Sid Meier’s Railroads! has issues with Windows 7 and get the original Railroad Tycoon for free

I love games.  I especially love simulation type games like Sim City, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Railroad Tycoon 2.  Recently, I rediscovered my love of Railroad Tycoon 2.  It is the first game that I reloaded on my recently rebuilt HP DV6253 laptop.  I also dug out my Railroad Tycoon 3 game and installed it on my primary computer.  It’s a good game but I prefer #2 more.  Over the last few days, however, I discovered another game in the same genre that I really like:  Sid Meier’s Railroads!.  I joined Steam a couple of years ago due to a promotion they had with ATI.  I let it sit for a long time before trying it again.  Over the last couple of months, I have purchased a few games from the Star Wars genre (first person flight games, mostly.)  Every time I looked through the cheap games or at the bundles, I’d see these railroad games.  Then I saw Sid Meier’s Railroads game.  I remember trying out the demo a few years ago but it was sluggish on the machine I had at the time.  I thought it would run better on my current machine so I bought it.

Steam is an interesting delivery mechanism and, apparently, keeps all of my purchases as part of my ‘account’ because the games I had gotten years ago were still there.  I was able to re-download them and enjoy them again, so kudos to them for that.

BUT…Railroads is a buggy game that is not entirely compatible with Windows Vista and Windows 7.  Nowhere does it say this and Steam does not believe in refunds.  Perusing the forums, I found I was not alone in this.  Unfortunately, there is no patch to fix the problem and none planned from 2KGames.  There is an unofficial patch, but it involves a hacked exe file and I’m just not into that.  A few users posted some things they do to help the problem, but does not fix it.  Running the game windowed seems to help quite a bit but the problem will come up.  For me, the game is so addictive that I can get past the occasional game crash.  I save my progress frequently.

By the way, one way to help cut down the crash issue is to not lay lots of track at one time and to right click the mouse immediately after building a station.  Those two things help quite a bit.

Anyway, my problem with Steam here is that they did not post anything about the compatibility issue.  Since XP is, thankfully, a dead operating system and most people will have Vista or Windows 7, Steam is doing a disservice by not at least warning us about these issues.  And, by the way, this is the first ‘modern’ game I’ve encountered that has a real issue with Windows 7.  It’s, apparently, a memory management issue too.

FREE GAME ALERT!

While looking at the web site for Railroads!, I noticed that they are offering the original Railroad Tycoon as freebie.  Go here and you’ll find the link along the bottom set of boxes.  Because the original game was a DOS game, 2KGames has included DOSBox so the game can play under a modern operating system.  One other thing to note: the game utilized what was called a ‘manual’ based copy protection scheme.  You had to have the game manual handy so you could answer questions that would allow you to play the game.  2KGames included a PDF copy of the original game manual so you can answer the questions and play the game.  Good stuff.

Railroads! is great game and a logical evolution of Railroad Tycoon.  The graphics are very nice but, when cranked up, are resource heavy.  There is a good assortment of scenarios to play as well as a sandbox mode (called ‘train table’) that removes the business management aspect of the game and lets you just build up your railroad. 

I hope there are more of these types of games to come.  The video game console market is now larger than the PC game market so that means fewer PC games will be coming out.  Sadly, the trend seems to be of the shoot them up genre (like those world war games, God of War, Halo, etc.) and away from the simulation games.  That is unfortunate as these games provide hours of enjoyment and make you think far more than any of the bloody shoot em ups would.  I’d rather build a railroad than blow one up.

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Turning off Aero: why bother?

While reviewing the stats for HalfByte, I noticed that there was, recently, an uptick in postings about the eye candy in Vista and Windows 7.  I’m guessing it is from folks who purchased some of the newer netbooks and put Windows 7 Home Premium on them. Or they are upgrading an older machine from XP to 7.  Whatever the reason, it seems to be of interest lately.  Curious to see how people are finding HalfByte, I Bing-ed ‘Windows 7 eye candy’ and also Googled it.  I was happy to see one of HalfByte’s posts at the top of the Google search (it was buried by Bing, interestingly enough.) Google ‘turn off windows 7 eye candy’ and one of HalfByte’s post, ‘Taming the Windows 7 interface’ comes up in the #2 spot.  High Google ranking aside, I got to wondering why you’d want to turn this stuff off.  So, I started clicking the other links and reading comments.  The general consensus is that Aero slows down the PC.  I don’t think this is true, at least on modern PC’s.  Modern being anything made in the last five years.

