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  • Newsletter Issue #404

    August 26th, 2007

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    On this week's all-star episode The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl once again explored the nearly two-month-old iPhone with Macworld Senior Editor Christopher Breen, who is in the final stages of preparing a book on the subject. Chris also voiced his concerns about the new version of iMovie, which has had a mixed reception.

    In another segment, we returned to "The David Biedny Zone," where our Special Correspondent discussed technology in Argentina, his personal Apple "war story," and his viewpoint about the major changes in iMovie.

    After listening to these reactions to iMovie '08, you have to wonder where Apple is going with the product. By shedding some of the more professional-caliber tools, and substituting them with features that work better for casual videos and YouTube delivery, some might regard it as a dumbing down of the application. Indeed, a lot more will be said on the topic unless or until Apple makes major changes. However, based on Apple's own published comments, the casual movie maker is indeed the target audience for this upgrade.

    That means, perhaps, that there's room for an application that would exist between iMovie and Final Cut Express in Apple's arsenal.

    As part of a new regular segment on the show, we presented hits and tips on registering your Internet domain from Denis Motova.

    This week on The Paracast, UFO and paranormal investigators T. Allen Greenfield, author of "Secret Cipher of the UFOnauts" and "Secret Rituals of the Men In Black," and Jeff Ritzmann explore the incredible reality behind the occult/paranormal/UFO connection.

    This discussion will focus on these subjects in a way that may offend some of you, yet it will raise fascinating new possibilities to consider for others.

    Coming September 2: Conspiracy theory expert Kenn Thomas, publisher of Steamshovel Press, talks about the real conspiracies and the ones that don't pass the logic test.

    Now in previous weeks, I've presented a sample of my regular commentaries for listeners to The Paracast here, but that's going to change from here on. If you're a listener -- or a potential listener -- to the show, you'll want to subscribe to our weekly issues of The Paracast Newsletter to get more of the same, plus regular information about the show. To sign up, just pay a visit to our Paracast Home Page, enter your email address and click the Subscribe button to join.

    THE WINDOWS GENUINE DISADVANTAGE

    I can sense the responses now from some of you. That crazy Night Owl is going after Microsoft once again, with another unprincipled or at least severe attack. However, this particular commentary doesn't have a whole lot to do with the quality of Microsoft's software. Instead, I'm more concerned with the blatant example of corporate paranoia -- or greed -- that just serves to make people more upset with the company.

    Now as everyone who has used Windows in recent years knows full well, Microsoft has an online activation feature, a process of registering the software with the company via your Internet connection. If you you fail to activate, the software is mostly or completely crippled within 30 days.

    However, online activation isn't exclusive to the world's largest software company. In fact, Adobe is just as guilty as enforcing a similar process upon its users. So in order to use the Creative Suite, after enduring a lengthy installation, you have to go through this one-time activation process.

    Well, one time unless you happen to move your stuff to another computer, where you have to go through it all over again, although the process is simplified if you deactivate the software, first, on the computer you're leaving behind. But most of you wouldn't remember that critical step -- I know I usually don't.

    To be fair to Adobe, Microsoft and all the other companies that enforce an activation scheme, they have a perfect right to make sure the user license is obeyed and that only legitimate users are running these products. Whether a software company is a huge conglomerate or just one person trying to eke out a living with a shareware application or two, they deserve to get paid. Make no mistake about it.

    So at its very core, some sort of activation mechanism, while sometimes irritating, is understandable. But when it is employed to excess, the customer often ends up as the sacrificial lamb when things go awry.

    That brings us to something Microsoft cooked up that bears the unfortunate name of Windows Genuine Advantage. Whose advantage? Well, Microsoft's, of course, because its sole purpose for being is to make its Windows software contact the company on a regular basis to make sure that you are using real and not pirated product.

    Originally, the software would ping Microsoft's servers every single day. However, when enough people justifiably complained, that was reduced to 14 days or thereabouts. But even that's too frequent.

    You see, once software is activated, that should be the end of it, unless you move it to another computer. Otherwise, it's nearly as intrusive as having the NSA conduct surveillance of domestic phone calls on the pretext that a few might involve terrorists communicating with one another.

    Yes, we all know that there are software pirates out there, ranging from kids with their warez sites to full-blown Internet criminals who earn their bread selling counterfeit products. We know it's wrong, but most people are basically honest and they aren't stealing from Microsoft, even if they don't really like the company.

    So why penalize honest people with these ill-thought intrusions? Worse, what happens if the WGA servers are offline when they are contacted, just as occurred very recently? Do the people whose software phones home at the wrong time find, say, Windows Vista shedding its most obnoxious features until it can be properly reactivated?

    Well, maybe not having Aero eye-candy is a good thing, as it's apt to speed up Vista's tepid performance tremendously. In passing, isn't it interesting that the best some people could say about Vista benchmarking is that its performance hits are usually not severe, unless, of course, you enable Aero on a notebook.

    But, as I said, this isn't a Windows bashing party so much as it's an attack on Microsoft's corporate foolishness. Not only do you have to allow WGA to run, it is required for you to receive so-called "critical" updates from Microsoft for Windows and other products, such as security patches.

