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  • Newsletter Issue #469

    November 23rd, 2008

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    It's not often that we can combine an industry representative with our favorite imaging expert. But that happened on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where our featured guests included Frederick Johnson, product marketing manager for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. We were also joined in the discussion by our Special Correspondent, David Biedny.

    Since David is world-famous on all matters related to digital photography, this was a fascinating segment indeed. I dealt with the basics, and then David hit hard on the areas where he felt Adobe Photoshop Lightroom might fall short. Frederick came across as sympathetic, though certainly toeing the company line. But he promised that at least some of the features David wanted were being actively considered for a future version of the program.

    Now that Apple has released Safari 3.2 for the Mac and PC with significant security updates, researcher Rich Mogull came onboard to provide his fearless evaluation. He wasn't too thrilled by Safari's new phishing protection, but we both agreed that any improvement is better than no improvement at all.

    In another segment on the show, Ross Howe, from mStation and Mophie, discussed the company's flagship and world-famous iPhone battery expansion gadget, the "juice pack." What's that? Well it happens to be a case for the iPhone and iPhone 3G that contains a powerful battery that can provide twice the life of their internal power sources. The Mophie juice pack has been highly praised not only in the tech press, but by Time and other mainstream publications. So we're waiting patiently for our review sample.

    You also met Brian Floe, who runs MyAppleSpace.com, a site that refers to itself "a little space for the rest of us." Brian, talking to us from his office in Denmark, said he was influenced in developing his site by MySpace, but he felt he had gone a lot further to make it more friendly to loyal Mac users.

    On The Paracast this week, three of the ghost-hunting authors of the "America's Haunted Roadtrip" series -- John Kachuba, L'Aura Hladik and Michael Varhola -- take you on a fascinating tour to discover haunted houses around the country. You'll also learn about some of the personal experiences that inspired them to begin their various quests.

    ANNOUNCING THE NIGHT OWL'S MICROSOFT DEATH WATCH

    Do you think maybe I'm being a little too lurid with this headline? As they said in that classic movie, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a…" Well, you get the picture, but in this case, I am quite serious. I think Microsoft is in serious trouble, more so because they are so flushed with high profits that their executives won't face the truth.

    Certainly, it's hard to think of a company with a number one market position as beleaguered or facing eventual demise. Then again, with the current economic crisis taking down giants in the financial industry, you can bet that a company's fortunes can quickly change, sometimes unexpectedly.

    In Microsoft's case, perhaps their failed ads featuring Bill Gates and comic Jerry Seinfeld reflect the mindset of Steve Ballmer and other key executives. They want to return to the glorious days of the 1990s, when Microsoft could do nothing wrong, and was conquering competitors right and left.

    Unfortunately, the world has changed, and Microsoft's efforts to adapt haven't been too successful. Yes, I suppose they do reasonably well with the Xbox game console series, but even that product segment isn't necessarily profitable, since Microsoft sells the product line at a loss, hoping to regain that cash with game sales.

    This isn't to say that Microsoft hasn't remained a fearsome, formidable competitor. Certainly, any time they enter a product segment, they are viewed with respect. But when they venture beyond their core competencies -- such as they are -- in operating systems, server-side software and office suites, their success hasn't been at all certain.

    Surely the message ought to have been obvious when MSN attempted to compete with AOL in the last decade. They never came close to matching AOL's huge membership numbers. In addition, they barely made a blip in the Mac platform, where AOL held forth before making the big move to Windows.

    Of course, that opportunity is long ago and far away, as only discount dialups such as NetZero appear to be prospering these days. Even then I'm only guessing as to how well they're doing, since cheap broadband doesn't cost a whole lot more, if you buy a basic package. And of course, if you live in an area where broadband is available.

    When it comes to the Zune, Microsoft's efforts have continued to fail. They succeeded with a "good enough" philosophy when it came to Windows, so they felt they could get away with that ploy in the world of consumer electronics. Bad idea.

    Do you even know that Microsoft updated the Zune product line earlier this year and cut the prices recently? Do you even care? Clearly not enough people do, and Microsoft seems to believe that if they continue providing an 80% solution, imitating the iPod of two years ago, they might some day catch up.

    But Microsoft's biggest problem these days is not their ongoing failures in other markets. Although you can probably number the sales of Windows Vista in the hundreds of millions, it is widely perceived as a huge failure. Vista is perceived as slow, buggy, and bloated, and millions of PC users still want to buy new computers and roll back the operating system to XP.

