First Batch of Dota 2 Beta Invites to Be Sent Soon

A while back fellow techie-buzzer Kaushik had written about how to apply to be a beta tester for DoTA 2. Now if you had signed up for the beta, you might want to check your email – Valve has just sent an email confirming that the beta testers’ pool is about to be expanded.

Dota 2

The email reads as below:

You recently indicated you want to play Dota2. Before we send the first batch of invites we need to collect a little more information from you about your level of gaming experience and your gaming rig.

To begin the survey go to the machine on which you intend to play Dota2, start Steam and click this link: steam://takesurvey/1/ (if you haven’t restarted your Steam client for a few days, you might need to do that before clicking that link).

The Dota 2 blog has a new post where they mention that they’ve expanded the server capacity – keeping the upcoming beta pool expansion in mind. And to keep things interesting, they’ve released a comic, Tales from the Secret Shop.

We’ve just finished our first significant expansion of Dota 2 server capacity around the world, and that means it’s time to kick this thing up a notch. Starting this week, we’ll be handing out Dota 2 in increasing volumes. To celebrate, we’re releasing the first part of the official Dota 2 comic, Tales from the Secret Shop

Once you’ve read today’s part, make sure you fill out the Dota 2 Survey in Steam to secure your place in the upcoming invitations (if you haven’t restarted your Steam client for a few days, you might need to do that before clicking that link). The extra data the survey provides will allow us to ensure we invite a wide spread of players and hardware.

And if that hasn’t gotten you excited yet, Valve mentions that everyone who gets an invite to the beta will get two extra copies that they can handout.  Good news all around! So head over to this link and take the survey, if you’ve signed up for the beta. And if you’re facing problems with the link – make sure you’ve Steam installed and have updated to the latest version.

Game4u to Hold Midnight Launch for Battlefield 3 in Mumbai, India

Update:Due to Battlefield 3 launch being delayed to October 28th, the midnight launch will happen at midnight on the 28th of October.

Battlefield 3, the latest game of Electronic Arts’  Battlefield  franchise is all set to launch in India on the 24th28th of October, 2011. In light of this, Game4u is set to hold a midnight launch in their retail store at Mega Mall, Oshiwara, Mumbai.

The launch is scheduled to happen on 24th October28th October early morning at 00:00 hours. The first customer to purchase Battlefield 3 will get a “First to Own” certificate from Game4u.

In addition to the certificate, the customer will also get a Razer Battlefield 3 Collector’s Edition Imperator mouse.

Razer BF3 Imperator Mouse

If you aren’t the lucky one to be the first in the line, then worry not! All customers who purchased Battlefield 3 during the midnight launch will enter a lucky draw with the following prizes up for grabs:

  • One Razer Battlefield 3 Edition Imperator mouse
  • Two Razer Battlefield 3 Edition Mouse pads
Battlefield  is the direct successor to the popular Battlefield 2, which was launched in 2005. Battlefield 3 features a single player, co-op and multi-player features with support for  up to  64 players on a single map on the PC version. Also included are vehicles and fighter jets.

So, if you’re an ardent Battlefield fan, head over to the Mega Mall and be part of the midnight launch! You just might end up winning some sweet goodies!

Diablo III Will Be Available for Free

Blizzcon, Blizzard’s annual convention showcasing their games franchises went into high gear yesterday over at the Anaheim  Convention  Center in California.

One of the highlights from yesterday’s keynote was that Blizzard announced that Diablo III will be available for free. Now before you jump up and down or question how the heck Blizzard can do that – there’s a catch.

diabloIII

The catch is that Diablo III will be available for free for those who have signed up for the World of Warcraft Annual Pass. Quoting from Battle.net blog post:

Players who make a 12-month subscription commitment to World of Warcraft through the WoW Annual Pass will receive the following epic rewards:

  • Diablo III FREE   Download the digital version via Battle.net for free when the game launches early next year. This is the full game, not a trial edition.
  • Tyrael’s Charger WoW Flying Mount   Ride for the Archangel of Justice on all current and future characters on a single World of Warcraft account. Tyrael’s Charger will arrive via in-game mail with the upcoming launch of patch 4.3.
  • Access to the Next WoW Expansion Beta Test   Get a guaranteed spot in the beta test for the next World of Warcraft expansion (at a time to be announced in the future).
Seems like a pretty decent deal. But do remember – World of Warcraft is not free( fee is at $14.99 per month, the amount reduces if you pay for a higher period of time). And this deal isn’t for new customers – one of the prerequisites is that you need to have a fully registered member of World of Warcraft on or before October 18th.
Having said that, this is a very good deal for hardcore World of Warcraft fans and loyalists. Now whether they’ll have any time to spare for Diablo III and World of Warcraft remains to be seen.
Those interested can sign up for the Annual Pass over here.

