Welcome to Tim Acheson's experimental web space

This is public web space which I use to host my tech blog, and to experiment with interesting projects, servers, platforms, technology, etc. You're currently looking at: an experiment with the awesome rapid web development framework known as ASP.NET MVC. Enjoy!

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News: Highlights & Analysis

*** Top story: ***

Destiny: this video game is a big deal!

Destiny is arguably the biggest product, not just in the history of the gaming industry, but in the history of entertainment.

At $500 million, the budget for this game is twice that of GTA V which was previously the most expensive game ever made, and it cost as much to make as any two of the most expensive movies ever made. Just think about that, for a moment, to put this launch into perspective. So, yeah, this game is HUGE!

Read the article for my review having played the Beta -- and some very sneaky predictions... ;)

Email is dead: chat and social media are taking over (official)

Email is rapidly being replaced by newer communication platforms.

UPDATE: Historic report by Ofcom (UK) measures the surprising rate at which we're abandoning email and using chat and social instead.

Windows 8: the PC has evolved

Microsoft has launched a new and radically different version of the world's most used operating system. It's much faster, harnesses the full power and convenience of the cloud, and is packed with impressive selling-points and compelling reasons to upgrade -- but the the bouncy new TV ads utterly fail to mention any of these crucial facts!

The new OS is as much about developers as users. For example, devs can now build apps in pure HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3. In other words, if you're a developer on any platform, chances are you already have the knowledge and skills you need to write software for Windows 8.

The Web

Spotify Apps: welcome to the future of desktop software

Spotify has now launched its Apps platform! Now, anybody with basic web coding skills can develop an App to run in Spotify's desktop software and be used by all of Spotify's users! This is a pioneering move, offering a glimpse of the future. Increasingly, desktop software and mobile apps will be extended using pure HTML5, CSS and JavaScript. In the near future we'll see mainstream software applications being be developed from scratch using pure HTML+CSS+JS (see Windows 8). This truly is an exciting moment in history for web developers. To coin a slightly sensationalist analogy, it's almost like discovering that everybody can build and maintain top end sports cars using the same screwdriver and a hammer they've already got in their toolbox! Enjoy... ;)

Hotmail getting a major upgrade this summer!

It's official! Microsoft just announced that Hotmail is getting a new design and some impressive upgrades...

Facebook and Microsoft launch web-based MS Office!

This exciting move to launch Microsoft Docs is a masterstroke of pure strategic genius by both Facebook and Microsoft. MS Office Web Apps, integrated with SkyDrive and MS Office 2010, is already arguably the best web-based sofware of its kind currently available online. This development is obviously a bold extension of that service. Facebook users are in for a real treat, this is seriously useful stuff....

New classical music chart launched online and on-air

The public have been voting for their favourite classical music composers and pieces, and the results are now in! Find out which tracks are hot, and which are not, as the results are revealed, one by one, on-air and online! The website is powered by the Microsoft web platform. The beating heart of it is an ASP.NET MVC web application...

Global launches new online media player

The UK's biggest commercial radio company, Global Radio, launched a new version of their famous online radio player today, which I built over the past few weeks using Microsoft's web platform. Powered by the newest and most exciting new web technologies currently available, it's an ASP.NET MVC web application with an Entity Framework data access layer.

Global's new online player delivers a next-generation radio experience, with visual radio technology. As well as the audio data which you can hear, the stream contains metadata that can be used to do clever stuff based on exactly what you're listening to -- features as advanced as the web currently supports...

The release of the new Global Radio player for the web coincides with today's high-profile launch of several new websites for Heart, the UK's largest radio brand...

New MSN.com homepage revealed!

A major update to MSN.com has been revealed, with the soft-launch of the brand new MSN homepage. It's an exciting day! The new MSN looks good, and it's definitely more useful than ever before. Among other things, the new functionality includes improved integration online social media, harnessing the full power of Facebook and Twitter direct to your fingertips...

Orchard, a free, open-source Content Management System and web development framework from Microsoft

Microsoft announces Orchard -- a free, open-source, community-oriented CMS and web-development framework. This is a major new tooklit for development on the Microsoft web platform...

MSN Music launched -- a new way to consume music (and music videos) online

MSN Music is now launched, introducing an exciting new online shop for music. This will provide welcome competition to other big players, like iTunes and Amazon. iTunes has arguably abused its position as a well-known, trendy designer brand, with over-priced music...

