August 6, 2009

Death of PopFly

Posted in Web tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:53 am by sagito

Some of you probably know and have used Microsoft’s PopFly! I did and I think it was a pretty cool online service and above all it was pretty fun to use… (Although it also a bit useless too). PopFly was the Microsoft’s response to the Web 2.0 fever that struck the internet some time ago. For those of you who didn’t know PopFly, it was an online service that allowed users to create mashups by simply dragging and dropping the features you want and connecting them together. This mashups could be sites, games, simple web apps, etc…

Well, at first this seemed to be pretty cool… The truth is this was useless, because there were few contents that I could really export from their site and use as standalone… Nevertheless, we could see some really great works in the popfly site, some of which took obviously lots of time and expertise to create. So, what does Microsoft decided to do with that? Shutdown popfly and destroy every single content that could not be exported!

I was registered in PopFly (and I had to obtain an invitation to join this “elite” in the beginning) and I had some work there… And all of that is now lost. Microsoft, I want you to give me back the time you wasted from my life! Well, at least they warned the users with some funny message which states: “Thanks for stopping by. Unfortunately, on August 24th, 2009, the Popfly service will be discontinued, all resources will be taken down, and access to your Popfly account, including games and mashups, will cease.”. So, I just want to thank you, Microsoft, for valuing my work so much…

But now, lets think for a while… PopFly came out in 2007 and at the time you needed an invitation to work with that thing. Somewhere in 2008 I think, the invitation system was removed and anyone could login. And now, only 2 years after its birth, PopFly is getting killed… In my opinion, this reveals two things: The first is that it was an amazing failure in the Microsoft’s strategy and planning. Because this was obviously expensive to Microsoft. Also, as you couldn’t obtain anything that really matters from this service, it was quite obvious to me that it wouldn’t work… The second thing is that Microsoft must be desperate with something and is trying to reorganize or redraw its strategy… Shutting down a service, even if it is useless and obsolete, is not Microsoft’s style… So, either they are planning something big and need to focus their resources on that or they are trying to reduce costs… Desperately…

But PopFly is not the only thing that Microsoft is killing… Microsoft Money (Microsoft’s Management Software System) was also discontinued and it will no longer have technical support. When I heard of that I thought: “What the hell is Microsoft Money? Never heard of it…”. Apparently it really existed… But not any more!

My opinion is that Microsoft will be closing some more stuff soon. Probably not its social Live Network, as social networking is Microsoft’s main bet now, but I don’t expect a long life for Skydrive, XNA, Live Mesh and Silverlight. The first is quite useful but is very expensive because it requires a huge online storage space. XNA represents an enormous investment from Microsoft, was well received and it is very useful as a prototyping tool. But NEVER as a game creation platform as they intended, because it is way too slow to be able to compete with a C++ engine, for example. Live Mesh is a complete failure in its implementation as I’ve mentioned in this post. Finally, Silverlight was Microsoft’s idea to compete with Flash. However, people got used to Flash over so many years and they don’t want to learn something new that doesn’t bring any real advantage over Flash (although Microsoft invested a lot on saying otherwise, which obviously isn’t true, at least so far).

So, Microsoft seems to be in a very bad and dangerous path… Maybe they will get it someday, but for the moment I think they are just desperate and trying to patch up some mistakes they made in the past few years. This said, I leave you with a sentence that I saw somewhere a while ago: 

“The day Microsoft makes something that doesn’t suck is the day they make a vacuum cleaner.”

June 30, 2009

X File Format Dying?

Posted in Computer Graphics tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:13 am by sagito

As some of you should know, .X files were the Microsoft “standard” format for three-dimensional model and animation within DirectX. These consisted of binary or ASCII files with some a kind of scene graph describing a specific scene. Although they were not very complete, this format along with the helper functions such as D3DXLoadMeshFromX were always a major help while developing simple games or applications using DirectX.

Of course that almost every major company developed their own formats, and in that perspective, the .X file format was quite useless… But what about the small developers? Or the people who are learning DirectX? Will they have to start learning parsing techniques in order to read some other file format? Or will they have to learn some scripting language like MaxScript to export their own models?

As a matter of fact, as far as I know, Microsoft never said anything official about this matter. However, everyone who uses the DirectX SDK may have noticed that since November 2007, support for writing files in the .x file format has just disappeared. Also, what happened to the DirectX Mesh Tool? It was replaced by the DirectX Viewer which is buggy, slow and to be honest, quite useless…

Without .X file format, what can small developers use? Well, for one side we have the .FBX file format. As the .X file format it has a binary and an ASCII mode, so that could be an option… But there is so many useless code inside that I doubt I couldn’t get a working parser for this format in less than one week… Also, the binary mode is a proprietary (undocumented) format from Autodesk…

If this is really Microsoft’s decision, then I’m terribly sorry… Really… If this is just a matter of giving less importance to the small developers… I’m even more sorry… As I mentioned before, I will try to develop an exporter for 3D Studio Max on my own… If it gets anywhere near good, I will post it here… At least, I hope that can help someone!