Brad's Impulse Launch Review

Published on Tuesday, June 17, 2008 By Brad Wardell In Personal Computing

Impulse is the greatest thing since sliced bread...yada yada yada.

But how good is it really? Ultimately, only you will be able to decide.  What I'm going to do here is give my personal opinion on how Impulse stands on the eve of its launch.

The Comparisons

Let's just get this out of the way, Impulse is not Steam or Direct2Drive or Xfire or whatever.  It's has a very different design philosophy.  So let me just say this: You would have to pry Steam out of my cold dead hands.  You should judge Impulse as how well it addresses your problems.

First Impressions


So I double click on the Impulse icon.  How fast does it load?  On my ThinkPad T60 it's about 5 seconds but YMMV.  In its phase 2 edition (August) I think we need to make it more multithreaded so that when you launch it, it comes up like a window. I.e. instantly.  But it is pretty snappy (a lot faster for me than the betas were).

My next question would be, how much RAM is this thing using?


On load up, about 15 megabytes which is pretty good given that Internet Explorer uses 84 megabytes! 

The Store

From a digital e-commerce point of view, the million dollar question is, how good is the selection in the Impulse store?  With Steam or Direct2Drive, I can get a gazillion different games.  So what about Impulse? The answer depends on what you're looking for. 

The first week of the Impulse launch will be spent handling the logistics of getting hundreds of gigabytes of games, utilities, and applications up on the servers. So what is available at say 1pm on the day of the launch will be different from what is available at 5pm of the same day with each day adding more and more stuff.

imageBut by Christmas, I suspect it won't be selection that makes one choose one digital store over another but rather the features and services that these things provide.  Impulse, for instance, supports refunds for users having technical issues. That's a pretty big deal IMO. As far as I know, that will be unique to Impulse.

Community Features

So that we're all on the same page, Impulse isn't just a download manager ala Stardock Central.  It is a full blown digital distribution platform.  The platform comes in the form of Impulse Reactor which is a server-side virtual API set for developers.

A developer could, for instance, using the free Impulse Reactor SDK (which will be launched in mid August) type into their game: CVP.SaveGame() and save their game to the player's virtual drive.  Or CVP.LoadPreferences() to get a game's preferences.

The first game to make use of the Common Virtual Platform will be The Political Machine.  Unfortunately, The Political Machine v1.1 wasn't ready by the Impulse launch so we had to hide the "Games" button from the community area for multiplayer match making.  As soon as it's ready, the button will come back and players will be able to find games either there or within The Political Machine itself.  Other games that will be using it include Sins of a Solar Empire, Galactic Civilizations II v2.0, and Demigod.  We are also working with a number of third party developers to begin using this.


I am very biased in favor of non-website whenever possible. I just find website stuff slow. 

The blogging and forum behavior on Impulse is pretty fast but I'd like to see it much faster.  As in, instantaneous.

I think in the coming weeks you'll see a lot of improvements to performance across the whole thing as the initial launch was largely about just getting stuff in there.

My Friends

image The friends stuff is a pretty big deal for me as both a user and as a gamer.  It's only in its beginning stages really.  Eventually, you'll be able to easily get games going and filter by friends or friends of friends to help improve the multiplayer experience.

When I play on-line, my biggest gripe is the griefing and such I run into.  I'm 36 years old, I just don't have time to waste in a multiplayer game with some 15 year old whose out to "max their ranking".

Features that didn't make to the launch that make me sad

There are 3 big features that had to be put into phase 2 (August) that make me sad. The Impulse side was done but we just didn't have enough time on the game side to make use of them yet.

Those are:

  1. Multiplayer Matchmaking.  People could start and join games right from Impulse.
  2. Achievements.
  3. Game Rankings.

They'll get in there, we just have to update The Political Machine and other games to make use of them so that we can show off what's possible to game developers.

The same is true for NAT negotiation and such.  One of the biggest pains in the butt on the PC is getting ports and firewalls set up right for a game. In Impulse phase 3, the Impulse back end will be set up to act as a kind of back-up for games that use our platform.  So a user could connect to another user without knowing anything about routers and what not.  We're hoping Demigod will be the first game to make use of this.

Getting Updates

image So right now, there's a tab called "Updates" that shows up if there are updates to ones programs.  I'd like to see an option put in asap that simply has Impulse download these updates automatically.

My other request is that when downloading updates, I want to see my actual bandwidth speed. I realize this is cosmetic but somewhere, techies should be able to get some idea of how fast their connections are.

Getting to my stuff

imageImpulse lets users add new categories to  their applications and move things around via the dock (we'll talk about that more soon).

If there's an update, an exclamation point shows up next to it.

What's not in the launch version are forums for every application or a chat channel. Eventually everything will get its own forum and chat channel.

Registering your stuff

image Users can associate various programs with their account.  Right now, the only commercial programs that you can associate with your account are Stardock ones and programs you bought from Impulse. But the next step is to let you be able to associate any program with your account regardless of where you purchased it.

This way, when are setting up a new machine, you can just let Impulse download and install all your stuff (freeware, shareware, games, whatever).


image Clicking on the orb in the top left opens up additional options.  You can set up where things install on a per category basis:


The Dock

Impulse is designed to customizeable.  The initial launch doesn't have the skinning selection features in. That's coming "real soon now(TM)". But you can add and edit your own categories:

Extending Impulse

When you press the minimize to dock, Impulse launches the dock:

Impulse Dock

The dock displays the same content as the Impulse client. By default, it is set to auto-hide so it will hide to the taskbar edge with the user able to bring it up by moving their mouse to the bottom edge of the screen.

The dock is pretty powerful and yet light weight.

We plan to release later on an Impulse Tray applet that users can optionally use to stay in touch with friends, posts, updates, etc.  It will not be part of Impulse itself as it will be designed to be as tiny as possible. 

So what's next?

I think most people will find Impulse pretty compelling. Initially, its game content is not on par with Steam or Direct2Drive but that should change over time.  Obviously on the non-game software side, it enjoys a tremendous advantage. 

Impulse itself is pretty snappy but I found the forums and blog services be a bit on the slow side. This will be something Stardock will need to improve.

Download speeds of new programs, by contrast are fast. Faster than anything I've ever used anywhere.

The customization features, while decent, could be a lot better. I.e. I'd like to be able to select from a list of skins.  Stardock's the leader in this area so it's something that it will be adding and supporting through its skinning site,

It will be important that Impulse show off the features of Impulse Reactor as quickly as possible.  Getting the Multiplayer matchmaking in should be up by the end of the month.  Achievements, rankings, etc. are all going to be crucial as well.

I'd like to be able to filter out programs that are available but not installed. I'm an extreme case since I have a ton of things linked to my account but still.

I think people will be pleasantly surprised at how fast and memory efficient the overall program is.  Given how pretty it is, on might expect it to be slow and a memory hog but even in its first release, it's really snappy.