Posts Tagged‘linux’

Steam Hardware Survey December 2013

Windows 8 Adoption Rate Strong Amongst PC Gamers.

It’s no secret that my preferred gaming platform is the PC and the platform I run on top of that is Microsoft Windows. Whilst OSX and Linux might be gaining more momentum as of late they’re still quite far behind in terms of support from major titles, with the indie scene being the catalyst that’s driving them forward. With the introduction of SteamOS though Valve signalled that they had lost confidence in the Windows platform to deliver the same gaming experience as it had done for decades previously, predominately due to the changes that came in with Windows 8 and the WinRT platform.  This is where I and Gabe Newell start to disagree and if the latest numbers are anything to go by so do a good chunk of his customers.

Steam Hardware Survey December 2013The Steam Hardware Survey is a monthly data collection that Valve does through Steam to give an overview of the current trends in PC gaming. The results are a great insight into what gamers are using to play their games and is a great source of information for developers and pundits alike. The December 2013 results show a trend that even I didn’t think would be possible: a staggering 20% of Steam’s user base is now on Windows 8  or 8.1 64 bit. Compared to wider PC adoption rates this is even more impressive as it’s less than half of that of Steam users. Whilst I wouldn’t go as far to say that these figures should change Gabe’s mind (and indeed I believe he should stay the course with SteamOS) it does call into question the reasoning behind his recent musings about Windows as a gaming platform.

Another interesting titbit of information buried in the survey is that the fastest growing platform by far is Windows 8.1. Whilst it’s arguable that this is likely due to the improvements made in 8.1 (like the return of the start bar and the straight to desktop mode) I think it’s far more likely because this is the first Windows update that’s been made freely available to end users. Indeed it’s kind of hard to avoid upgrading to it as Windows will nag you every so often about it and since the update is completely non-destructive there’s really no barrier to getting the upgrade past a few hours. Still a raw increase of 2.5% of market share in a month is quite impressive and shows that Microsoft has done something right with its release.

I think it’s clear that Windows is still a very viable platform for gaming, even with Microsoft’s big push for things to start going the WinRT way. I’ve always been of the stance that the traditional desktop isn’t going to go anywhere, even in the face of tablets and other touch devices taking a bigger slice of the market that PCs used to occupy, and it seems a good chunk of the gaming community agrees with that idea. I’m sure Microsoft is also keenly aware of how much revenue the gaming community brings to them and how much of that is due to Steam so it’d be very surprising to see them do anything to push them away from the Windows platform.

 

Battlefield 4

The Work Required For Linux’s “One Killer App”.

It shouldn’t be a secret that I’m something of a Windows guy as I’ve essentially made my career in IT out of their products as well as it being my preferred gaming platform. It’s not that I have anything against the alternatives per se, more that there really isn’t another platform capable of doing all the things that Windows can do currently. If I was to stay on the PC platform my only alternatives are OSX and Linux and the former requires an exorbitant investment in hardware which I, as someone who builds his own PCs, am quite adverse to. Whilst the merits of Linux are vast it’s still got a long way to go before I can consider it on par with Windows, even if there’s been significant progress of late.

Battlefield 4Indeed it’s gotten to the point where some industry veterans, like DICE creative director Lars Gustavsson, have gone on record saying that Linux is only one killer app away from seeing explosive growth. There’s definitely been an escalating amount of investment in the platform over the past couple years, mostly in the indie space thanks to things like the Humble Bundles, however Linux gamers are still only make up a tiny minority, on the order of 2% (even on the current champion of the platform, Steam). With that in mind whilst I agree with Gustavsson’s point that Linux is only one killer application away from seeing a lot of growth that statement hides the significant amount of work required to make that happen.

For starters hidden within that 2% of users is an incredible amount of diversity in terms of which distribution they’re using. This is less of a problem than it used to be since a couple base distributions now power the majority of the Linux world (Debian, Red Hat, etc.) however it still presents a challenge that needs to be overcome. I think (and feel free to correct me on this) that the majority of this stems from a driver level where there’s a huge amount of fragmentation thanks to either a philosophical standpoint, I.E. no non-free software so binary blobs are out, or simply because manufacturers aren’t willing to provide that level of support to Linux users.

