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Xbox 360 losses shrink, but so do shipments

The 360 hardware is a loss leader for Microsoft: they lose money with every console shipped out and hope to make it back via game sales and downloads in the Live Marketplace. While Microsoft's gaming division has always lost money, the company has said that it hopes to break even on the hardware sometime later this year. That could get harder now that there are plenty of signs that sales are slowing down. HangZhou Night Net

Microsoft has released their quarterly earnings, and of note is the $315 million in losses the Entertainment and Devices Division reports for this quarter. Last year at this time they lost $415 million, and they clearly state why the loss has been lessened:

EDD operating loss decreased during the three months ended March 31, 2007 primarily due to decreased products costs from lower sales of Xbox 360 consoles and increased Mobile and Embedded Devices revenue, partially offset by expenses related to the launch of Zune and increased Xbox 360 console warranty expenses. EDD operating loss decreased during the nine months ended March 31, 2007 primarily due to increased Xbox 360 platform sales and improved Xbox 360 console margins, partially offset by expenses related to the launch of Zune and increased Xbox 360 console warranty expenses.

The demand for the system has slackened as time moves on. Microsoft sold 1.1 million units in the US in December, which isn't surprising in the holiday season. However there were only 228,000 units sold in February, and that further decreased to 199,000 systems in March. Microsoft has stated they're hoping to sell 12 million units by June of this year, and with their claims of shipping 11 million units since the system's launch that number could be attainable. Of course, with the shell game of shipped vs. sold that most console manufacturers play, actual sales could be hard to quantify.

We expect Microsoft to post an even smaller loss for the next quarter, as stocked supplies of the Xbox 360 should satiate the market and greatly reduce Microsoft's needs to ship more systems, if sales should stay mild.

Web administrators rejoice, IIS7 will make your life easier

Your life as a web admin is about to get easier, assuming you are using Windows as your platform of choice. IIS7 in the newly released Longhorn Beta 3 is chock full of updated and upgraded goodness. A few specific features look like they will save a lot of time and effort for admins: HangZhou Night Net

Shared Configuration: This will let you share a configuration across multiple servers. This is a great tool; set up your system how you like it and then deploy it across all your boxes. No more messing around with the metabase.FastCGI for PHP. Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP are still powering the majority of websites out there, but it's obvious that Microsoft is taking the web server market seriously with built in support for PHP or Ruby on Rails, something that Mac OS X will support with Leopard.Remote administration: You can now administer your web servers remotely
as well as delegating the ability to "site managers" with the upgraded
management tool, as well as accessing more options via the GUI instead
of cryptic command line settings.Extensibility: IIS is now much easier to expand. Developers can hook into and expand IIS functionality with familiar tools.FTP over SSL: Written with the new extensibility tools mentioned above this is something you'd have to use third party software before. Because it's using HTTPS it will be usable behind most firewalls while maintaining a decent level of security.

Microsoft has not announced a pricing model yet for Longhorn, but we believe that they'll have something similar to Windows Server 2003 Web Edition to try and keep Linux at bay. If the new features in IIS7 work reliably and securely, they may be able to accomplish that goal.

Microsoft releases Longhorn Server Beta 3 to the public

Longhorn Server, the server counterpart to Windows Vista, is now up to Beta 3, and Microsoft has made it available as a free public download, in order to get as much feedback from testers as possible before release. HangZhou Night Net

Eight different downloads are available:

Windows Server "Longhorn" Web x86 – EnglishWindows Server "Longhorn" Web x64 – English Windows Server "Longhorn" Standard x86 – English Windows Server "Longhorn" Standard x64 – English Windows Server "Longhorn" Enterprise x86 – English Windows Server "Longhorn" Enterprise x64 – English Windows Server "Longhorn" Datacenter x86 – English Windows Server "Longhorn" Datacenter x64 – English

The beta will work until April 7, 2008, after which it will expire. This gives testers plenty of time to kick the tires before the operating system stops being functional and ensures that the deadline won't kick in until after the release version of Longhorn Server is ready, currently estimated as some time in the latter half of this year. Downloaders are required to fill out a form to receive a key via e-mail in order to install the operating system.

The operating system's bare minimum requirements to run are a 1GHz processor, 512MB of RAM, and 8GB of hard drive space. The "Web" version of Longhorn Server, as one could expect, is aimed at basic web server installs; this is Microsoft's "don't use Apache" product. As with previous versions of Windows Server, the "Enterprise" and "Datacenter" versions add more high-end features such as failover clustering. The Datacenter Edition also comes with a license for unlimited use of virtual images, which are becoming increasingly common in server farms because of the savings in computer hardware they provide.

