Monday, January 31, 2011
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Here is what I found: us.playstation.com/ngp. This is the early design set out for what Sony is currently calling the NGP. The descendant of the PSP, this device is all stoked out, but maybe not to Sony's claim of "Blurring the lines between interactive entertainment and reality". Like I said in my review of the PSP, this once again may be an over charged attempt at getting everyone to buy one. Looking over the list of features, I found myself questioning why I would want a GPS system in something that looks almost identical to the original PSP. I know I'm not going to be taking it places where I'm going to get lost and need to use a tracking device to get home. And if I ended up in such a place with the device, I would probably already have my cell-phone, which contains a GPS. Also included is a digital compass, and who outside of a boyscout troop knows how to use a compass anymore?
But all-in-all, my little preview into the Next Generation of Portable gaming has left my mouth watering, (the thing is quad-core!), and I'm much more excited about this thing than any tablet or smart phone I've heard about in the last two years. So, with a projected release date late in 2011, I'll be watching for the NGP, hoping I've made enough to buy one of the production line.
Saturday, January 29, 2011
It would take a heck of a lot of work, but I think its something we're going to need in the future with the death of so many news-papers around the country. Even when selecting news on a website from my local area, it only ever gets as close as Olympia, and the article is usually written by some guy in New York, or some other far off place. How much can someone from New York really know about what's going on in Washington state? Maybe a major issues, but he's not really going to care about the death of someone important in my local community, or about the health and well-being of a respected local business person. That's the kind of news I'd like to see up on my screen most mornings.
I'm going to ponder over the details of such a system, and what it would really take to get it moving, and I'll post back with my results on whether or not its possible.
Friday, January 28, 2011
Through my searches, I found two options for immediate on-line publishing. The first, which I will be publishing a novel through within the next year, is Amazon CreateSpace. This service is a full service option, where you can publish CDs, DVDs, books, and even digital distribution. They offer services for helping you design your packaging and cover work, and even marketing, for a price. Create Space even has direct distribution to several national retailers, so your work can get where you want it to go. The initial service is free, with an agreement to pay Amazon a certain percentage in royalties.
The other service I discovered is Lulu.com. Lulu deals exclusively with books, and has a very focused approach. They will also print individual books if you need them for something like a yearbook or a family cookbook. Like CreateSpace, you log in and upload your book as a .pdf or some other standard document format, then you design a cover, and then move on to publishing your work. What I like about Lulu is the options for size and formatting in your book, there are tons of different ways that you can build a book on Lulu.
So, I hope that this has helped out any of you out there trying to get yourself published like I have been for years. And best of luck to you. Also, if anyone of you readers should get something published through one of these two services, please feel free to leave a comment linking to the product page of your published work. I'm sure the rest of us would love to see your work.
As always, I'll catch you on the flip side.
Now that we have that out of the way, I have another sort little annoying post to tempt anyone reading with something secretive. I have a friend who's been working on something really cool, at least as far as geek standards go, and I've gotten the go-ahead to be the first person to interview him. My old schoolmate Zack Solis has been working on a new processor architecture, and hes built a working model. I'll be interviewing him and posting the article here on the blog before he goes to Maker Faire this year with a possible two working computing units, networked together to show off communication capabilities along with processor.
I'll post more as things progress.
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Monday, January 24, 2011
Our review is on the Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker bundle. The set includes the PSP 3000, MGS: Peace Walker game, a download voucher for the movie 2012, and a two GB Memory Stick Pro for data storage.
First things first, this is a review of the PSP system, and it's bundle. I'll be reviewing the included game, and possibly even the download movie, in a different post.
Now to get down to business. Second to the DS Lite, this has been my most anticipated console purchase. But, where I simply wanted the DS for gaming, the PSP is a full multimedia experience. It isn't just a gaming outlet.
But, as of the time of this article, I'm starting to wonder if the PSP is trying to be to many things at once. There is a lot of functionality that probably won't be used. The PSP comes pre-installed with a Skype client, an internet radio app, web browser, music services, digital comic reader, photo viewer, video player, and its own download store. On top of that, you can add an optional web-cam and connect it to your PC to download content from there as well. And, for icing on the cake, it reads Sony's proprietary UMD format discs, for both movies and video games. This thing just comes fully stacked.
