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  • Newsletter Issue #511

    September 13th, 2009

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Some of the media pundits who covered last week's special Apple event probably came back seriously disappointed at the new product introductions, though they were mostly predictable. The lone exception may have been that "one last thing," the camcorder capability for the iPod nano. No, it may not give the company building Flip Video conniptions at first glance, but you also shouldn't forget that only two million of those diminutive camcorders were sold during the last two year. Apple will sell far more nanos in a single quarter.

    However, let's not forget the iPod nano's video capabilities are simple and straightforward, and it's a sure thing a Flip Video can take superior pictures and provide more features; there's even an HD version for not much more money. However a fair portion of the potential customers for such a product just won't care, and that is going to hurt all the companies who make cheap point and shoot video cameras.

    In any case, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, we concentrated heavily on Apple's special media event, where Steve Jobs returned to host the affair. As most of you know, the bill of materials included refreshes to the iPod lineup, iTunes 9 and iPhone 3.1.

    Along to help separate the real from the fanciful was author and commentator Kirk McElhearn and noted industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group. In addition, Ross discussed the sales trends in the consumer electronics industry, and that includes PCs, high definition TVs and Blu-ray.

    We also introduced a new friend to the show, Michelle Greer of Namecheap, who explained the ins and outs of registering your domain and hosting your site. Michelle also explored some of the more outrageous claims in the hosting industry.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, we present paranormal researcher Jason Offutt, author of "Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,"and "Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me-State's Most Spirited Spots."

    Coming September 20: Veteran and highly-prolifict paranormal author and lecturer Brad Steiger returns to The Paracast to speak about life after death, vampires, stalkers and other frightening creatures of the night.

    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." You can get them for $14.95, each, plus shipping, and you can select from most popular sizes.

    IF THEY GIVE IT AWAY, THEY'LL STILL COMPLAIN!

    To put things into perspective, perhaps the biggest complaint many critics level against Microsoft is the fact that most everything they build leans heavily on proprietary technologies. For other companies to use those technologies, such as being able to link with Exchange servers, a license must be obtained, and money must change hands. Yes, there are often open source alternatives, but they aren't always reliable, nor do they fully support all the features.

    Apple decided to take the official route, and that's how they managed to add Exchange support for the iPhone and Snow Leopard. Sure, Microsoft didn't do it just to be nice. They did it because of the great American dollar, and Apple was evidently happy to pay the piper to make their products more acceptable in the enterprise.

    Perhaps this is the best form of business. A willing buyer purchases a product or service from a willing vendor for a fairly negotiated price. I'll presume for the sake of argument that the price was indeed fair.

    Over the years, though, Microsoft has gotten the well-deserved rap for wanting to own everything, or as close to everything  as possible. They once even tried to corner the media player market, as most of you know, but we have iTunes and QuickTime, with probably more copies on Windows boxes than Macs. And we all know they both ship standard on the latter.

    From the standpoint of Microsoft's way of doing business, owning everything is right and proper, as is complete domination of every market they enter. Well, at least that's what they want, but, beyond the PC market, they've failed miserably in their efforts achieve those goals. Indeed, Apple claims that Microsoft's Zune player holds a mere 1.1% of the market; Apple has earned (yes earned) 73.8%. And it wasn't accomplished via bait and switch either.

    As far as Apple is concerned, they get the same criticisms, but they're not always deserved. Yes, the Mac OS is only designed to run on genuine Macs -- although there's a growing cottage industry to support hacking it to work on generic Windows boxes. However, the operating system itself is actually built upon a vast foundation of open source software.

    So, for example, your Mac includes Apache's world famous Web server app, MySQL, PHP and countless others. All of these products were created and are maintained under open source licenses, which means that tens of thousands of developers from around the world will contribute updates, bug fixes, security fixes and so forth and so on. Quite often the security updates Apple posts from time to time consist to a large extent of fixes to those free apps that exist in the belly of Mac OS X.

    At the same time, Apple is surprisingly active in giving back to the open source community. WebKit, the rendering engine for Safari, is also freely used by Google for their Chrome browser, their Android mobile OS and their forthcoming desktop OS. The new OpenCL standard, which allows Snow Leopard to offload functions to the graphics processor, is also an open standard that others can license.

