THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
An Apple media event is never enough for some. Even when the product intros are known in advance, some way will be found to suggest that none of it is very important. It doesn't matter if customers are lining up to buy the new products. Such people are merely insulted as unquestioning fanatics who will allegedly buy anything with an Apple label.
Certainly the "Gray Lady," better known as The New York Times, has become a certified, died-in-the-wool purveyor of misleading and fear-mongering pieces about Apple of late. One example was a recent article skeptical of the ongoing success of the iPad, which claimed there were only a few useful apps optimized for that tablet. This came just before Apple announced there were a total of 675,000 iPad apps. They include Microsoft Office for the iPad, still the only touch-based version, Apple's iWork and a collection of productivity apps from Adobe and other companies. This doesn't mean that the iPad will magically recover from an ongoing sales slump overnight, but it's clear Apple is working hard to keep the flame alive.
Then there's iOS 8, which has had a short and troubled existence. But adoption continues to increase at a steady clip, and Monday will bring an 8.1 update with Apple Pay and other new features, plus some expected bug fixes.
Meanwhile, on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we welcomed columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld's "iTunes Guy," who also explained why he's cut back on his Facebook activities. During the session, Kirk profiled iTunes 12, the OS X Yosemite-savvy version, and explained why he is thinking about replacing his relatively new Mac Pro with a 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina display.
If I had an unlimited amount of cash, I'd definitely consider the 5K iMac as a replacement for my aging iMac. It's definitely a pro-grade desktop that might appeal to many who might have otherwise considered a Mac Pro. Just selling a 5K all-in-one for about the price of the display alone is certainly an amazing achievement, especially when you consider all those complaints about an "Apple Tax."
You also heard from cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider, who brought you up to date on the platform wars. He covered the differing concepts of tablets from Apple and Android, Google's Android Lollipop and Microsoft's Windows 10 operating systems, and why he believes both companies are out of ideas. He also explained why he believes Samsung, the largest maker of Google smartphones, wants to ditch Android.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Ronald Regehr, who has been a UFO researcher for more than 50 years. Regehr is also a retired aerospace engineer with 36 years experience at Douglas Aircraft and Aerojet Electro Systems working in space and space surveillance systems. He is MUFON's Director of Documentation and a MUFON research specialist in space satellite technology. Two of his major areas of contribution in UFO research are satellite detection of UFOs and analysis of photos and other data associated with the Roswell case. Regehr is currently researching the Puebloan culture history and legends as recorded via their petroglyphs and pictographs.
Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We're taking orders direct from our new 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.
THE YOSEMITE REPORT: CLEARING THE CRUFT
With the arrival of OS X Yosemite, or OS X 10.10, on October 16th, tens of millions of Mac users were able to join all those beta testers in downloading the official, final release. This is the first time, since the release of the original Mac OS X Public Beta in 2000, that Mac users had a crack at trying out an unfinished OS. Well, maybe not quite, since the release version that arrived the following March was, according to Steve Jobs, intended for power users and early adopters. It was still beta quality software.
In those days, though, beta testers had to pay for the privilege, to the tune of $29.95. At least you got credit towards the release version. These days, Apple gives away OS X, and as part of a new policy of relative openness, a beta program was set up for up to one million Mac users who merely signed up and accepted the user agreement. However, it doesn't appear that Apple ever enforced that cap, since a figure of more than a million users was cited at last week's media event, which also included those iPad and Mac refreshes.
In theory, allowing loads of customers to beta test OS X should result in a more reliable release, assuming Apple received plenty of feedback about problems. In passing, I see some lingering issues, one possibly significant, another mostly an irritant, which survived the beta process but wasn't fixed. But I'll get to that shortly.
In June, I installed the developer preview on my late 2009 27-inch iMac, first on a second drive, a 1TB LaCie FireWire 800 device. I was more daring on a 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, where I did an upgrade installation of the public beta.
I managed a .500 batting average. I ran into trouble getting the iMac to boot after the OS installation, which was done over a clone backup of my startup drive. It stalled halfway through the startup process, based on the status of the progress bar, which is not a unique problem unfortunately.
Rather than waste time to seek a reason that was probably out of my hands anyway, I ended up reformatting the drive into two partitions, one strictly for Yosemite developer releases. Without the remnants of a previous installation, the installation was successful. Later on, more confident that the worst bugs were being ironed out, I took a chance to upgrade the iMac's startup drive with success.
Of course, I had a full backup in case things went awry.
Over the course of the test process on both the iMac and MacBook Pro, I regularly submitted bug reports and feedback to Apple. One lingering problem that persists in the final release is a curious issue with Apple Mail. A short time after it's launched, the number of messages in a mailbox folder is no longer displayed. The same phenomenon happens on both Macs.
Since others I've contacted haven't encountered the same problem, I wonder if it can be attributed to the fact that I have over 100,000 messages spanning several accounts and a number of folders. It happens with my iCloud, Gmail and AOL accounts, not to mention the ones hosted on our server. Rebuilding the mailboxes doesn't fix anything, so it is likely due to a Yosemite-specific limitation in handling large mailboxes. Readers, your comments would be appreciated.
But that's not the only problem I had with the final release. The installation on the MacBook Pro went just fine. On the iMac, however, the first startup after installation would fail with the progress bar at the halfway mark. This is the very same problem I confronted with the first developer preview.