Out of all of the features, I was, of course, most concerned with its abilities for gaming. Out of the two console style handhelds on the market (the DS being the other), the PSP dominates in the graphics department. If stunning visuals are your thing, this system will win your vote.
Also, its ability to play back movies and video files with decent volume and high resolutions for a portable device, the PSP also wins in the media department. And for an added bonus, if you want to shell out the extra twenty or thirty dollars to buy it, you can get a cable that allows you to connect your PSP to a television and watch videos there too.
For risk of going on and on and making this post too long, I'll cut out the media stuff. Maybe I'll add to this post later, I don't know.
As to the contents of the bundle pack, I liked how not only did I get the game and movie, but I got download codes for Metal Gear Solid for additional equipment. That was a nice touch.
Over all, I'm overjoyed with this purchase, and I'm pleased with the PSP system as a whole. For shear overkill in terms of a portable device centered on gaming, I'm happy to award the PSP the first five-fruit rating in one of these product picks. But this rating is just for the PSP 3000.
Since this was a bundle pack, I'm going to tack on an additional rating for the bundle. This one is a little less lustrous. I had major problem with the bundle. The movie download from the playstation store was a little large, taking almost five hours to download on my internet connection. And I had to go out and buy a new memory stick just to handle the download. The included memory stick was only 2GB, and the movie download was 2.5GB. I think if they are going to include things like this they need to enable you to download shortly after opening, not after additionally purchasing. For that, the Metal Gear Solid PSP bundle only gets three fruit of five, because I should be able to use everything the box includes right out of it. Also, I'm disappointed that the game it came with didn't include a full UMD case, just a cardboard sleeve to go over it. UMD do have an outer casing, but just like Sony's MDs, this isn't enough, they still need a case.
Sunday, January 23, 2011
There are just a few that I'm willing to consider. If you've done everything like running your anti-virus, scanning your PC for malware, and checked all the hardware for damage, but your system still seems broken, then you have two major choices to make: Repair or Replace.
I'm usually a fan of the first choice, which within itself contains a few smaller choices. Those are to attempt a recovery, or run a re-installation.
The first matter is preferable, because who wants to constantly go about getting your computer set up just the way you like it all over again? No one I know. But this option tends to be the most annoying and difficult to properly achieve. If you are lucky enough to have Windows 7 (or maybe stuck with a copy of Vista), you may have the system recovery disc. These disks are fantastic for repairing a damaged Windows OS's, but only work if you have your matching generation's disk. For those running Windows XP/2000, you have the ability to do repair installation if you have your original installation disk. And, if you are really attached to your current configuration, you can pay someone ridiculous sums of money to painstakingly reconfigure your whole computer file by file. This last options is something I do not suggest. Honestly, if it has come to the point of having to restructure the OS file by file, just have the tech retrieve your information and re-install. It will be cheaper.
The re-install option works best if the computer is horribly infected. If to much nastiness is going on to really use your computer, a repair installation doesn't usually help, its more for times where three or four things are wrong, but you can still use your PC. A re-installation leaves you with a fresh, clean copy of your OS, and allows you to only re-install the necessary software you actually use. As long as you have a good tech support personnel, and you have requested to have your system backed up, this should be relatively minor in its inconvenience. You just have to put your personal files back into the proper place, and re-install some of your software, which your tech support will gladly do for a nominal fee. Often times, this is usually the fasted road to getting your computer up and running again, because an OS installation takes time, but at least they happen without much fuss and confusion. Even a green tech support employee can re-install an OS with out much trouble.
And finally, in the face of mounting tech support costs and the constantly lowering price of computer electronics, if worst comes to worst, you can always buy a new computer. The benefits to this method of computing is that you always stay up-to-date with technology. In some very rare cases, this can even be cheaper than trying to restore your old computer (very rare).
But this method can be expensive in its own right. If you don't know much about computers and have a lot of personal files stored up, you'll have to migrate all of that information over. Once again, you tech support person will probably be glad to offer you this service for a nominal fee. Another downside to a strait upgrade is that often times your old software isn't compatible with your new computer. There are many tricks around this limitation, but they are some of the more complicated aspects of computing, so I won't go into detail in this article.
So there you have it, your options if your computer goes south for the winter and doesn't ever come back. As always, you can contact Digital Fruit Tech Support with any support questions you have, and we will be pleased to help you.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
Now, as a fan of the original Kirby, this one is a mixed bag. I was saddened when I first started to play, because the game is very childish in its storytelling. After time, I warmed to the cuteness, but still this game tends to lean more towards a female demographic, and relies more on cuteness than action to keep the story moving.
