Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 3)

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After a few weeks of considering my options, I decided that switching back to a windows PC would be the best bet for me. The same power at more than half the cost was simply too tempting. So I sold my iMac and built a new PC from the ground up. For the time, my new PC was quite the beast. In fact, the system I use today is still built around that core investment.

I was relieved to see that Windows 7 was indeed a huge improvement over Vista. All of my audio and driver issues were things of the past, not the mention the OS itself seemed to have a bit more polish and spark to it. I did, however, immediately miss quite a bit about my iMac. The seamless experience and ease-of-use was gone. I found myself spending a little more time “under the hood” with my Windows PC than I liked. But more importantly, I found that my user experience as a whole, was turned upside down. You see, I had spent the last few years submerged almost entirely in the Apple ecosystem.  Mobile Me, iTunes, iPhone… At the center of all of that was my iMac. Sure, I could check my Mac.com email address on the web, and yes, there was a Windows version of iTunes. But upon installing it I immediately noticed how subpar the iTunes experience was on Windows. The whole app was much more sluggish than it was under OS X. I just didn’t feel right.

Then, the fateful day arrived when the unthinkable happened. I dropped my iPhone in a parking lot and shattered the screen. I had to decide at that point, do I get another iPhone or look into another option? Android phones were popular, but received nowhere near the support they have today. Plus, I found I had really grown to dislike a number of Google’s services. So Android was out. It was at this time that I began to consider Microsoft’s new fledging mobile offering: Windows Phone 7. Windows Phones were not popular at all. But I was very impressed by what I saw. The mobile OS was simply lovely and intuitive. Yes, it was radically different that iOS or even Android, but that was ok with me. The biggest downside to using a Windows Phone was (and still is) the lack of quality applications available. The basics were all covered (Facebook, Twitter, etc) but some of the more specialized apps simply didn’t and still don’t exist on the platform. Regardless, I decided to go ahead and take the plunge. I switched from iPhone to Windows.

Believe it or not, I fell in love with Microsoft’s mobile platform. I found it to serve my needs very well. Shortly after, Microsoft announced Windows 8 for PCs. This was a new radical version of Windows that looked a lot like my Windows Phone. It seemed MS now had a long term vision to try to bring parity to both their mobile and desktop operating systems. Most of the public shunned Windows 8, but personally, I had no issues with it. By this time, I found that I had fully immersed myself within the Microsoft Ecosystem. In fact, for the most part I still do. I use Outlook mail, Bing, OneDrive, Windows Phone. I’m a loyal customer.

Flash forward a few years to the present. Now Windows 10 is current backbone of Microsoft. Despite what you may read online, I find Windows 10 to be a fine OS. It does NOT spy on you or take control of your PC as some people claim. It’s Windows as it always has been, but just with a bit more polish and modernization. It’s a fantastic operating system. But that praise aside, over the last year or so, it’s become obvious that Microsoft again seems to be grasping at straws when it comes to certain aspects of their business. It’s been a long time since that days of Windows Phone 7, but Microsoft  STILL cannot seem to get developers on board with their mobile division. Windows 10 was supposed to change this. The Universal Application feature of Windows 10 meant that an application could run on any Windows 10 device anywhere. Be it a PC, Tablet or Mobile Phone. That has so far, not panned out as promised. Also, Microsoft recently reneged on their promise of unlimited online Storage via OneDrive for certain users. (They did this AFTER an aggressive campaign where they practically begged customers to upload their entire MP3 libraries to the service for easy streaming). To put the icing on the cake, their new music application “Groove” is a terrible mess. Despite receiving constant updates, I do not find it to be a piece of software I can use in my day to day life. I am a BIG music fan. I have a digital music library of almost 200 gigabytes. Groove does not feature basic tag editing features, or other services offered by a number of other music management applications. In fact, Groove feels like incomplete software. It’s great on my mobile phone for playback. But as far as a desktop app, it lacks severely.

