Silverlight 3 beta is available

Most of you knew it was coming and I’m really excited that its out now so I can talk about it. Silverlight 3 really is very cool and adds amazing performance improvements and additional features that people have been wanting.

My personal favourites are:

  • Hardware graphics acceleration – Our application just feels way more zippy than before.
  • Tighter XAP file compression – Everyone benefits from better ZIP compression ratios.
  • External styles – Now you can reference an external style. Great for skinning applications.
  • Out of browser/offline mode – Finally a competitor for the Adobe AIR platform.

If you are currently developing using Silverlight 2 I recommend that you install the new Silverlight 3 beta bits in a virtual machine. You can get them all from here.

Halo 3, Mass Effect and PGR4 on the cheap

They say all good things come to those that wait. Well if you’ve been waiting for Halo 3, Mass Effect and Project Gotham Racing 4 to drop in price then you should head to your nearest games store and pickup a copy as they’ve all been added to the Classics collection for Xbox 360.

The official press release follows:

JOHANNESBURG – 17 March, 2009 – Microsoft today announces the expansion of its Classics collection in EMEA to include three blockbuster titles, as it continues its strategy of offering high quality experiences at outstanding value. On 20 March, Halo 3, Mass Effect and Project Gotham Racing 4 will join the elite selection of Xbox 360 Classics, with each game available at an Estimated Retail Price (ERP) of just R299.00

The Ultimate Blockbuster

Halo 3 made entertainment history when it launched in 2007, setting sales records that smashed those set by all previous video games and blockbuster movies.  The award winning action series has sold more than 25 million units worldwide and its third instalment sees Master Chief, the last known survivor of a secret military project, fight to save humanity and uncover a secret so incredible, it will change the galaxy forever.

Lose Yourself in a Living Galaxy

Mass Effect, developed by BioWare, is an immersive, story-driven experience coupled with awe-inspiring visuals, exclusive to Xbox 360.  As one of the first human beings to step onto the galactic stage, players must face a grave threat that may destroy all of civilization.  Travel across an expansive universe, exploring the uncharted corners of the galaxy, searching for pieces of the truth in order to discover how to defeat the coming destruction.

Racing to the Fore

Project Gotham Racing 4 is the latest instalment of the legendary street racing series.  This time motorbikes join the action and the weather elements push you to the limits as you tear up the stunning tracks in the best of racing machines.

“We are delighted to add three of our finest titles to the Classics range, adding to the exceptional entertainment offering available on the Xbox 360 at outstanding prices,” said David Gosen Vice President of Marketing, Xbox Europe.  “As we see more and more families looking to save money by staying in, Xbox 360 continues to offer high-quality home entertainment at fantastic value and consumers are clearly recognising this as we sail past 8 million console sales in EMEA.”  

ASP.NET MVC 1.0 Ships

Microsoft .NET logo After months of community beta testing the first release build of the ASP.NET MVC (Model View Controller) framework has been released. If you are a web developer and don’t know what I’m talking about, head on over to the ASP.NET MVC site where you can find a wealth of tutorials, videos and oodles of samples to get you started.

What excites me about the ASP.NET MVC framework is that web developers will hopefully be moving away from the legacy forms based approach while sticking with the familiarity of the ASP.NET framework. Scott Hanselman pointed out at the talk he gave SA Developer .NET in December 2008 how ASP.NET MVC and ASP.NET WebForms merely build on the rich plumbing framework that is ASP.NET. Most people tend to get confused about that.

You can download the ASP.NET MVC installer from here.

Travel Diary – Getting to Seattle (Part 2)

So its a little after 6am UTC+1 as we touch down in Paris, the city of love and classical romance. It was a pleasure to finally be off the plane as I was seated next to this really big dude that managed to encroach on the personal space of both me and the dude on the other side of him. He also took the cake for wearing his team colours as he was dressed from head to foot in ANC party colours. If he wasn’t taking up my sleeping space then he spent the rest of the time waxing lyrical about how he has a US tertiary education and that the whites just don’t get the whole affirmative action thing and why its so good for the country. Also something about the ANC just not explaining it all properly. At least he was flying economy not business class!