Screenshot Tour of The Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot

Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot was released couple of hours ago and quite a few people would have already downloaded and installed or upgraded it. If you’re one of those wondering – “How does it look?” – here’s a brief screenshot tour.

Ubuntu greets you with a nice welcome/login screen. Your account is selected by default, but there’s an option for Guest login, as well as login as any user option.

Ubuntu Login screen

You can set it to login automatically, if you wish. Accessibility option is provided for, via an onscreen keyboard, a high-contrast screen setting as well as a screen reader. The accessibility option is tucked away a little bit further away. A more prominent setting would have been much appreciated, though.

Once you login, you’re greeted with Ubuntu’s default user interface, Unity.

Ubuntu desktop

One of the complaints about Unity was that users didn’t know what to click on, besides the quick launcher icons – so Canonical has added a nice Ubuntu icon to ensure the launcher, Dash, gets more visibility. Clicking on Dash brings about a nice UI for actions which are most commonly used on a computer – Browser the Web, Listen to Music or View Photos.

 

Dash Home screen

The search bar is probably one that’s going to be used quite frequently, and is very well done. Not only the search results are very fast – it’s grouped according to the types of results. So typing a keyword will bring up the results grouped into apps, folders, files and so on. For example, clicking on More apps will bring up a list of all apps – both installed and that can be downloaded – again grouped into different types.

Dash Apps Filter

The categorization is not restricted to just apps – if you’re fanatical about, let’s say your music being well organized and tagged, Dash’s lenses feature will ensure that the music you want is available just by searching and then filtered as per the tags – for instance – by genre, release year and so on.

Lenses for your music collection

Clicking on View Photos brings up the photo viewer and manager, Shotwell. You’ll be prompted to import your photos and if required, categorize them into events.

Shotwell Photo Manager

Events in Shotwell

Moving on, clicking on Listen to Music launches the music player, Banshee. Banshee can import your existing music collection – whether from a folder, a series of folders or even from iTunes.

Bansee music player

Your music is always a click away – clicking on your user name brings a dropdown menu where you can select to play your music.

Banshee Music Player

Due to legal restrictions, Ubuntu cannot play certain types of media (such as MP3 files) out of the box. Earlier, trying to get the codecs installed often resulted in a lot of frustration for the user. This has improved quite dramatically over the past few years and Oneiric Ocelot is no exception. If you try to play a media file which cannot be played, Banshee will prompt to check for available codecs & then proceed to install them.

Search for plugin

Installing the plugins

As I had mentioned in my earlier post on Ubuntu Oneiric Ocelot beta, Ubuntu Software Center has been updated to include a top rated apps and featured apps view. This makes app discovery a lot easier.

Ubuntu Software Center

Both free and paid apps are listed – with all the details about them.

Software Center

The Unity Launcher is where you can configure your mostly frequently applications to be pinned so that you can launch them right away. Adding or removing an application is another click away.

Add to Launcher

Some of the launcher actions are context-senstive too – for instance, right-clicking on the Word Processor ( LibreOffice’s Writer is the default, in case you’re wondering) provides an option to create a new document. Right-clicking on the Screenshot application allows you to take a full-screen or partial window screenshot and this is just a (right) click away!

Context senstive actions

Wrapping up the tour, Workspaces( aka virtual desktops) are also available by default on the Launcher, and allows you to move all related apps to a workspace – I’ve used this feature since my early Linux days, and is a immense productivity booster.

Workspace Switcher

I’ve been playing with Ubuntu 11.10 for a few hours now since launch ( and the beta as well) – and I’ve found it to be really nice, with no major bugs – except for small niggles.

If you’re itching to try out Ubuntu – you can always download the ISO and boot it off the DVD/CD drive. Also, Wubi allows you to try it out along with your Windows install with no partitioning required. There’s also a really nice web-based tour that you can try out, if you don’t want to bother with the download. Do drop in your comments about the new release!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mass Effect 3 to have multiplayer support, dubbed Galaxy Wars

Mass Effect 3, one of the most anticipated games of the year and sequel to the smash hit Mass Effect 2, has been confirmed to have multiplayer support.