So where does that leave me? I tend to be brand loyalist. I drink Coke, not Pepsi. I wear Levis, not Arizona. But… I like both Microsoft and Apple – yet, I have problems with both. At the moment, I’m pretty much “all in” with Microsoft. I use their services, OS and hardware. But I have to admit, as far as mobile goes, the app gap is starting to hit hard. There’s a ton of great applications I would love to use that are simply NOT available on the Windows mobile platform. I’ve resisted it for so long, but it’s starting to become a real issue. Mobile banking on my phone? Nope. The latest mobile game, authenticator, or productivity app? Nope. So you might say to yourself, “Just switch.” But here’s the problem… I’m weird. If I exchanged my Windows Phone for an iPhone, I’d then get the urge to move away from Windows entirely. Because, I’m just the kind of guy that likes everything to match and play well together. I know this because a few months back it happened…

My wife’s cell contract came due and she decided to buy a new iPhone 6. While we were at the store, I decided on a whim: ME TOO! So I bought one for myself. I liked the phone fine, but when I got home I immediately felt resentment at having to install the sluggish Windows-version of iTunes. It gnawed at me to the point where days later, I marched into the Apple store and came home with a $3,000 iMac. I was back in Apple land, baby! But, then it hit me just how insane the whole scenario was. Sure, at the time, I was able to afford these luxuries, but were they REALLY necessary? Plus, while I found myself enjoying all of the things I really liked about Apple again, this time I found that I actually missed a bunch of things I’d grown to like about Windows 10! Before it was too late, I took advantage of Apple’s return policy and took both the iMac and iPhone back. No harm done in the long-run. But I realized just then how effective this whole “ecosystem” strategy can be. Let me break it down for a normal person: Perhaps you’re an iPhone user, and you’re thinking about switching to Android. Easy enough right, but wait… all your contacts and online photo albums are backed up using iCloud. What a pain to switch all that! They’ve got their claws in you…

So as it stands now, I’m still a Windows user. I legitimately like and enjoy most of Microsoft’s products, but I’m worried about their strategy. At this point, I guess you could say I’m putting Microsoft on notice. I’m going to lay low for the remainder of the 2016 to see how their plans for universal apps and enhancements to their existing products go. A year should be sufficient time for them to show me, as a consumer, that they have a solid plan to bring excitement back to their platform. If not, I may have to seriously assess my tendency to stay true to their brand. Time will tell. MS has some really great products out there these days. The Surface line of tablets is FANTASTIC and blows away the iPad in my opinion. The Microsoft Band is probably, functionally the best fitness tracker/smart watch on the market. What’s killing them is mobile. No one cares about Windows Phone and a result, no one is developing for it. Windows 10 could be the key. In theory, any native Windows 10 app will also work on mobile. So both Windows10 desktop and mobile can benefit from this interoperability. But so far… even that is stagnant.  They have to make this Universal Application system desirable to developers. But I’m not sure how they can effectively do that. Their bridging technologies, so far, don’t seem to be garnering much interest. Time will tell. Lots of us are watching,

 

Going All In: My experiences with the Microsoft/Apple Ecosystems (Part 2)

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My decision to jump from PC to Mac, wasn’t made on a whim. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with Microsoft’s apparent lack of vision. None of what they were doing was making any sense to me. Let me be clear, I am more than a PC user. I’m a licensed technician. I can design and build a personal computer from scratch. While I don’t write software, it didn’t take a developer to realize that Microsoft had no real strategy for the future at the time. For me, Vista was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  I used it for a few months, and I even found myself defending it against detractors who refused to switch from Windows XP. But more and more each day, I found myself being limited by it. Looking back, I can admit that Vista was a bit of a necessary evil. It was the epitome of Microsoft’s post-dominance “growing pains”.

For some time, I had been a user of Apple iPods and their corresponding iTunes software. Over the span of a few years, I had converted my entire CD library (Over 600 discs) to high-quality digital audio. I used iTunes to manage my library. I’m a very particular sort of guy. Some would say I am a perfectionist. I like my entire library tagged, with quality album art, etc. iTunes allowed me to do this in ways that Windows Media Player or other mp3 players never could. So, I was already a user of Apple software and services to a degree. Plus, I had always been intrigued by the beauty of Apple’s operating system OS X. At this point, the only thing keeping me on the PC platform was gaming. I knew that if I purchased an iMac, I would never be able to upgrade and service it the same way I could with a PC. Putting in the latest graphics card was simply not an option. That type of upgrade would require the purchase of a new, better iMac. Which again, would have the same limitation. All that aside, Apple’s operating system couldn’t run the majority of games I owned any ways. That’s when news of Apple’s next operating system (OS X Leopard) hit the web. Leopard would feature something called “Boot Camp”. This was essentially a boot loader that would allow you to install and run Windows on your Mac. So gamers could now simply boot over to Windows whenever they wanted to game. Despite the upgrade conundrum, this revelation, along with my Windows frustrations convinced me to make the switch.