Now, admittedly, what follows is strictly my own opinion and based on observation only.  It is, by no means, scientific.  That said, I’ve performed a number of informal comparisons with all of the eye candy turned off and then all on.

Staying in the Aero theme, but turning off the visual effects resulted in zero increase in speed.  Windows pop up just as fast-or slowly, depending on the app-as they did with everything enabled.  Switching to Aero Basic, the theme that is the default on many of the netbooks, also does little to speed up anything.  Interestingly, switching to the old, battleship gray ‘classic’ theme seemed to actually degrade things a bit.  Again, this is based solely on my own observation. 

I think one of the reasons why turning off the eye candy makes little difference now is that the graphics system in Windows 7 (and Vista, as well) are highly optimized for today’s hardware.  This could also be why the non-Aero (and old, outdated and ugly) Windows ‘Classic’ theme seems slower.  It, likely, does not take full advantage of the graphics power of most of today’s chipsets. 

With the cost going down and the processing power going up, there’s little (if any) reason to turn this stuff.  Unless you simply don’t like it, leaving Aero fully enabled should not slow down your machine at all.  Really, how is turning off Aero going to make Word faster? It isn’t.  It isn’t going to speed up your rendering of your kids soccer match.  It isn’t going to make Crysis run any faster (especially since it doesn’t even use Aero.) 

Aero is more than eye candy too.  There are many subtle ways that it makes using the operating system easier.  Aero Snap, Aero Peek and the task bar previews are just a few of them.  Play around with it, dig into Aero and discover the many small improvements it brings that all add up to a significant usability improvement to the operating system. Embrace the Aero!

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NASCAR bids adieu to the wing, brings back the blade style spoiler this weekend at Martinsville

I’m a big motorsports fan, NASCAR in particular.  Over the years, NASCAR has never been shy about making changes to the cars and rules to make the sport safer and more appealing to the fans.  Three years ago, NASCAR introduced it’s ‘Car of Tomorrow’ Cup car.  The ‘new’ car was boxier and far less aerodynamic than the previous car, which was in use for about fifteen to twenty years. Indeed, stock cars in the NASCAR world have not been ‘stock’ for decades.  The so-called ‘twisted sister’ car was about as from stock as one could get.  Over its life time, teams managed to bend the rules regarding the car while staying within said rules to gain competitive advantages over rival teams.  While that iteration of the car was far safer than the previous iterations, it was still pretty dangerous.  So NASCAR set about to make the car not only safer, but also to tighten up the design of the car and make it far less ‘tweakable’ so that the cars are closer, aerodynamically and spec wise than any previous iteration.  One of the changes that NASCAR put in place was to replace the blade style spoiler with a more efficient and, to me, more pleasing wing on the decklid.  The wing made the car a little less stable at higher speeds thus requiring the drivers to, you know, actually DRIVE the damned car.  They couldn’t go full steam AND maintain enough control to keep the car stable.  This forced the drivers to slow down just enough so they wouldn’t wreck and made  the racing tighter.  The result was some really close racing and races where there were ten to twenty cars that could win versus five to ten in previous years.  The racing was better and safer.

Several horrendous looking wrecks in the last three seasons resulted in no serious injuries and drivers walking away.  A few of these wrecks, in the old car, could have either ended careers or resulted in a driver with serious injury.  The stark contrast in cars was made very clear, recently, at the Bristol racetrack.  A non-NASCAR sanctioned event, featuring 12 older, retired drivers in a ‘legends’ event.  The cars were former Cup cars of the ‘twisted sister’ style.  Now, the current car features a bigger ‘greenhouse’, i.e. the interior, and reinforced doors.  The doors have several inches of foam and other materials that not only absorb the impact but also provide a barrier between the roll bars, the door panel and the driver.  The older cars did not have these features.  During the legends race, Larry Pearson spun and slid down the track sideways.  Charlie Glotzbach plowed into the driver’s side of the car, just behind the front wheel.  Pearson suffered multiple injuries, broken bones and was knocked out.  Had he been in the current gen car, he, more than likely, would have climbed out with, maybe, just a few bruises.