Longhorn Server aims to increase the security and power of Windows on the server. It uses the Intel Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip, if present, to provide new features such as Secure Install, which prevents the OS from being assaulted during installation, and Full Volume Encryption (FVE), which adds extra strength to Windows' existing encryption options. Installation is also simplified, with a standard Server Core install happening automatically with the user only having to input a product key, and all configuration of the server happening after the install process has finished. The configuration and management options have also received major overhauls. In terms of performance, Microsoft is promising some gains in the 32-bit space, but says that the largest improvements will be found when running the 64-bit version. You need 4GB+ of RAM these days anyway, so 64-bit is the way to go for most serving needs besides front-ending a web site or file serving in a small/medium-sized business environment.

Vista, Office 2007 drive record profits for Microsoft

Some may question the future of Microsoft, but up in Redmond they just continue to rake in the dough. Microsoft's fiscal third-quarter profits were up 65 percent to $4.9 billion, or 50¢ a share. Revenue for the quarter was $14.4 billion, thanks mostly to Vista and Office 2007. Ok maybe the accountants hedged their bets a little by pushing—excuse me "deferring"—$1.2 billion in revenue from holiday season Vista upgrade coupons into the third quarter, which ended March 31. HangZhou Night Net

Drop the deferred income from the picture and it's still an impressive quarter—client revenue was up 30 percent over last year, at $4.1 billion. Revenues from Vista and Office even outperformed Microsoft's internal forecasts. Vista revenues were $300 million to $400 million higher than expected, while Office 2007 sales figures were $200 million above Microsoft's internal targets.

Microsoft is also changing how it reports revenue from operating system sales. In previous years, Microsoft would recognize as much as a quarter of Windows revenues over a three-and-a-half-year period to reflect the costs of add-ons and upgrades provided by the company. That has changed with Vista, as the software giant will record all revenues from an OS sale during the quarter the sale takes place.

The only bit of bad news for Microsoft during the quarter came from the entertainment and devices division, which is the home of the Zune and Xbox, and the online group. Revenues in entertainment and devices dropped 21 percent and Microsoft attributed the drop to lower Xbox 360 sales. The online group reported a $200 million loss, although revenues were up 11 percent. The loss was due in part to investments in online services as well as other cost increases. Online advertising revenue grew 23 percent for the quarter.

Naturally, Microsoft officials are upbeat. "I am extremely pleased that we delivered a quarter of strong double-digit growth," said CFO Chris Liddell. "And I am looking forward to a very good finish to this fiscal year with strength continuing into fiscal 2008." With that, Microsoft predicts revenues cooling somewhat to $13.1 billion to $13.4 billion and earnings per share around 37¢ to 39¢ for its next fiscal quarter, which ends June 30. For the full fiscal year, Microsoft is predicting profits of $1.48 to $1.50 a share on sales of as much as $51.2 billion.

Blizzard to announce new title at Worldwide Invitational

My very first post here at Opposable Thumbs was a hopeful plea for some kind of successor to the StarCraft throne. Though I've enjoyed my time with the Warcraft series over the years—including numerous trips through the ranks of WoW—I've been hankering for some kind of extension, expansion, or evolution to the RTS game that easily captured the genre's fans for almost a decade. HangZhou Night Net

Now, it seems, my prayers have been answered. Kotaku spotted a claim on a Korean web site stating that StarCraft 2 has already been in development for a while, including state-of-the-art graphics, a new race, and a plethora of changes to the old balancing. The site also claimed that details of the new game would be announced during Blizzard's Seoul-based Worldwide Invitational in Korea on May 19.

After polling Blizzard adamantly about the ever-persisting rumor, they received back the following response:

We do intend to announce a new product at the Worldwide Invitational next month in Korea, and we appreciate the enthusiasm and interest in getting an advance look at what that will be, but players will have to wait until May 19th to find out more. Also, we have a very strong connection with the characters and settings of StarCraft, and we do plan to revisit that universe at some point in the future, but we don't have anything new to announce in that regard at present.

The announcement could pertain to any number of things: the StarCraft series, the Diablo series or even just another WoW expansion. Given the success of WoW, a successor to Diablo could be just about the only thing that could perhaps outdo the WarCraft MMO in popularity. Who knows? We'll be sure to explore the answer when it arrives on May 19.

Optimus OLED Keyboard: from legend to laughing stock

With 102 configurable mini-OLED screens as keys and a gorgeously understated look, the Art Lebedev-designed Optimus keyboard became a thing of legend. Geeks and gadgeteers around the Internet fawned over the keyboard as though it were the face of their chosen God: each key radiating with the brilliant OLED beauty that only a true geek can appreciate. Even we here at Ars couldn't escape the siren song of this unrivaled device. HangZhou Night Net

The appeal was fairly obvious. Dynamically changing input based on whatever you were doing on your computer. Launch a game and the keys would automatically change to reflect the controls of the game. Start up Photoshop and instantly the hotkeys would be labeled.

