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  • Newsletter Issue #534

    February 24th, 2010

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    Macworld Expo 2010 arrived without high expectations. Apple pulled out in 2009, and the conventional wisdom had it that the Expo couldn't possibly continue without them, in a sense mirroring the sad experience with the Boston Expo.

    However, things didn't quite turn out that way. Although the exhibits were confined to a far smaller portion of San Francisco's Moscone Center, reports from the scene indicated enthusiastic crowds and busy vendor booths. More to the point, if the trend continues, Macworld Expo 2011 will be as successful if not more so. Maybe larger exhibitors will return. Microsoft, for example, did participate and made a huge splash when they demonstrated the forthcoming Office 2011 for the Mac. But, no, I do not anticipate Apple's return. They have other priorities.

    Now on last week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we discussed Macworld Expo 2010 and how it fared. You also heard comments about the forthcoming Microsoft Office 2010 for the Mac, which will restore Visual Basic and replace the Entourage email app with a genuine Mac version of Outlook. The iPad and Mac virtual machine software were also front and center.

    Joining us in the spirited discussions this week were: Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, the author of 55 books, including the newly released "Incredible iPhone Apps For Dummies," Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths, and Bill Palmer, editor of the newly revitalized "Beatweek" magazine, formerly iProng.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, UFO experiencer David Andrew reports on a lifetime of sightings and encounters with mysterious creatures. He also has severe criticisms to offer about some of the well-known flying saucer contactees.

    Coming February 28: Gene and special guest co-host Frank Warren are joined by researcher Scott Ramsey to revisit the controversial Aztec, New Mexico UFO crash. Real, fake or something in between?

    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 additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.

    ABOUT CONTROL FROM APPLE AND GOOGLE

    Just the other day, author and columnist Kirk McElhearn said he was going to close his Gmail account. Yes, it's free, so what's the beef? Well, Kirk is extremely concerned about the way Google tracks everything you're doing and delivers targeted ads, hoping you'll click on them and thus boost their revenue.

    I suppose that's not so big a deal, since Google assures us that they are not actually reading your messages or otherwise invading your privacy. Besides, if you buy the premium version of Google Apps, at $50 per user per year, you can opt to ditch the ads in your email. After all, you are giving them guaranteed money in exchange.

    Well, evidently the straw that broke the camel's back when it comes to Google was their decision to enter the social networking fray with their new Buzz feature. Now there's nothing wrong with Google wanting to incorporate the best of AIM, Facebook and Twitter in a single package. If they can succeed at this new venture and deliver value to their visitors and advertisers, all well and good.

    But the people in charge of Google forgot to consider their users, the people who click on those ads and thus keep their cash registers ringing. You see, rather than give you the chance to opt in and decide for yourselves whether to use Buzz, they turned it on for you automatically, at least at the very beginning.

    What this meant is that you'd end up following people you didn't want to follow and people would follow you that you didn't want to know for one reason or another. In theory, that very situation could create serious issues in case you had a business or personal dispute with an individual and you didn't want them to invade your privacy.

    As I said, those "on" buttons are now supposedly switched "off," but I'm very troubled how the unsavory consequences of this sort of behavior somehow eluded Google's management. One hopes they were chastened by the Buzz fiasco, but what's going to happen the next time they take what was clearly a calculated and potentially dangerous risk? How are they going to intrude on your privacy the next time, and should you give them the chance?

    Now I am not quite ready to cancel my Gmail account, or stop using Google's advertising on these sites. They do provide a small amount of income, although their methods of measuring our traffic are highly questionable and do not at all relate to what our own Web logs clearly demonstrate. And I have suggested that my son consider moving his email to our server, to protect his privacy.

    But nothing forces you to use Google's products and services. There are plenty of substitutes that pretty much provide the very same features, and they are also free of charge.

    That takes us to Apple and the frequent complaints that they enforce far too much control, particularly on their mobile platforms. If you want to run legal apps on a legal iPhone, you can go anywhere so long as it's the App Store. Why should they get away with that?