Even with all of the positives about the new style car, many ‘traditional’ NASCAR fans were upset because NASCAR changed their sport.  I have to say, when I first saw it, I was a bit upset as well.  I got over quickly.  After seeing the car on the track and listening to a few of the drivers who had been involved in testing the car, I knew it would be OK.  After seeing it in a race for the first time (oddly enough at Bristol,) I knew this car was going to change the sport for the better.  And the wing…boy it sure looked cool.  I love the wing and, for me, legitimizes the car.  The blade style spoiler always looked funny to me.  Apparently, I’m in a very small minority here.

Fans, as it turned out, loathed the wing.  The car grew on them, but not the wing.  And NASCAR fans are very vocal too.  And emotional.  As a Sirius/XM subscriber, I listen to the talk shows on the NASCAR channel and have listened to a seemingly endless barrage of anti wing rants from, mostly, the same group of narrow minded ‘fans.’  These are people who think we should never have moved away from the decidedly unsafe, ugly and terrible cars from the 1960’s.  They feel like the racing is boring.  The few accidents in the last three years that resulted in cars going airborne (there have been four that I can recall) is all because of the wing.  Because, you know, cars NEVER went airborne before.  Never mind Tony Stewart literally flying over half the field in a Daytona 500 several years ago.  Nevermind Richard Petty’s barrell rolls at Daytona in 1988.  And forget that the reason why NASCAR instituted restricter plates at Talledega and Daytona because Bobby Allison went airborne in a 1980’s Oldsmobile. His car went airborne, right into the catch fence that barely kept his car out of the grandstand. No, never mind any of that.  Cars only went airborne since the wing.

Well, NASCAR has caved to these people and are replacing the wing with a modified blade style spoiler. So, for no real technical reason, the sanctioning body is going ‘old style’ again and putting the lame spoiler back on the cars.  If they truly went ‘old style’, they would forego any spoiler or wing.  Prior to the late 1960’s, they didn’t even have spoilers. Back when NASCAR truly was a ‘good old boy’ sport, it was rather unsophisticated.  They probably didn’t know what ‘aerodynamic’ even meant.  Fortunately, everyone involved today are pretty smart and aerodynamics plays a vital role in the sport.  If there truly is a technical advantage and reason for the switch, NASCAR has not let us know.  They have admitted to making the changed pretty much because of the fans.  Overall, I suppose that it is a good thing that they actually do listen to the very people that support the sport.  And, ultimately, there are far more important things to get riled up over than the removal of the wing.  I, personally, don’t think the racing is going to be as tight now, but, who knows, maybe it will.   I hope so.  Now, where can I get the little Matchbox cars with the wing…they MUST be worth something now, huh?

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iPhone, Safari on Mac, Firefox and IE 8 all fall on first day of Pwn2Own 2010

The annual CanSecWest Pwn2Own challenge has begun and, already, in day one, the iPhone, Safari on the Mac,  Firefox and Internet Explorer 8 on Windows 7 have all been hacked.  The iPhone went down in 20 seconds via a Safari browser crash.  The exploit allowed Ralf Wenmann and Vincenzo Iozzo to grab the iPhone’s SMS database in 20 seconds.  The two, however, needed two weeks to develop the exploit so the 20 second headline is a bit overblown.  Nonetheless, they got $15,000 and the phone as a prize.

A gentleman by the name of Charlie Miller, for the THIRD YEAR IN A ROW, was able to take down Safari on the Mac.  He used a  ‘clean drive-by’ download against Safari to gain control of the Mac Book.  He set up a web page containing the exploit.  An organizer from the conference then surfed the page and watched as Miller took over the machine.  Miller gets to keep the machine.

A German hacker called ‘Nils’ was able, for the second year in a row, was able to exploit an unknown (by everyone else) vulnerability in Firefox to take over a 64-bit Windows 7 machine.  The exploit was able to defeat two security mechanisms in Windows 7 (ALSR and DEP) to gain access to the computer.  ALSR (Address Space Layout Randomization) and DEP (Data Execution Prevention) are supposed to make it very difficult for malicious code (and, sometimes, legitimate code) from executing and are two of the reasons why Windows 7 is more secure than previous versions of the operating system.

