THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
I find it fascinating that some members of the media repeat the same tired trope that Apple might do well to move Macs to ARM from Intel. The core logic is that Apple has sold hundreds of millions of mobile gadgets using those chips in the form of their A-series processors. They are getting faster and faster, and thus may soon be near as capable as low-end Intel processors.
Did I say they were a lot cheaper?
So imagine paying maybe $100 less for a MacBook Air, and maybe the idea makes sense from a customer standpoint. But there are a whole lot of reasons why, even if Apple could scale up the performance of one of their chips to match the capabilities of what Intel offers, it just doesn't make sense. And don't forget the issue the media rarely mentions, which is how to deal with tens of thousands of Mac apps optimized for Intel processors. And yes I know about the possibilities of emulation.
In any case, on this week's episode of the The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge commentator and investigative journalist Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, offered a solid reality check for those who believe Apple plans to move Macs from Intel to ARM in the near future. He also discussed the ongoing problems facing Google and Microsoft in delivering relevant products that actually make a profit. The discussion began with Daniel's tale of how he first began to cover Apple, and the problems he found with press coverage about the company.
You also heard from commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, whose bill of fare this week included a discussion of why some Mac experts feel OS X quality is declining, John's ongoing search for the right high-resolution display for his Mac Pro, and why the next-generation TV project from Apple remains on hold.
While Apple works on what to do next with Apple TV, the current product, still available, has almost become yesterday's news. It's not that the competitors from Roku, Amazon and Google are necessarily better. In most respects they're not. But they are all variations on a similar theme, and it's time for something way better to break through. So we'll see what new gear Apple will introduce this year aside from an Apple Watch, and the expected refreshes of iPhones, iPads and Macs.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris introduce David Marler, author of "Triangular UFOs: An Estimate of the Situation," will be our guest next week. His book has received great reviews, including a Five-Star review from none other than Ray Stanford. This discussion begins with David, who is certified in hypnotherapy, discussing UFO abductions and the alarm bells that go off in studying some of these cases. He'll also cover his sharp focus on the consistent presence of triangular UFOs and how they might relate to the ongoing reports of strange craft in the sky.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We've got swag! We're taking orders direct from our Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: "Separating Signal From Noise." We've also added a huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.
MICROSOFT HAS NOT GIVEN UP ON VAPORWARE
Slightly ahead of schedule, Microsoft this week released a new public or technical preview of Windows 10. This is supposedly a better, more reliable version of the OS beta that has already been available, so I jumped at the chance to see what Microsoft hopes will push the bad memories of Windows 8 to the distant past.
Except that Microsoft still won't give up on the user interface formerly known as Metro. Once something gets under their skin at Microsoft, it's really hard to let it go. Quite often, they just change the name, which is how MSN became Live Search which became Bing. I won't get into the various names for Windows Phone, but it almost seems that changing identities, with a few feature refinements, is sometimes their only solution for failed products.
These days, what used to be called Windows Phone is now just Windows, same as the desktop operating system. Indeed, the code base is shared too, which creates the curious situation of a desktop app possibly working on a mobile phone or a tablet. But if the app is universal, a term being bandied about by the media, doesn't that mean that mobile apps will be clogged with useless code? How does that work on your Lumia smartphone where space is at a premium?
In any case, I was far more interested in seeing what the new Windows 10 release was like in light of last week's Microsoft hypefest. For now, I'll avoid the HoloLens, an ugly Google Glass alternative that puts a somewhat different if not terribly compelling spin on needless augmented reality hardware. If you must read the juicy details, I'm happy to pass you on to Daniel Eran Dilger's AppleInsider article on the subject. For me, it was just a desperate attempt to find something relevant to talk about, since there's not much juicy stuff in Windows 10.
Now the key thing about Windows 10, particularly for disgusted users of Windows 8 or Windows 8.1, is the fact that it'll be a free upgrade for the first year; Windows 7 users are also eligible, but why leave Windows XP users in the dust? After that, you wonder whether people who avoided the initial release will want to pay something, and how much that something might be. Or perhaps Microsoft, having jumped into the free OS upgrade game, will find themselves trapped in quicksand and unable to extricate themselves.
But I assume Windows OEMS who bundle the OS with new PC hardware will pay the usual prices, well unless their hardware has a tiny screen or a very cheap price. Putting the golden goose out of its misery doesn't seem a very smart marketing approach, but the quarterly financials after Windows 10 arrives will tell the tale.
So I went ahead and installed the latest public preview on a brand new Parallels Desktop virtual machine. Unfortunately, Parallels has an apparent bug to confront. You see, to optimize performance in the virtual environment, Parallels installs a set of components, tools, which map core features, such as input devices, and graphics, to the Mac. Otherwise, the virtual performance can be pathetic.
Only thing is that, at every restart, Parallels would dutifully attempt to install Parallels Tools anew. At the end of the installation process, I was invited to restart, but after the restart, the same installation loop persisted. Frustrating, but I expect this is something Parallels will deal with once they are aware of the problem. Remember, that Windows 10 Build 9926 just arrived.
I finally postponed the restart and decided to look around to check the landscape.
