Review of the T-Mobile MDA

After my less than inspired experience with the new T-Mobile Sidekick 3, I decided to try something completely different. I do this every now and again — try to ween myself off the Sidekick platform. I’ve tried it with Treos, I’ve tried it with Blackberries, and I’ve tried it with phones from Nokia and Sony Ericsson. But in the end, I always come crawling back to the Sidekick.

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Gaming on the cheap

I’m taking a little break from my Developer Relations position at Adobe Systems to work on some of my own projects, which means no money coming in for a while, which in turn means I won’t be dropping $60 on any new Xbox 360 games any time soon. Although I’d really like to be playing the new Ghost Recon, Advanced Warfighter (which I’ve played at friends’ houses and love), I am instead entertaining myself with Xbox Live Arcade games.

If you have an Xbox 360, you need to spend some time checking out the Xbox Live Arcade. It consists of a couple dozen small, simple, downloadable games across six categories which seem to cost anywhere between $5 and $10, and provide hours of swearing and celebration. To get to the Xbox Live Arcade, go to the Xbox dashboard, navigate to the Games tab (or "blade" as Microsoft calls them), and it’s right there.

I’ve played Hexic HD (written in Flash, I believe), Mutant Storm Reloaded, Geometry Wars Evolved, and Joust. My favorite is Geometry Wars Evolved so far. The graphics are simple, but extremely sharp and bright (on an HD TV), and the movement is amazingly fluid given everything that’s going on on the screen at once. Hexic HD is available for free, and is created by Alexey Pajitnov, they guy who, by inventing Tetris, is responsible for decades of accumulated lost productivity.

You can download a free trial of each game which is limited in some fashion, but works well enough to give you a sense of whether you want to spend a little money on it or not. While playing the trials, your Xbox will ask you about 800 times if you want to "unlock" the full version which gets annoying, but the trial technique is appreciated, nonetheless. Unlocking (in other words, buying) the full version allows you to record achievements that your Xbox Live friends can see, and lets you play the entire game through.

The only thing that bugs me about the Xbox Live Arcade is that you don’t pay real money for the games. You purchase "Microsoft Points" which you can then redeem for games, sort of like the Chuck E. Cheese token model. I guess I don’t mind the model itself so much, but they conveniently leave out dollar equivalents next to points. In other words, you might see that a game costs 400 points which you can purchase quickly and easily right through Xbox Live, but there’s nothing there to indicate how much money that actually is. Convenient. Anyway, the exchange rate seems to be 80 Microsoft points per $1, so games will cost between $5 and $10. Check out the Microsoft Points article on Wikipedia for more information.

Of course, there are other ways to game on the cheap. You can pick up an original Xbox bundle for $179.99 at Best Buy (that actually seems a little expensive to me), a PlayStation 2 for $149.99, or a good old Nintendo Gamecube for a mere $99.99. If you’re into mobile gaming, I strongly recommend checking out the new Nintendo DS Lite (videos here and here) which will save you money over the PSP. And if you’re a do-it-yourself type with no moral objections to this type of thing, you might be interested in knowing that the Xbox 360 firmware was recently hacked.

Stream music to your Xbox 360 (from any computer)

My Xbox 360 monitoring script worked, and I got a Platinum system from Circuit City. I’ve had it for about a week now, and I think I’ve spent as much time playing with the dashboard and media capabilities as I have playing games.

I don’t have a Media Center PC (yet), but it turns out I don’t need one in order to stream music to my Xbox 360. All you need is a media server that the Xbox thinks is a Media Center PC. I’m using a server called TwonkyMusic from Twonky Vision. I’m running it on a G5 iMac in my kitchen, and it streams music to my Xbox 360 over a 802.11g wireless network perfectly. The server automatically starts when I log in, and indexes all the MP3 files in the /User directory. It even runs a little web server on port 9000 that you can use to administer the music server from inside or outside your network. The TwonkyMedia server will stream photos, as well, but I’m only interested in music since all my photos are on Flickr (who I hope is working on some sort of media streaming solution of their own).

The one issue I’ve had with the server is that I ended up having to shut off the firewall on my iMac (but not the firewall between me and the outside world). I tried opening all the ports that TwokyMusic claims to uses, and that let me connect to the server from my Xbox, but not browse music for some reason. I have to look into that further, but otherwise, it’s been working great, and my Xbox 360 has been playing music just about nonstop ever since.

The Twonky server products are available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X, and will allow you to stream music to about 34 different devices. I’ll still probably end up getting either a Media Center PC, or whatever Apple announces in a couple weeks, but in the meantime, this is a great solution.

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Why not sell exploits?

I read on eWeek today that eBay, in response to a request by Microsoft, recently pulled an auction for an Excel vulnerability. Apparently, the auction had gotten up to all of $53 before being taken down. According to the auction description, Microsoft employees qualified for a discount by mentioning the discount code "LINUXRULZ". Very clever.

The article got me thinking… Rather than having the auction pulled, Microsoft could have actually bid on it and won, then promptly fixed the issue, thereby hopefully preventing any actual implementation of the exploit, and at the same time, portraying themselves as a pretty good sport. Then I started thinking it might be interesting for companies like Microsoft to start offering bounties for vulnerabilities in their software. That way, the exploits stay out of the hands of evil-doers and possibly the media, the "researcher" makes a little cash, and everyone’s happy. For those who search for exploits purely for the notoriety rather than the money, maybe companies could even add the researchers’ names to a special page on their corporate site with a big and humble "Thank You" next to it. Seems like in the end, it would end up costing less in R&D, and probably in PR, as well.