The news was mentioned by Mass Effect series’ producer Casey Hudson via a tweet and posted on BioWare’s twitter account as well.

The multiplayer gameplay mechanics were mentioned in detail over at the Mass Effect forum. Summarizing them,

  • Multiplayer support will feature 4-player co-op gameplay
  • There will be no versus, deathmatch, PvP or any other kind of multiplayer
  • Multiplayer will not be part of the main campaign. It will be a bonusaddition and is known as Galaxy at War
  • At this moment, the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and the PC versions will feature multiplayer support. However, BioWare hasn’t mentioned if inter-system multi-player would be supported or not.
  • The multiplayer player campaign is being developed by a separate team BioWare Montreal while the core single-player game is being developed by BioWare Edmonton
  • Shepard, Liara, Garrus and other key characters will not part of the multiplayer campaign players will have to create custom characters. The custom characters can be of a race other than human.

You’d think people would be jumping up and down about this announcement, but fan reaction to this has been mixed. Going over through the reactions, it looks like most of the hardcore fans aren’t too happy with the announcement. One of the main things they cite is that the addition of multiplayer would be as a me-too addition, rather than it being deeply integrated. Some others feel that multiplayer addition would detract from the single-player experience. This announcement makes me wonder, though is this what DICE had been helping out BioWare with?

Personally, I’m not too concerned for now. I actually welcome the multiplayer addition would be great to kick off some co-op sessions with fellow techie-buzzer Kaushik after playing the main campaign. Time will tell, whether or not the addition is a good thing. For now, we’ll have to wait till more details trickle in.

Canonical Releases First Beta of Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot

Ubuntu 11.10Canonical has released the first beta of the next version of Ubuntu, the Ubuntu 11.10 “Oneiric Ocelot”. The release falls in line with the Ubuntu release calendar, with the next beta release scheduled for 22nd September and the final release on 13th October, 2011.

The first beta of Ubuntu 11.10 features 3.0 branch of the Linux kernel, an updated Unity desktop interface serving as the UI shell. The Ubuntu Software Center gets an update with the addition of a top rated apps view.

Ubuntu 11.10 Software Center

 

New Features And Updated Packages

Some of the new features in this beta release include:

  • Multiarch support: This is a big boon for users who still rely on certain 32-bit applications such as Skype and Adobe Flash Player. Multiarch makes it possible to use the 32-bit packages present in 32-bit editions of Ubuntu without the need for ia32-libs compatibility package.
  • Updated kernel: The kernel is now based on the 3.0 branch of the Linux kernel. While the jump from the 2.6.x series to the 3.0 series is result of a change in the version naming convention rather than any major changes, the updated kernel has received numerous bug fixes and driver updates
  • Updated DVD contents:  The DVD release now stands at 1.5GB, with the available packages  consisting of all the language packs, some useful applications such as Inkscape, GIMP, Pitivi, and a more complete  LibreOffice  suite.
  • New packages: Some of the new packages include Mozilla Thunderbird as the default email client and  Déjà Dup  as the default backup tool. Firefox 7.0 beta is included as the default web browser.
  • Updated packages:  The updated packages  include Python 3.2, GCC 4.6.1, CUPS 1.5.0, Shotwell 0.11, and LibreOffice 3.4.2
  • UI Updates: The beta release features some UI tweaks – including a new Alt+Tab switcher, updated visual indicators and Lenses replacing erstwhile Places, with  support for multiple sources and filtering based on categories for instance.
Filtering feature in Ubuntu 11.10's "Lenses"

Being still in beta I encountered quite a few crashes while using Ubuntu 11.10. I’ve reported most of them and hopefully these should be fixed by the next beta release. You can read  more information about this release over at the Ubuntu Wiki.

Download Links

For those interested in trying out the beta, here are the download links:

Gmail Users in Iran Hit by MITM Attacks

Gmail users in Iran might have been affected today, based on several reports suggesting that Gmail.com connections were being hit by Man In The Middle(MITM) attacks.

I first spotted this notice on Hacker News where the submission had a link to pastebin.com  containing details of the affected root server  certificate. Google has since then confirmed the attempted attack on their blog.

Today we received reports of attempted SSL man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks against Google users, whereby someone tried to get between them and encrypted Google services. The people affected were primarily located in Iran.

MITM or Man-In-The-Middle attacks are one of the most sophisticated attacks, where a third party can effectively eavesdrop & monitor all  communication  between two parties, without either of the parties knowing that they are being eavesdropped upon. In case of sites using SSL, such as Gmail – the attacker was able to get hold of a fraudulent certificate which is used for encrypting.

