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Editor's Letter: Microsoft backtracks. Is the Xbox One better for it?

Tim Stevens

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In each issue of Distro, editor-in-chief Tim Stevens publishes a wrap-up of the week in news.

It's not too often that we call a tech news story stunning, but that seems like an apt description for our reaction when Microsoft decided to pull an abrupt about-face and nix its controversial rights management for the Xbox One. We learned at the Seattle launch event that the system would have to call home once every 24 hours or every game installed from a disc would be disabled -- even if you had the disc in the drive -- and quickly the rumblings from the gamers started. They grew louder at E3 when Microsoft detailed the system's DRM, a stream of complaints that quickly reached deafening levels on online forums and the like.

Yet, through all that, Microsoft stayed true to the party line, that the advantages of this system (being able to digitally share games, being able to change games without having to swap discs, etc.) outweighed the overwhelmingly negative reaction brewing among online gamers. That corporate message seemed to get bitter at times, weary at others, but never showed a sign of changing. Until, suddenly, a complete about-face this week.

Gallery: Samsung Galaxy S 4 Zoom hands-on | 15 Photos

No longer will there be any online restriction for playing disc-based games, nor any activation, nor any procedure required to sell or trade games. But, as we feared and confirmed when we spoke with Xbox product chief Marc Whitten, this also means a lot of cool, next-gen functionality is out the window. So, no more disc-less game swapping, no more letting your friends digitally borrow your games and no more instantly downloading your entire library to a new console.

Microsoft should have seen the writing on the wall and adjusted before E3, but now, it's too late to satiate the ire of many gamers.

To me, this hugely abrupt change feels like Microsoft deciding that if you don't like its rules, then it's going to take its ball and go home. I'd hoped Microsoft would dial back the checks from every 24 hours to once a week or even once a month. Instead, the company just nuked the entire concept. Microsoft should have seen the writing on the wall and adjusted before E3, but now, it's too late to satiate the ire of many gamers. They'll forget, eventually, but this is a huge misstep when Microsoft really needed to be racking up the pre-orders.

DNP Editor's Letter Microsoft backtracks Is the Xbox One better for it

But enough about Xbox, there are plenty of other devices to talk about this week, most coming courtesy of Samsung. The company launched not one, but two new Galaxy Camera spinoffs, the first being the Galaxy S4 Zoom, which is, as you might expect, a Galaxy S 4 with a zoom lens on the back. For those who need a bit more glass, there's the Galaxy NX, an Android-powered, 20-megapixel camera with an interchangeable lens and an LTE connection. The 18-55mm kit lens and giant touchscreen on the back, plus a viewfinder, makes for an intriguing device that I can't wait to try out.

We threw every benchmark we could think of at the things and they performed amazingly on each and every one.

The company also threw a series of other machines, phones and tablets at us, but the other standouts in my eye are the ATIV Book 9 Plus and Lite. This is a rebrand of the Series 9 Ultrabook that wowed us last year, and the Plus, at least, will be packing Intel Haswell power, with a promised 12 hours of battery life. That should match the longevity of the MacBook Air, then, but you can be sure we'll be testing to find out ourselves.

HTC announced the Butterfly s, choosing to go lower-case just to make it look like we've written a typo every time we mention it. The 5-inch, 1080p device has a 1.9GHz quad-core Snapdragon 600 processor, huge 3,200mAh battery and an UltraPixel sensor. We're not likely to see this model in the US, but perhaps a variant with DNA branding will find its way here.

Speaking of Snapdragon, we got to spend some quality time with some prototype Snapdragon 800 devices, putting them through their paces. We threw every benchmark we could think of at the things and they performed amazingly on each and every one. Suffice to say, I want this in my phone now.

Gallery: Samsung Galaxy NX camera hands-on | 29 Photos

Gallery: Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus and ATIV Book 9 Lite hands-on | 20 Photos

Finally, the good folks at MakerBot got acquired this week, with industrial 3D printer maker Stratasys paying $403 million for the company responsible for kick-starting the homebrew 3D printing scene. Don't spend it all in one place, Bre.

In this week's Distro, Nicole Lee has a talk with PrimeSense, the company that developed the tech behind the original Kinect, about what's next now that Microsoft has developed its own tech for the successor in the Xbox One. We have reviews of two phones, the Nokia Lumia 925 and the Huawei Ascend W1, and Terrence O'Brien gets sweaty trying out the Under Armour Armour39. We have impressions of Office for iPhone, editorials by Brad Hill, Ross Rubin and Josh Fruhlinger and HTC's Creative Director Daniel Hundt sits down for Q&A. I hope you enjoy, and know that you can skip to any of Distro's back issues without having to put the disc in the drive.

This piece originally appeared in Distro #96.

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