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  • Newsletter Issue #512

    September 20th, 2009

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Mac users link to think of their computers as extremely reliable, and that's no doubt true in most cases. However, there are situations where weird component defects do occur, and Apple has on occasion established extended repair programs to accommodate those issues.

    Over the years, such parts as power supplies and batteries have been covered for periods of several years after the original purchase date, even if the original warranty or AppleCare has expired. The lingering question is whether the SuperDrive in a number of Intel-based Macs may be next.

    Indeed, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS, talked about this particular issue, involving all sorts of strange symptoms, usually involving the inability to read some disc media, but not others. Whether a CD or DVD, or a specific form of either, it is damned peculiar. To be fair, Adam also suggested that it could be software related as well. So the mystery persists.

    Cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, held forth on such topics as Microsoft's Zune HD digital media player and how the Flip Video, a miniature camcorder, might fare now that the iPod nano also has a built-in camcorder.

    You also learned why a surprising number of businesses have no presence on the Internet when we introduced Oliver Mauss, CEO of 1&1 Internet. In passing, during the preinterview process, Oliver told me that he had spent some time in New York while growing up. Although he lives and works for a German-owned company, his English is flawless. I wish I could do as well in another language -- any language.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, veteran and highly-prolific paranormal author and lecturer Brad Steiger, author of the new book,"Real Vampires, Night Stalkers and Creatures from the Darkside,"Place your order today! returns to The Paracast to speak about frightening encounters with evil entities 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." We've also added a selection of special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    SHOULD MICROSOFT STOCKHOLDERS REQUEST A REFUND?

    It's a sure thing that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is one filthy rich dude. He could walk away from Microsoft tomorrow and have untold millions of dollars with which to live in the lap of luxury for the rest of his life, even if that exceeds 110.

    I suppose one might envy such a position, but I'd rather look at the situation from the practical standpoint. Has Ballmer's tenure meant good things for Microsoft and are the company's stockholders getting their money's worth?

    My feeling is that the answer is a resounding no!

    Take a look, for example, at Microsoft's stock price in recent years. Sure, Wall Street has had a topsy-turvy existence, particularly as a result of the recent economic crisis around the world. However, using a basic five-year history, Microsoft's stock price has been stuck in a fairly narrow range as stock prices go. I suppose that's not a bad thing for investors who've seen their investments consigned to toilet status, but what about the world's largest software company's prospects for long-term growth.

    Therein lies a tale, and I rather suspect Ballmer has lots of explaining to do.

    In the past year, for example, Microsoft has seen its first drop in sales since the 1980s. Sure, their core product line, consisting of Windows, productivity software and server software, remains incredibly profitable. But they have a harder and harder time growing the market. The blame the PC market as a whole, but that hasn't stopped Apple, right?

    Windows Vista, for example, while it didn't actually lose money, was late to market and a pathetic underperformed by most estimates. Recast with some interface tweaks as Windows 7, Microsoft is trying to fool its customers into believing that Vista's successor is a brand new, precedent-setting release, rather than just a glorified Service Pack.

    It's also clear that Microsoft is pulling out all the stops to boost sales. Recently, they began to offer students a $29.99 upgrade so long as they can prove they're students. The price certainly appears to be based on the $29 upgrade fee for Snow Leopard, although I suppose Microsoft could claim that it's an "innovative" offer. Right, sure!

    Regardless, having a fire sale on a product yet to be released clearly indicates that Microsoft is nervous about the prospects for Windows 7. And they should be, since there is no guarantee that businesses will be any more eager to upgrade now than they were with Windows Vista.

    Understand, gentle reader, that I am not about to suggest that Windows 7 is necessarily a bad operating system. Indeed, if you can believe some of the preliminary reviews, it's certainly faster and more stable than Vista. How could it be worse? At the same time, it's not at all certain if the performance level matches Windows XP. Some reports say it's equal or better, others disagree.

    However, the truth won't be clear until the final version of the product is shipping and can be tested on a variety of systems by a variety of reviewers. You don't know, for example, whether some of those reviews were written after the software was tested on specially-tweaked PCs supplied by Microsoft to eager tech writers. Or perhaps they just rewrote the company's basic set of talking points.

    Beyond the operating system universe, Microsoft hasn't had it so good. The Xbox 360 hasn't seen a major upgrade in a while, just minor refinements. It doesn't seem to have overcome its reputation for a high percentage of failures either. It's unfortunate, for example, that the media didn't properly investigate why Microsoft had to set aside over a billion dollars with which to replace defective units. It seems as if the story came and went with nary a follow-up.

    Certainly, Microsoft's stockholders ought to be extremely concerned.

    Then there's the Zune music player which, despite Microsoft's best efforts, is presently consigned to a 1.1% share of the market. Few want them, even though they are surely decent products. To be sure, the Zune HD has garnered some pretty favorable reviews. From an OLED screen to a built-in HD radio, it has some nice capabilities.

    Yes, I have a few questions about the longevity of the current state of OLED screens, how well they function in bright light, and whether anyone cares about that new radio format, which has yet to take off. In case you haven't read much about it, HD radio is basically a digital version of regular AM and FM. AM audio quality is close to that of present day analog FM, and the FM variation is said to come real close to CD. That's well and good, but the real question is whether anyone truly cares.