    Now maybe you can say that Apple is just being greedy, since they get a 30% take on every penny you spend on those legal iPhone apps. Problem is that some of those apps are free. The second problem is that Apple's has made it quite clear that they do not make much of a profit from iTunes or the App Store. As most of you know, Apple earns most of its profits from selling hardware, and offering a reliable, integrated system helps fuel those sales.

    More to the point, it also ensures a stable, secure product. You don't have to fret about apps that crash your iPhone, since Apple tests them to make sure they are stable. Not that it's perfect mind you. There are still updates to fix bugs, but the situation is far worse on a desktop Mac or PC.

    It also means that the chances that malware will somehow infect your iPhone are far less. The situation will never be perfect, of course, and certainly if you jailbreak yours, you will make it vulnerable to all sorts of potential security problems. You almost wonder that, if Apple had to do it all again, such a closed ecosystem would have existed for the Mac as well back in 1984, only there was no convenient method then to install and update software via a simple online tool.

    Sure you can talk all you want about Steve Jobs and corporate paranoia. You'd probably be right in many respects, since Apple ought to be more forthcoming about product roadmaps, long-term strategy and so on and so forth. Maybe barring Flash from the iPhone and iPad has a sinister purpose other than to protect you from a resource hungry, bug-prone browser plugin. Or maybe Steve Jobs feels that creating online multimedia content shouldn't be so heavily dependent on a set of proprietary tools that enrich a single company.

    But there's one more thing: When I register my new Apple product, or set up an iTunes account, I know that I won't be subjected to an avalanche of targeted ads in exchange for partaking of their services, at least for now. I also hope that Apple doesn't change their ways and become another Google. There are areas in our online existence where we deserve to be left alone. Too bad Google hasn't learned that message, and maybe they won't change their ways until more people stop using their services.

    BUSINESS EMAIL — THE SEQUEL

    In last week's issue, I made a case for outsourcing your business email to a company that specializes in such services. To recap briefly, managing your own email, whether you run a small company or a large business, can be a royal pain. Keeping tabs on the spam epidemic and rampant malware is extremely difficult, since the onslaught is constant. More to the point, your email may be one of your most important methods of communicating with your customers. You can't afford to get it wrong.

    Yes Web hosts give you loads and loads of email accounts free as part of even the cheapest package. But most are simply no-frills affairs using open source management and spam protection apps. They get the job done, but a single misconfiguration, involving little more than clicking an option or two in the setup panel, can block messages you don't want to be blocked. I know. It's happened to me.

    I have already covered the offerings from Go Daddy, 1&1 Internet and Rackspace Email. While any choice entails some tradeoffs, I concluded that 1&1 Internet offered both an extremely low price and powerful spam filtering, with the only downside being the limitation of 2GB per mailbox and 25GB per account.

    Over the past week, I've tried two more services. One may be the best of all the companies I've tried, whereas the other has serious problems that have yet to be resolved.

    The first, Fusemail, offers a set of extremely impressive email packages, featuring mailboxes that are 100GB in size yet sell for a mere $2 each. That amount if storage has to be a record. As a practical matter, I can't conceive of very many people requiring so much space just for email. Since attachments are capped at 50MB each, you get the impression the offering is meant as hype and little more.

    Among Fusemail's features is a free IMAP Migrate Data service, and that's where the worst problems began. But let me return to the beginning. In order to give Fusemail its due, I signed up under their 14-day free trial offering. With most email services, I do the transfers manually, creating the new account in Mail, and manually moving the messages from the original account.

    With Fusemail, I kept hitting a wall, as it repeatedly timed out during the message transfer. After a day of frustration, I tried their migration system and it did — nothing! Even after seeing a status message indicating the message transfer was complete, listing the total number of emails transferred, no messages turned up. Not a single one. For a short time, Fusemail's Webmail app bore a "caching" message for the various email folders, but that message soon vanished and no messages appeared. A second attempt delivered random results. Some folders were properly transferred; others weren't.

    As I write this, I have an ongoing support request with Fusemail, but they have not, as yet, been able to resolve the problem. So basically I'm at a stopping point. An online search about the quality of Fusemail's service didn't turn up much information, but there were a few complaints where customers reported erratic performance. In all fairness, I am withholding a verdict in the hope that there will be a satisfactory resolution.