Web advertising overtakes TV advertising -– for the first time in history!

Advertising online is now more important than advertising on TV, as spending on web-based ad campaigns overtakes spending on TV ads for the first time ever. This is an historic landmark, and of course it’s good news for the whole industry!

Microsoft announces WebsiteSpark -– get the entire MS web platform plus all development tools for FREE

Good news for developers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, etc: Microsoft has just announced WebsiteSpark -- a major new initiative designed to help the web development community.

You can now use the complete range of products that make up Microsoft’s awesome web platform at zero cost -- including server, database and development tools!

The scheme is designed to help get people started on the web – and is particularly aimed at individual web developers, entrepreneurs, start-ups, and entry-level enterprises, who can now use the MS web platform for three years completely free of charge. It's certainly a step in the right direction...

Microsoft launches web-based MS Office Web Apps

Today Microsoft rolled-out the first public Beta of Microsoft Office Web Applications, under the Office Online branding. This a useful new online service which offers a basic web-based version of popular programs like MS Word, MS Excel, and MS PowerPoint, which run in your internet browser. MS Office Web Apps is delivered on the Windows Live portal, a comprehensive portfolio of online apps. Integrated with SkyDrive for web-based file management, Office Web Apps provides a convenient way to store, manage and edit documents and spreadsheets on any computer or device that has an internet connection and a reasonable web browser. ...

Microsoft and Tesco announce major new online entertainment service for UK customers

Microsoft and Tesco have lifted the lid on a top-secret collaboration to develop a next-generation interactive entertainment service for the web. The service will be delivered through Silverlight,the a state-of-the-art web client technology which recently notched-up to version 3.0.

The service is scheduled to be launched later this year, and will offer an exciting array of new entertainment services to UK consumers, including HD movies, music and games. ...

US army develops Silverlight app to manage troop deployment

The US army has migrated their troop resourcing system to Silverlight 2.0, replacing an existing conventional desktop software application powered by .NET 3.5. The US military operates an extremely secure desktop environment, and strictly controls the software permitted to run on its computers. The Silverlight browser plug-in has been approved for military use. ...

Google unveils the next version of its search engine -- I've been testing it (project "Caffeine")

Google today unveiled project "Caffeine", the codename for the secret project to develop the next-generation of the company's search-engine infrastructure. Web developers have been invited to test the new version of its search engine, and provide feedback about differences observed in results from the current and new system.

Notwithstanding all the hype and mass-hysteria that engulfs any Google news story, in reality the "new Google" is almost indistinguishable from the search engine as it is now ...

Yahoo upgrading their search engine to Microsoft's Bing

The "deal" announced today is essentially Microsoft's long-awaited takeover of Yahoo's search portal, but presented in a way that is more palatable to Yahoo. It's a deal carefully crafted and cushioned, to minimise the hurt caused to Yahoo's tender pride. It's more than a "deal" and it's more than a merger. It's a sweet conquest; the victory at the end of a long siege outside the walls of castle Yahoo, thick walls built long ago but now crumbling. This is a takeover by another name...

UK government launches emergency flu pandemic web site on ASP.NET

The new online service is under "unprecedented demand", and is subject to unprecedented scrutiny by the media and other critics of the government in a period of international crisis. The government had to get this right, and above all had to make the right choice in terms of technology....


Online sector defies recession with impressive growth in sales

The latest metrics on the UK economy confirm that online business is booming, despite the recession. Meanwhile, growth remains modest in high-street shops.

The volume of transactions online is up almost 17%. This is impressive! Such strong growth would be worthy of applause in prosperous times; but these figures emerge triumphantly from the gloom of a serious recession, like the mythical phoenix. Indeed, this is the worst economic depression since World War II. In old-school physical bricks-and-mortar shops, sales have grown by only 3.3%. ...

Microsoft Word banned in USA by district court in east Texas, over alleged patent infringement

Judge Leonard Davis of the US District Court for the Eastern District of Texas has issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the sale or import of Microsoft® Word in the United States of America.

The case against Microsoft is questionable, and the court was under-qualified to make an informed judgement on the relevant issues. Furthermore, this court is reportedly famous for being biased against big companies, and has a proven track record of ruling in favour of small companies in previous patent-infringement cases. Microsoft will appeal and the injunction is not expected to affect sales of MS software.