On Apple's advice, I tried rebooting the iMac without any external devices connected, and the restart succeeded. To test that solution, I reinstalled Yosemite with the drives disconnected, and encountered the same symptom. Again, it worked fine on the second startup.
Finally, I updated the clone backup, restarted from that device, and erased the iMac's internal drive. I did a fresh installation of Yosemite, and used Migration Assistant to restore my stuff. I was only partly successful. The first startup appeared to complete, but stalled as the desktop was loading. I gave it a full hour to clear up without success. When I forced a shutdown and restarted, everything went perfectly. Subsequent restarts were successful.
I do not presume to guess why the initial restart failed. It may be that a specific preference or the presence of a really stuffed Desktop folder slowed things to a dead stop. But I didn't want to take the time to reinstall all my apps, which come from both physical media and online sources, and not just the Mac App Store. It was an option, but one that would take days rather than hours to manage.
Regardless, the otherwise clean install of Yosemite delivered noticeably snapper performance. Apps launch and files open noticeably quicker. Even Internet access seems swifter despite the fact that my online connection and hardware is unchanged.
In the old days of the original Mac OS, you could do a clean installation as part of the standard setup process. The installer would create a new set of system files, and leave a "Previous System Folder" for power users to restore some of their third-party stuff. I can see where a smarter installer can handle such chores in a semi-automated fashion. First a clean OS installation, and then an option to restore third-party settings and support files from the previous system installation, along with kernel extensions. To most Mac users, backups, restores and fresh app installs, while not hard to accomplish, can be time-consuming and work against the alleged simplicity of an OS X upgrade.
In my case, it made perfect sense. I can also hope that the first maintenance update, 10.10.1, will fix the Mail glitch and other issues. I've also read a few online reports about slow installations and slow startups after installation, so I don't feel so lonesome about encountering similar problems.
Otherwise, Yosemite seems a pretty solid release.
A BRIEF CLOSE ENCOUNTER WITH WINDOWS 10
With the release of the Yosemite-compatible version of Parallels Desktop, version 10.1, you now have a simple option to download and install Microsoft's Windows 10 Technical Preview. There are online instructions about a fairly annoying setup routine, dealing with DVD disk images and some command line nonsense, but none of that is necessary. The folks at Parallels make it easy to download and install the beta OS in a single set of simple steps.
The option is available when you create a new virtual machine. For me, it took over an hour for the initial download and installation. There are the usual dumb status messages as the Windows 10 setup proceeds, similar to the stuff that polluted the screens with Windows 8. Microsoft appears to be taking a shave and haircut approach rather than throw out the baby and the bathwater and try over.
The overall look and feel of this early Windows 10 release is still heavily influenced by the bad decisions Microsoft made with Windows 8. Yes, there is a traditional Start menu activated from the lower left of the screen. It is polluted with those Modern UI-inspired stick pin figures and cartoonish shapes, but otherwise behaves very much as the Start menu that Windows users have come to love, or at least accept.
Gone is the foolish Charms preferences pane, which was activated by tapping the right end of the screen or fooling with a mouse until you hit the sweet spot. The Settings pane you select from the Start menu doesn't look altogether different, however. The basic suite of changes is still highly simplified, or dumbed down. The Modern theme carries through to the upgraded desktop layer, but it's still usable.
You also have rudimentary window management capabilities with the tiled layer. Basic multitasking, the ability to handle multiple windows, is improved, but it seems the most significant feature is blatantly borrowed from OS X. It's called Task View, and is highly reminiscent of Mission Control.
There's also a multiple desktop feature, where you can put one or more apps in their own space independent of other apps and potential screen clutter. This is another useful feature, but nothing original. There have already been third-party solutions, and OS X users are familiar with Spaces. There are also similar Linux utilities.
The core of what Microsoft is doing is to restore a few features from previous versions of Windows that should not have been changed or removed, and add a couple of OS X-style concepts, while retaining the updated looks for better or worse. Mostly worse.
While Apple will tout hundreds of new features for an OS X — or iOS — release. Microsoft is lucky to offer a handful, at least so far. But they don't move Windows in compelling new directions so much as attempt to fix the damage caused by Windows 8.
One thing is sure, though. Parallels has done a great job taming Windows 10 to run smoothly in a virtual machine. I didn't even consider changing any of the default settings, and I was perfectly happy with performance on my vintage iMac, running Yosemite. But there's nothing about Windows 10 that makes it a must have, at least so far.
However, a Technical Preview means that Microsoft is still working on the OS, and I suppose it's possible some interesting and compelling new features will be added before the promised late 2015 release. But so much of it reeks of a desperate attempt to undo at least some of the Windows 8 damage, and struggle to make Microsoft seem relevant in the new mobile computing world.
For now, if you must use Windows, and cannot tolerate Windows 8 even for a little while, you might as well install Windows 7. That, and a multiple desktop utility such as ViruaWin, will deliver a far more compelling experience than any scheme Microsoft has devised for its new operating systems.
You see, it's still very much about productivity. The enterprise isn't buying Windows boxes to have employees gush over live tiles and cartoon-inspired artwork. They care first and foremost about productivity, predictability and reliability. That's where Windows 8 failed. While Windows 10 certainly makes a solid effort at a fixer-upper, it may not be enough for some, particularly those tempted to switch to a Mac.
In short, I agree with my friend, commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, that Microsoft definitely seems to have out of ideas.
THE FINAL WORD
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