THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE
My, my, how cynical we are. Last week, I suggested the possibility that the brief flare up over Apple Music, with songstress Taylor Swift complaining about the lack of royalties during the 90-day free trial period, and Apple’s quick capitulation, was a put-up job. It was designed to boost interest in the service ahead of the June 30th launch.
Well, I wasn’t alone. Wired magazine came up with a similar suggestion, though I took it less seriously.
Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. On the agenda was his conspiracy theory about Apple Music and the brief dustup with top-selling artist Taylor Swift. You also heard his speculations about the next Apple TV, Apple’s ongoing support for Macs and a brief discussion about whether Apple’s commitment to Intel lessens the possibility of using ARM processors on the Mac.
Again, I’m not necessarily saying that the Apple Music controversy was all a fake. But wasn’t the timing awfully convenient?
You’ll also heard from prolific tech author Joe Kissell, who recounted 11 “stupid” backup methods and why you should avoid them. Joe’s list included Apple’s Time Machine, which he says has been the source of occasional problems that halt the process and require you to backup everything from scratch. He also presented a reality check about the state of security on the Mac, with a focus on issues with Adobe Flash and Oracle’s Java, and whether you should consider buying security software.
In case you’re wondering, my backup routine got a thumbs up from Joe. It consists of a clone backup, using Carbon Copy Cloner, to an external drive, and a Time Machine backup to a second external drive. Offsite backups are done via CrashPlan. The combo offers the right degree of redundancy, and I’m reasonably well protected in case this whole office comes crashing down, or all my stuff is stolen.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present everyone’s favorite UFO historian, Richard Dolan. We focus heavily on listener questions about such subjects as the history of UFOs and other aspects of the phenomenon. We briefly cover his decision to participate in the recent Cinco de Mayo dustup, which we refer to as Slidegate or the “topic that shall not be named.” During this episode, Dolan also focuses on the state of UFO research, reverse engineering alleged alien technology, so-called breakaway civilizations, the schemes skeptics use to debunk UFOs, and his upcoming book about so-called “false flags” and how they influenced our history. He’ll also respond to a listener question about what he’d do if he had $100 million with which to investigate the mystery.
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THE WINDOWS 10 REPORT: LESS THAN YOU EXPECT
Microsoft went into Windows 10 with low expectations from the public. After the Windows 8 debacle, just about anything would present an improvement. Indeed, the key feature of the forthcoming Windows refresh appears to be the return of a fully-enabled Start menu. The word “pathetic” comes to mind, that a feature mistakenly removed (or at least delivered with reduced functions) becomes a significant reason to upgrade to Windows 10.
I wouldn’t presume to guess how Microsoft’s executives, some of whom are no longer with the company, could have so misjudged the public when Windows 8 was being developed. Even after people who downloaded the public beta versions complained, it doesn’t seem as if Microsoft read the memo. They were so immersed in giving Windows PCs a look similar to the one that didn’t catch on with Windows Phone gear, that the warning signs just weren’t heard.
The most profitable portion of the Windows user base consists of businesses. IT people do not want to be surprised, and Microsoft is still confronting the reality that hundreds of millions of PCs, ATMs and point-of-sale devices are still running Windows XP. That includes at least some of the computers at the IRS, although the agency paid Microsoft $30 million last year for extended support past the announced deadline.
When I took Barbara for treatment for her broken knee, I noticed doctors offices still running systems dependent on Windows XP.
The key is that Windows uses in the enterprise are not quick to embrace change. Windows 7 succeeded by taking the tried-and-true features of Microsoft’s OS, cleaning up performance and security, and adding essential improvements. Even after Windows 8 arrived, many companies who bought new PCs had them downgraded to Windows 7.
That is Microsoft’s key audience, and it explains the whys and wherefores of the feature changes in Windows 10. In addition to restoring a proper Start menu, there’s a virtual desktop feature, similar to Spaces on OS X, and a windows management feature highly influenced by OS X’s Mission Control. These are important features for businesses users who want to be more productive.
So consider Windows 8 an aberration, more so than Windows Vista. Coming during what some regard as the Post-PC era, where people are relying more on more and smartphones and tablets, you can see the pressure Microsoft confronted. It doesn’t explain the wrong-headed decisions, but the motives were obvious.
The response? Well, to some degree it might be confusing, even before you get to the changes in Windows 10. Take the upgrade policy. Despite a few contradictory statements, it appears to me that, if you join the public beta program known as Windows Insider, and install prerelease versions, you’l have no problems whatever in getting the final release on or after July 29. Indeed, a month ahead of that release, it appears you can still sign up for Windows Insider.