The certificate was issued by DigiNotar. Chrome users (on version 13 and above) were alerted of the fraudulent certificate by virtue of an inbuilt security feature called certificate pinning. Certificate Pinning  maintains a whitelist of verified root Certificate Authorities which are trusted by Chrome in creating a connection to Gmail.com and Google accounts in general. Since DigiNotar was not in the whitelist of  verified CAs, Chrome displayed an error message about the certificate being invalid

 

Chrome shows Invalid Certificate message

Mozilla have responded by pushing an update to Firefox which revokes the certificate’s trust. As a result of this, if a user visits the site presenting the fraudulent certificate,  the user would be informed that the connection is not secure. Mozilla has also updated their knowledge base with an article showing steps involved in revoking the certificate.

 

 

Wrap Up of PC Games from Gamescom 2011

Gamescom was held over the past week with over 270,000 gamers attending the event. It is the biggest trade fair for video games, surpassing E3, though not quite as popular.

Now I couldn’t travel all the way to Cologne, Germany to attend Gamescom, but over the weekend I scoured through all of the trailers shown at Gamescom and here’s my take on some of the best upcoming PC games that were shown in Gamescom.

Starting off with couple of MMORPGS, first is BioWare & Lucas Arts’ production, Star Wars: The Old Republic. BioWare have been releasing footage of Star Wars:The Old Republic on a fairly regular level. At Gamescom, BioWare showcased combat from a Sith perspective.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5pmTD-WuMQ

Star Wars:The Old Republic is slated to release this quarter and I’m eagerly waiting for it.

Next up in the line of MMORPG is the NCSoft published, ArenaNet developed GuildWars 2. Looking at the trailer, the developer diary and some PvP footage, it does look like Guild Wars 2 is going to be real pretty game.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4gfxTQ3Qek

Moving on to RPGs, BioWare’s final game in the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect 3 was on the spotlight. The footage showed a combat scene in Mass Effect 3 in a slightly more tactical approach rather than the usual run-and-gun.

Another RPG which has captured my interest is 38 Studios’ Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. I first spotted the game during this year’s E3 and have been following it rather keenly. With the story written by none other than R. A. Salvatore, the creator of the Icewind Dale trilogy(which BioWare based upon for their   cult D&D game Icewind Dale), the game looks a must-play.

Following up on their 2009 release, 2K Games and Gearbox software showed a small 30-second teaser trailer to the FPS/RPG hybrid Borderlands. The teaser shows the character shooting away at enemies with a modded machine gun in Borderlands’ signature cell shaded glory.

Moving on to Action/FPS games, EA has been showing quite a lot of Battlefield 3 footage, trying to pit it against Call of Duty series. Over the past few months, there’s been lot of chatter between the fans and developers of the two games especially with both the company CEOs exchanging some mudslinging.

At Gamescom, EA showed a gameplay trailer featuring a 64-player multiplayer map with tanks, foot and air combat. Definitely a must watch.

Also on show was Prototype 2, the sequel to Activision/Radical Entertainment’s Sci-Fi open world action game Prototype. Prototype featured you as Alex Mercer once an ordinary human being transformed into a shapeshifter with superhuman powers by way of Blacklight virus infection. Prototype 2 continues the story with the player playing as Sgt. James Heller, trying to get revenge on Alex for killing his family.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHrZHN1q1uc

In the racing genre, EA had announced in E3 that their new iteration of their flagship racing game series, Need For Speed dubbed as Need For Speed:The Run, would be returning to fast-cars-open-world-cop-chase-street-racing genre. At Gamescom, EA showed a 5 minute gameplay video of a race through a snowstorm set in Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Have a look at it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z-9dt3xL_gM

For the finale, Valve showed off the trailer for DoTA 2. Defense of The Ancients – better known as DoTA – has come a long way from it’s origins. DoTA started off as a custom map/scenario for Warcraft III. Much like Counter Strike, the mod achieved a cult following thanks to it’s addictive gameplay. Valve showed their trailer for DoTA 2 and also held some tournaments based on the as-yet-being-developed game.

The tournament gameplay videos and signup for beta testing DoTA is available on the DoTA2 site.

Three Simple and Easy Apps to Backup SMS on Your Android Phone

I love how Android syncs almost everything to your Google Account contacts, application data, WiFi passwords – to mention a few. However, it doesn’t sync your text messages. Given how  important  SMS can be and how frequently they’re used I’m not sure why Android doesn’t do that.