The Internet Explorer 8 hack also managed to circumvent both ALSR and DEP.  Dutchman Peter Vreugdenhil was able to gain the base address of one of IE’s modules (via the ALSR workaround) which, in turn, allowed him to bypass DEP.  He got ten grand and the laptop.

As in previous years, the hackers CHOSE to ignore Linux and Chrome.

All of the hacks and vulnerabilities are to be kept secret until the end of the conference, at which time they are made available to the companies involved.  

For more information on all of the hacks, visit ZDNET.

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Nintendo 3D console,Google in China,lame browser ballot, Intellivision keyboard and Firefox news

Around the net

  • Nintendo’s new 3D DS –  Nintendo announced the successor to its wildly popular DS line of hand held game consoles.  As Nintendo usually does, they announced the product and then offered few details.  All we know, at the moment, is that the new device will play true 3D games without the need for glasses, is backward compatible with DS games and it’s hand held.  How it will generate those 3D images was not discussed.
  • Google’s China strategy – Google announced its new China strategy:  shut down its China server farm, redirect its .cn traffic to its Hong Kong servers, leave its R&D and sales office open in China and hope they don’t get blocked and the Chinese team arrested.  OK, I added that last part, but Google is taking a risk here.  The Chinese team does run the risk of legal action and Google could still have problems in China even though they think what they are doing is legal. It may well be legal, but that does not mean that the Chinese government is going to sit by and allow it.
  • Browser Ballot – Perhaps the most ridiculous addition to any operating system is, on the surface, working in Europe.  According to ‘reports’, Europeans have suddenly discovered that there are, in fact, other browsers out there and not just Internet Explorer.  Yep, our European friends have been shown the light by the all-knowing EU and the oh-so-helpful makers of Opera.  Opera, who seem to think the only way to compete is through legal action, claims to have doubled the downloads of the browser, thanks to the browser ballot.  Now, I kid about our European friends ‘suddenly’ discovering new browsers.  I suspect they knew already, they are a smart lot, but, when presented with a means to easily see the others and download them, then they are apt to be curious.  The real story will come by how many actually continue to use these other, lesser known, browsers.  And, funny thing, at least of the EU member nations is telling its citizens to NOT use of those alternate browsers.  See the entry below.
  • Expensive Intellivision keyboard – taking a break from the browser story for a moment to relay this odd ball story.  I’m a big video game nut, having grown up with them.  My first console was the Odyssey-Magnavox’s commercial version to Ralph Baer’s ‘brown box’ TV game system.  I’d love to have that back. In fact, I’d love to have a complete Intellivision game system with the mysterious Keyboard Component.  For those of you who may not know such important things, the Keyboard Component was to turn the game console into a true home computer.  It is why thousands purchased the console.  Problem was, Mattel had many delays in getting the device to market and was, eventually, sued for misleading the public.  As part of the settlement, they did, in fact get a few of the devices to market.  Around 4,000 of them made it out.  Mattel eventually offered to buy them back. Not everyone took them up on this and there are still a precious few of them on the market.  Imagine my delight at seeing one show up on eBay, complete with a working Intellivision console.  Unfortunately for me, the auction was already up in the THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS price.  When the auction closed, the unit went for nearly $4,500.  Now, I’m a big fan, and this is a rare piece, but $4,500 for something that hardly works?  I’m not sold.  A few hundred dollars, yes, four grand? No.  Check it out here.
  • Germany says no to Firefox – OK, we resume our browser talk now.  So, there is a major flaw in Firefox 3.6 and that led the German government to advise its citizens to not use the browser.  This action has prompted Mozilla to release Firefox 3.6.2 a week early.  This release fixes the problem.  You go here and read more about it.
  • Speaking of Firefox – Mozilla has ceased development of the Windows Mobile 6.x version of Firefox and says that they will not development a version for the new Windows Phone 7 Series operating system.  They cite the lack of native development tools and SDK as the reason.  I suppose that rules out a webOS version.  Damn.
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Post Katrina Six Flags New Orleans: a grim, dreary and decidedly unhappy place

It’s that time of year again when the regional amusement parks are getting ready to open for the season.  It is one of my favorite times as well.  Going to the parks with my son is a blast and we always have a good time.  Unfortunately, for the citizens of the New Orleans area, they can no longer experience this, at least locally.  In 2005, hurricane Katrina blew through the area and, through an unfortunate series of events, the levies broke and the area was flooded.  One of the sections of the area that was flooded was the Six Flags New Orleans theme park. The park had a troubled past already, starting out as Jazzland in 2000.  The park was a failure, almost immediately.  Six Flags purchased the park in 2003 and brought new attractions.  The park did better and Six Flags may have been successful in making the park more profitable.  Unfortunately, they never got the chance. 