What did impress me was the artwork. This game has been masterfully done. Every line, every detail, has been amazingly cast in cloth and string, buttons and zippers. The animation flows so fluid, you almost begin to believe your really are watching a living world of fabric. As a still-novice programmer, I was awed and amazed by the work that must have gone into the development of this game. Its a visual masterpiece.
And, on top of that, the game play took me back. This Kirby installment really is an heir to the original game, with the game world functioning in the exact same fashion.
Gone, though are the days of sucking up foul enemies and ingesting them to take new forms. This new yarn-ified Kirby takes on his metamorphic changes through the power of a yarn meta tomato, allowing him to change at will, instead of having to wait for an enemy to come along. These small changes bring about a fresh take on a game that could have gone stale quickly.
With the inclusion of a concurrent two-player mode, which can be played both during regular game play and mini games, this game is sure to keep couples gaming together for quite a long time. I found that I enjoyed Kirby's Epic Yarn the most when my wife and I played together. There is an interesting addictiveness in the multiplayer mode, where you can even go so far as to grab the other player and use them as a projectile weapon against your enemies.
So, despite my personal issues with the storyline and target audience, I will have to give Kirby's Epic Yarn a four out of five digital fruit. For game play that is a little too simplistic, my wife knocked off one fruit. But overall this game is worth your time if you're into cute and cuddly.
And the ones that were the most popular by far, were the ones that had site-builders to help you get started. In fact, it was a Yahoo Geocities account that started me down my path of web development years ago. But enough reminiscing.
As web development has gone extremely advanced, rivaling compiled coding in its complexity, I've noticed that very few people build there own little sites anymore, relying on blogs or facebook pages to post their interest. And that got me thinking, are there any more places to build a free little website with which to call your own? Is there anywhere that you can customize your site and display your hard work?
I set out to find out.
Most of what I ran across was garbage. It seems that the nuclear bomb that is internet streaming video and flash games destroyed any of the services that couldn't keep up. Even Yahoo's Geocities was closed down two years ago. But my hope of finding something was restored when I tripped over two websites with very similar names.
The first, Webs.com. Now, after doing the thirty second sign up, (yea, I said thirty seconds), I realized I had tried this service once before when trying to get Digital Fruit up and off the ground. Intended for the person that has absolutely no design skills, this web host will get you up and running with a well designed site based off of a large collection of templates they display. The set up is quick, and the templates design you a site that can have anywhere from just a home page to a small store, where customers can come and buy merchandise you sell. All of this site is strictly structured, not really allowing you to stray from your template. This one is best for those who really know nothing about the business or computing worlds, and still want to look presentable or professional.
The second service, Weebly.com is much more to my taste. This site has a log in that is almost as easy as Webs, but offers you a lot more options at start up. In fact, Weebly offers you more options in general, and seems to me to function a lot nicer. Still based off of the idea of website templates to keep things nice, Weebly offers a lot more control right at your fingertips. While you're working on your site in the site-builder, when you go to the design tab, there is a little button in the top-right corner of your screen that allows you to go in and modify your html and css, and allows you to upload files from your computer. With a really nice drag and drop interface, Weebly wins my review. I suggest if you have a website to build, try it out.
Another contender in the ring, if you're into the whole Google thing like I seem to be, is Google Sites. This one really buttons down on how you can design your site, not really giving you any control over how it looks or what you can display where, but it is very connected to services like picasa, Gmail, and Adsense, so it makes for an easy starter. This one lost my attention long ago, and proved to only work as filler space.
If you want to follow the sites I will be continuing to work on with these three sites, and how well things can go, check them out here:
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
This may seem to be a short review, but there isn't much to review. Installation was easy enough, requiring little time. But the interface that installed was mediocre. It didn't seem to work very well in a windows XP system and it's design was clunky.
And the worst part was the performance. It performed worse than a Linksys wireless g adapter. Even a 150n wireless adapter should perform better than a wireless g.