Naturally, the ambitious project was met with countless delays. Originally popping up in July 2005, the project was eventually pushed into 2007 release territory. First the input was changed to black-and-white, then back to color. Then it completely fell off the map in the stead of the similarly-designed 3 button mini-keypad. However, that didn't stop the e-masses from continuing to worship the ultimate keyboard—even facing strict competition, the Optimus managed to win itself a place on the most anticipated devices of 2007 and eventually returned to the limelight for one last final hurrah before it would fall from grace.

And boy did it ever fall from grace. Just over a month ago, concrete details began to surface about the availability and price of the long-awaited deity of the keyboard world. When word came out that the keyboard, allegedly due for Christmas 2007, was to hit for a whopping $1,490, the keyboard instantly fell from its pedestal of greatness to a more lowly position somewhere far beyond the scope of even hardcore tech enthusiasts. It was simply too hard to believe; some speculated that the first price was just a rumor and not confirmed. To a certain extent, the naysayers were right, as it seems the keyboard is now even more expensive and more limited than was originally imagined.

The Optimus keyboard has now been confirmed for release this November at a cost of $1,536. Only 200 units will be produced through the end of this year, with 400 more due out in January. It is uncertain whether production will continue after that point. Needless to say, the price-point and limited quantities have taken this artistic derivation from the realm of the desirable to the realm of the ridiculous. As beautiful as this keyboard is, $1,536 is simply an order of magnitude greater than what I, and I assume many others, would be willing to pay. So, dear Optimus, object of my affection for so long, I bid you adieu. May you rest in peace. I'll be sure to pick up your descendant once Logitech pumps it out for a much more modest price.

Demo impressions: Ninja Gaiden Sigma

Getting to the game play of the Ninja Gaiden Sigma demo is a painful experience. I started the download last night, and although the demo weighs in at a not-uncommon 900+MB, it took hours upon hours to finish. Apparently the servers were taking quite the beating. After the demo was done downloading, it had to install. After the installation, you are forced to watch a text-crawl telling you that you will be arrested if you do anything with the demo other than play it in awe. So the time from turning on your PS3 and playing the demo is about five hours. Okay, most of that was the time to download, but still. HangZhou Night Net

You'll be forgiven if you get a sense of deja vu from the demo; this is the same level that was on demo discs before the first Ninja Gaiden on the Xbox was released. Of course, the graphics have been updated, but we're all about game play and really don't care about…

Dear sweet Miyamoto, this is an attractive game! It runs at a perfect framerate, Ryu and the other ninjas animate fluidly, and the backgrounds are all newly shiny-fied. Like the later revisions of the Xbox Ninja Gaiden, the right analogue stick controls the camera, which is a nice touch if you like to really take in your surroundings. We're looking at a showpiece game for the PlayStation 3 here—it's beautiful.

The demo includes the use of your stock weapon as well as the nunchuks, the oversized Final Fantasy 7-style beast known as the Dabilahro, and the new dual katanas dubbed the Dragon's Claw and Tiger Fang. The double katanas are slower than I expected, and while I still need to practice with them to become proficient, they look great and are badass in battle. The other change is your Ninpo attacks: you can now shake the Sixaxis controller to make your magic attacks stronger. I'm not sure about that madness.

There isn't much new content, but the facelift is incredible so far. We have to wait until June 26 to play the full version, and that could require some patience. Ninja Gaiden has always been a gamer's game, and this version retains everything that makes the series great. As well as very impressive graphics. Which we're not supposed to care about.

It's so pretty.

High-speed CD ripping with CD Stack

Back in the 90s, I bought one of the first car stereo head units available that could play MP3 CDs. Not long after, I embarked on a massive CD ripping spree to convert my entire CD collection (around 300 at the time) to MP3 CDs so that I could carry it with me in the car. It took me nearly a month and I hated every second of it. I then spent much of the next decade dreading thetime when I'd have to do that again, and I think that time is soon coming. HangZhou Night Net

CD Stack is an application that tries to minimize that pain mainly by separating the ripping and the L.A.M.E.-based encoding into two separate tasks. Instead of waiting to rip track two until track one is finished encoding, CD Stack places each ripped track into an encoding queue and continues on its merry way, allowing you to rip your CDs faster than they encode. This makes the most efficient use of your time by minimizing the time you spend sitting in front of the computer, especially if you have a large number of CDs to rip. It has many options for customizing file names and supports automatic import into iTunes. It also allows you to include your own L.A.M.E. switches if you're a L.A.M.E junkie.