When the levies broke and flooded the area, the park sat under seven feet of water-salt water, sewage and rain water-for a month.  Many of the rides were destroyed or severely damaged.  Others were salvageable and removed, renovated and installed in other Six Flags properties.  Most of the larger rollercoaster’s and nearly all of the flat rides were damaged beyond repair. None of the shops survived and all of the products were considered a total loss.

In 2006, Six Flags announced that they were not going to re-open the park and proceeded to try and get out of the contract they had with New Orleans.  The park property is owned by the city and Six Flags had a long term lease on the property which came with many strings attached, including a guarantee that the park remain open.  Six Flags determined that the cost of rebuilding the park, even at a minimal level, was too high.  Over the next few years, they negotiated with the city and eventually got out of the contract.  This happened mainly because another company was interested in re-developing the property as an amusement park.  So far, that has not happened.

Today, the park stands deserted, but with the damaged attractions still standing.  It is a stark contrast to the ‘glory days’ of the park:  dank, deserted and grim.  Both the city and Six Flags (when they still had an interest) took steps to keep wanderers out of the park, but a few brave urban explorers managed to get in and take photos. One of my favorite web sites, the Web Urbanist, has a page showing some of these photos.  Some of the photos, taken from a distance, show what looks like an inviting place:  silhouettes of rollercoasters and the ferris wheel, reflecting in the water.  It’s not very inviting, though.  Up close, you see the rust, the vandalism, the watermarks and the despair-perhaps indicative of the residents who were stranded in the city or those who could not leave for what ever reason.  The park looks likes something out of a  horror movie. 

Seeing the pictures and video of people being rescued and hearing of the personal stories of those who lived through the hurricane’s aftermath-no matter if they were in the New Orleans area or any of the areas that were affected by Katrina, struck a chord with many of us, but, for some odd reason, seeing the this Six Flags theme park in the condition that it is in really hits home.  It isn’t because I’m a thrill seeker or that I’m some cold person who doesn’t care about the people-I do care.  No, I think it is the bond I have with my son and the seeing the joy on his face when we go to our local theme park. It is the bond that we formed by spending time together in a place that is supposed to make you feel good and evoke happy memories.  Seeing this place, like it is now, doesn’t evoke those types of memories. Instead, it is a reminder of lives lost, lives changed so drastically and the lost memories-those that will never take place. 

Web Urbanist has an entire section devoted to abandonments.  The photo essays are well done and, perhaps, the only other one that evokes this type of emotion from me are the few that deal with Pripyat in the Ukraine.  This was the city that was, literally, abandoned over night because of the Chernobyl accident.  People were forced to leave everything they had and relocate to other parts of the country.  The busses that took the population out of the area were buried afterwards.  Lives were turned upside down.  I cannot imagine what that did to those people.  Only the photos that have been take, years later, convey the sense of loss for these people. They are pretty powerful photos.  The sense of loss that is represented by the pictures is tremendous.  I cannot imagine what it was like to live through this. I get the same emotions looking at the Six Flags photos.  I cannot imagine what the people who suffered through Katrina-or any other disaster for that matter-went through.  It is heightened, for me, because of the location-the theme park-which is something that I can relate to, on a personal level.  I would not have the same emotion if the park was simply closed, leveled and a mall put in its place.  Yeah, I hate see them close like that, but, I also know that it was simply due to money.  For Six Flags New Orleans, its closure was forced by something out of human control and that makes it worse. 

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MIX 10: Windows Phone 7 and Internet Explorer 9

IE9Preview The Mix 10 conference is taking place this week.  Mix is Microsoft’s developer conference and it is where Microsoft often reveals many of its significant platforms and technologies.  This year, Microsoft has given more details on the Windows Phone 7 Series mobile platform, it’s next gen development tools and a preview of Internet Explorer 9, it’s new browser. 