    In the scheme of things, the Zune HD can equal or exceed the iPod touch, with which it directly competes, and still go nowhere. There are little or no apps for it, and the sprawling App Store is perhaps the main attraction for Apple's pocket computer.

    On the long haul, Microsoft has to consider where it truly wants to go and the best way to get there. It's perfectly understandable that they'd want to expand beyond operating systems, server software and application suites, but the going has been extremely rough. Maybe they just need to clean out the executive suite and get the house in order.

    Someone once said the buck stops here, and it's right to hold the CEO's feet to the fire when the company he runs encounters serious problems. For the sake of Microsoft's stockholders and employees, it's time to show Steve Ballmer the door.

    SOLVING THE MATH DILEMMA

    This surely dates me, but I was editing and publishing a small magazine over 30 years ago. In my quest to transition from an old-fashioned typewriter to traditional typesetting, I made an arrangement with the assistant superintendent of a local school system. This deal called for me to do some work for him as compensation. The part-time gig meant that I had to set up special teaching modules that had loads of math figures.

    Now I have to tell you that the primitive setup I used in those days was all right for text, but when it came to equations, all bets were off. We had to use a special typeface, with a keyboard chart at hand to sort things out. Then the output had to be manually pasted in position with the test that surrounded it, and that required the sort of precision that made the task time-consuming. It's not as if I could be considered a graphic designer then or now. These days, I still classify myself as a dabbler that knows enough to be dangerous, but tries not to stretch the boundaries.

    Over the years such word processors as Word came with equation editors that, more or less, integrated the equations with your text content. But such little add-on apps sometimes caused more trouble than they resolved.

    That takes us to InfoLogic's MathMagic lineup, a comprehensive collection of Mac and PC apps that are designed to greatly simplify the task of adding equations to your documents.

    The $69 MathMagic Personal Edition is the one that suits for most users except people in the business of preparing lengthy documents loaded with lots of equations. It's designed to work with your favorite word processor, Apple Keynote, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress.

    You build your equations in a relatively straightforward graphical user interface, and then you can, depending on the target app, copy and paste or export your work to its final destination.

    Although the equation building process is fairly simple, bear in mind that MathMagic isn't performing calculations for you. It's just an editing app, where you enter the exact figures and symbols you need. Now I don't pretend to be a math genius, nor do I play on on TV, but, recalling the labors of 30 years ago, I found MathMagic incredibly simple to use and quite compatible with the various Pages and QuarkXPress documents I created.

    If your needs extend to serious-level desktop publishing, there's also a $499 Pro Edition available in special versions that provide direct integration for either InDesign or QuarkXPress. But that's strictly for professional use, and it's a good idea to examine the features yourself to see which direction you want to take. Surely if you do lots of publications that require heavy use of math, the solution has already been made for you.

    When you visit InfoLogic's site, you'll be able to download a demo version of the app you want to try and, yes, the latest Personal and Pro editions are compatible with Snow Leopard. As you might expect, students are eligible for a academic discounts.

    In the end, creating math documents is pretty much always going to require extra work. While I won't say MathMagic is a simple route to the equation dilemma, it is certainly a whole lot easier than most solutions I've tried. It's definitely worth a download so you can decide for yourself if it suits your needs, but I expect it will.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #512”

    1. dfs says:

      If we're going to talk about math programs, let's say a kind word about Unicode, one of the great unsung developments in computing in the past decade. Only possible because for once Apple and Microsoft fully cooperated on adopting the same standards, Unicode means a.) any modern OS comes with one or more pre-installed polytonic fonts (Lucida Grande and Times New Roman on the Mac) that contains a range of math symbols; b.) documents containing these symbols can be exchanged between different platforms, and c.) documents containing these symbols can be included in Web pages and read by almost all modern browsers (IE is still a bit glitchy on the PC and the most recent IE for Mac is not Unicode friendly). Same for non-Roman alphabets, musical symbols, typographical features like curly quotes and em-dashes, etc. etc. etc. All of this is behind-the-scenes stuff, and the computer press has never really cottoned on to what an important step forward this has been for computing. If you want to get an idea of what Unicode can do, go to Character Viewer and nose around for a couple of minutes, it might very well blow you away.

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    2. Universe says:

      I know I can not live without Unicode in this Global village era and there is no doubt Unicode is a great invention.
      Unicode code area, however, still does not cover many scientific symbols and other glyphs. And Math equations are more than just typing strange looking symbols. Variable length Bars, symbols, scripts, the positions of each component should be handled correctly by its notation, and that is why we still have to rely on a special solution.
      Developing a set of Unicode font is not a simple job anymore. It can not be done by a few freelancer designers. And those glyphs in several ready made Unicode fonts are simply not acceptable for publishing by professional designers/publishers. Too ugly.

      MathMagic, MathType, MathEQ, Microsoft Equation Editor and other 3rd party formula editors still see its needs and market, as Mathematica, Maple, MathLab have their own role and presence over decades.

      Although MathType has been #1 in this category for many years, MathMagic wins in terms of the equation quality and feature set and it looks MathMagic extends its presence to the end user market more aggressively these days.
      It is great to see more products.

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