Rage3D Kombuting // October 19th edition

Author: Panagiotis Vagiakos
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: October 19th, 2012

This week: AMD and their missed opportunities, Surface (yes, again) and the new Ubuntu

Is it a blog? Is it my rumblings with a spice of memes? Is it Stuff That Are Entirely My Opinion And Do Not Reflect That of Rage3D? Guilty as charged on all accounts. Enjoy and comment away :)

AMD and tablets - deja vu?

So this is actually something I've been meaning to get off my chest for quite some time. And by quite some time, I mean many years, even since I was working for AMD. I am talking about Imageon - for those of you unaware of what that is, a little background. Even before AMD took control of it, ATI had a subdivision which handled graphics for stuff like PDAs (yeah, remember those?) and mobile phones. That division produced a SoC (System On a Chip, I'm sure you've seen these initials before) called Imageon. According to Wikipedia, "The system-on-a-chip design incorporates an embedded CPU core, baseband sub-system CPU interface, memory controller, power management (ATI PowerPlay), internal RAM and stacked RAM with memory buffer, two display engines (for dual monitors on cellphones), imaging engine, image/video/audio capture engine, TV and audio output, dual digital signal processors for audio and video, and video acceleration engine". Sounds mighty good, doesn't it?

But then AMD happened; initially, all was good. ATI Imageon was renamed to AMD Imageon, and there was even a press release claiming 250,000 units sold to customers from 2003-2007, a very respectable number by the standards of those times. But even since then AMD management had a bit of trouble predicting computing trends; so in the name of "restructuring", AMD sold the Imageon tech to Qualcomm at the end of 2008. Since then it's pretty much common knowledge what happened; it was the time when iPhone was making a big splash throughout the industry, giving a big push to the smartphone market. So with the rise of Android (which was introduced a couple of months earlier, oh the irony), ARM-based processors started selling big. Qualcomm had already purchased Imageon, so they renamed it to Adreno (gotta love the Qualcomm guys, as Adreno is an anagram of Radeon) and included it in their SnapDragon SoC. The rest, as they say, is history.

You'll say, ok Pete; why tell us all that now? Well, consider the world we live in. PC shipments are on the decline globally, AMD is announcing tablet processors that will run Windows 8 (the Z-60, for which there are no public design wins yet, as BSN reports, and they don't even have official Linux support), the industry of smartphones, tablets, phablets etc is exploding at the moment, with no signs of slowing down, and companies like nVidia (with Tegra) and Qualcomm (with Snapdragon) are capitalising on that exact fact.

So let's have a take on an alternate reality, in which AMD didn't sell its Imageon tech. Instead, it'd get an ARM license, and start producing mobile processors, since Fusion was on the agenda even then - I admit that I was skeptic too at first, but it was one of AMD's most brilliant moves ever as a company. And let's just say, for the sake of argument, that, as the sole owner of both x86 and ARM licenses, it would make a Fusion processor that would run everything natively, both x86 and ARM programs. See where this is headed? In paths that would lead to AMD domination in both spaces, by having something unique, something nobody else has currently. Of course, nothing happens with what-if scenarios, and we are where we are today. AMD trying to compete in the tablet space, betting that Windows 8 tablets will succeed, even slamming ARM-based tablets for not being able to run Windows apps. Like a tablet user should even care about applications which were not designed for touchscreens in the first place - a tablet is mainly a consuming device and Jobs nailed that to the head with the iPad. AMD is making the same mistake as Microsoft: if people want tablets they'll buy tablets. If they want laptops, they'll buy laptops. In an ideal world, there would be a tablet that can run x86 applications, play games and have the battery life of ARM processors. But that doesn't exist; and ou can't help but wonder what would have happened if the management made better choices back then. I really hope that, with the latest 15% staff cut and quarter losses announced, AMD management will start making right decisions at some point because clearly, something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Cheapest Microsoft Surface for $499 after all

So the rumoured pricings were far off; cheapest 32GB Surface will be $499, $599 if you add the touch cover and $699 if you get the 64GB version. Oh, and no GPS. My reaction?

I believe I have made my case in earlier installments why Microsoft (and Nokia, and whoever wants to bet money on the Windows 8/RT platform) should have lowered prices. Especially for Windows RT, where you have total x86 incompatibility and thus the applications are far few and limited. I have Windows 8 installed since they went RTM (one of the perks of the trade), and even though the Metro app numbers are increasing, they are still behind Android and iOS in both quality offerings and number of alternatives. I am sure that will be fixed in time, but nobody will want to pay $699 in order to have to wait for a year for quality applications. And applications can make or break a platform, especially if it's a new kid on the block like Windows RT, and a strange kid at that - if early reports of limited hardware compatibility are true... One thing's for sure: Surface looks mighty tempting, but so do the newest Jelly Bean tablets, especially with the newest 1080p displays. iPad is not the antagonist here; Android tablets are, and I don't think Microsoft gets it. People that have invested money on a said platform won't throw away their paid apps that easily, and traditionally iPhone/iPad owners pay more for apps. So they're less likely to switch. Anyway, as they say, we will know soon enough, October 26th is near, Surface preorders seem to be a hit although you can never judge anything from that and we'll see if Microsoft's tablet will be a hit.

Ubuntu 12.10 is out!

The world's favourite Linux flavour has been updated to the 12.10 version, which is imaginatively called Quantal Quetzal - you can find the ISO downloads here (in both x86 and x64 versions). Make note that there is no CD ISO anymore, since the size is now approximately 800 MB. I've been using Ubuntu 12.04 LTS at work almost exclusively (beats our licensed Windows XP installations any time of the day) and today that the new OS was out I did the unthinkable. I actually tried to do a rolling upgrade from 12.04 to 12.10 by using the

update-manager -d

command. And guess what: it actually worked, which was very surprising, since I was using Gnome 3 instead of Unity and had added some repositories of my own. So here are some of the highlights of the new version:

  • For those of you who use Unity, there are some new lenses such as Photo, Shopping and Social. There are also Previews, a Dash feature that allows you to preview whatever you see on the Dash by right clicking it.
  • In other Unity news, apart from the usual bug fixes, there's a new feature called webapps, where popular sites like Facebook, Gmail etc get integrated to the system menu. So for instance, when you receive a new email on your Gmail, if you have the webapp installed (you get a prompt for doing so when you visit the site in Firefox), it'll show up natively on the messaging menu and so on. Of course this is is Unity-exclusive, and it's kind of silly because if you use Gnome 3's native environment like I do, you still get the prompt, but nothing actually happens.
  • Updated packages like Ubuntu Software Centre, Jockey was replaced with an "Additional Drivers" app, Appmenu and HUD support for LibreOffice - Nautilus still stuck at 3.4 version though (although the OS ships with Gnome 3.6)

All in all, looks like a solid release so far. So those of you who are in for a bit of adventure, you can try it out!

Tune in next week, same Komb-time, same Komb-site.