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Unpopular Browser Considers Making Controversial Feature Default

posted Saturday Mar 18, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Unpopular Browser Considers Making Controversial Feature Default

Around our offices, the idea The Free Web is an important one. In fact, it is so important we wrote a manifesto. While it is worth a read, the basis is that ad blockers are a false solution to a real problem. Everyone in the equation has responsibilities in maintaining The Free Web, and in the last few years, no one has been holding up their end of the deal.

Last year, Opera, the browser that you forgot existed, introduced a native ad blocker into their browser. Obviously the decision was controversial, but potentially for no reason. As it turns out, a minority of users of the statistically insignificant browser have decided to turn on the feature. The company will not be shaken from its goal, which they claim is a faster web,

We will continue this mission by making our native ad blocking feature even better this year. You can expect to see the first steps in this process this spring. Stay tuned for more speed and a more user-friendly experience.

As for now, we only provide native ad blocking as a preference. This may change, as we are currently evaluating whether we should help people be more active in blocking ads going forward.

Including this feature natively is a bit of an insult to publishers, like ours, that require the advertising revenue to survive. Turning the feature on by default would likely cause a backlash from the big publishers. However, since the browser has less than 1% of the global share, it's also possible that no one will care.

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After Huge Sales, Nintendo to Double Switch Production

posted Saturday Mar 18, 2017 by Scott Ertz

After Huge Sales, Nintendo to Double Switch Production

Console launches are usually really big for their manufacturers. For Nintendo, the launch of the Switch was far above expectations. In fact, the console sold out at many retailers before they officially opened on launch day. Initial numbers are in and it looks like they sold over 1.5 million units in the first week.

The top buyers were in the US, with about one third of all consoles sold here, with Japan buying a quarter of the consoles. Almost 90% of all consoles purchased also bought the first-party title The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the most anticipated launch title for the console. That works out to about 1.34 million copies of the game, not counting sales for the Wii U.

Clearly these numbers are a positive sign for the recently struggling Nintendo, right? Only if the company can capitalize on the initial excitement of the console. Currently there is a major shortage of consoles. If you didn't already get one, you might have to buy one from a scalper on eBay or Amazon. GameStop is expected to have some in stock this week, but that likely won't solve the stock issue.

Nintendo has a plan for that, however. According to The Wall Street Journal, Nintendo is about to double the planned production of Switch consoles beginning next month. The double means production of a total of 16 million units from April of 2017 through March of 2018. While this change might come as a surprise to some analysts, it is a welcomed change for gamers looking to get their hands on the console.

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Google Home Adds Unwanted Ad to Daily Agenda

posted Saturday Mar 18, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Google Home Adds Unwanted Ad to Daily Agenda

Over the past few years, the battle over personal digital assistants has really heated up. With Microsoft's Cortana, Amazon's Alexa, Apple's Siri and Google Home all vying to help you through your day, there is an important question to be asked: why do any of these companies care?

For Microsoft, Cortana is a way to promote the power of Windows on multiple platforms and the capabilities of Azure. For Amazon, Alexa is a way to make buying products from the company's online store easier. For Apple, Siri was initially a way to set the iPhone apart from Android. But for Google, where does Home fit into the company's plan?

For Google, Home seems to be about encouraging people to use Google's online services, such as Search, Gmail and Calendar, because that is where Google generates the majority of their revenue. But, Google's business model revolves almost entirely around advertising revenue from their web properties. The problem for Google is that Home does not show any of their ads.

This week, Google found a way to introduce the only thing it knows, advertising, into its Google Home product, in the form of information about Disney's live-action Beauty and the Beast film that premiered this week. On Thursday, when people asked about their day, they were forced to endure a message about the film,

By the way, Disney's live action Beauty and The Beast opens today. In this version of the story, Belle is the inventor instead of Maurice. That rings truer, if you ask me. For some more movie fun, ask me something about Belle.

After users voiced their complaints Thursday online, the ad mysteriously vanished, with Google issuing two statements claiming that the insert wasn't an ad. There is no explanation how an unsolicited product placement into a daily agenda is different from an ad, and Google has not answered questions about whether or not Disney had paid for the product placement, or if Google was simply testing the idea of product placement.

This could be an indication of things to come for Google's Home products. Based on the reaction from users, however, this move could end similar to the Google Buzz disaster, where people end up boycotting the product over Google's invasion.

If Google begins adding advertisements into Google Home, will it lower your interest in the service? Let us know in the comments.

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Spotify to Implement TIDAL's Quality Benefit

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Spotify to Implement TIDAL's Quality Benefit

Over the last few years, streaming music services have kind of taken over the industry. Between services like Groove, Amazon Prime Music, Spotify and more running around $100 per year, it is hard to justify the cost of purchasing music, either on CD or MP3.