Microsoft's strategy has switched back to attack mode

Microsoft's strategic stance has shifted from defense back to offense. The change back to a stronger, more confident, more competitive business is the bigger picture that clearly emerges from a retrospective on recent activity in the technology sector...

YouTube is still not a profitable business

Google is losing an estimated 0.5 billion per year running YouTube, on top of the 1.65 billion it paid in 2006 to acquire the loss-making business.

With all the interesting stuff confined to the frame of the video player (which is often in full-screen mode), I'm surprised anyone ever looks at the adverts. No wonder Google has been reviewing its advertising strategy for YouTube, and experimenting with more engaging ads...

Google's chief executive resigns from Apple's board

You might be wondering what Eric Schmidt, the top man at Google, was doing on Apple's board of directors in the first place! These are supposed to be two separate companies. Such a cosy relationship between two of the world's biggest technology corporations is dangerous...

Apple sued for stealing the idea for their famous touch screen technology

The touchpad idea represents an important advancement in the evolution of the interface between human users and portable electronic devices. It's also a coveted feature and a much-hyped gimmick. It has been one of the key unique selling points of Apple's branded consumer products. But it seems Apple may have stolen the idea, deliberately ignoring the true inventor...

Microsoft is the UK's favourite brand

Microsoft is officially the best brand in the UK, in this year's vote by the British public. The BBC was in the top 5. Apple just about made it into the top ten...

ASOS.com makes a big profit despite the recession, through their ASP.NET web site

As the recession deepens, globally and internationally, ASOS.com will need to keep up the good work to stay ahead. The scale of their success in this industry sector as a whole has attracted the attention of some potentially major competitors. Most notably one of the world's biggest retailers, Tesco, now wants a piece of the action...

Gaming / Interactive Entertainment

Skyrim is launched!

The long-awaited sequel to Oblivion has finally been released: The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim. As expected, it takes RPG gaming to the next level and exhibits the best version ever of Bethseda Game Studio's amazing game engine. Skyrim is a vast, epic adventure...

Portal 2 has arrived!

I only talk about the most special games here on my blog, and Portal 2 certainly falls within this category. With Portal 2, the legendary game studio Valve is proving their genius yet again with a truly innovative concept and a remarkably clever and entertaining game. The obvious question now is, when will they release Half Life 3? Watch this space... ;)

*** Update: the downloadable content is now available; it's huge, it's superb, and it's FREE. ***

Modern Warfare 3 is deployed!

Product launches do not get much bigger than this. (And I do mean products of any kind.) MW3 is not just another new video game. It's an historic landmark in the history of entertainment. (And I do mean all forms of entertainment.) It'll make more money than a typical blockbuster movie. It's a big deal, and not just for gamers -- this is big business.A huge launch event, in numerous key locations worldwide, is being coordinated through the internet, particularly via Facebook and Twitter. The launch parties being coordinated around the world will be the stuff of legend...

*** Update: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 set the all-time record for the biggest entertainment launch in history, making well over $400 million (USD) in sales just in North America and United Kingdom alone! More than 6.5 million units sold in the US and UK within the first 24 hours! An historical landmark, as I predicted. ***

The best games on Xbox -- my official list

If you only play one game on Xbox, make it one of these. The console is worth the price just to experience any one of these games alone. That's no exaggeration.

Iovation: security in online casino platforms

A case study in security for online gaming platforms, as the problem becomes more important and complex than ever before...

Halo: Reach -- major new game coming soon!

Later this year the video game Halo: Reach will be released. It will be one of the biggest events in the industry this year. It's likely to be the Game of the Year 2010. The multiplayer Beta is about to begin...

Modern Warfare 2 game released -- likely to be the best-selling game of all time!

Modern Warfare 2, the newest iteration in the highly-popular Call of Duty series, is now on sale! This state-of-the-art first-person shooter is one of the most eagerly-anticipated games ever. Here in the UK considerable controversy in the media, and a big movie-style premiere event in London, have made this a very high-profile game launch.

Halo 3: ODST -- The next big blockbuster video game launch

The top headline on the BBC News technology page is currently the imminent release of the next big blockbuster video game, Halo 3: ODST, which drops into the marketplace on Tuesday. The ODST project is the fruit of a major collaboration between Bungie and Microsoft Game Studios. It's the sequel to Halo 3, their previous project -- one of the top-selling games of all time. This one of the most eagerly-anticipated products in the history of gaming and interactive entertainment. ...