Because of poor interface and even more poor performance net this thing only a single Digital Fruit. This is not my pick, even for a budget box.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Its as if computers have become the new jewelry. Its that flashy centerpiece that you have to show off to your friends. And I find it ironic, because only a few short decades ago, if you owned a computer, you were essentially a freak. So what is the allure of these devices? Why are we so obsessed with them now? I believe the answer lies in what these devices do for us. They give us knowledge, which in turn gives us power. And, lets face it, humankind has always been driven by the pursuit of power.
Now, to the point of my rant. I see that in the future of this technological revolution, we will always push the limits of what we can accomplish. And as human beings, we will always seek to push the limits of the power computers can provide us with. Now, with this power, we have to be careful. We need to make sure we don't ruin ourselves. We need to stay in control of this, and not make mistakes we cannot fix.
Monday, January 17, 2011
To begin, this game is dark. As much as people may clamor a Disney game can only be for toddlers, this isn't your classic Toy Story or Disney princess title. Each and every battle is a moral decision. Should I be good, or should I be bad? Should I befriend my enemy, or should destroy him? Its questions like these that the player faces all the time. And there are some situations where the right answer isn't always readily apparent. So, in my book this game wins points for not sticking to the traditional.
Which is ironic, because as untraditional as the game-play is, the game design is all from yesteryear. There are even spots in the game that make homage to Mickey Mouse games from the NES and SNES. The whole section of Mean Street is based off of Main Street Disneyland. It definitely creates an air of nostalgia, and as you play through the game you'll get sucked into the way it looks and feels.
One thing that did bother me with the game, though, is that the story has some slow and confusing parts. Depending on how you play the game, there are certain skits and explanations that never happen, so you get left with quests you're trying to accomplish when you have no idea why. Its not a major problem most of the time, but it can get aggravating. Like the beetlebots, a particular type of enemy in the game. If you've been trying to be a good Mickey through most of the game, you can skip the section of the game where you first meet them, but when you meet them later, no explanation is given as to what they are or who made them. You're just left to figure it out for yourself.
So, game-play gets a solid 3 fruit.
But theres more: The collector's edition contains bonus stuff, a making-of DVD, and special packaging. The packaging is what originally caught my eye. Emblazoned with a new logo designed from the classic Mickey mouse ears. It fits in with the edgy look Disney was trying to portrait with this game. For Disney, its evocative imagery.
The extra stuff included consists of an action figure of classic Mickey around 4½" tall, and Wii skins for the Wii console and one for a Wii remote. As far as collector's editions go, these are okay.
But the real gem in this set is the bonus DVD. On it are videos chronicling the making of the game, which have some really cool incites into the production of a major game like this. It also has a section full of concept art, and four re-mastered classic Mickey Mouse cartoons. If you are big fan of Disney, especially the classic stuff, this is probably the best part of the bonus content. This disc really made the collector's edition a collectible to me.
So, after extensive game time and a lots of fun, I'm going to have to give Epic Mickey four out of five digital fruit. The loss of the fifth fruit only because game mechanics were clunky at times. Also, a lack of driving story line in the beginning of the game helped to influence that decision. But over all, a game worth buying.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
My reasoning comes from the level of customization you can achieve. In the world of programming, there isn't much that comes closer to being a universal language. Anything you could want to program can be done with C++, and anything that can't, you can program in assembly. I like those kinds of options.
I might have to write a few articles on this later, maybe even some tutorials on how to use the language.
Saturday, January 15, 2011
That being said, the Rosewill RC400-LX has to be the cheapest way to upgrade your network to anything resembling 1000mbs networking speeds. At the ridiculously low price tag you can purchase these things for, they are amazing. That's the good part.
Now for the bad part: they have very little compatibility with operating systems that don't start with the word Windows. Not a concern for most people, I know, but this is a major concern for some of us in the small-to-mid sized business sector. There is supposed to be a way to get this card to work in Linux, but I have yet to have success installing it in any of the major distributions I use. I wouldn't even suggest trying to install it in a Franken-Mac situation, unless your running it in a virtual machine. Another downside is that this network card is from the very lowest end of the networking spectrum, so the performance isn't on par with things like Linksys and D-Link.
Other than these few hang ups, this has been a pretty solid little piece of hardware. I'll have to give it at least three out of five fruit. If you are looking to get into the gigabit wired realm with out the tremendous price tag, this is your ticket.
Until next time, I'll catch you on the flipside.
