TECHNOLOGY

Weekender

US video game spending falls

AMERICANS spent less on video games last year as new consoles were readied for launch and Google took to streaming titles from the cloud, an industry group reported on Jan 16.
US spending on video game hardware and software in 2019 tallied US$14.6bil, a 13 per cent decline from the previous year, market-tracker NPD Group said.

The Stadia game controller displayed in the Google Play Space at CES 2020. Google set out to transform the video game world late last year with the launch of a service called Stadia that lets people access console-quality games as easily as they do email. — Bloomberg

Console rivals Sony and Microsoft plan to release new-generation hardware this year, giving gamers reasons to wait for the latest offerings before deciding what to spend their money on.
Spending across video game hardware, software, accessories and game cards in December alone totaled US$3.0bil, down 15 per cent when compared to the same month a year earlier, NPD reported.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare was the best-selling game in the US for three consecutive months after its October launch, and finished 2019 as the top-selling game of the year, according to NPD.
It was the 11th consecutive year that Call Of Duty has been the best-selling video game franchise, NPD reported.
It also reported that the number of people playing mobile games in the US and Canada grew about 2 per cent to 214 million last year. The pace slowed due to saturation of the market for smartphones and tablets.
Money spent on mobile games, however, increased 24% to top US$11.82bil last year.
“Mobile gaming continues to be a dynamic and expanding market, offering appealing content to all types of game players,” said NPD games industry analyst Mat Piscatella.
Google set out to transform the video game world late last year with the launch of a service called Stadia that lets people access console-quality games as easily as they do email.
Google continues to refine Stadia, working to expand game selection and the kinds of Internet-linked devices they can be played on.
Microsoft has been testing an xCloud online game platform that it plans to make available on Windows-powered personal computers.
Sony Interactive Entertainment has a PlayStation Now service that combines cloud gaming and title downloads that is synched to its latest consoles and Windows-powered personal computers.
An Apple Arcade mobile game service offers custom game apps downloaded to devices.
A rival Google Play Pass for Android-powered gadgets charges the same US$4.99 monthly subscription price as that of Arcade, which focuses on games for Apple iOS devices. – AFP


It’s the end for  Windows 7

IT is the end of an era for PCs from the last decade – Microsoft terminated support for its Windows 7 operating system (OS).
The software giant confirmed it would no longer provide updates and security patches for the 10-year-old OS. Sandwiched between Windows 8 and Vista, the OS gained enduring popularity, estimated to be used on about 35 per cent of PCs in workplaces. Windows 10 is used by about 60 per cent.
Microsoft ended mainstream support – meaning it stopped introducing new features – back in Jan 13, 2015, but kept the system running on extended support until Jan 14 this year.
However, don’t be quick to get rid of Windows 7 or dish out extra cash for a new OS yet before trying out this trick, as you may be able to upgrade to Windows 10 for free.
According to many online reports, Microsoft stopped offering free upgrades from Windows 7 to Windows 10 years ago, but there is a workaround.

A display for Microsoft’s Windows 7 is shown at the US National Retail Federation’s convention in New York in 2010. Microsoft is no longer providing free security updates for the operating system. — AP

