Posts tagged review

A journey back to the land of Windows

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It had been just over two years since I had had the (dis)pleasure of booting a Microsoft operating system. Two weeks ago I decided to see what all the fuss was about with Windows 7 and at the same time take a look at Parallels 5 Desktop for Mac. I hadn’t used Parallel’s since version 3 and I’d heard good things about it as well. Two birds with one stone.

And while I was at it, I figured I’d give Office 2010 and Visio 2010 a go as well. Certain sites that I make regular use of were developed by folks that haven’t heard of things like standards and W3C so I often find myself having to log onto a terminal server just to access information or open documents.

After downloading all the relevant installation files and obtaining all the appropriate license keys, I was ready to go.

The Parallel’s installation went off without a hitch and was super quick. Pretty unobtrusive and what I expected.

ParallelsDesktop5forMac.jpeg

I fired up Parallel’s for the first time and clicked on the button to install a new OS. I pointed it at my Windows 7 image and clicked next. It recognised it as a Windows 7 image and pretty much did everything else on it’s own. I gave the OS access to only one of my CPU cores and 2048GB of RAM. I also chose not to have any integration between Mac OS X and Windows as I would be uninstalling before the trial expired.

I couldn’t believe how quick the Windows 7 install was. I run the VM on an external LaCie 7200rpm disk connected with firewire 800, but even so, the installation was nothing like what I was used to with XP (I never installed or used Vista, so I have no idea what that installation process was like). I logged in for the first time, it did some stuff and was raring to go. First thing I did was take a snapshot, just in case I ended installing something that blatted my VM or I decided I wanted to go back to a clean install.

I played around with IE and some of the other apps that come bundled with Windows 7 and was very happy with the performance inside my VM. Considering that I gave it access to a fair amount of resources I was very happy that it wasn’t bringing my system to it’s knees.

Next I installed Office 2010 Beta and Visio 2010. Also went off without a hitch, but did require a fair amount of downloading of additional components. Not the end of the world. After the installation I took another snapshot. Again, just in case I wanted to get back to a near clean install. I opened up a few Word and Excel documents, a few diagrams in Visio and set up Outlook to connect to our Exchange server, again all without any issues. One thing I did find rather annoying was that every time one of the applications encountered some new feature it would need to install an add on from the Interweb. I suppose some of this will go away once the product is out of beta.

I had now completed installing everything I wanted to try out and so far so good. The apps all seemed pretty light and very very responsive in my VM. The combination of Parallel’s 5 and Windows 7 was leagues ahead of where I was some two years ago with Parallel’s 3 and XP. In fact, if Parallel’s runs a special anytime soon or gives me a big discount on upgrading from 3 to 5 I may actually consider leaving it installed for the odd occasion I needed to access a Terminal server. The prospect of keeping it patched and anti-virused and anti-malwared really doesn’t excite me, but I can always just revert to a snapshot if something bad happens.

I’m not really sure what all the fuss around Windows 7 is. It looks OK, but there isn’t really anything that jumps out at me as a killer feature. I guess it’s not XP or Vista and is apparently stable as a primary operating system. Maybe I’m just used to that with Mac OS X and FreeBSD ?

As an aside I’ve been playing with VMWare 3 as well, albeit not with Windows 7, but I really think that Parallel’s have taken it to the next level.

I’ll post any new revelations here as I come across them.

Plants vs. Zombies

Plants vs. Zombies

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(9/10)
Everyone knows that everything is better with zombies. Plants vs. Zombies is no exception.

Plants vs. Zombies

This 28MB download from Popcap games will ensure that from now on, you won’t have a minute of boredom while sitting in from of your computer.

Essentially, instead of shotguns and chainsaws repelling hordes of the brain eating undead, you make clever use of your green fingers and some rather obviously genetically mutated plants to build a line of defense between them and your back door (and sometimes your chimney).