There also needs to be a critical mass of users in order for it to become attractive for bigger developers to want to support Linux as a platform. Now there’s some potential for this to happen with SteamOS and SteamMachines although it will still take some time for that to permeate. It will be interesting to see if SteamOS users will translate into Linux users over time or if they’ll remain as users of the platform, just like current console gamers are. There will need to be significant traction for this critical mass to be reached however as even OSX, which commands around 6% of the PC gaming market, still hasn’t managed to reach that level where big developers and publishers see it as a priority platform to support. What that critical mass is however I am not sure of but it’s definitely far above the current level which Linux reaches to currently.

I’m not saying that any of this isn’t possible, it most certainly is thanks to the mountains of work done by dozens of companies, just that “One Killer App” is so much harder to achieve than what the soundbite makes it sound like. Personally if it happened I’d be pretty excited about it as more competition means better products for the end consumer, even if I don’t completely agree with some of the motivations that are driving it. It’s for that reason that I signed up for the Steam hardware beta as I’d love to see the PC platform make a resurgence as the king of gaming regardless of the software platform it runs.

 

steamos_page_bg

Valve Announces SteamOS (I Fucking Called It, Bitches).

The primary driver for any company, whether they’re bound to the public via the whims or the stock market or not, is to create value and wealth for its various stakeholders. There’s not many companies that do that as well as Valve who’s profit per employee is among the highest in any industry and an order of magnitude above all its competitors. This is almost wholly due to their domination of the digital distribution market but their innovative use of Free to Play for their flagship games has certainly contributed to that as well. Of course the question on everyone’s minds is where Valve will go from here and their latest announcement, which I speculated about last year, seems to be their answer.

steamos_page_bgToday Valve announced SteamOS, essentially a Linux environment that’s geared towards playing games. There’s also a number of additional features that will be made available with its release including the also recently announced Family Sharing program which allows you to share your steam library with others. Whilst this isn’t the SteamBox that many were anticipating it’s essentially Valve’s console launch as they’ve stated numerous times in the past that anyone would be able to build their own SteamBox and SteamOS would be the basis for that. What the SteamOS actually entails, in terms of functionality and look/feel, remains to be seen but the launch site promises it will be available soon.

SteamOS comes off the back of Valve’s substantial amount of work on the Linux platform with a decent chunk of the Steam library now available on the platform. If we take Gabe’s word for it much of this was driven by the fact that Windows 8 was a “catastrophe” for gaming, something which I don’t agree with, and Valve sees their future being the Linux platform. Whilst it’s admirable that they’re investing a lot in a platform that’s traditionally been a tiny sliver of the PC gaming market the decision to use Linux is, in my opinion, more likely profit driven than anything else as it gets them a foothold in an area where they don’t current have any: the home living room.

Big Picture mode was their first attempt at this which was pretty squarely aimed at replicating the console experience using the Steam platform. However since most people run their games on a PC dedicated to such activities this would mean that Steam’s penetration in the living room was minimal. The SteamOS, and by extension the SteamBox, is a more targeted attempt to break into this area with it’s additional media features and family friendly control options. I don’t begrudge them for this, the sole reason companies exist is to generate profit, however some seem to think Valve’s moves towards Linux are purely altruistic when I can assure you they’re anything but.

Of course the biggest factor that will determine the success or failure of this platform will be whether or not the big developers and publishers see the SteamOS as a viable platform to develop for. As many are speculating Valve could do this by drastically reducing their cut of sales on the platform, something which would go a long way to making developing for Linux viable. I don’t think Valve needs to do a whole lot to attract indie developers to it as many of the frameworks they use already natively support Linux (even XNA does through some 3rd party tools) and as the Humble Indie Bundle has shown there’s definitely enough demand to make it attractive for them.

If any other company attempted to do this I’d say they were doomed to fail but Valve has the capital and captive market to make this idea viable. I’m sure it will see a decent adoption rate just out of pure curiosity (indeed I’ll probably install it just to check it out) and that could be enough to give it the critical mass needed to see adoption rates sky rocket. Whether or not those numbers will be big enough to convince the developers and publishers to get on board though will be something that will play out over the next couple years and will ultimately be the deciding factor in the platform’s success or failure.

 

MirrorMoon EP Screenshot Wallpaper Easy Planet

MirrorMoon EP: For All The Worlds Left Uncovered.