Lionhead Studios announces Game Episodes for Fable II -- a cool new way to purchase video games (divided into bite-sized episodes)

Fable II: a tale of marketing genius! Lionhead Studios, one of the world's leading video game developers, based in Britain, is pioneering an innovative new way for gamers to consume video-games: "Game Episodes". Under the new pricing model, the customer can purchase the game as a series of separate episodes. If the customer doesn't enjoy the game at any stage, they don't have to pay for the rest of it. ...

Video games can make you happier and more successful

I have some good news for gamers, if there's any truth in this headline I read in the Metro newspaper today here in London:- "War gamers 'are more successful and happier'". According to psychology experts...

Xbox LIVE update announced -- new features include games download

Microsoft sent an email to all Xbox LIVE customers today to announce the date for the next major update to the Xbox LIVE service. This much-hyped and long-awaited update will be rolled-out next week -- on Tuesday, 11 August.

Among the new features that will be available to Xbox gamers from next week is "Games On Demand". At long last, Xbox users will be able to download games directly to the console, saving a journey to the gaming shop. Some content, including music tracks and videos, movies, and game trial-versions, were already available on-demand. Big improvements are in the pipeline to the quantity and variety of content available, along with changes in the ways in which content can be delivered or consumed, e.g. movie parties.

This is the beginning of an exciting new phase in the interactive entertainment industry, driven by the development and deployment of a wide range of new features and services, by Microsoft and other companies, some of which were unveiled or hinted at earlier in the year at E3 2009.

Bungie game studios launch new Render to Video feature for putting game videos on the web

Bungie game studios have launched a public Beta of their new Render to Video feature. (I've been participating in the Beta.) It's essentially like YouTube for gaming, allowing gamers (with one mouse-click) to put videos of their favourite gaming moments online, direct from the console. This is interesting news, commercially and technically. It harnesses the power of the existing revolutionary in-game video capture functionality. It's a landmark step in the evolution of interactive entertainment...

Media / TV / Music / Video

UK music industry announces landmark deal with YouTube

There is a serious crisis facing the music industry. The problem is simple -- it costs too much to put music online legally. The crisis facing online music reached a crescendo earlier this year, when Google took drastic unilateral action to highlight the problem, by permanently deleting all UK music videos from YouTube...

TV on mobile devices could have 300 million viewers by 2013

A recent market-research study predicts that the number of people in the world who consume TV on mobile devices could reach 300 million by 2013. TV on mobiles is a steadily growing market, expected to 54 million users by the end of this year.

In some areas, more than 40 per cent watched daily, the study found. While news and sports were popular among mobile TV viewers, most favoured a mix of programme types. The study found most viewers tuned in while travelling, at home and during breaks at work.

Most young-people in the UK download and share music illegally

Research commissioned by UK Music, the umbrella body which represents the British music business, found 61 per cent of 14-to-24-year-olds had downloaded music through peer-to-peer networks or torrent trackers, 86 per cent had copied CDs for friends and 75 per cent had sent music by email, Bluetooth, Skype or MSN.

It found 68 per cent listened to music on their computer every day and the average hard drive contained 8,159 songs. UK Music said the industry should consider offering listeners as much music as they can download for a fixed fee. ...

Technology / Gadgets

Zune HD portable media player: launch-date announced

Zune HD is literally the state-of-the-art personal media player device; alive with cutting-edge technology. It’s a brand new gadget, introducing welcome competition to a well-established sector which has been dominated for too long by Apple’s well-marketed but over-priced devices. At launch, Zune HD will already be about $80 US dollars cheaper than an iPod, and the price could be reduced...

Nokia to launch their first ever laptop later this year

Nokia has now released detailed specifications of their first ever laptop, at this year's Nokia World conference. There is great excitement surrounding this product. Commentary on the Nokia World event around the blogosphere is dominated by the buzz on this one topic...


Macs can be hacked into when the user opens or views a picture

Apple has just released a patch to fix another 19 security vulnerabilities in its flagship Mac operating system.

Mac users who have not installed the new patch are exposed to various dangers. For example, hackers could take control of their computer just by getting them to view an infected image, for instance on a web site or in an email.

"Apple said malicious hackers could rig PNG (Portable Network Graphics) and other images to take complete control of unpatched Mac systems."