As you progress you build up an arsenal of flora that each have their own special abilities. I’m particularly fond of the cherry bomb that leaves the undead charred and with a look of bewilderment on their faces. The levels also get progressively more challenging requiring you to choose your green army carefully. Once you’ve found your groove for a particular level you shouldn’t have too much difficulty keeping the zombies at bay.

Plants vs. Zombies comes with a number of additional game modes (like survival, puzzle, zen garden, etc) that provide many hours of additional play if you are still craving for more once you have completed the adventure mode.

My only comment to improve the game would be to make adventure mode longer, or to unlock some kind of uber adventure mode once you’ve completed it the first time. Well, maybe survival is kinda like that. Anyway, I digress.

@simondingle chose it as his pick of the week on last weeks zatechshow as well. Surely two people can’t be wrong…

Stop reading and just go and get it !

It’s available on Windows, Mac, iPhone and in your browser and will only cost you R185.

Download Plants vs Zombies here – or they will eat your brains !

GTA: Chinatown Wars

GTA for the iPhone

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It was inevitable. Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars was released earlier this week for the iPhone. The was ported from the Nintendo DS and PSP version by the Rockstar Games folk on Leeds. Although I haven’t played the other two versions, the game is apparently almost identical. It is available from the iTunes store for £5.99 and carries a mature/17 rating for the swearing, sex and violence that is necessary in any GTA game.

GTA: Chinatown Wars

My only notable experience with GTA in the past was with GTA IV on the Xbox 360, so I was sure I knew what I was in for. The story centers around a young Triad on his way to Liberty City to deliver a sword to his uncle Kenny after the death of his father. Of course things go horribly wrong from the minute that Huang sets foot on Liberty City soil.

Gameplay consists of missions and minigames that progress you through the story and build up stockpile of cash. For the most part you’ll be chasing after thugs and gang members that are invading your families turf and letting them have a one on one chat with the biggest gun you have in your arsenal. You’ll also be running from the fuzz and running over unsuspecting pedestrians. If you’re not fast enough you’ll end up in the slammer.

So far the game has been pretty engrossing and the story moves at a decent pace. My only complaint is around the control system, not so much when you’re on foot, but when you’re driving around. Maybe I’m trying a little to hard not run over the old ladies, or maybe my fingers are just to big but I not getting the hang of it.

The sound and graphics are also very impressive. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the graphics push the iPhone 3GS’ CPU to the max.

It’s one the first games available on the iPhone platform that has real substance as far as a story goes and is welcome addition to the App Store. Hopefully also a sign of things to come from Rockstar. The more mainstream developers that work on the platform the better for all of us.

It’s definitely worth the £5.99 and will provide you weeks of entertainment. My only warning is that it definitely chews your battery, so make sure that you some juice nearby.

Machinarium

Challenge your grey matter

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(8/10)

There was quite a lot of noise about Machinarium when it was released and everyone started playing it. I thought I’d keep my opinion to myself until I had finished the game.

The game was developed and released by a small independent Czech studio Amanita Design and was simultaneously released for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. A great feat you may think, but actually just a clever move by developing the game in Flash. So basically any OS that has a compliant Flash player is able to play the game.

Machinarium

I know zombies that wouldn’t waste their time with most flash games out there, but Machinarium really does take it to a new level. The world the game takes place in is beautifully drawn and the level of detail is amazing. The game reminds me of the kind of gameplay we had with some of the classics like Myst. Puzzles that make you want to tear your hair out and run over the next door neighbours yapping dog. Fortunately there is a clever built in hints system that you get access to by completing a mini-game.

The game costs $20 and you get access to all three versions when you buy it. The game isn’t very long, but it is definitely worth the money.

Save the little robot.

Tweetie 2 for iPhone

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(8/10)

tweetie For some time now I’ve resisted the urge to try out any of the pay-for Twitter applications on the iPhon, mostly because I’ve found the free ones to be more than sufficient for my needs. Tweetdeck for the iPhone has delivered all the functionality that I’ve needed and it was responsive enough for me not to be on the lookout for anything better. I’ve also used Echofon before I tried Tweetdeck. Another great client, but I stopped using it when I started using Tweetdeck on my laptop.