I’ve often wondered what the world of experimental indie games looks like to someone who doesn’t have a long history with games. Whilst the average age of a gamer is pushing past 35 there’s still got to be a good chunk of people who didn’t grow up in the golden age of gaming which means that many of the conventions relied upon in these games would simply be unfamiliar to them. Usually this is done in aid of getting out of the way of the user’s experience (tutorials are by far the worst immersion breakers, bulldozing through the 4th wall) and it’s something I appreciate  although I recognise how this might be of limited appeal to others.  MirrorMoon EP is one such game, relying on your sense of curiosity and exploration to uncover the vast world that it encompasses.

MirrorMoon EP Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

I am slowly learning to travel in space.

Time is a meaningless variable that slips through my fingers.

Stopping requires a lot of energy while moving feels almost like staying still.

Breathing is hard inside this machine.

I need to stay calm.

And with only that to go on you’re dropped on a mysterious moon, one that has a strange relationship with another nearby celestial body.

MirrorMoon EP feels visually similar to other minimalistic exploration games like Kairo favouring texture-less environments with solid colours covering every surface. As I alluded to earlier I believe that this is done in order to focus you on the gameplay above everything else and indeed since the control mechanism doesn’t allow you to sight see particularly well (more on that later) it does feel like MirrorMoon EP is doing its best to get out of your way. As a fan of minimalism this works quite well for me, especially when I find myself agape at some of the scenery which is nothing more than a couple light shafts arranged in a particular manner.

MirrorMoon EP Screenshot Wallpaper Learning The Basics

MirrorMoon EP is an exploration puzzler and the first world you find yourself upon serves as an introduction into the numerous mechanics that are built into it. Your viewpoint is locked however so whilst you’re in first person mode you can’t look up or down, nor even to your left or right. Instead you have to move yourself around like your entire body is encased in concrete, fixing your vision firmly forward. This, coupled with the incredibly small sizes of the world, means that your sense of location and direction is severely limited however you’re able to unlock a large set of tools that will help you find your way around and some of them are quite novel.

As the name of MirrorMoon EP alludes to you’ll quickly find out that there’s another “moon” nearby that, once you’ve discovered the right tools, you’re able to interact with. Initially it doesnt’ make a whole lot of sense, the first one allows you to rotate it around to see different features, however it becomes apparent that the moon you’re manipulating is in fact a duplicate of your own. Then using the tools you have disovered by randomly bumbling about you can then use it to guide yourself, allowing you to unlock more and more secrets. Eventually you’ll solve the puzzle and be treated to some more vague on screen text but after that you’re given access to the real game and it’s quite something.

MirrorMoon EP Screenshot Wallpaper The MachineThis is your console for exploring the vast space that is contained within MirrorMoon EP. Like pretty much everything else in the game details on how it operates is scant but after clicking around you’ll eventually figure out what everything does. The screen with numerous dots all over it is a map of all the other moons you can visit and each of them contains an unique puzzle for you to solve which, once completed, will allow you access to a glowing orb. Should you be the first person to find that orb then you’re granted with a special privilege.

You get to name that moon.

Now with the massive number of planets available I get the feeling that they’re all procedurally generated so some of them are going to be amazing and others are going to be quite dull (I believe I visited one that was completely dark and the orb was right in front of you). The names are also persistent and you’ll be able to tell if someone’s named a planet by the name being something other than THX/89 or something of a similar format. I managed to haphazardly visit another person’s planet without realising it but soon after found myself seeking out all the planets I could in order to solve them before anyone else did.

MirrorMoon EP Screenshot Wallpaper Easy Planet

Whilst is a pretty novel and interesting mechanic it unfortunately gets boring quite quickly as whilst the planets are usually different in some way a lot of the time it’s just a jumble of various mechanics mashed together procedurally. Once you’ve seen a dozen or so planets you’ve likely seen them all and so what initially seems like something with infinite replay value quickly fades into repetition. I do like the idea though and for some people I’m sure this would be infinitely interesting (kind of like Kerbel Space Program in a way) but for me I just couldn’t be bothered after a while.