    Sure, Microsoft's corporate communications continues to attempt to put the best spin on the whole situation, and it is surely true that their profit margins still remain exceedingly high. However, these days they really want to prepare you for Windows 7, supposedly a leaner, meaner operating system that will cure Vista's ills and get them back in the ballgame again.

    Maybe the businesses who have ignored Vista will think better of its successor. Maybe they won't. But certainly businesses are also looking for alternatives more and more these days. Linux is credible for servers, and more and more Macs are being considered for regular office use.

    Worse, the current economic climate has apparently stalled PC sales, except for Apple,. which appears to be doing surprisingly well. That will only result in a continuing reduction, even if small, in the Windows market share.

    The key problem Microsoft faces here, however, is one of attitude. Steve Ballmer's incoherent rants are not taken seriously very often these days. Unless he gets a fast dose of reality, he risks taking down the company over the long haul; that is, unless he is soon replaced by people who can quickly adapt to the world of the 21st century.

    But until or unless that happens, I'm convinced Microsoft is on a long path to eventual destruction.

    IPHONE 2.2: SO FAR, SO GOOD

    If you can believe what a certain Mac troubleshooting site and some individuals are reporting, Apple's iPhone 2.2 update, released early Friday morning, should be causing your phone to smoke.

    Well, at least that's the impression I get from reading that silly stuff. But my experience has, like most other iPhone users, been quite favorable. Maybe Apple didn't add all the features for which some are clamoring, but many of the key application-related instabilities and phone-related connectivity issues have been largely resolved.

    Certainly, the new Google street level view is compelling, particularly the first time you use it. I'm less pleased with sticking both the URL address bar and search bar on the same line in Safari. Sure, when you click on either, they expand to fill the full width of the screen, but otherwise this is an interface change that is less successful.

    Perhaps the most significant improvement, though, is the "decrease in call setup failures and dropped calls."

    As much as AT&T advertises more bars and a freedom from dropped calls in its ads, the facts have traditionally been otherwise. The iPhone, and the iPhone G3 that replaced it here, weren't immune, but each successive software update has made the ability to make calls and sustain them more and more reliable.

    There are also more bars, at least in my traveling area, which means that signal strength has improved or the iPhone has become more sensitive. Or perhaps both. Certainly, the inevitable transition from EDGE to 3G and back again still occurs occasionally, but I've not seen a loss of a phone call as a result.

    Indeed, during my various excursions Friday and the weekend, I never had difficulty placing or receiving a call, and the only disconnection I encountered was the result of my wife pushing a button on our landline phone by mistake while attempting to talk and clean the handset at the same time. Barbara also tells me that my voice sounds cleaner and crisper, a clear indication that audio quality has been enhanced too, although that improvement is not specifically stated in Apple's description of the 2.2 update.

    This isn't to say the iPhone is perfect. Cut, copy and paste are still missing in action, and while Google's new voice-activated search app is nifty, it doesn't make sense that you can't dial by voice too. The once-touted push notification feature was reportedly dropped from earlier iPhone software betas. So, while it was promised for September, it's actual delivery date remains uncertain.

    But that's not the critical issue. What is significant is the fact that, ahead of the introduction of the highly-touted BlackBerry Storm, Apple has simply raised the bar even further. Yes, perhaps the Storm will do quite well for Verizon Wireless, the sole U.S. carrier stocking RIM's new smartphone, but I think the iPhone 3G will do better -- a lot better. Heck, the Storm doesn't even have Wi-Fi.

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #469”

    1. Al says:

      Yup Microsoft is in trouble. Vista is to Microsoft what SUVs were to GM. They were profitable in their day but the profits prevented management from properly seeing and preparing for the future.

      What MS needs to do that GM never did is to win their customers all over again by completely retooling their product line from the ground up, replacing the obsolete with cutting edge technology. For GM it was inefficient iron-block, push-rod, twin valve engines and non-independent rear suspensions. (They did finally start to catch but about 20 years after the Japanese and Europeans switched over.)

      For Microsoft it's the DOS-Windows bloatware. They've been relying on hardware getting cheaper so they can paper over Windows' problems with brute computing power. I think there's a limit to how much one can do that. Eventually Windows will become so complex that it will get bogged down on its own weight no matter how much brute computing force is applied to it.

      It takes courage to chuck the seemingly easy money offered by a customer base locked in by legacy apps but a tech company that doesn't realize that products in their industry will inevitably become obsolete is a tech company without a future.

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