When I first brought my iMac home, I knew that I was in for a learning curve. A lot of things worked the same, yes. But there was just as many things about OS X that worked differently. Not to mention, I had to find Mac-equivalents for all my software applications. Those first few days I did feel a bit lost. On more than one occasion I told myself that I had made a very expensive mistake. But then, things started to click. And it wasn’t long before I began to feel at home with OS X. In fact, I realized that I did indeed find it much easier, and even more pleasant to use than Windows. After the span of about four months, I was a full Mac convert. I used their built-in Safari web browser, their own iWork office applications, I even switched from my Gmail account to Apple’s Mac.com email.

What happened next, cemented that even further. Apple released the iPhone.  Now, I didn’t jump on the first generation iPhone, because I found the cost to prohibitive. Plus, I had a year contracting remaining on my silly Verizon flip-phone. But once the iPhone 3G was released, I was in line like the rest of the idiots waiting for my shiny new gadget. The iPhone 3G was a fantastic device. There had never been anything like it. It was like this missing puzzle piece that I didn’t even know I needed. I found myself completely emerged in this new “ecosystem” that Apple had invented. Everything about my Mac and iPhone worked together. Both the software and services. It was seamless and I was happy.

I was a happy Mac user for a little more than three years. But then the gaming bug bit and it bit hard. Square Enix had just released the beta of Final Fantasy XIV and I HAD to play this game. Until now, I had been an avid Final Fantasy XI player. And when switching from PC to Mac, I simply began playing the Xbox 360 version of the game. Sadly, the console version of XIV was not going to be available for sometime and it was obvious from trying to play the beta on the iMac that if I wanted to play this game, I’d need to find another option.

I began looking at buying a new Mac. But the model with the specs I needed to play the game would cost me around $3,000.00. Building a PC with nearly the EXACT same hardware would only run me about $1,100.00.  The temptation to leave behind this wonderful world of Apple began to pull at me. Microsoft had recovered from the black cloud of Vista, and their new OS, Windows 7 was receiving rave reviews. I found myself in a unique position. Having used both platforms extensively, I could clearly see both the merits and disadvantages of both. I found that I actually liked BOTH. Now I had to make a choice, which side would I choose now? Mac or PC?

To be continued….

Nerd Passion: Dungeons & Dragons

So far, this site has focused mainly on video games. That’s not too bad. Almost everyone plays video games to some extent. We’ve also touched on subjects just a little bit less mainstream; comics, Star Wars, etc. But again, who doesn’t like Superman or Darth Vader? These are household names. So today, I’m going to talk about one of my passions that is 100%, unfiltered NERD MATERIAL. That is: Dungeons & Dragons.

I love D&D. But sadly, I have not played it in many years. For those of you who are not familiar with the game. Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop role playing game. It’s played with books, paper, dice, and these days, miniatures. Perhaps, you’ve seen the movie E.T., remember the scene where Elliot and his brother are sitting around the table talking about elves and magic missiles? That was D&D.

I was first introduced to D&D when I was about 11 years old. I remember seeing some of the rulebooks in the bookstore and I was very intrigued. This was around the time that the original version of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was transitioning to its second edition. At this time in my life I lived on the island of Okinawa in Japan, so when I expressed an interest in playing, my parents had some of their young AirForce friends come over for dinner and they stuck around to teach me how to play.

Over the years, I experienced a number of fantastic adventures. I played First Edition and Second Edition. I bought and collected all the material I could get my hands on, and even read several of the novels. (Dragonlance was a favorite of mine). However, like many other things in my life, my interest in the hobby started to fade as I got older. By the time the Third Edition of D&D was released, I was no longer playing.

But, my interest in the game never completely faded. In reality, between school, work, and other hobbies I could never find the time to pick it back up. I also became a bit disgruntled by the rapid release cycle. In just a few short years the third edition of D&D became 3.5, and than 4. I couldn’t afford to keep up if I wanted to.

These days, I have a bit more time on my hands and I find my interest in the hobby rekindled. The hardest thing about playing these days is not finding the time, but finding people to play with. Tabletop RPGs have recently taken a backseat to computer games. Today, the “D&D Nerds” play MMO games like World of Warcraft. No one seems enjoy that nostalgic sound of dice rolling across a dining room table. I miss that! After doing a bit of research, it seems the best way to find other players is by hanging out in local hobby shops or stopping by for official “hosted games”. Not my first choice, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I feel like this problem may have more to do with my location than with the overall interest in the game itself. I live in the middle of nowhere. The nearest hobby shop is 30 miles away. So, yeah.