Now I’ll have to admit some fault here as whilst I managed to complete the first “side” easily (and got the achievement to that effect) I haven’t yet been able to figure out how to finish side B in order to get a complete understanding of the story. It does seem quite interesting, especially with the references to the “anomaly” and how the machine interacts with space and time, however the intentional vagueness of both the game and the story have curtailed my efforts to dig up any substantial meaning from it. I could just Google it, like I did for Kairo, and I probably will if I don’t find out anything more soon.

MirrorMoon EP Screenshot Wallpaper Strange Towers

MirrorMoon EP is an interesting game, one which is heavily shaped by your own experiences with it. The unapologetic, minimalistic nature of it will definitely be a turn off for some however the heavy focus on the game play to the exclusion of nearly everything else is something that MirrorMoon EP pulls off exceptionally. Unfortunately I feel like it’s replay value is somewhat limited due to its procedural nature and the intentional vagueness of both story and gameplay may have lead to me giving up on it prematurely. Still MirrorMoon EP stands out as yet another shining example of the indie exploration/puzzler genre and is definitely worth looking into.

Rating: 8.5/10

MirrorMoon EP is available on Steam and OUYA right now for $9.99. Total game time was around 2 hours with 40% of the achievements unlocked.

Apache MaxClients Ubuntu Error Log

WordPress Randomly Dying? Check MaxClients.

Long time readers will know how much this blog has struggled with its various incarnations over the past 4 years. Initially I ran it from home on a server that I was using for development purposes so it ran inside a virtual machine that contained not one, but two database engines (MS-SQL for development and MySQL for the blog) all behind the tenuous 1.5Mbit upstream connection. This held up ok until I wanted to do anything fancy like put pictures on there (which would kill the connection for anything over 50kb) and it was relatively unstable, going down for days at a time since I couldn’t get a reliable remote connection to it. Since then I’ve churned my way through different virtual private servers (and all the issues they have) before landing on my current Burst.NET Ubuntu box which has been the best of the bunch so far.

Well, on the surface at least.

Apache MaxClients Ubuntu Error Log

Since my blog as attained a steady amount of traffic it usually doesn’t take long for someone to pipe up when it goes down, especially if it happens during the day time in Australia. Since I now have remote access to the server I’m one command away from rebooting it should anything happen to it and have done so multiple times when it has come to my attention. However there’s a good 12 or so hours during the day when I’m not really paying attention to the blog due to being at home and/or sleep and downtime during this period usually goes unnoticed until I try to login during the morning. Since a good chunk of my audience is in the USA this can mean an awful amount of missed traffic which isn’t the greatest way to start the day.

Now when I first set up the blog on this host there were a couple teething issues (mostly due to my rusty Linux skills) but for probably 2 months afterwards everything ran without the slightest indication of an issue. Then every so often the blog would simply stop responding, the server would be up and everything else on it was running fine but try as I might I couldn’t get it to serve out a PHP page. Wanting to get it back up as quickly as I could I recycled the Apache service and it came back up instantly and I figured it was just some transient error and went back to my everyday blogging routine. However it kept happening, usually at the most inopportune times, and so last weekend I sat down to find the root cause of the issue.

Turns out its WordPress itself.

The above screenshot shows the error pretty quickly, essentially Apache has reached the maximum number of clients it can serve and will start to reject users after that point. Whilst the causes of this are wide and varied it can usually the culprit can usually be traced down to some WordPress plugin or script that’s opening up connections and then not closing them properly. The best way to take care of this is to fix the script in question but since I have little interest in diving into the mess that is PHP I’ve simply upped the MaxClients setting, reduced the time out period and scheduled an Apache reboot to clear out anything that gets stuck open. All of these combined seems to be an effective solution to this issue in the mean time and once I feel up to the task of delving through all the code to find the offending script I’ll nip it in the bud for good.

Apart from that little quirk though this iteration of the blog’s underlying infrastructure has been pretty fantastic with all the plugins functioning the way I expect them to without me having to fiddle with web.config settings for hours on end. It’s also significantly faster as well, reducing page load times by half for dynamic pages and becoming near instant when its served from cache. You could attribute this to the fact that it’s a lot beefier than its predecessor but neither of them showed significant load for an extended period of time. I guess where I’m going with this is that if you’re going to host your own WordPress blog it’s just plain better on Linux, especially if you’ve better things to be doing (like, you know, blogging).