    Just the other day, the main technology behind Grand Central Dispatch, the new 10.6 capability that greatly simplifies the task of harnessing the power of multicore processors, was made open source. What this means is that other Unix operating systems -- and even Linux -- will be able to take advantage of many of those same capabilities. And they won't have to pay Apple a penny to employ and, in fact, enhance those tools.

    The potential for this is huge. Although Mac OS X Server does nicely in a limited market, the vast majority of Internet servers use the Apache Web server app. Those servers are very much glorified PCs, using the same multicore processors from AMD and Intel that are found in regular personal computers. All the recent versions have multicore processors, which means there's a huge potential that they'll soon be able to operate more efficiently and handle far greater workloads without protesting.

    However, you can bet that some devoted Microsoft followers are desperately trying to spin these new developments as something evil. How dare Apple distribute its technology freely to anyone who wants it? This is all part and parcel of the vicious plot by Steve Jobs to take over the world. Free? Aren't there strings attached? Does that mean that everyone who wants to set up a Web server must buy a Mac?

    Well, maybe Apple would like to see that happen. It would surely boost sales for the Xserve, but that doesn't for a moment mean that it's going to happen anytime soon. There's a huge market out there for Linux and Unix servers built by the major PC makers, plus products from specialty companies, such as the Supermicro server that hosts these sites. That's not going to disappear. If anything, they will all benefit against the common enemy -- Microsoft -- as more and more server-side applications take advantage of the new capabilities that Apple has released into the wild.

    As far as Mac users are concerned, it will also mean that more and more developers might indeed build software designed to take advantage of Snow Leopard. Today, 10.6 is, at best, a hair snappier than its predecessor under most circumstances. But Apple didn't invest a bundle into developing all these technologies without expecting some sort of future payback.

    No, not this month or the next, but within the next year, you may very well see some of the most powerful Mac applications become a whole lot faster. But only on a Mac! The Windows versions will gain no advantage, and that has to be driving Microsoft crazy, along with their devoted followers.

    CAN YOU BELIEVE THOSE FAKE CLAIMS?

    As you know, I've been complaining about that alleged new Premier Plus broadband service offered by Cox Communications, which promises download speeds of up to 28 megabits. My problem is that, after spending $99 for a new modem to support the DOCSIS 3.0 cable standard to allow for that extra capability, my download speeds actually went down slightly.

    Yes, Cox has, with some protest, granted me a $20 per month credit until they actually introduce genuine support for the faster speeds the new cable standards promise. However, I wonder about other customers who upgraded and are finding little or no difference in their download speeds. Yes, uploads are somewhat faster, but not enough to justify the extra expense.

    I could take the conspiratorial viewpoint and suggest that Cox knows that only a small fraction of their user base will notice or care. I am not attacking anyone's intelligence here. It's just that most people have better things to do than measure Internet download performance and complain if things aren't up to par. In fact, if they do complain, they'll get the typical explanation that such guarantees always use the phrase "up to." That's the common excuse for subpar speeds. Be happy that you get 75% of that on a consistent basis.

    Those of you who have followed our recent newsletters will recall that I actually went through several layers of support and had several technicians visit my home before the truth was revealed -- that they sold me a service they couldn't provide, but they claim to be working on it.

    More recently, I spoke with someone who sells Cox cable to housing developments, one who represents the one in which I reside, and he promised some action. Well, he hasn't returned my calls since then, and Cox's PR department ignored my email, so they deserve what they get.

    If there was only a viable competitor, but not in my neighborhood. Cox already lost the TV portion of my services with them, by making false claims about the availability high definition channels. Then, when I ordered up DirecTV, they screwed up the installation visit, and thus lost my business, which went to Dish Network. Well, I did save a small amount of money, but the claims of vast price differences between cable and the two satellite systems available here are highly exaggerated. Juggle a feature here, subtract one there, add something else and the differences end up being insignificant.

    Then again, I suppose I should consider myself lucky. There are places in this country where broadband is an unfulfilled dream, and satellite TV isn't possible because the residents live on the wrong side of the mountain, or adjacent to a forest that lacks a proper unobstructed view. Cable TV may be absent as well, although a community antenna might exist that amplifies the signal of distant stations. But wasn't that what cable TV was meant to do originally?

    One might hope that the FCC will be a little more eager to examine the claims made by these service providers, and the wireless phone carriers as well. It's not that I like to see the U.S. government get involved in every little thing, but when industries can't watch their own behavior, they need a little spanking We all do sometimes, right?

    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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