The Charles de Gaulle airport has changed considerably since my last transit in 2001. Its odd, I’ve flown through Paris about 29 times now and not once have I had time or a visa to visit the Eiffel Tower and see the rest of the city. I have been outside the airport but that was on a temporary visa that was arranged for me and my colleagues when our Air France flight from Paris to Johannesburg was delayed 12 hours due to a technical fault. So alas I only got to see the inside of the Hilton at the airport.

One thing I found really impressive in CDG airport was the laptop power jacks and tables outside the boarding gates. Coupled with fast wireless Internet access at 10 Euros an hour made the 4 hour long wait between flights a bit more pleasant. To top it off, they even have these really comfy chair type beds littered around the terminal which are surprisingly comfortable when you have a while to wait for your next flight. Quite a few people were actually catching a few minutes of sleep – as a South African I’d be too afraid of my hand luggage getting nicked from next to me to be able to fall asleep. For the life of me I can’t seem to find a photo of them on the Internet but I’ll be sure to take a photo on my way back through next week.

The flight from Paris to Seattle was pleasant even though it was a daytime flight. I left at 10h30 Paris time and got to Seattle the same day at 11h55 Seattle time. Very odd as I think I had 5 meals on Friday and I even skipped supper in Seattle. Its odd but every flight I’ve had to Seattle I’ve always sat next to an MVP. Yeah last year it was a fellow Xbox MVP and this year it was a French Office Groove MVP.

Landing in Seattle I was quite surprised to see sunshine as the weather forecast predicted wet weather. Immigration was an absolute dream this time as there were practically no queues and the officers on duty were extremely friendly and pleasant to deal with. Customs followed suit and the one dude even asked me if I had biltong on me. LOL.

As the 2009 Global MVP Summit only technically starts on Sunday the 1st of March I decided to book myself into the cheaper 3 star Sixth Avenue Inn in downtown Seattle for the first two nights. I must say its quite comfortable for overnight stay but I wouldn’t stay here unless I was trying to save some money. Everything is acceptable except for the bloody shower. I’m a person who likes to shower and this shower just doesn’t cut it. At least it has free high-speed Internet access although I’ve been hooking onto the Westin Hotel over the roads wireless network as well.

Here are a few photos of the Sixth Avenue Inn:

Sixth Avenue Inn sign from my room Sixth Avenue Inn room View of the Westin Hotel from my window Sixth Avenue Inn view at night

Sixth Avenue Inn wired Westin Hotel wireless
Sixth Avenue Inn wired connection. Westin Hotel wireless network I’ve been testing.

Travel Diary – Getting to Seattle (Part 1)

Air France Boeing 777-300ER I don’t really know why but travelling has become a chore for me. As much as I love to go new places and meet new faces, I dread the actual travel bit. Whether its driving to Durban for the Christmas holidays or going overseas for business, its stressful but the stress begins a good while before the travelling actually begins.

It all starts with getting a visa. This can be an absolute schlep for us South Africans but fortunately for me, I still have a valid US visa from my trip to the 2008 Global MVP Summit. This afforded me a little less stress too early, however I still suffer from the day before stress. You know the kind, when you need to pack your suitcase and hope you don’t forget something in the process. This year I planned to pack for the trip the night before, but alas my car decided to give me grief, so all plans went out the window and things went adhoc from there.

Getting to the airport is always something that needs planning, especially if you don’t have family nearby. Yep, most people don’t realize how lucky they are to have a family member drop and collect them at a whims notice. I’d decided to take a shuttle to the airport to reduce the stress, a decision compounded by a faulty car. So I booked a shuttle through the EZShuttle service that numerous people have recommended. Unfortunately they were 1 hour and 15 minutes late for the pickup from my office resulting in me basically flipping out. Yeah I was this close to cancelling my entire trip and going to fetch Data, my cat, from the cattery.

The trip to the airport found me getting car sick due to the stop start nature of the traffic through Alexandria township and the driver continuously applying and releasing the accelerator. The last time I felt like that was being driven around in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2002 but I’d rather forget that stressful trip.