Linux Distros Tux

2013 Might Be Linux’s Year For Gaming.

The defacto platform of choice for any gamer used to be the Microsoft Windows based PC however the last decade has seen that change to be some form of console. Today, whilst we’re seeing something of a resurgence in the PC market thanks in part to some good releases this year and ageing console hardware, PCs are somewhere on the order take about 5% of the video game market. If we then extrapolate from there using the fact that only about 1~2% of the PC market is Linux (although this number could be higher if restricted to gamers) then you can see why many companies have ignored it for so long, it just doesn’t make financial sense to get into it. However there’s been a few recent announcements that shows there’s an increasing amount of attention being paid to this ultra-niche and that makes for some interesting speculation.

Linux Distros Tux

Gaming on Linux has always been an exercise in frustration, usually due to the Windows-centric nature of the gaming industry. Back in the day Linux suffered from a lack of good driver support for modern graphics cards and this made it nearly impossible to get games running on there at an acceptable level. Once that was sorted out (whether you count binary blobs as “sorted” is up to you) there was still the issue that most games were simply not coded for Linux leaving their users with very few options. Many chose to run their games through WINE or Cedega which actually works quite well, especially for popular titles, but many where still left wanting  for titles that would run natively. The Humble Indie Bundle has gone a long way to getting developers working on Linux but it’s still something of a poor cousin to the Windows Platform.

Late last year saw Valve open up beta access to Steam on Linux bringing with it some 50 odd titles to the platform. It came as little surprise that they did this considering that they did the same thing with OSX just over 2 years ago which was undoubtedly a success for them. I haven’t really heard much on it since then, mostly because none of my gamer friends run Linux, but there’s evidence to suggest that it’s going pretty well as Valve is making further bets on Linux. As it turns out their upcoming Steam Box will be running some form of Linux under the hood:

Valve’s engineer talked about their labs and that they want to change the “frustrating lack of innovation in the area of computer hardware”. He also mentioned a console launch in 2013 and that it will specifically use Linux and not Windows. Furthermore he said that Valve’s labs will reveal yet another new hardware in 2013, most likely rumored controllers and VR equipment but we can expect some new exciting stuff.

I’ll be honest and say that I really didn’t expect this even with all the bellyaching people have been doing about Windows 8. You see whilst being able to brag about 55 titles being on the platform already that’s only 2% of their current catalogue. You could argue that emulation is good enough now that all the titles could be made available through the use of WINE which is a possibility but Valve doesn’t offer that option with OSX currently so it’s unlikely to happen. Realistically unless the current developers have intentions to do a Linux release now the release of the Steam Box/Steam on Linux isn’t going to be enough to tempt them to do it, especially if they’ve already recovered their costs from PC sales.

That being said all it might take is one industry heavyweight to put their weight behind Linux to start a cascade of others doing the same. As it turns out Blizzard is doing just that with one of their titles slated for a Linux release some time this year. Blizzard has a long history with cross platform releases as they were one of the few companies to do releases for Mac OS decades ago and they’ve stated many times that they have a Linux World of Warcraft client that they’ve shied away from releasing due to support concerns. Releasing an official client for one of their games on Linux will be their way of verifying whether its worth it for them to continue doing so and should it prove successful it could be the shot in the arm that Linux needs to become a viable platform for games developers to target.

Does this mean that I’ll be switching over? Probably not as I’m a Microsoft guy at heart and I know my current platform too well to just drop it for something else (even though I do have a lot of experience with Linux). I’m very interested to see how the Steam Box is going to be positioned as it being Linux changes the idea I had in my head for it and makes Valve’s previous comments about them all the more intriguing. Whilst 2013 might not be a blockbuster year for Linux gaming it is shaping up to be the turning point where it starts to become viable.

Housekeeping And Heads Up For Next Week.

Just going to make a quick post housekeeping post today as there’s a couple things I want to update you guys on. If you’re a dedicated LifeHacker reader you may have noticed that my ugly mug graced the front page for a while yesterday   and yes it’s true I’ll be covering TechEd 2012 Australia for them. It’s an incredible opportunity and I’m very excited to be doing it so for most of next week I’ll probably be recapping my day on here with all the real writing appearing on LifeHacker’s site. The posts on here probably won’t be at their usual time however so if you’re looking for your regular lunch time-ish article I’m going to have to disappoint you for a while.