Despite these hurdles, I’m starting to feel that D&D itch again. After doing a bit of research, I’ve learned that the 5th edition of D&D is on the horizon. The new version of the game is expected to launch this summer. It is my intention to get in on the ground floor with this “D&D Next”, as they are calling it.

Naturally, I plan to detail my experiences here. So if that’s your cup of tea, keep an eye out in the coming months.

Nerd Passion: Comic Books

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So far the posts on this site have been almost entirely focused on gaming. That’s ok, but there are some other topics that I want to comment on as well. Now that I’m all caught up on the games of my youth, I feel like I’m somewhat free to discuss other things as well. So now, I’m going to spend a few moments to discuss something equally as nerdy….. comics.

I can easily say that I’m a comic fan. I love super heroes, and I enjoy reading comics, but I’m not quite as passionate about them as I am about games. Like most things I’ve discussed on this site, my love for comics these days is mostly fueled by nostalgia.  My early childhood took place during the 80s, my teenage years during the nineties. These were great times to be a kid. We had the best TV, the best games and the best comics.

As a young child, I wasn’t into to comics very much. I remember having a few random comics laying around my room, but nothing that I read religiously. My interest in comic books didn’t actually blossom until I was maybe 12 or 13. It was 1991 and I was living on an Air Force base in Japan and one day I was riding my bike home from school when I stopped into a corner market to grab a drink. There was a big comic display that I usually never gave a second glance to, but that day there was something that caught my eye; a Double Dragon comic book!

 

Double Dragon was the name of a popular Nintendo game, one that I’ve talked about on this site actually. The game itself had a somewhat shallow storyline, but it was one of my favorites at the time, so this comic book caught my eye. I had enough money on me so I bought it and took it home. That afternoon I read through it and found that I really enjoyed it. I think the one I bought was number 3 in a series of 4 or 6 books. Over the next few days, I scoured the various stores on base I and I was eventually able to acquire the issues I was missing.  By the time I was done reading the whole series, I realized… hey, these comic books are pretty good!

I decided to check out some more, so a few days later I went back to the shop and picked up this epic looking thing:

 

The Infinity Gauntlet! This book (and the mini series it was a part of) was an epic crossover event that introduced me to the Marvel universe. This is where my love for comics really started to build. I purchased everything I could get my hands on. Spider Man, X-Men, The Silver Surfer.. you name it. I wanted to see what I had been missing.

Just a few months after getting really into comics, my family moved back to the United States. Once I was back here, I discovered the glory of comic book stores. There’s no telling how much money I blew at these places. I was not really a big fan of DC Comics at this point, so I focused mainly on Marvel offerings. I enjoyed Spider Man, and I read almost every Spidey title that was out. I was also a fan of his villains, so  I made sure to snap every Venom, Carnage and Morbius book that happened to show up on the shelf. But aside from Spider Man, the other stuff I read wasn’t very mainstream. I enjoyed more obscure titles like Sleepwalker and Deathlok. During the early 90’s there was also a Marvel imprint known as “2099”. This featured a futuristic take on traditional Marvel characters. I loved and collected these with a passion.

 

My comic phase lasted maybe 2 or 3 years before fizzling out almost completely. I kept my books for many years, but the purchase and reading of comics was eventually replaced with my newfound passion for music. As I got involved in the music scene and began performing in a band, my comic books were all but forgotten.

This lull lasted for over a decade. Then one day, I happened to see a mention online that DC comics was doing something pretty radical. They were going to reboot their entire line of books, starting over with brand new #1 issues. Immediately, the nostalgia pangs for comic reading started. So, I decided to see what was going on with this and I purchased a handful of books.

I was immediately impressed by the quality of these comics. Both in art and storytelling, but also in the physical quality of the product. Comics have really improved over time! The pages are now a thicker, sturdy material. The art is crisp and clear, no more newspaper style inky messes. I was really impressed.

 

Since DC’s launch of the “New 52”, Marvel has also followed with a semi-reboot as well. So if you are someone who is interested in comics, this is a great time to jump in.