Windows Phone 7 Series

Windows Phone 7 is a ground up reboot of Microsoft’s mobile platform.  It is an amalgamation of Windows Embedded CE 6, Zune and parts of Windows Mobile.  Most of what people will perceive Phone 7 is the user interface.  Called Metro, the UI is the Zune interface with several tweaks.  Metro is also going to play a larger role in Microsoft software going forward.  Metro is nice blend of clean typography and simple, non-flashy graphics.  Well suited for mobile devices, it will be interesting to see how well it translates into PC software.  A few glimpses were shown and one can look to the current desktop Zune software for an indication of PC based Metro apps.  The Zune software, by the way, is going to be Microsoft’s version of iTunes.  Zune desktop will sync media, apps and other personal items to the Windows Phone 7 devices.

Microsoft revealed a few nuggets of info for Windows Phone 7 and, surprisingly, they are very iPhone like.  For example, the new 7 series will only do limited multitasking.  Yep, that’s right, multitasking takes a back seat just as it does on iPhone.  Funny, rumor is that iPhone 4.0 will introduce multitasking.  7 series will also be locked down in that you can only install apps via the 7 marketplace, which is available via Zune Marketplace.  There will also be no COPY and PASTE.  Taking a page from iPhone’s early history, 7 series will lack this very basic feature.  You know, it is not very important anyway. According to Apple, it was a useless feature-how many of you actually use it?  Poppycock!  It is a very useful feature-when one actually needs it.  I’m going to put on my Apple fanboy cap and say: that I rarely need it, I can’t remember the last time I needed it, I don’t know many people who actually WANT it.  There, did I cover it all?

Initial 7 series devices will feature 800×480 resolution, with later devices featuring half that resolution.There is a minimum spec all phones must meet and keyboards are optional.

Microsoft also announced the availability of development tools for 7 series.  They include Visual Studio 10 for 7 Series, XNA and Silverlight 4.0.  The toolset will be free.  XNA 4 is the game development platform and can be used for PC, XBOX and Phone 7 Series devices.  Sadly, Zune HD support has been removed.  Microsoft says, however, that the hardware Zune is not a dead product and is one that has ‘long legs.’  So, the implication is that a newer Zune HD device is on the way.  Rumor, and that is all it is at the moment, is that there will be a dedicated Phone 7 device, minus Phone, that will become the Zune HD 2.  Again, it smacks of Apple and the iPod Touch. 

Phone 7 looks pretty good, so far.  I don’t know that it is enough to make me switch from my Pre-which is coming into its own now, but Palm is on very shaky ground-but the UI does look very nice.  I love the UI on the Zune and this is the next step, so to speak.  I think they have a winner.

Internet Explorer 9

IE 9 is probably the most standards based browser that Microsoft has developed.  The preview release, available here, is a bare bones tech preview only.  It lacks polish and quite a few UI elements like scroll bars and an address bar.  The aim of the release, however, is to show off the new rendering engine.  The new engine takes on HTML 5 and SVG. GPU utilization makes rendering very fast and video playback (via HTML 5’s video capability) is smooth.  Adherence to standards is clearly a  priority and the new engine does much better on the over-hyped Acid 3 test.  Acid 3 is a battery of tests that, supposedly, show how well a browser honors the standards. The test, though, is neither real world nor is it even relevant since many of the things it tests are not ‘standard’ yet:  the HTML 5 spec has not been set in stone and is still being hammered out.  However, if you do pay attention to such things, IE 9’s score is 55 out of 100, up from the paltry 20/100 that IE 8 got and better than an earlier build of IE 9, which got a 38/100.  So, they are making progress.  Incidentally, the Palm Pre browser went from a 2 to something like 93/100 with just one release, so big gains are possible.

Internet Explorer 9 will enter a public beta sometime in the next two or three months and Microsoft says they will be updating the preview release often, so keep checking back.  Rough UI edges aside, the rendering engine looks very promising and, once Microsoft adds spit and polish to the application, IE will give Chrome, Firefox and Safari a run for their money (and cause the EU more angst, I am guessing.)

Oh, and one more thing:  Internet Explorer 9 will not, I repeat, NOT, run on Windows XP.  It’s about time Microsoft let that dead horse go. Good riddance!

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