    Indeed, Windows XP users who wanted to upgrade to the more secure Internet Explorer 7 browser were also forced to install WGA first.

    Now I'm not about to tell Microsoft how to run its business. Its amazing success is considered by some financial pundits to be an example of the true realization of the American dream. But Microsoft is treating its customers more and more these days as the enemy. They are making the very same mistake as the RIAA with its ill-advised lawsuits to fight music piracy.

    In its efforts to control counterfeit software, Microsoft has simply abandoned good sense. Even if you have succeeded in taming Windows to perform adequately for your home or business, the specter of that WGA spyware attack ought to be more than sufficient to convince you to seek out other options.

    Of course, I'd prefer that option to be a Mac. But I have no problem with Linux, which is used to run our Web server.

    As far as Microsoft is concerned, the road to hell is once again paved with good intentions.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: LEAVING THE REST OF THE WORLD BEHIND

    Just the other day, I journeyed into the neighborhood Radio Shack store in search of an AC plug adapter that my son, Grayson, could use so he could recharge his PowerBook during his forthcoming four-month semester in Spain.

    Now, although Grayson has his own apartment -- or at least one he shares with two other students -- he remains close to his parents. So we do want to communicate with him at least occasionally while he is overseas.

    However, his most important option, his wireless phone, won't be of use. Because it has the reputation of providing the best service and the most reliable network, I have been using Verizon Wireless for the past several years, specifically one of their family share plans. However, Verizon's network, CDMA, is incompatible with the GSM system used in most of Europe.

    They do have options, but ones not terribly sensible. You can, for example, rent a world phone for $3.99 a day ($50 deposit) and then pay $1.49 per minute for all calls. Talk about a total rip-off!

    In retrospect, maybe I should have looked towards a world phone, with AT&T or T-Mobile, but even then, overseas roaming would be costly. Lest you forget, even the iPhone -- though recently unlocked by a teen-aged cracker -- isn't officially available outside the USA yet.

    So Grayson is leaving his wireless phone here, and I have upgraded my VoIP plan to include free calls to Europe, which will at least take care of the outgoing connections. He says he'll check on a wireless phone once he arrives at his temporary home with a Spanish family -- part of a sort of student exchange program -- but I don't expect the price will make sense.

    Of course, there's always Skype, so long as he has his PowerBook in hand along with a reliable Internet connection -- or can commandeer one from a fellow student temporarily. Since I'm online virtually all the time nowadays, as is he when he's not in class or working, this should make it possible for regular family conversations.

    Then, of course, there's email.

    In the end, this situation will work out just fine. Grayson is a brilliant young man. He is fluent in Spanish and has traveled around on his own enough to understand the pitfalls of being a stranger in a strange land. Despite all our concerns, he'll come along just fine and dandy, ready for the big welcome home in December.

    Meantime, I have to wonder about the way the mobile phone system was established in the U.S. In the misguided efforts to foster competition, we have wireless phones that cannot talk to each other and, without special software treatment, are usually tethered to a single carrier.

    With billions of dollars invested in sprawling network infrastructures, it's far too late to change the confusing situation. The carriers prefer it that way, because it gives customers fewer choices if they decide to take their business elsewhere.

    As with that tragic Microsoft WGA system, only the customers suffer in the end.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #404”

    1. [...] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. [...]

    2. Dave Barnes says:

      Gene,

      Our daughter just spent 6 months in York, England as part of her junior year.

      Communication options.

      1. Grayson will buy a mobile phone in España which will be inexpensive (€15). Then he will buy a plan from a carrier. The least expensive for low use are "top-up" plans. The plan will also allow for emergency calls back to the USA at about 1 euro/minute.

      2. Skype or iChat will allow voice/picture communication.

      3. iChat for Instant Messaging.

      4. Email.

      It will work just fine and you won't spend a fortune.

      Reply To This Comment

    3. Gene,

      Our daughter just spent 6 months in York, England as part of her junior year.

      Communication options.

      1. Grayson will buy a mobile phone in España which will be inexpensive (€15). Then he will buy a plan from a carrier. The least expensive for low use are "top-up" plans. The plan will also allow for emergency calls back to the USA at about 1 euro/minute.

      2. Skype or iChat will allow voice/picture communication.

      3. iChat for Instant Messaging.

      4. Email.

      It will work just fine and you won't spend a fortune.

      Grayson will definitely take advantage of option one, perhaps with some ability to call the U.S. for short durations.

      Thanks for the suggestions.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Debby Rubin says:

      Most Internet Cafes have Skype installed and have reasonable headphones specifically for use with Skype. All your son needs is a Skype account. This isn't ideal for an emergency but it's cheap for longer chats. The phone he buys in Spain will work for that.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. Most Internet Cafes have Skype installed and have reasonable headphones specifically for use with Skype. All your son needs is a Skype account. This isn’t ideal for an emergency but it’s cheap for longer chats. The phone he buys in Spain will work for that.

      The Skype issue is of little concern. He has a PowerBook, and he can use either that or iChat to do audio contact. I also have a USB-based wireless phone that supports the Skype network, but its transmitter/receiver must be attached to the computer.

      That and the other suggestions made here ought to do the job, I hope. Grayson also has the plug adapter to connect the PowerBook's charger to the European-based receptacles.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

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