Arriving at the airport exactly two hours before my international flight put me into mission mode. I systematically and logically proceeded to eliminate the hurdles. First lets get checked in, Air France staff point me to the new electronic check-in machines and whoops, problem, I need to see a check-in counter agent. Apparently it’s because I’m travelling to the US. That done, visit customs for a DA-65 form – can’t leave SA with a laptop and camera without one as it will result in too much stress on the way back in.

Besides for the long queues at the security checkpoint and at passport control, the rest of the experience was quite pleasant. The Air France flight was jam packed aboard a Boeing 777-300 and left soon after the scheduled time. Food on the flight was excellent and the staff were friendly and cheerful as I remember them to be.

Next stop, Paris.

Ninja Blade will ship to South Africa in April

Ninja Blade I can’t say I’m a fan of the Armored Core series of games, maybe because I’ve never played them, but FromSoftware have produced an awesome game called Chromehounds. Unfortunately it wasn’t well received by the market, but it remains an awesome game to play as team. Those who know the game most probably can thank Incredible Connection for the bargain price of R99 that one fateful weekend.

Here is the press release for their latest title, Ninja Blade:

JOHANNESBURG, 27 February 2009 – Microsoft and FromSoftware announced that Xbox 360 exclusive “Ninja Blade” has gone gold and will ship to retailers in South Africa on 4th April 2009.

FromSoftware, well-known for their work on “Armoured Core” and the “Tenchu” franchise, created a modern ninja epic where Ken Ogawa and his team of skilled fighters battle a terrifying disease that transforms the citizens of Tokyo into an infected monster horde. Armed with an extensive arsenal of ninja weapons and abilities, including Ninja Vision and Todomé Attack, players confront grueling challenges in their mission to save humanity.

“Ninja Blade” will have an estimated retail price of R699.00 and is rated PEGI 16+.  For more information, visit www.xbox.com/ninjablade.

Microsoft SA says no increase for Xbox 360 game prices

Late in 2008 the word on the street indicated that first and third party Xbox 360 game titles distributed by Microsoft locally would increase from the typical R699 recommended retail price to R899 and R999 per copy. Microsoft South Africa has issued the following press release regarding the Xbox 360 game prices that it distributes.

JOHANNESBURG – 23rd January 2009 – Microsoft today announced that there are no immediate plans to increase the prices of Xbox 360 games in South Africa.  Top of the range, new titles will remain fixed at R699.99 and Limited Collectors Editions at R799.99, despite speculation of game price increases in the volatile market. The pricing for Xbox 360 titles ranges from R 299 for classic games, to a maximum of R799.99 for first rate collectors titles, which means that there is always something affordable available for every gamer. This pricing is in line with the standard price of software in the gaming industry.

This is great news for gamers who were getting worried about the prices hitting about R999 per title.

Buying an Apple the hard way

Apple logo No I’m not talking about the fruit although I do find similarities between the fruit and the people who represent Apple in South Africa. The first thing to note is that Apple products have one authorised distributor in South Africa and they are the Core Group. The same company that distributes the Nintendo products at such a ridiculous mark-up.

However it seems that there are plenty of non-authorised resellers in South Africa, but the Core Group can’t seem to decide who is who. They have a local site addressing the grey product issues and they even provide a form for validating your product serial number, albeit a non-automated process. If you compare the following two pages (page 1 and page 2) you will notice that they don’t agree on who the non-authorised resellers are. I think this is ridiculous, how is the consumer supposed to know which list is correct?

Regardless, I decided I wanted a new 15” MacBook Pro 2.8 Ghz,4GB of RAM and 320GB 7200 RPM drive. Yeah I wanted the fastest processor and hard drive that the Apple store in the US offers. I proceeded to call a few of the local resellers seeing as the local online store called the Za Store provided zero customisation options.

Authorised reseller #1: Questek Broadcast Technology

I started by calling local authorised reseller Questek Broadcast Technology for a quotation on the custom configuration I wanted. After numerous unreturned calls on Wednesday and Thursday, I finally managed to speak to the one person that seems to do quotes. She promised me a quotation on email before the end of Friday. To her credit she did call me later in the day and inform me that her email was down and she’d send it when it was up again. On Tuesday I got an email stating:

I do apologise for the inconvenience, however our systems have not been working.