The problem with these services is that most of them stream using a fairly lossy format, meaning you're not getting quite the sound quality you may be used to. There have been services that have tried to remedy this scenario, with TIDAL being the most discussed. They have continued to have issues getting people to sign-up for their service, recently selling 33% of the company to Sprint in hopes of gaining traction.

Market leader Spotify may be about to mix things up, however, with a yet-to-be-announced feature that leaked this week. Some people have been invited to join "Spotify Hi-Fi" - Spotify's introduction of "lossless CD quality audio" streaming. Members on Reddit and Twitter have shared images of their invites, with pricing including $5, $7.50 and $10 per month. The variation of prices is likely due to Spotify testing which price tier will attract more customers.

Adding a new, premium feature is a great way for Spotify to increase revenue without having to try and lure customers away from other services. Spotify has not responded positively or negatively to the news, saying only that they test new features often. If the company is working on bringing this feature to market, it is unclear when we might be able to test it out.

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Amazon Shows the Hazardous Risks of the Cloud with a Typo

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Amazon Shows the Hazardous Risks of the Cloud with a Typo

Love it or hate it, the cloud is here to stay. It's hard to beat the capabilities and it's nearly impossible to beat the prices. While our site is hosted traditionally, all of our media files for all of our shows are hosted at Microsoft Azure. While it seems like a slam dunk, the growing popularity of cloud services does present an interesting new problem.

As more and more sites and applications begin to rely on services like Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud and Amazon Web Services (AWS), it creates a scenario where there is a single point of failure. If one of the cloud companies has an issue, then hundreds or thousands of users can be affected.

This issue was demonstrated this week when the AWS Simple Storage Service (S3) failed on February 28. Amazon was very open about the issue, keeping their status page up-to-date as the issue was identified, troubleshot and solved. This outage, however, collapsed as many as 150,000 websites and applications, with more having partial outages, for about half of the day.

With this kind of failure, you would expect that something serious, such as a power outage or massive storm, would be to blame. Unfortunately, you would be mistaken. As it turns out, it was an institutional failure within AWS that caused the issue. Let's examine what happened.

According to Amazon, a typo during a billing system change was to blame for the outage in their northern Virginia datacenter. The typo, however, was only a symptom of the actual problem within Amazon. Their system should not be so open to the support team that it allowed one employee to essentially shutdown an entire datacenter with a single command. The system should have denied the command, knowing that there was little to no chance that it was done on purpose.

That is a system and organizational failure, no matter how you slice it. A company who knows how many companies and organizations rely on their services should be more respectful of those customers.

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Microsoft Introduces Features That Will Make You Love Your Xbox Even More

posted Saturday Mar 4, 2017 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Introduces Features That Will Make You Love Your Xbox Even More

It is no secret that Microsoft is expanding the reach of the Xbox brand. Steve Ballmer's idea was to make Xbox the all-inclusive media brand, but under Satya Nadella, Xbox has returned to its gaming roots, but in a big way. Rather than just being a gaming console, Xbox represents Microsoft's gaming ambitions across everything running the OneCore: Xbox One, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Holographic.

This week, the company added a couple of new features to the Xbox ecosystem that will give you even more reasons to spend more time in the Xbox world.

Xbox Live Creators Program

As the Windows 10 Creators Update gets closer to the public, Xbox wants to embrace the community that they are cultivating. With that comes the new Xbox Live Creators Program, a new way for really indie developers to publish games to the Xbox ecosystem. The program is not intended to replace ID@Xbox, the program where large indie developers can publish fully-qualified Xbox titles. Instead, this is intended for much smaller shops, or single developers, looking for exposure.

Creators will have access to a much smaller subset of Xbox APIs. For example, they can access Xbox Live account information, but cannot publish achievements. They can create achievements and hubs, but cannot use Xbox Live multiplayer capabilities. Also, games must be UWP applications created using Construct 2, MonoGame, Unity or Xenko.

Because these games are required to be UWP, that means that they can run on Xbox One, Windows 10, Windows 10 Mobile and Windows Holographic, all with a single publish. The breadth of platforms available places the Creators Program above Valve's new Steam Direct, a similar program, but with a very limited availability.

Xbox Game Pass

Another new way to get new games to play is the Xbox Game Pass. Premiering with more than 100 titles, this new subscription service will give a variety of titles for a single monthly price. For $10, you will see Xbox One titles, like Halo 5: Guardians, and Xbox 360 titles, like Gears of War. There are RPG titles like Fable and sports titles, like NBA 2K16.

While this is similar to PlayStation Now, it has a few major enhancements. For example, while Now only allows streaming of titles, allowing for gaming lag, Game Pass allows you to download the titles to your console. Now only offers access to older titles, while Game Pass will give access to more modern Xbox One content. Also, Now runs $20 per month, while Game Pass will come in at only $10 per month.

Obviously, games will cycle in and out of the program, so that new games are always available to try out. If a game leaves the program, and you want to keep access to it, Xbox will offer you a discount to purchase it. We don't have an official launch date, but Xbox Insiders can try out a preview of the service this week.

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