Friday, January 14, 2011
With the still-growing need for video content, especially in the ever-changing advertising space, a business that has the right tools and experiences is a must. I'll be trying to get example material up here on the blog and on the Digital Fruit Video space. Check back from time to time to see anything new we've posted.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
I have to admit, I was hoping to put this thing through the most difficult setup I could imagine, but it ended up being a bust. True Cisco's dominance of the networking world, this Linksys card installed, without any additional work or drivers, in a desktop Linux setup. No hassle, no complaint, no problems. I was almost disappointed.
Windows wasn't much harder, with the disk installing the drivers quickly, and no hassle after installation. Gigabit networking speeds have never been easier to achieve.
So, with this post, I'm introducing a new convention for these product pick. This card has pick 5 Digital Fruit out of 5.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
So, it appears I’m already behind on my new years resolution to post every day, but not to fear! I will prevail!
So, despite the inches of snow that fell yesterday here in Aberdeen, I was a busy businessman and went galloping all over town. I stopped by Game Freaks to discuss with fellow gamers what they thought of a new method of enhancing digital distribution that would still include the retailer. I’ve been thinking of methods to keep the retailer in the loop because I don’t think box stores are really going to die, and I don’t want to offend their owners, especially this early on.
My idea is simple really; for each retailer that plans to carry our games, if we plan to distribute download content through them, we will develop promotional posters that have QR codes printed in a footer bar on the bottom, with instructions on how to use them. The link embedded in the QR code will contain a retailer specific reference, which will allow Digital Fruit to track sales through each retailer, giving them a cut for each mobile game downloaded through promotional posters displayed in their stores. Any smartphone on the market has the capability to read QR codes, so I figure it will be a good way to cut down on production costs, and still manage to keep our retail partners in the loop. A toast then, to technology, and little problems it helps solve!
Monday, January 10, 2011
So, I'm hearing all sorts of ranting and raving about how the world of smart- phones is going to kill off the world of desktop PCs. The more I read, though, the more I start to feel this whole business of desktops dieing is a little premature, if not downright wrong.
And I have three reasons why:
First off, horsepower. No matter how powerful the chip manufactures make a mobile processor, the physical limitation of size will always make full PC's more powerful. They will have large chips, which, combined with the same technology that makes the mobile chips faster and more capable, will make desktop PC's even greater themselves. This kind of locks in the PC gamers to desktops. Nothing else will be able to compete, and never will. (One side note; if the chip manufactures go so far as to restrict development to mobile chips, this would gum up this argument, but I don't see that happening.)
Second problem, storage. You can only store so much into a three inch by five inch rectangle. And that space is larger than most cellphones. Even if the whole area of the a smartphone could be devoted to the storage of information, with technology such as memristors, they would not be able to hold as much information as an equivalently sized hard drive. And with the pack rat tendencies of human beings (hey, I'm one of the most guilty!), the need for massive amounts of storage will always require something akin to a home server. (A combination of these elements, smartphone and home server, might actually be the perfect harmony. Run all of your media through the home server, like a small personal cloud, and use the smart phone as the access interface.)
And lastly, capabilities. As a computer tech, I've seen a lot of people's home setups, and I've sold a lot of peripheral devices as well. A smart phone, at least without a desktop-sized dock, would not have the ability to handle all of the extra stuff we all love to connect to our computers. Printers, scanners, external storage, game controllers, MP3 players, and USB powered gag items, a smart phone just can't cut it when it comes to varied computing needs of the modern era. This one also ties back into the storage and horsepower issues. Not only will the form-factor limit the number of devices, but the power consumption of extra devices would limit the smartphone as well. And storage space for drivers, even with their usually small memory foot print, would be non-existent, because it would be filled with the massive media files we all down load, and the apps we download for work and play on the go.
And, as the bonus, upgrades. One of the biggest limitation factors for me, and most of the uber-geek culture, is the in-ability to upgrade my current system when something better like a new graphics chip comes out. This problem may not be a huge problem for most, but for the people constantly upgrading their hardware and keeping the manufactures paid, this would have the potential to bust the industry. As much as the cellphone market seems volatile, and any new model of phone is obsolete in six months, most people won't upgrade their computers more than once every five years. I have begun to notice this trend seeping into the smartphone market, too. How many people stuck with their iPhone 3GS when the iPhone 4 came out? Its a situation I'm not sure the computer industry has thought of.