Every iPhone in the world can be hacked by a simple text message

Hackers can take control of any iPhone, by sending a simple text message containing a square symbol. Apple has known for "over a month" that its customers are at risk, but has not fixed the problem. They can no longer ignore their responsibility with all of the media attention today. Apple and its expensive brands are all about marketing PR. This major security flaw in Apple's software was demonstrated last night by the researchers who first discovered it, in a desperate attempt to shame Apple into releasing a patch. It's the latest in a long series of vulnerabilities which put iPhone users at risk...

Twitter hacked via Google Apps

A hacker got into Twitter's internal systems through Google Apps, downloading confidential commercial documents and data. Twitter staff had been using Google Docs, a service designed to compete with MS Office...

Comment/Discuss: go to the comments section at the end of the relevant page

Spotlight: Technology Analysis

Microsoft needs to release Windows Server Express

Microsoft urgently needs to release an Express edition of Windows Server.

Breaking news: Windows 7 was released today.

At present there is no free entry-level web server platform available from Microsoft. Yet Microsoft manifestly does need to offer one, if it is to compete on the same terms as alternative platforms such as LAMP -- even if the alternatives are inferior.


Google Apps constitute an unnecessary risk for business users

Google has been presenting the services available through Google Apps as ideal IT solutions for business as well as personal usage. Yet the use of Google Apps introduces a number of extra rows to the risk column of a company’s Risk Analysis spreadsheet.

An essential consideration is security. Famously, the internal systems of the online company Twitter were recently hacked via Google Apps. But don't let this distract you from other essential issues; security isn't the only concern. For example, there's inherent risk simply in losing control over some of your data or files. Imagine a theoretical scenario in which government or military officials have migrated to Google Apps, and must urgently respond to some major emergency, only to find that the Internet connection is down...


Silverlight 3.0 is now available!

I've produced a list summarising the most important of the new capabilities of SL3. All of this is, of course, in addition to the comprehensive set of features which have already been available since version 2.0:

  • Apps are now desktop enabled and fully interchangeable between running on the desktop or in the web browser.
  • Advanced 3D with perspectives (made simple by Visual Studio and Expression Blend).
  • Additional media codecs supported, with an extensible handling of raw bits to support any format in theory.
  • Full HD 1080p in and out of full-screen.
  • Smooth Streaming allows the system or even the user to change the quality of audio/video seamlessly; almost imperceptibly (the official SS example also works in SL2.0).
  • More than 60 new controls (with source code) provide a variety of features which are useful for building sophisticated web pages.
  • Advanced animation and special-effects.
  • Advanced support for themes, styles and skinning of the UI.
  • Comprehensive support for SEO and accessibility.
  • Binary XML can increase the speed of data exchange by facilitating compression and reducing the need to serialise and deserialise data/objects. (Preliminary benchmarking indicates that this can improve web service performance by 30% at both client and server.)
  • Various significant performance improvements.
  • And much more...


How long does it take to develop a blog engine from scratch using ASP.NET MVC?

Why "re-invent the wheel" and develop a new blog engine when there are so many off-the-shelf blog solutions available? Many web sites offer a free blog service, and there are numerous open-source blog engines available to download. The explanation is simple. If it can be done in less than 60 minutes with ASP.NET MVC, why not try it?

Is one hour an exaggeration? Don't take my word for it; try it yourself. (An un-edited video showing the whole process will be posted later.) There may be some extra features that we would want to add to the basic blogging functionality. But it can all be done in about an hour, without rushing anything.


Entity Framework vs Subsonic: performance benchmarking and other comparisons

Entity Framework is a relatively new feature of .NET, for automatically generating and maintaining the data access layer and business objects in an application. The developer can simply point the framework at the database using a simple wizard in the Visual Studio IDE, click "Finish", and the work is done. Data is then available in every imaginable way with simple, intuitive properties and methods in unmanaged code. Strongly-typed objects are also available for every data structure.

Subsonic is an open source command line utility which does a similar job. It's very well established and has been widely adopted.

There have been various attempts at solutions for this approach to rapid development, broadly known as object-relational mapping. But how good is the generated code, and how good are the underlying libraries?


Internet Explorer 8 vs Chrome: which browser is really faster?

There are some fantastic myths about browser speed and performance circulating on the web. To differentiate between fact and propaganda, I begin with an analysis and interpretation of Microsoft's own internal performance testing of IE8 against other browsers.



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