Category: "Technology"

Microsoft backs Web Open Font Format

In some rather good news, it seems Microsoft have backed the Web Open Font Format (WOFF).

Previously Microsoft have supported Embedded OpenType (EOT), which they developed back in the 1990s, and was supported by Internet Explorer 4 onwards, although no other web browsers bothered implementing it. However back in those days adding an extra 100KB download was a heavy price to pay for embedding fonts into a website, and so it wasn't widely used. The release of the Core Web Fonts which Microsoft released for free back in 1996 were quite honestly better than a lot of fonts people were wanting to embed, or were allowed to embed, as the Core Web Fonts were designed for screen readability, and weren't just quick ports of fonts designed for printing.

However in 2009 the Web Open Font Format starting gaining support, like EOT it kept font foundries happy by preventing the font being downloaded to the computer and used in other applications, which had been the main stumbling block for all other font embedding technologies. Mozilla implemented it Firefox 3.6, Opera also have plans to implement it. The three have recently submitted it to the W3C. It isn't known if support will make it in for IE9, but it seems likely in my opinion. There's no date yet for when Opera plan on implementing it, and Chrome, Safari and the WebKit developers haven't decided who, let alone when is actually going to build support for it.

Internet Explorer and Firefox support would I think be enough to roll this thing out. As many of my readers know the second Windows Vista and Office 2007 came out I switched to using the 6 new fonts included with those on my blog and several other websites, because Segoe UI is gorgeous. Having a font embedding technology will really make the web a lot richer, maybe not for body text (frankly Segoe, Calibri, and even Verdana are hard to beat) but for headers the new choices and variety will really shine and best of all, it will cut down the need for images of text which many websites still use for headers, which don't scale well with high DPI screens and aren't easily search engine readable.

Hopefully in a couple of years web designers won't have to worry about what fonts people have on their machines, and we can just use the fonts we want to use and embed them and count on support across all, or at least most browsers.

Workaround for Audigy 2 ZS recording problems on Windows 7 64-bit

Those trying to record on systems with 4GB or more of RAM with an Audigy 2 ZS, possibly X-Fi and other models too, have probably come across the problem with distortion, noise, or choppy sound (like talking through a fan). This affects the microphone, line-in and also 'what u hear', important for capturing audio that is currently being played.

The trouble stems from Creative's drivers not being entirely 64-bit compatible, Creative have no date for any fix to be implemented, and haven't even announced if they're working on any such fix.

As it does require 4GB or more RAM for this problem to show up, it only affects 64-bit systems. For those with similar issues on 32-bit systems, this is not a workaround.

There's a few different options, none of which are particular pleasant. First up, you can pull RAM out of your system, or enable a memory hole feature if your BIOS supports one, enabling the memory hole in the BIOS will cause your RAM to max out at around 3GB.

However there is an easier solution, that doesn't require you to open your case like removing the RAM physically but it does still require a reboot. This involves setting the operating system itself to set the maximum amount of RAM.

Press Start, type in msconfig and press enter.

System Configuration tool

This will launch the System Configuration tool. You'll want to click on the Boot tab, then click on Advanced, and set the maximum memory to a number under 4096. Unfortunately setting it to a figure like 4095 in practice will probably limit you back down to about 3GB as it looks like it disables an entire channel on the RAM.

Then reboot, record what you need to, then when you want your RAM back, just undo the change and reboot again. Not the best workaround but it'll have to do until Creative fox their drivers.

HTC HD2 now vs Windows Phone 7 Series later

More than a few people seem to be struggling with this problem. I didn't have much difficulty deciding however, back in February I awaited the Mobile World Conference, a few hours after Microsoft's keynote I ordered the HD2.

Don't get me wrong, the WP7S is nice. It does have some killer features, such as Xbox Live integration and Zune integration which hopefully will mean Zune Social and Zune Pass (fairly priced) will become available in the UK later this year as I've been whinging about lately. It'll also help application developers raise the quality of their applications by not having to write for the lowest common denominator as Microsoft have set pretty high minimum guidelines for the device specifications they'll be more willing to take advantage of the improved performance that WP7S will offer.

But the HD2 is here now, well has been here for 6 months in Europe, with Windows Mobile 6.5, perfectly respectable and with the HTC TouchFLO 3D, now called Sense interface highly usable with a finger. And with some pretty nice specifications.

The good:

  • Fast, that 1Ghz Snapdragon is nice.
  • Nice screen 800x480 pretty standard for WM devices over the last 18 months or so, but puts iPhone users in their place.
  • Flash support in Internet Explorer (although not Opera the default browser).
  • The ability to install applications from any source. :-) The Marketplace is good, but only lists a tiny fraction of the software available for WM.
  • Ability to tweak the hell out of the phone to get it exactly the way you want it.
  • And of course always the potential for juicy ROM updates in the future, including to WP7S *fingers crossed*.

It's got some bad bits as well. Performance is pretty poor in the SMS client. And doesn't have a hardware keyboard (I do sometimes miss my Touch Pro).