My purchase of physical comic books lasted about 6 months before I finally made the switch over to digital. Now, I collect comics on my computer and read them on a tablet. Technology has really made this an easy hobby to enjoy. You can carry hundreds of comics with you anywhere thanks to reading devices like the iPad and the Kindle Fire.

The internet has made digital distribution a very profitable way for publishers to release quality comics. Aside from the big two (DC and Marvel), there are tons of independent or smaller publishers out there. Titles like The Walking Dead are a good example of this.

So yes, aside from being a game geek, I’m also a comic nerd. Just another notch on my nerd resume. With this post, I begin occasionally adding some comic related entries to the blog. This is something I won’t do very often, but expect a few posts from time to time.

Distant Worlds

As many of my readers might know, I am a rabid Final Fantasy fan. I’ve played every title in the main series as well as several of the offshoots. One of my favorite aspects of these games is the wonderful music that is composed for the titles. Being the collector that I am, I have amassed a large collection of Final Fantasy soundtracks over the years. But my favorites are the Distant Worlds live symphonic albums. The records feature classic Final Fantasy tunes played by a full symphony orchestra.

After several years, I’m happy to say I have finally been able to attend a Distant Worlds concert in person and it was nothing short of fantastic!

For those unfamiliar with the concert, I’d highly suggest doing a little digging around YouTube for some footage or better yet, make plans to attend. It was simply an amazing experience. I’m thankful my wife was able to attend with me. It certainly made some new powerful memories for us both.

Nerd Shock

Today the nerd-world was rocked with news that Disney has purchased Lucasfilm. On top of that, it was also announced that Disney would create a new trilogy. Yes, you read it right. Episode VII VIII and IX.

What does this mean for the all the “expanded universe” novels out there? No one knows yet. Stay tuned… Once Halloween is out of the way and I’m done with this Castlvania playthrough, I’ll have some comments on this shocking bizarro-world we’re now apparently living in.

October, Dracula, and Castlevania…

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Well, here we are: October. Probably my favorite month of the year. There’s just something about the changes of the seasons that appeals to be. I enjoy the crisp bite in the autumn air, the sound of the breeze through the leaves, and something childlike in me really enjoys the creepy feeling that you get late at night that makes you want to turn off all the lights and put on a cheesy horror flick. Oh, and let’s not forget the great beer.

As a child, I was never really one for spooky or slasher movies. But I did enjoy Halloween quite a bit. For some reason, I always had a thing for Count Dracula. One of the earliest Halloween outings I can remember, I dressed in a black cape with a plastic pair of fangs stuffed into my mouth.

When I was around 11 or 12, still living in Okinawa, Japan, I found an old green-colored, fabric bound copy of Dracula and Frankenstein at the library on the Air Force base. I checked it out and read it. Now, at that age, some of it did go over my head, I’ll admit. The book was almost 100 years old. But, I had pretty good handle on the English language, and I was able to understand it quite well. Oddly, I fell in love with the book. To this date, Dracula, by Bram Stoker is my favorite novel of all time. I’ve read it probably a total of 10 times in the last 20 years.

A couple of years ago, a distant descendant of Bram Stoker published an “official sequel”… let’s just say, I personally feel that it is not very true to the original. But, in all honesty, it’s not a bad book in it’s own right. Regardless, I don’t considering it to be a true heir to the story of Dracula.

My love for this book, attracted me to a video game that many reader of this blog probably know and love: Castlevania. The Castlevania series is built off of the legend of Dracula, and again, in it’s own right, it’s a pretty interesting tale.

So far with this blog, I have largely spent time reviewing classic NES games from my youth. Of course, I’ve taken breaks to discuss some other titles, just to kind of change up the flow a bit. This month, I’m going to do something a bit different… October is going to be Castlevania month. While my original plan was to cover the NES games from my youth, and the move on to SNES, and so on; I’m going to break ranks and provide extensive coverage of the Castlevania series as a whole. Then, starting in November, on the Samhain (traditional Pagan New Year), I will tackle the latest installment in the series, and also the series new reboot title: Castlevania – Lord of Shadow.

The Castlevania series has had it share of ups and downs over the years. Several titles in the series were retroactively removed, and then a handful of those were added back later on. So, the whole thing can be very confusing. For the sake of this playthrough, I’ll only be reviewing the games that are considered “canon”, with perhaps one exception.

The coverage starts tomorrow, so if this is your kind of thing, stay tuned.