Although the company has removed the website for the offer, users can still use their Windows 7 licence to upgrade to Windows 10, so that’s the first thing you will need to perform the upgrade.
But before you do this, you have to ensure that your computer is not too old and still meets the minimum hardware requirement to run Windows 10, as it’s a more demanding OS. Otherwise, Windows 10 will run very slow on your computer.
Also, if you are using some really old apps, you may want to ensure that there are newer versions for Windows 10 if you plan to continue using them.
To get Windows 10, go to Microsoft’s Download Windows 10 site (bit.ly/2TouKhD) and download the tool and run it.
Pick “Upgrade this PC now” when prompted, and if everything goes smoothly, your machine will be running Windows 10 which will continue to not only get security updates but, most likely, also new features.
If you need a step-by-step guide, check out tech portal ZDNet (zd.net/38c0hre) – it claims it has been testing this workaround for years and it still works.
This method also works for Windows 8.1.
No matter what version of Windows you are using, it’s important that you always keep the OS updated (unless you are running one that’s no longer supported).
On Jan 14, Microsoft released an important fix for a flaw that could allow hackers to use forged digital certificates to authenticate themselves on some versions of Windows, which would allow them to cause serious damage.
Microsoft was lucky as it was tipped off by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and both claim they have not seen any actual cases of this flaw being exploited.
So if you haven’t been prompted to update your Windows, you should check if your system has the latest update.
This is the first time the NSA has made a flaw it discovered about Windows public – in the past it has been criticised for weaponising flaws instead of disclosing them.
A Reuters report claimed that previously the agency took advantage of a flaw in Windows – which it didn’t disclose to Microsoft – to create hacking tools to counter its adversaries.
And in an unfortunate turn of events this tool was leaked on the Internet in 2016, allowing hackers to go on an attacking spree. This information was eventually used by hackers to create WannaCry, a ransomware that wreaked havoc globally. -AP


Can Microsoft’s carbon goal succeed?

TECH giant Microsoft has announced two bold ambitions: firstly, to become carbon negative by the year 2030 – meaning it will be removing more carbon from the air than it emits – and secondly, to have removed more carbon by 2050 than it has emitted, in total, in its entire history.
In an interview with the BBC’s Chris Fox, Microsoft president Brad Smith admitted that the plan was a “moonshot” – a very big idea with no guaranteed outcome or profitability – for the company.
He stressed there was simultaneously a sense of urgency and a need to take the time to do the job properly.
He also said that the tools required don’t entirely exist yet.
Smith talked about tree planting, and direct air capture – a way of removing carbon from the air and returning it to the soil – as examples of available options.
“Ultimately we need better technology,” he said.
But don’t expect Microsoft to roll up its sleeves: “That’s not a business we will ever be in but it’s a business we want to benefit from,” he added, announcing a $1bn Climate Innovation Fund, established with the intention of helping others develop in this space.
He expects support from the wider tech sector, he said, “because it’s a sector that’s doing well, it can afford to make these investments and it should.”
But historically, isn’t it also one of the worst offenders?
CES in Las Vegas, the huge consumer tech show, has just ended. It was attended by 180,000 people most of whom probably flew there, to look at mountains of plastic devices clamouring to be the Next Big Thing.
From gas-guzzling cars and power-hungry data centres to difficult-to-recycle devices and the constant consumer push to upgrade to new shiny plastic gadgets – the tech sector’s green credentials are not exactly a blueprint for environmental friendliness despite much-publicised occasional projects.
There was no immediate announcement from fellow tech giants about any collaborations with Microsoft, or indeed similar initiatives of their own – but the aim is ahead of the current ambitions of many, including Facebook, Google and Apple, which have not (yet) made a “carbon negative” commitment.
That said, software-maker Intuit has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030, and Jeff Bezos announced in September 2019 that Amazon would be carbon neutral by 2040.
Smith made an open offer to share Microsoft’s carbon-monitoring tools.
“Competition can make each of us better,” he said of the notoriously rivalry-fuelled industry.
“If we make each other better the world is going to be better off and we should applaud each other as we take these new steps.”
Smith agreed that “the switching on of an Xbox”, Microsoft’s games console, was as much part of the firm’s carbon footprint as the carbon that went into creating the cement used in its buildings.
However, he did not suggest scaling back on collaborations with the big energy firms – on the contrary, we are going to need more power rather than less in the coming decades, he said – and that has troubled campaigner Greenpeace.
“While there is a lot to celebrate in Microsoft’s announcement, a gaping hole remains unaddressed – Microsoft’s expanding efforts to help fossil fuel companies drill more oil and gas with machine-learning and other AI technologies,” commented senior campaigner Elizabeth Jardim.
Environmental awareness, especially among the under-30s, will ultimately prove to be a big driver for market change, Smith believes.
“I think it’s interesting to think about a future where buying a product and understanding how much carbon was emitted to create it is like going to the supermarket and looking at what’s on the shelf and seeing how many calories it contains,” he said. –BBC

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