Tweetie 2 was recently launched (well not that recently) and included some new features I wanted to try out. The old app had also received some rave reviews so I decided to spend the £1.79 (about R22, hardly a kings ransom) and buy it from the the app store [iTunes link].

One capacitive click after installing the app and I was on my way to Twitter bliss (Twiss ?). The interface is clean and well organised. Everything is where you expect to find it and the app is super responsive. At first I thought it was just gimicky, but there is an awesome function that allows you to refresh/reload the screen you’re on by pulling the screen down and then letting it bounce back – sounds complicated, but you’ll love it once you give it a try. Icons are cached so timelines load quickly and their layout also looks great.

There are some features that I’ve grown used to and couldn’t live without:

  • URL shortening with a bit.ly account
  • Read later with Instapaper
  • Image posting with Posterous
  • Nearby search
  • Saved searches

Other features that I don’t use, but that I know others find very useful:

  • Support for multiple accounts
  • Video upload using yFrog or TwitVid
  • Customisable quote/retweet syntax

Rumour has it that Tweetie 2.1 is imminent and will add support for lists. Awesome.

It just makes you a better Twit.

Protect your iPhone

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(9/10)

I’ve never really been a fan of cell phone covers or cases. Usually because you end up compromising on the functionality of your device or you end up doubling its size. My 2G iPhone ended up looking like a expensive German bathroom fitting that had been attacked by a child with an angle grinder. Not a pretty site, but I never saw a cover that appealed to me. Mind you, I wasn’t really trying very hard to find one.

I was determined not to let my shiny new iPhone 3GS suffer the same fate. I saw a few covers that didn’t look too bad and decided to head out on a Saturday morning to pick one up. I was quickly reminded why doing your own research online and then ordering from an e-tailer is always the best option. All the staff in all the stores I went to were completely useless. I was really impressed with how little they knew about the products they had for sale in their respective stores.

In the last store I visited (why is it always the last store you go to ???) I finally found something that I liked. A little surprising as the cover was completely different to what I originally had in mind for my 3GS. As soon as I saw it I got flashbacks of Portal. It was brilliant white with grey buttons and hugged my iPhone like they were made for each other – which they obviously were.

They iPhone Candyshell from Speck

They iPhone Candyshell from Speck

The Candyshell from Speck is a little pricey compared to some of the other covers that are available, coming in at around R350 depending on where you shop. It also comes with a screen protector (and a great little cloth to polish the screen before you apply it) which a lot of the other covers don’t have, not that they are expensive, but it’s great that I only had to buy a single product.

My 3GS now feels almost indestructible. The rubberised edges also give you that extra sense of security when you put it down on a hard surface or drop it. You can access all the buttons and the dock connector without any issues and the camera isn’t obstructed at all. I’ve also had zero issues with the phone overheating with the cover on.

If you love your iPhone and I know you do, buy it this cover and it will be with you till your next upgrade and beyond.

Borderlands – conquer it with your friends

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(7/10)

I’m still not sure about Borderlands. I can’t really fault the game. The graphics are great, it makes me laugh and it’s built from the ground up for online co-op. It walks a fine line between a FPS and RPG, probably my two favorite genres, but there still just seems to be something missing. I’m probably only about 25% of the way through the game, almost all of which has been done with at least one buddy in co-op, but I haven’t had that, “I must lock myself in the house and play this until the neighbors complain about the smell” feeling.

borderlands-box

The story is also pretty cool. You are searching for a mythical vault that is packed with alien technology and secrets. I mean, who wouldn’t want to find that ! As with most RPG’s, you start off with miserable stats, miserable weapons, miserable everything really. You progress through the first 15 levels is pretty quick and if you spend your money wisely you can amass a fairly decent arsenal especially if you get lucky with one of the “daily specials” at the vending machines.

borderlands-crew

If I had my life over, I would probably wait to pick it up second hand, it is however a great way spend all night chatting to your buddies and making alien heads explode with your sniper rifle. Doesn’t really get much better than that.

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