I’m in the middle of migrating this blog over from my old Windows VPS that’s served me well over the past couple years to a Linux VPS with a ton more capacity. I tried to make the move last night but after getting everything up and running everything seemed to go pear shaped and nothing but index.php was being served by Apache so I trashed it all and started again this morning. I’m hopeful that this migration will go along smoothly but if things disappear it’s mostly because the two databases weren’t completely in sync at the time. This post was written on the old server and will likely disappear when the real migration occurs. Once that happens though I’ll know everything has worked and I’ll be working to get everything back up again.

Also, if you’ll allow me to get a little sappy for a second, I want to give you my heartfelt thanks for reading my tripe for the past 4 years as that was what motivated me to enter the LifeHacker competition in the first place. I didn’t start off as a great writer (as I’ve been told several times in no uncertain terms) but the feedback, comments and pageviews you guys gave me were enough incentive to keep on writing and improving my craft to a point where I felt confident enough to attempt something like this. That being said the true test is going to be how well the wider public receives my writing which is making me both excited and extremely nervous at the same time. Still I have no doubt it’s going to be great and I really do feel that all of you helped me get there in some way.

Now back to configuring Apache… ;)

Steam Icon

Valve’s End Game For Steam (or The Birth of SteamOS).

My first interaction with Steam wasn’t a pleasant one. I remember the day clearly, I was still living out in Wamboin when Valve released Half Life 2 and had made sure to grab myself a copy before heading home. After going through the lengthy install process requiring multiple CD swaps I was greeted by a login box asking me to create an account. Frustratingly all my usual gamer tags: PYROMANT|C, SuperDave, Nalafang, etc. were already taken leaving me to choose   a random name. That wasn’t the real annoyance though, no what got me was the required update that needed to be applied before I could play it which, on the end of a 56k connection, was going to take me the better part of an hour to apply.

This soured me on the idea of Steam for quite a few years, at least until I got myself a stable form of broadband that let me update without having to wait hours at a time. Still it wasn’t until probably 3 years or so ago that I started buying most of my games through Steam as buying the physical media and then integrating with Steam later was still a much better experience. Today though it’s my platform of choice when purchasing games and it seems that I’m not alone in this regard with up to 70% of all digital sales passing through the platform. We’ve also seen Steam add many more features like SteamCloud and SteamWorks which have provided a platform for developers to add features that would have otherwise been too costly to develop themselves.

With all the success that Steam has enjoyed (in the process making Valve one of the most profitable companies per employee) it makes you wonder what the end game for Steam will end up being. Whilst they’d undoubtedly be able to coast along quite easily on the recurring sales and the giant community they’ve built around the platform history has shown that Valve isn’t that kind of company. Indeed the recent press release from Valve saying that traditional applications will soon be available through the Steam platform seems to indicate that they have ambitions that extend past their roots of gaming and digital distribution.

And its at this point that I start speculating wildly.

Valve has shown that it is dedicated to gamers regardless of the platform with Steam already on OSX and will soon be finding its way onto Linux alongside a native port of Left 4 Dead 2. With such a deep knowledge of games and an engine that runs on nearly any platform it would make sense that Valve might take a stab at cutting out the middle man entirely, choosing to create their own custom operating system that’s solely dedicated to the purpose of gaming. If such an idea was to come to fruition it would most likely be some kind of Linux derivative with a whole bunch of optimizations in it to make Source titles run better. I’ll be honest with you when this idea was suggested to me I thought it was pretty far out but there are some threads within this idea that have some merit.

Whilst the idea of SteamOS as a standalone operating system might be a bit far fetched I could see something akin to media centre software that transforms a traditional Windows/Linux/OSX PC into a dedicated gaming machine. Steam’s strength arguably comes from the giant catalogue of third party titles that they have on there and keeping the underlying OS (with its APIs in tact) means that all these games would still be available. This also seems to line up with the rumoured SteamBox idea that was floating around at the start of the year and would mean that the console was in fact just a re-badged Windows PC with some custom hardware underneath. The console itself might not catch on (although the success of the OUYA seems to indicate otherwise) but I could very well see people installing SteamOS beside their XBMC installation turning their Media PC into a dual use machine.