Please be advised that you will be getting your quote today, I just need to finalise a few prices for you once that has been done you will be getting your quote.

So much for Friday’s excuse about the email being down, she doesn’t even have the pricing on Tuesday. Mind you, I never got the quotation on Tuesday either.

Authorised reseller #2: iStore in Clearwater Mall

I called the iStore in Cresta on Wednesday and was told to email Dimitri and he’d get me a quotation by the end of the day. I’m still waiting.

Authorised reseller #3: Digicape store in The Wedge

A few friends recommended dealing with the company DigiCape. So I called their Johannesburg store on Saturday late afternoon and my details were taken for a quotation on Monday. Once again, no quotation was received.

Non-authorised reseller #1: CAB Platinum Store in Sandton City

On Saturday I visited the slick looking CAB Platinum Store in Sandton City after being advised by friends that they are useless. The first thing I noticed was that all of the standard configurations were priced around R4000 more for the exact same box product. Ridiculous. I approached the so-called Knowledge Bar to find out about a custom configuration and was delegated to a back office woman who proceeded to quote me on a standard configuration machine with an additional 320GB 5400 RPM drive. Hmmm, useful, NOT! After I reiterated my requirements my details were taken down and a quotation was promised on Monday. To date, no quotation has been received.

After much frustration and irritation I realised that in South Africa, if you wish to buy and Apple product, you need to simply accept that the distributor, Core Group, knows what you want and its one of the standard configurations. However a few friends did suggest that I go to the USA and buy one there. My problem with this would be the warranty although I’ve heard that local warranty support has much to be desired.

Determined to get myself a Mac in time for Christmas, I called up Incredible Connection in Sandton City on Sunday afternoon and purchased a new 15” MacBook Pro with 2.53GHz processor, 4GB of RAM and 320GB 5400 RPM hard drive.

My advice to anyone considering buying a Mac, go for it, and hopefully the Core Group sorts their reseller channel out so you have a better experience that I did.

The Mac adventure begins

MacBook Pro Recently I decided that I needed wanted a new laptop computer. Being the tech-savvy geek I am, I naturally started looking at beefy machine specifications from Dell like the M6400 range. I almost fell off my chair at the price of these new powerhouse beasts.

Then at the recent Scott Hanselman talk I saw his new Dell Mini 9 up close and it triggered a new investigation into the NetBook form factor. However that was a short-lived investigation as there are hardly any decent models available on the local market to choose from and quite frankly, the cost of solid state storage (SSD) is a little too exorbitant at the moment.

I’ve often pondered the idea of owning a Mac due to the simplicity of it all, just open the box, plug it in and you’re done. Over the years I’ve built up clone PCs using the best highest spec components I could find but in the end the machines have always had some irritating problems that just bug the crap out of me. This is when I realised that quality of the individual components is the key factor and if I could find a pre-built machine that doesn’t come at too much of a premium, then I’d be more than prepared to spend the few extra bucks. So building my home desktop PC resulted in choosing a quality Intel motherboard and Core 2 Duo processor with 4GB of high-performance Transcend memory. Similarly my Windows Home Server was built using an Intel motherboard rather than a motherboard that has more bells and whistles coming from a ludicrous number of individual component vendors. Both machines to this day have not given a single headache.

Over the next few blog posts I’ll share my experiences with Mac OS/X and getting everything setup the way I imagine it.

Scott Hanselman to visit South Africa

Scott Hanselman Scott Hanselman is a well known blogger and owns the podcast Hanselminutes. He works for Microsoft as a DevDiv Community Liaison and he has offered to spend some of his vacation time with the SA Developer .NET community.

He will be in Johannesburg on the evening of Monday the 8th of December at the Microsoft offices and in Cape Town midday on the 17th of December. The topic of the events was open to community vote and ASP.NET MVC was the winner, although Silverlight managed to sneak in during the final few hours of the poll.

 

Add the Johannesburg talk to your calendar   8th December 2008 @ 18h30 – Johannesburg – Please RSVP online over here.

 

Add the Cape Town talk to your calendar   17th December 2008 @ 13h00 – Cape Town

 

See you there!