Despite the rather ugly interface and incredibly sparse progress information, CD Stack's workflow seems smooth and problem free. And splitting the ripping and encoding into two separate tasks managed by the machine is a great idea. Unfortunately, it may be an idea that has come too late.

The value of CD Stack's two-pronged approach is going to depend a lot on how you like to encode your files and the power of the machine you're using. Using the standard present (which, as CD Stack helpfully informed me, will result in files in the 170kbps-210kbps range), my two year old Quad G5 with the standard optical drive and HD was able to encode just as fast as it could rip. Bumping the preset up to extreme only forced the encoding to fall behind by less than a minute. I had to use the Insane preset to get any significant gains. Still, with a solid workflow and a nice set of presets, if you're looking for a L.A.M.E.-based encoder to re-rip your entire music collection, and especially if you like to milk L.A.M.E. for all it's worth, you could definitely do worse for $14.95.

Nintendo reports monster profits, promises increased Wii production

Over five months after launch, the Nintendo Wii is still hard to find. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata thinks that's a problem, saying that the situation is "abnormal," according to Forbes. "We must do our best to fix this abnormal lack of stock," said Iwata to a group of reporters. "We have not been able to properly foresee demand." HangZhou Night Net

That demand continues to be strong, although some have accused Nintendo of manipulating shipments to increase demand: GameStop COO Dan DeMatteo said last month that he believed Nintendo held back Wii units to create a shortage.

Whatever the case may be, Nintendo has a vise-like grip on the top two slots when it comes to total console shipments. For the first quarter of 2007, the DS was in the top position, selling over 1.23 million units during the quarter. Nintendo shipped over 1.02 million Wiis during the quarter. Sony's venerable PlayStation 2 was in the number three slot; the next-most-popular next-gen console was the Xbox 360, which shipped 721,000 units.

Nintendo said that since the Wii's launch last November, it has sold over 5.84 million of the consoles. That includes 2.37 million in the Americas and 2 million in Japan. For the fiscal year ending in March 2008, the company hopes to sell 14 million more.

Iwata was unwilling to discuss Nintendo's production capacity in any detail, refusing to disclose how how much Nintendo will raise capacity. The efforts to crank out more consoles will come as good news for those who are still waiting to get their hands on one, and will need to bear fruit in order for the company to hit the 14 million mark.

Nintendo also reported its earnings for the fiscal year that ended on March 31, although it chose not to break out its fourth quarter figures. The last fiscal year was very good to Nintendo. The company's profit soared 77 percent to ¥174.29 billion ($1.47 billion) on sales of ¥966.53 billion ($8.53 billion). That's a 90 percent increase, spurred by insane demand for the Wii and continued strong sales of the Nintendo DS. Using some highly-specialized math skills (calculator.app), we can learn that the fourth quarter rocked as well, with sales tripling over the same quarter last year.

Motorstorm to receive extensive May update

Motorstorm started off as a great game, and when they updated the online support to include buddy lists it got even better. Now we have the details of what we can expect from the upcoming patch in the middle of May. While apparently we won't see the new tracks or game modes, we will see a bunch of fixes. Here's the list: HangZhou Night Net

Game List Improvement: "Game Status" is now displayed with the game list in the online lobby making it easier to find a session where you'll be able to join and race promptly.Host Identification: Within the game lobby the host is now clearly identified by a 'host' icon visible to all players and updated during host migration.Boost Exploit: A bug involving the boost system that allowed a player to use boost in an exploitative manner has been resolved.Buddy List Size: This has been updated to support up to 50 friends.Text Cut-off: When playing in standard definition all messages will now display as intended.Improved Stability Online: Online gameplay stability has been improved.Audio issues: All known issues with 5.1 / 7.1 surround have been fixed. Audio issues within the front-end have been resolved.Player Ranking: Players were found to be ranked incorrectly due to a bug. Because of this all online rankings will be reset and the ranking system should now function correctly. Evolution and Sony apologise for this measure but it will result in a fairer and more stable ranking system for all players. Auto-Start: Races will be forced to start after a fixed countdown which should dramatically reduce the waiting times in lobbies. Hosts may delay this countdown up to three times.Save Data Corruption: When quitting the game using the PS button it was possible to corrupt the save game data. This will no longer occur.Lobby Information: Upcoming track and current lap details will be displayed in lobbies.Vehicle Damage: When restarting a single player race during a death camera the damage wasn't always reset at the start of the next race. This has now been resolved.Missing Audio: Audio effects were missing from the death camera, these have now been reinstated.Name Tags: Added ability to switch the player name tags on/off during online races using a single button press (L1).

Not bad… a bunch of little fixes that should add up to a much smoother online experience. We'll give it a whirl after the patch is released.

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