So, in this posit of an article, I have to say I don't see things like the Motorola Mobility Atrix posing much of a threat to traditional desktop PCs. The computing needs of consumers only get more demanding, and you can fit a lot more umph into a PC case into a phone.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
The piece I've chosen to day is Trendnet's GreenNet 5 port 1000mbs switch. So, when I bought this thing about five months ago, I was just looking for a piece of hardware that could get me 1000mbs traffic on my network, since I had two device capable of hitting that speed, and I wanted to get the maximum I could out of my hardware. I saw it on sale, so I grabbed it. Turns out to be one of the best impulse buys I've made.
The unit supports up to four computers and a line out to another router if you want, or five individual computers if you just need that. Not a whole heck of a lot, but if you need a few more ports, there is an eight port model for about twice the price.
Once I got the ports filled on the back with all the devices I wanted connected, I flipped the power switches and started the engines. I was trying to get my Western Digital World Book to connect to the computers I have as fast as possible, since I have seven operational units on my network at any one time, and they all draw information from that central point. On the old 100mbs network, even with full duplex, it took a little bit for things to load from the World book. But, with matching 1000mbs hardware (which I will be reviewing later), the wait was gone! No more lagging load times, no more annoying blank screens with an hourglass. I would simply click, and there it would be. I immediately fell in love with 1000mbs connection speeds, and even more with the Trendnet GreenNet switch, because I knew I was going to break the bank in energy costs.
(I must admit, at the moment, Digital Fruit has no means of determining the actual difference of energy used from the Trendnet GreenNet switch and other 1000mbs switches, but what I can test is the amount of heat being output, which is an excellent mark of how much or how little energy a device is gobbling. After testing other 1000mbs switches, and beginning to wonder if my desk was going to catch on fire, I found that my Trendnet switch was putting out less heat than most other brands, even within Trendnet's own line of products.)
So, in the attitude of constructive criticism, the easiest way to prevent this problem is to simply plug a date field into the header of the paper, not manually enter the date. Let the internal date function of the computer get the date for you, that way someone who isn't quite awake yet won't have to worry about getting something as boring and mundane, yet important, as the date wrong.
Monday, January 3, 2011
First on my line of discussion is windows live mail. Now, I have been a user of hotmail.com for over a decade now, and I have found that over the years it has deteriorated to the point of being almost unusable. That said, the application of windows live mail has made the process of using hotmail bearable again. I still can't stand the bad layout hotmail uses, but live mail makes it more usable. That gets live mail serious points.
Second one in line is windows live messenger. Yet another progression of a service I have used for years, though this one was never as disappointing. I've always liked MSN messenger, and some of the features Microsoft added when they shifted the service over to Live Messenger earlier in this decade worked really well for me, and some of the additions they have started with the latest edition of Live Messenger work out even more. One such item is how much easier it is to organize your contacts into groups, and that you can set priorities within those groups. I hate to say it, but there are some people in my messenger account that I have a lot more reason to talk to (like my wife).
The service also adds in a social buzz feature, where you can have a stream of recent conversation blips from your friends appear when you're not logged in, then you can respond back at your own pace. Not necessarily a feature I'm too keen on, but it is convenient to be able to respond to a question I've missed while I'm away from my computer.
Now, for the really fun but often under-estimated feature of Live Essentials: Movie Maker. Now, this program in the suite is really for the die-hard computer geeks. I'm just surprised it has survived so long. Originally bundled with copies of Windows XP, Movie Maker has always been an easy way to collect together all those video clips and snippets of media that you took on your vacation, or the snippets of cartoon shows you gathered to turn into an AMV, and make them into something coherent for others to watch. I used it just today to splice together a video file I downloaded with a new audio track. It made all the difference. Where before the video was nearly unbearable to watch because the audio sounded like nails on a chalkboard, now it sounds as full and vibrant as it should. The whole suite is worth it in my opinion for this program alone.
Another one of the packages I've recently found to be amazingly useful is Live Writer. This post was even written with it. This program is a convenient way to work on blog posts offline or outside of a web browser. Its compatible with most of the major blog platforms, like Blogger and Wordpress, and automatically logs in to your blog to post.
Overall I've been really impressed with how nice Windows Live Essentials has worked, and I've certainly integrated it into my daily workflow. So, if your looking for a free suite of semi-essential programs(I mean, does everyone edit video? No, so it isn't really essential), this one fits the bill quite nicely.