    Update: As of Wednesday, February 24, Fusemail failed to resolve the email migration problem; there wasn't any response to the ticket, except for memos about an "Escalation" from Level 2 to Level 3. I have cancelled the account and explained the obvious reasons for that decision in an email to their sales department.

    That takes us to the second service I evaluated, PolarisMail. This Canada-based mail host has a far more sensible offering, 10GB mailboxes for $1 each. The other features pretty much match the rest, with an attractive Webmail package derived from a commercial product, Atmail, which offers, as an option, a three-pane interface reminiscent of Microsoft Entourage.

    Unlike Fusemail, PolarisMail worked exactly as advertised, with a highly flexible, granular setup control panel that lets you control all aspects of your business email that go beyond what most of the competition offers. My only criticism, and it's minor, is that the interface, while highly functional, impresses me as retro, a little 1990s inspired.

    Migrating some 40,000 messages to PolarisMail's servers took several hours, but progressed without a hitch or any delays. The spam filtering in its "Regular sensitivity" setting proved to be as good as any I've tried. The control panel also lets you examine Quarantined messages and whitelist the mistakes. You can perform that function based on the address or the entire domain, and the newly flagged messages will be immediately dispatched to your Inbox.

    I'm quite impressed with PolarisMail. You get lots of power and extremely reliable service for the price. It's definitely worth a further look.

    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 #534”

    1. Paul says:

      Gene,

      I use Google Earth a little. Yesterday, when I launched it an update notice alerted me to the new version available. All right, I like to keep up to date.

      As the update proceeded, I noticed that the download file was named "Google Earth-Chrome somethingorother". Whoa, wait a minute. I am not interested in Chrome. I love my Mac stuff and am completely satisfied. So I rechecked the download link. Almost hit the download button again when I finally noticed a checkbox to also include Chrome in the Google Earth download. So, I unchecked it. All right, now I get the latest/greatest.

      So when the download is finished I install Google Earth and suddenly a window opens to let me know that now I MUST install Google Update or I won't be able to run anymore Google apps. Well, that is the deal breaker for me. I want to control what is on my computer and update when I want to. What else is Google doing?

      I think (along with many others) that Google is getting too big for their britches. Now I am very wary and skeptical of any further dealing with Google.

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    2. dfs says:

      I think Gene is really talking about two different things. Yes, sure, Apple can be controlling to a nearly pathological degree, that’s part of their corporate culture (although I don’t hear any AAPL shareholders complaining about this). But the real point of comparison is the degree to which individual users can trust the two corporations. I have had what’s now called a Mobile Me account for a number of years now, and, in terms of things like using Apple mail and using iDisk to store data, I’ve not had the slightest reason to suspect that Apple and its employees have not respected my personal rights and privacy. Same goes for my dealings with the online Apple Store. I have zero complaints there. But the same is not true for Google. I suspect that a good deal of the spam I get, which is plenty, may have its origins in Google tracking my search history and selling the results to third parties. Technically, I do have a G-Mail account, but I never use it because I’ve heard stories of Google data-mining G-Mail. I’m damn careful to give Google as little information about myself as possible. I once published a book, and far more of it can be read on Google Books than is permitted by the “fair use“ provision of the copyright laws, and I know other writers who have had the same experience. Google, in other words, seems to have a corporate track record of ignoring concerns involving personal privacy and personal rights. Google is inviting me to trust it more and more, for example by becoming involved with Buzz and by entrusting my data to its version of The Cloud, but the ugly reputation this corporation has run up gives me plenty of reason for thinking twice about becoming involved with further Google enterprises. I have no such concerns about Apple. Come to think of it, I don’t have any similar concerns about Microsoft either. For all Microsoft’s sins, I don’t think disrespecting the privacy concerns of individual users goes on that particular list. To be sure, Bing is still the new boy in town, but so far I haven’t heard any similar complaints about it. In this respect, Google stands pretty much alone. If the Feds ever choose to go after them, I for one won’t be very sorry.

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