WP7S on the other hand:

  • Won't have copy and paste on release, I don't use it much but I know when I happen to need it, I'll be swearing.
  • Doesn't have full multi-tasking, although the limited multi-tasking it does have is superior to the iPhone.
  • Application performance is up in the air considering its Silverlight based, developers might want to write natively for the hardware but don't currently have that option.
  • Uncertainties over application distribution, will the Marketplace be an absolute monopoly, or can I still dump a .cab on their and install it?

Of course it's got the good stuff, Xbox Live, Zune, Super-swish UI that isn't trying to be an iPhone clone, like Android seems to be, no offence but surely there's something a bit better than a boring grid full of icons? Oh yeah WP7S' interface.

So that's why I went for the HD2 back in February, I did actually wait until February so I could check out the WP7S announcement and weigh things up instead of just ordering one in November like Catherine did. Plus Windows Mobile being Windows Mobile, there's always a good chance of WP7S being made available unofficially for the HD2. :-)

WorldWide Telescope comes to Bing Maps

Longtime readers will know I am a huge fan of WorldWide Telescope. To put it mildly, WorldWide Telescope is the best astronomy program ever. If I had this when I was a kid I would never turn it off, it would autostart with the computer and I would be constantly looking at everything.

Anyway as you may recall a Silverlight based web version of WorldWide Telescope was released last year. It wasn't as well featured as the Windows client, nor anywhere near as fast. But it covered the basics. Essentially that's what has been intergrated into the new Bing Maps.

Bing Maps running WorldWide Telescope app

What's really cool is if you're currently in Streetside view, turn on the WorldWide Telescope application, and look up, you see stars! The screenshots in this post are of me stood, virtually of course, along University Drive in Phoenix. You can scroll through time as well to see the stars as they would appear above that location.

You can zoom in too. Below showing the Andromeda galaxy, you can access all the additional images as well, I could view it in infra-red with just a click of a mouse using images from the Spitzer space telescope for example.

Bing Maps running WorldWide Telescope app

If you're not in Streetside view, it still works, you just lose the perspective of having the ground under your feet, being able to see the complete sky instead without it being blocked out by the Earth.

All in all, good stuff. The only thing I can really complain about is performance, unlike the Windows client, it doesn't have anywhere near the same sort of silky-smooth frame rate. So yes I would still recommend the Windows client. But its nice having the option in the new Bing Maps too.

Here's a video of it in action demonstrated by Blaise Aguera y Arcas at TED this year in addition to some of the other improvements in the new Bing Maps:

Sometimes you need to install DirectX

There's a lot of confusion going on out there. Increasingly it's more and more about issues related to DirectX. So much so that now I'm writing an update to the article I wrote almost 3 years ago now. That article advised people to install the latest DirectX end-user runtime if they encountered errors like d3dx9.dll is missing or not installed.

The confusion seems to stem from people running Windows Vista or Windows 7 and seeing that they have DirectX 10 or 11 installed, by way of the DirectX Diagnostic Tool.

DirectX 10 however represented a clean break from DirectX 9, essentially the two are on the system together. DirectX 10 and up handles all the new stuff and DirectX 9 provides all the backwards compatibility with previous versions.

It can be represented like this:

Graphic representing DirectX as two seperate stacks

The DirectX team felt this was superior than bloating out DirectX 10 with all the old features nessasary to support ten years worth of games. Why do that when DirectX 9 would be on the system anyway and can achieve all of that?

The most recent example I came across, about 30 minutes ago. Had a user attempting to play Flight Simulator X, which returned the following error:

Flight Simulator cannot run because the version of Microsoft DirectX(R) installed on your computer is incompatible. Please reinstall DirectX9.0 by running Flight Simulator Setup, or download current version from www.microsoft.com/directx.

Nice and simple, and tells you exactly what to do. Go to the DirectX website, and grab the latest version. Doing that would solve the problem.

However, as people think they have DirectX 10 or 11 installed, they don't think they need to grab the update. Not realising that DirectX 9 has its own updates which may be required or that it has optional components which don't come installed on the system.

My advice for those with problems, just install DirectX. It doesn't matter what version you have, grab the update anyway. It won't break anything by installing it, it'll know what optional components are needed and which components need to be updated and update them.

For those installing a game, and are tempted to cancel the DirectX installer, just think for a second that maybe that installer is installing something the game needs to work.

Adobe on Air and Flash running on HP's Slate

HP released a video showing more of their Slate computer. It's presented entirely by someone from the Adobe Flash platform team interestingly enough.

So the key bit of new information from this video seems to be the Air application HP are using for an application launcher. I don't think that's been mentioned before, but it isn't that big news really. Like their multi-touch desktops they always have a specific front-end on them. I just hope they give the Slate 2GB of RAM.

The main point of the video essentially seems to be a long stab at what the iPad can't do. It mentions statistics like 85% of the top 100 websites use Flash, 75% of all video uses Flash. In addition Adobe estimate more than 70% of all casual games on the web are written in Flash. And obviously to anybody following along, none of that will work on the iPad.

It's good they're trying to communicate these facts, back when the iPad was announced the only thing media could say was how amazing it is, while quoting Steve Jobs saying it'll provide the best browsing experience on the planet - something a bit difficult to argue considering it doesn't support Flash. Obviously nobody from Apple plays games on Facebook, or Portal Forums so it seems.

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