not have the fire.”

The man went away bitterly dejected.

Years later their paths crossed again and the man shook the Master’s hand and said, “Thankyou, I have become a successful businessman and am glad I didn’t waste my life. I am glad you were able to recognise that I had no talent.”

And the Master said, “I didn’t listen to you play.”

The man was shocked, “Why?” He asked, “Why would you have done that? I could have been great! I could have been a master myself by now!”

“Because,” said the Master, “I tell everyone they lack the fire. If you had the fire, what I said should have made no difference.”

I guess we need to remember that in the end, no matter what anyone else says, it’s down to us.

Go read Scalzi:

Consumers and their Limited Resources


It is beyond my understanding how, even after so long, with so many people pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, the big media companies are still able to claim that every download is a lost sale and that illegal downloads are destroying music/movies/books/their-ability-to-make-billions-off-their-artists.

Well, that last one might be true.

The bottom line is, or at least should be, that not business model has any intrinsic ‘right’ to succeed. If the market changes, and it certainly has changed, and your business model no longer works to make you money then you need to adapt.

And yes, I am aware that convincing governments to pass laws making your business model sacrosanct and then having your customers arrested, charged in civil suits, and forced to give you money is in fact adapting. It might be better to adapt into something with a bit more long term survival.

If you keep biting the masses, eventually they’ll bite back.