Supposedly even those of you who have installed Windows from unofficial sources will get an upgrade, even though Microsoft bloggers and executives have used weasel words about activation and such. In the end, consumers represent a tiny fraction of Microsoft’s Windows revenue, low single digits, so the loss in giving people free operating system upgrades is not significant. After all, Apple gives away operating systems at no charge, so this attitude makes sense. But Apple also makes the lion’s share of profits from hardware. Microsoft’s hardware revenue, other than the Xbox, isn’t significant.
However, Microsoft hasn’t made the paid upgrade options any simpler either. There’s a $119 Home version, and a $199 Pro version. If you want to upgrade to Pro after buying Home, it’s $99. Don’t even ask me to explain the disparity, or why it’s even necessary to have different versions. However, consumers running Windows 7 or Windows 8/8.1 are eligible for free upgrades. The vast numbers who are still using Windows XP have to pay full price. That’s surely not a way to get them to leave an operating system first released in 2001.
The rest of the pricing is just too convoluted to attempt to summarize. There are enterprise versions and OEM versions, with all sorts of upgrade options depending on the licensing scheme at a company, and Microsoft has only made the situation all the more confusing. Sure, I realize they cannot give everyone out there a free upgrade. But sensible and consistent pricing would attract more upgraders.
As it is, I am reasonably certain that lots of people who were saddled with Windows 8 will be happy to move on to Windows 10. I’ll get to more details in a moment, but my experience has shown that Windows 10 is eminently usable, and will not confound those who are accustomed to Windows 7 and earlier versions. Microsoft has made sensible decisions, though the garish colors and cartoonish artwork just lack taste, particularly when compared to Apple’s choices in OS X.
I don’t even care that much that Microsoft borrowed some features from OS X and other operating systems. Indeed, the Split View in OS X El Capitan and iOS 9 aren’t original either. Recent Windows users already have a side-by-side apps feature, and Microsoft made a huge deal of it several years ago in a large TV advertising campaign.
Still, there are some curious decisions. Rather than just do a major upgrade to Internet Explorer, Microsoft is pulling a shave and haircut stunt all over again. It involves refreshing an app or service and giving it a new name as if it’s something totally different. Bing is one of the key examples in recent years.
Yes, IE is still present in the Windows 10 betas, but it’s now accompanied by the browser formerly known as Project Spartan, which becomes Edge. I’m not enamored with the name, since there’s nothing cutting edge about it, although that phrase is the clear inspiration. To me, it brings to mind a wrestler and a rock star, not a browser. I’ve played with Edge and IE, back and forth, and haven’t noticed any discernible difference in performance, though I’ll grant there are loads of under-the-hood changes.
No doubt Microsoft is trying to respond to the fact that IE isn’t well liked. While the severe performance, compatibility and security bugs have been mostly massaged out of the app, a huge number of Windows users have moved on to Chrome and Firefox. Since Safari is no longer being updated to Windows, it just gets a decreasing market share. Opera is still a presence, but the user base is small.
Long and short of it, however, is that it really doesn’t matter. I do not spend huge amounts of time in the Windows world, and I use Parallels Desktop on my Mac to get there. But Windows 10’s performance is perfectly decent. Apps launch at satisfactory speeds, and the OS boots and restarts without undue delays. The startup and shut down screens continue to flaunt the Windows 8 look, however.
Indeed, having an operating system that’s not offensive, and offers features that are useful to customers, particularly those in the business world, is a good thing. Microsoft may have gotten there out of desperation, but I wouldn’t have any problem recommending that Windows uses upgrade. That assumes there aren’t major show stoppers in the initial release, but navigating back and forth with different apps and functions didn’t reveal any crashes or eccentric behavior.
For Microsoft, not putting off customers, and delivering reliable performance, is a real positive. But I still don’t think it’ll spur large numbers of businesses to switch from Windows 7. It will take time for system admins to test Windows 10 for compatibility and security issues. While early adopters will grab it up on Day One, it may take a few years for a substantial percentage of the enterprise to join them.
As to Windows XP, Microsoft ought to devise some easy upgrade scheme that preserves data and settings. While it doesn’t necessarily have to be a free upgrade, a limited time offer at a reduced price might encourage some companies to make the switch. Of course, they are also depending on apps and app licenses that may be costly to upgrade to support a later version of Windows.
I am also encouraged by the progress Microsoft has made in developing the Office for Mac 2016 beta. There are periodic bug and feature updates, and I have been using Word 2016 with most of my word processing documents without any trouble whatever. Again, I’m not enamored at the dark, garish color schemes and poorly organized ribbon toolbars, but I’ve come to accept most of these defects, although with some difficulty.
THE FINAL WORD
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