Looking into the far future, I see an image of myself, old and wrinkled on a rocking chair, surrounded by children. They look up at me and ask, “Grampa, tell us about your wild adventures as a heat-seeking beta bunny!” And I reply, “Oh, my sweethearts, those days are long gone. I used to be young and crazy, downloading every shiny 0.2 release, pumping the nightlies, having to vape my Windows install every three months. I eased off after a while – the RSI and blood pressure – but even so, I was still desperate for new toys, hungry to ride the bleeding edge of the Freshmeat wave. Then came the Threedegrees beta…” At that point the prophecy goes a bit blurry because I start shouting and hitting the children and shortly after that I’m Soylent Green.
It’s the fault of the children, you see. In case you’ve missed all the fanfare, ThreeDegrees is Microsoft’s new chat/P2P/music app that came about through the revolutionary process of asking the teenagers at which it’s aimed to help design it. The app lets users organise themselves into social groups (point and clique?). Groups are limited to a ten-member maximum, a bizarrely arbitrary limit that will hopefully be the first victim of the beta programme. Group members can chat, share pictures, play music and “wink” at each other. (“Winking” is a kind of animated emoticon broadcast to all members of the group. Wondering why you never see your teenager these days? He’s probably up in his room, winking.) As you’d expect, it’s all wrapped up in the kind of huge lurid skinnable UI that will have Alan Cooper wandering around the Redmond campus with a rifle.
The Threedegrees beta went live a few hours ago and I, the mad, risk-loving fool, hurried for this new plaything — pausing only to marvel at the “Gosh We’re Wacky!” section, blessed with all the carefree embarrassment skills of the middle-aged uncle.
This screencap from the installer should tell you all you need to know:
(No, I didn’t draw those scrawls onto the image. It really does look like that.)
I don’t know which of the scenarios I’m imagining is worse: The one where a crazed developer with MS Paint gets that past QA, or the one where the design team achieves group consensus to prove they’re the gang that’s down with the kids.
As you can see, the kids have to be down with installing a metric arseload of supporting extras before they can get jiggy with the winking action. This includes MSN Messenger 5.0 and the MS Black Ops P2P Infiltrator. I had a brief bout of swearing when MSNIM 5 started up because it was clearly ignoring my preference to hide the never-used info tabs on the left. Investigation showed I was wrong; it hadn’t so much ignored my preference as removed the option entirely. Clearly, being able to view Expedia travel deals in a 100-pixel-wide buddy list is too important a feature to ever be turned off. Dammit, if you can’t get stock price alerts, the terrorists have already won! Also, the banner slot at the bottom was refusing to budge, proudly displaying an ad telling me to use the app that was displaying it.
It’s part of a worrying trend MS have been displaying recently that I’ll call (for want of something wittier) feature-creep-away. Version 7.0 of Windows Media Player (a.k.a The Huge Blue Useless One) removed the ability to install .mov support. Now the latest version has removed streaming MP3 and AVI support (i.e. play during download). The lockdown has started. It’s more than just “Trusted Computing”; they’re trying to be Apple ’90.
Anyway, now that ThreeDegrees is finally installed, I can have a play. Except I can’t, because MSN IM can’t see the Internet. Oops, neither can Internet Explorer. The problem persists after a reboot. Most apps (including Mozilla and Trillian, thankfully) can browse quite happily, but those that use some magic MS voodoo instead of normal DNS lookups are scuppered. Most irritatingly, this group includes Soulseek. (Using IP addresses in MSIE seems to work fine) A wander through the innards of XP shows that the Undergound MS P2P so-beta-it’s-alpha has installed all kinds of IPv6 randomness into Services including a firewall and a “6to4 translator”. I turn all of them off, but to no avail. I’m glad that MS is building a road to the future, but I am now one with the tarmac. Still, it could be worse.
If this gets fixed, someone let me know. I want to check ThreeDegrees out so I can pretend to be Clay and make wise, chin-stroking pronouncements about the social networks young people create. Also, I’d quite like to be able to use MSIE again. Probably. In the meantime, I’m joining the eight-year-olds swapping warez and pr0n on IRC. Seeya!
UPDATE: The headline on the front page of threedegrees.com reads: “For the people, by the People.
Our community is built upon our art, expressions, and individuality.” Yeah, and your Shared Source promotes innovation and is freer than the GPL. Oh, just fuck off!
FURTHER UPDATE: The adventure continues here.