With all this in mind you have to then ask yourself what Valve would get out of something like this. They are already making headway into getting Steam in one form or another onto already existing consoles (see Steam for the PS3) and they’ve arguably already captured the lion’s share of PC gamers, the ones who’d be most likely to use something like SteamOS. The SteamBox would arguably be targeted at people who are not traditionally PC gamers and SteamOS then would simply be an also ran, something that would provide extra value to its already dedicated PC community. Essentially it would be further cementing Steam as the preferred digital distribution network for games whilst also attempting to capture a market that they’ve had little to do with up until this point.

All of this though is based on the current direction Valve seems to be going but realistically I could just be reading way too far into it. Their recent moves with the Steam platform are arguably just Valve trying to grow their platform organically and could very easily not be part of some grander scheme for greater platform dominance. The idea though is intriguing and whilst I have nothing more than speculation to go on I don’t think it would be a bad move by Valve at all.

IIS 7.5, WordPress and WinCache: A Match Made in Hell.

This blog has had a variety of homes over the past few years although you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. Initially it was hosted on a Windows 2008 server I built myself, sitting behind the tenuous link of my ADSL connection. Don’t get me wrong this is a great way to get started if you’ve got admin roots like me but inevitably my ADSL connection would go down or people would just plain give up waiting for it to load, what with my upstream only able to handle 100KB/s. Still for most of its life the blog remained in that configuration as I couldn’t find a hosting provider I was happy with.

Of course the day came when WordPress decided to stop playing nice with IIS and started returning internal server 500 errors. Thankfully it would usually right itself after a reboot but it was always a count down to the time when it would start erroring out again and being the busy man that I am I never had the time to troubleshoot it. Eventually I caved and set up an Ubuntu box to host it, figuring that all my woes would be solved by switching to the platform that everyone expects WordPress to run on. I’ll be honest it was a good change as I could finally use all the caching plugins, and traffic took an upward trend thanks to the faster loading times.

Unfortunately that didn’t last particularly long either as whilst the blog was particularly zippy the Linux VM would sometimes stop responding to requests and would only start behaving itself after a reboot. The cause of this I’m still not sure of as the VM was still up but it just refused to keep on serving web pages, including all the funky admin tools my PHPMyAdmin and Webmin. It was around this time I found myself in possession of a shiny new VPS that was only hosting my fledgling app Lobaco so I figured a small time WordPress blog wouldn’t be too much for it to handle. Indeed it wasn’t and the blog has been steaming along on it ever since.

However the unfortunate internal server errors returned eventually and whilst I was able to get around them with the trusty old reboot a couple times they became more persistent until I eventually couldn’t get rid of them. After digging around in the event logs for a while I eventually stumbled across references to php_wincache.dll which upon googling lead me to posts like these, showing I wasn’t alone in this internal server error hell. Disabling the plugin fixed the problem and all was well with the world. Of course many months later I found myself  trying to optimize my blog again and I started looking at the things I had removed in order to keep this thing up and running.

The first was the caching plug-ins which are unequivocally the best thing for performance on a dynamic PHP site. The vast majority of WordPress caching plug-ins don’t play nice with Windows as they make the assumption they’re on Linux and attempt to write files in all sorts of whacky locations that simply don’t exist. WP-SuperCache, although still suffering from some Linux based assumptions, can be wrangled into working properly with IIS and has been doing so for the past couple months. I also found that WinCache had been updated since I had unceremoniously removed it from my php.ini file so I decided to give it another try. Again everything was rosy for a time, that was until last weekend.

I fired up my blog on Saturday to find the home page coming up fine but I was logged out for some reason. This happens from time to time so I wasn’t worried but trying to login left me with the dreaded internal server 500 error. Poking around it looked like any non-cached page was failing meaning the majority of my site was unavailable. The event logs showed the dreaded WinCache dll failing again and disabling it brought my website back around again. It seems, at least for now, that I’ll have to give WinCache a miss as the last update to it was almost 3 months ago and its past performance has led me to believe that it’s not entirely stable.

So if you’re crazy like me, trying to run WordPress on IIS and all, and you’re WordPress blog seems to take a dive more often than not make sure to get rid of WinCache at least until they get their act together. I haven’t delved into my previous VMs to see if it was the culprit back then but my most recent set of problems can be traced directly back to WinCache wrecking havoc by attempting to cache PHP objects and if this post can save 1 person the headache of trying to track it down I’ll consider it a huge success