Digital Life: Tile style marks Windows 8 as Microsoft fears the curse
If Microsoft history is anything to go by, Windows 8 should be a disaster. The Seattle giant has a cursed habit of creating an acclaimed version of Windows followed by an atrocious one.
So Windows 98 (good) begat Windows ME (terrible), then XP (good), then Vista (terrible), then Windows 7 (good). See the pattern?
In addition to that statistical pressure, Windows faces greater challenges than at any point in its history, chiefly from the inexorable rise of smartphones and tablets -- two areas where Microsoft simply isn't at the races.
So Windows 8, which went on sale last week, is more or less betting the farm on a complete rethink.
Owners of Microsoft's unloved Windows Phones will recognise Windows 8's 'tiles' metaphor, which unifies how desktops, tablets and phones function with brash colours and giant on-screen icons.
Despite this attempt at unity, however, in typically confusing Microsoft fashion, there are several flavours of the new Windows.
Two versions (Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro) directly replace Windows 7 at an upgrade cost from as little as €30.
Another (Windows RT) works exclusively on new tablets and runs only new iPhone-like apps. But you can buy more powerful tablets (Microsoft calls them slates) that run the full Windows 8 experience.
They all come in a bewildering array of shapes, with keyboard and without, and so on.
Common to all is the tiles metaphor, representing your applications with outsized icons that can contain "live" information such as new emails, Facebook status updates or news headlines.
It poses a huge learning curve for anyone weaned on the old-school windows and mouse-driven icons, not least because even the simplest tasks require unfamiliar actions. In fairness, it soon becomes second nature.
On a tablet, at least, Windows 8 is a natural fit for iPad-style computing, with taps and swipes making short work of common tasks. Less palatable is the pricing of current Window 8 tablets, but Microsoft plans to offer its own affordable brand, dubbed Surface, within weeks.
The key difference between Windows 8 and RT is that the former runs pretty much all software that already runs on XP/7. RT relies on an App Store like Apple's model but it is only lightly stocked.
It's a strategy that's worked well for Apple, but Microsoft will have a hard time catching up. It's more likely to achieve success with the full-fat version of Windows 8, which will be preloaded on millions of new PCs anyway.
That is, unless the curse of Windows strikes again.
Rarely has a game with such far-reaching ambition hit its mark unfailingly. It's no accident that steampunk stealth epic Dishonored can hold its head high in exalted company with Deus Ex, Bioshock, Half-Life 2 and Elder Scrolls.
Indeed, some of Dishonored's creators worked on those classics, bringing that experience many years later to a fine distillation of what made them tick.
The result is not so much outright plagiarism or even homage but rather an evolved descendant.
Framed for a murder of an empress in a seedy Dickensian world, royal bodyguard Corvo joins a band of rebels to unseat the coup masters. The game's masterstroke is the freedom it grants you to prowl the city, snapping necks or crawling in the shadows unseen as you unravel the mystery.
You might simply possess the body of a rat to slip by enemies, or construct an elaborate arsenal of weapons and win a war of attrition. The choice is yours and it's intoxicating.
Fable: The Journey
Less of a traditional Fable game, more of gently guided storybook with on-rails action, The Journey nonetheless manages to look gorgeous and remain mostly engaging.
Kinect's foibles rear their ugly head, though not often. But while this Fable has none of the moral complexity of its siblings, it has all of their charm.
Kinect Nat Geo TV
A nature show with interactive elements, this National Geographic production features eight 30-minute episodes about US wildlife, spiced up by Kinect's motion control.
Every so often the well-shot educational videos pause for some mini-games, such as swatting hornets or snapping pictures.
While the shows have little replay value, you do get a year's subscription allowing you to download forthcoming episodes, which sweetens the package.
Inazuma Eleven Strikers
The bizarro DS RPG has been reduced to an unlikely superhero version of football, rather similar to Mario Charged Strikers without the cheeky fun.
Lacking depth and damned by unskippable special move animations, it can't even fall back on a wacky story.
Bits and Bytes
• Skyrim picked up three gongs at the Golden Joysticks Awards at the weekend, walking away with Ultimate Game of the Year, Moment of the Year and Best RPG.
The fantasy epic faced down competition from such games as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Battlefield 3.
• Apple has posted a rather mealy-mouthed apology to Samsung after a UK judge ordered the Californian giant to notify consumers of a ruling that the Koreans had not copied the iPad with its Galaxy Tab.
Apple noted the ruling on its UK website but points out that similar decisions had gone the other way in other countries while repeating the judge's comment that the Galaxy Tab was "not as cool" as an iPad.