This, however, is remedied by the sheer number of SMS backup applications available in the Android Market. Here’s a look at 3 of them.

SMS Backup+

SMS Backup+ is probably one of the first apps that I had installed after learning the hard way that Titanium Backup doesn’t do SMS Backups. SMS Backup+ is free and syncs your SMS to your Google Account.

SMS Backup+

In addition to SMS, SMS Backup+ can also sync your call logs and MMS to your Google Account. These aren’t enabled by default and you’ll have to enable them by heading into Backup settings. SMS Backup+ also gives you a fair degree of control as to which particular group of contacts that you’ve sent and received messages from, can be backed up.

SMS Backup+ Settings

There’s also a handy scheduling system to allow for periodic backups – just set a period for backups to happen and your SMS will be backed up silently.

SMS Backup+ Auto Backup

The only downside of the app is that it doesn’t backup your SMS to the SDCard. The app, however is free and without any ads or any other limitations.

SMS Backup Android

SMS Backup Android is another simple application to backup your SMS. Unlike SMS Backup+,  SMS Backup Android can also backup to your SD Card.

SMS Backup Tool

Deviating from SMS Backup+, SMS Backup Tool is a paid app.  There is a free version though, but the free version includes ads and seems to expire rather fast.

SMS Backup Tool also features auto-backup feature for scheduled backups, but is available only on the paid version. Considering that the free version has an expiration period, I have no idea why this was disabled. Looking at the settings menu, there are options to backup SMS to Dropbox, Evernote and to developer’s online service, but none of these features were implemented at the time of writing this.

SMS Backup Tool Settings

The author mentions that he will hike the prices once these are implemented, so perhaps it’d be a good idea to purchase the app at a lower price and then get the features as and when they are implemented.

GO SMS

While GO SMS is not strictly a backup tool, it is, however an excellent replacement for Android’s stock Messaging app. Fellow Techie-buzz author Rajesh  had mentioned this app earlier, however I’ll mention about the SMS Backup features.

The option for SMS Backup and restore is hidden deep in the settings ( it’s available under Settings -> GoSMS Services -> SMS Backup and Recovery)

GoSMS

Like most other apps, Go SMS allows for scheduled backup and backup to SD Card. The send backup to mailbox is a  misnomer  though, you will manually have to send your backups via the email client. If you’re already using GO SMS however, all it takes is to go and flick a checkbox and you have your backups ready without using any other app.

So which one is recommended?

If you need an app which will save your SMS in the cloud, SMS Backup+ is recommended.  Besides being free, it’s rather simple to use and the auto-backup feature will ensure that even if you forget to do it yourself, there’s a scheduled process taking care of your backups.

SMS Backup Tool is a good alternative if you want a single app to handle both local and cloud backup. However at about $5, it’s hard to justify spending that amount, especially when excellent free alternatives exist.

If you’re already using GO SMS, then it’s just a matter of enabling the feature from the menu and you’re all set to have your SMS backed up.

Links

 

Mono Gets a New Lease of Life, Xamarin Obtains A Perpertual License for Mono

About 3 months ago, Mono  founder Miguel de Icaza was laid off by Novell following their acquisition by Attachmate. Miguel was quick to launch his startup, Xamarin, which would be  focusing  on Mono based products. However, until now, the future of Mono remained unknown – would it exist? Would it need a rewrite?

Miguel cleared the air with his blog post  announcing a few key points:

  • SUSE to partner  Xamarin in supporting Mono customers
  • Xamarin has obtained a perpetual license to all the intellectual property of Mono, MonoTouch, Mono for Android, Mono for Visual Studio and will continue updating and selling those products.
  • Xamarin will be providing the support for all of the existing MonoTouch, Mono for Android and Mono for Visual Studio customers.
  • Developers will be able to purchase MonoTouch and Mono for Android from the Xamarin store. Existing customers will be able to purchase upgrades.
Miguel also mentioned that Xamarin will take over the  care taking  of the Mono open source community project. Commenting on the roadmap, Miguel mentioned that Xamarin would be looking at ensuring that all of the critical and major bugs are fixed. Xamarin will also be  introducing  priority support that can be  purchased   upon the first order of MonoTouch or Mono for Android. Existing customers can opt for an upgrade to get the priority support.
The announcement comes as a big relief for Mono developers and customers, who have been jittery since the first announcement of Attachmate’s  acquisition  of Novell and the subsequent layoff of the Mono team.