I was pleased to encounter a fairly normal Windows desktop. It appears that tablets, or convertible notebooks in touchscreen mode, will get an interface that more closely resembles the Metro look and feel complete with the sometimes live tiles. But that can only be confusing to customers who expect consistency and not just more Microsoft-bred confusion.
One minor change I caught right away was renamingPC Settings to Settings, which opens more quickly in a smaller window with clearly labeled configuration categories. Now when I visited Updates and recovery for the very first time, I discovered that, a day after the newest build appeared, there were already updates awaiting me.
Upon restart, I was reminded yet again that each restart affords you the chance to start with the Technical Preview or Rollback, which presents your previous OS, if one is available. In my case, I suppose it would be a previous Technical Preview, since I installed that OS fresh. To me, it's just another example of the braindead lack of logic in things from Microsoft.
But I won't dwell on the traditional foolishness of having a shut down and restart function in a menu called Start. This is, after all, Microsoft. And don't get me started about that irritating procession of annoying tones that indicate that something or other loaded at startup, or that a status message awaited me.
Performing simple steps, such as opening Windows 10 Mail for the first time, produced roadblocks. When I was asked to specify if I have a Microsoft account — and I do for Office 365 — I had to make it send me a verification email to confirm I was who I said I was. Just entering my username and password was insufficient for Microsoft.
However, if I am configuring Mail on a brand new PC for the first time, how do I check the email confirmation number if Mail is not yet configured? Do I have to keep another PC at hand, or a smartphone — or a Mac? In this case, I got the confirmation via Apple Mail. It's clear Microsoft didn't sweat the details.
But Windows Mail really isn't a terribly useful app. Unlike Apple Mail — which has known problems — the Windows counterpart is so bare bones to make it almost clumsy. Is this Microsoft talking down to consumers? I even had to click Folders in the sidebar to see anything but the Inbox, Drafts and Sent. This is the sort of awkward approach that makes something that should be second nature more complicated. Overall, the interface has the same cartoon-inspired theme as the former Metro interface, which only makes it less useful. Or maybe entry-level users will be happy to see emptiness, or at least that's what Microsoft's system team concluded. So I wasn't surprised to discover that the mail handling icons are hidden until you click a disclosure ellipse at the bottom left of the email window.
Others have remarked that it's so bereft of important email features that you'll want to download something useful early on. In this case, I expect Microsoft hopes to quickly upgrade you to an Office 365 subscription so you can install a genuine copy of Outlook. To be sure, I was surely tempted, but I expect this bait and switch approach is another way to squeeze money out of customers who didn't pay for Windows 10. So perhaps Microsoft should set up an in-app purchase link upon first launch so you can get the misery over with and buy or subscribe to download what you really need to be productive.
To be fair, this is a rough and early preview. The Cortana virtual assistant, for example, is barely functional. Overall, some features are either due later on in the year, or poorly implemented. Six or eight months ahead of when Windows 10 is expected to be finalized, Microsoft has loads of work to do in order to make it a fully functional OS. In contrast, the first developer preview of OS X Yosemite appeared four months before the final release, but most functions were actually present and accounted for, and by and large they worked.
True, Yosemite hasn't had such a pleasant rollout. There are still bugs reported by many users, and the ratings indicate it hasn't quite gotten the love at the Mac App Store. Apple is reportedly laboring away at the second maintenance update, to be known as OS X 10.10.2. So maybe the most significant remaining glitches will soon be history. A lot can be said about Apple rushing out major OS upgrades for the Mac and mobile gear that remain rough around the edges.
When it comes to Microsoft, I honestly don't know why it's so raw. The first Windows 10 Technical Preview actually arrived last October. At least you'll be able to upgrade to the latest public beta and, in fact, to the final release according to Microsoft. Yes, improvements have been made, and performance on my iMac with its new SSD drive seemed snappy enough. I won't blame the recurrent Parallels Tools installations on Microsoft; that's for Parallels to fix.
Certainly, Microsoft is under the gun here. They seem less and less relevant at a time where Apple and Google own the online world. With HoloLens, Microsoft also seems to be at its old tricks once again in presenting an unfinished product, however flawed, with the promise that it'll be released eventually. But Microsoft has long been noted for announcing products that never or rarely see the light of day. When you define vaporware, it's a synonym for Microsoft.
Some of the features promised for Windows 10 aren't available either, and not all of them have been revealed. Or at least that's what Microsoft claims, but holding off on answers also gives the company an escape route in case some of these alleged features aren't ready by the time Windows 10 is due to be finalized. Nonetheless, things should get better, and maybe the oversimplified Mail interface will be somehow fleshed out in a meaningful way. But it's also possible that it won't really get much better after all. Consider the experience with public previews for Windows 8, and don't forget Windows Vista.
As it stands, it's good to know that someone who uses a traditional desktop PC will see the desktop by default, and that the Start menu and Settings functions are more sensibly designed. Is that, and cribbing a few OS X features, such as Spaces and Notification Center, sufficient to attract upgrades from consumers and businesses who wouldn't touch Windows 8/8.1 with a ten-foot pole? That remains to be seen.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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