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  • Newsletter Issue #569

    October 25th, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    For a while, when I first read about Mac OS X Lion, I wondered if Apple hadn’t forgotten they were talking about Macs. Most everything seemed borrowed from the iOS. Of course, that’s silly, since both operating systems are fundamentally based on the same core.

    The real advantage, however, is that Apple’s developers, with their growing expertise in building an operating system for gear that’s severely resource limited, will hopefully be able to transfer some of those efficiencies to Mac OS X. I suppose we’ll know soon, as Lion’s feature set is fleshed out.

    In any case, on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge columnist Daniel Eran Dilger, from Roughly Drafted Magazine, returned to discuss Apple’s special “Back to the Mac” media event, and the advance preview of the next version of Mac OS X, 10.7, code-named Lion.

    Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS, continued the discussion of the Apple presentation, offering his preliminary views about the possibilities of Mac OS 10.7, the forthcoming Mac App Store, and other developments. The Mac App Store, by the way, is also the focus of one of my columns for this week’s issue.

    You also received an insider’s look at Apple sales picture, after they reported record sales and profits for the last quarter, from Ross Rubin, an industry analyst from the NPD Group.

    Towards the end of the session, I asked Ross if 3D TVs had yet gained any traction in the marketplace. Predictably, he said no, maybe in 2011 or 2012. If only they could deliver 3D without those expensive glasses. If only Hollywood actually produced more decent 3D titles, so you’d have something to see after paying a bundle for the hardware.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, we explore classic UFO research and the possibility of ET visits. Co-host Christopher O’Brien presents a rare appearance by veteran UFO investigator Larry W. Bryant, a noted UFO whistleblower and author of “UFO Politics at the White House: Citizens Rally ‘Round Jimmy Carter’s Promise.”

    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.

    APPLE AND ADOBE: ANOTHER FINGER FOR FLASH AND HARD DRIVES TOO

    As soon as Apple puts a new product into the wild, you just know that lots of devoted Mac users, and tech journalists too, will tear the thing apart to see what makes it tick. But also to see what features it may lack, or which aren’t well implemented.

    It surely didn’t take long to discover that the new MacBook Air doesn’t ship with the Adobe Flash plugin preloaded. That’s no mistake and, in fact, future Macs of all models will also lack a preloaded Flash, according to Apple.

    Now Apple’s excuse is that they want to make sure you receive the very latest version of Flash from Adobe to be sure that you aren’t susceptible to any potential security vulnerabilities. Consider the versions of Mac OS X that shipped with older versions. But do you really believe them? I didn’t think so.

    Certainly, this may be yet another salvo in Apple’s attempts to banish Flash from the planet. The assumption is that, if it’s not already available, lots of Mac users may just not bother downloading a copy, but what do you do when you bring up a site that requires Flash? Pass it by? Or download the plugin?

    Yes, perhaps it’s yet another scheme to give Mac users their marching orders: Stay away from Flash content, which means, of course, that Web developers will work even harder to update their sites to support HTML5 instead.

    Before I get too conspiratorial about the matter, however, just remember that Windows Vista and Windows 7 don’t come with Flash preloaded either. You have to download and install a copy the first time you try to retrieve Flash-based content, although that doesn’t seem to present a serious impediment to the ubiquity of the plugin on Windows systems.

    Remember, Apple isn’t exactly preventing you from installing and using Flash on your Mac, but the handwriting is on the wall. As the Mac continues to grow in the marketplace ahead of PCs, Adobe is going to have to seriously consider the fact that Steve Jobs has an awfully successful track record banishing technologies from the industry.

    Remember when the first iMac shipped without a floppy drive? Sure, loads of Mac users complained. The tech press screamed, but the Bondi blue iMac was extremely successful in the marketplace. If you needed floppies, there were plenty of accessory drives — USB-based of course — to accommodate you. After a few years, you realized that floppies were so 1980s, and that more resilient portable storage media, such as CDs and DVDs, were to be preferred to distribute software and to store backups.

    A few PCs still offer floppies as options, but how many people buy them — or need them for that matter?

    Apple also blew SCSI off the map, although it remains available for high-end storage systems. But I didn’t suffer badly the loss of SCSI, because of all the conflicts and irritants when one of those device conflicts arose. Jobs knew it was trouble, and that FireWire and other technologies would do better for regular people.

    Insofar as banishing technologies, the tech pundits are making a huge deal of the fact that the MacBook Air, touted as the future of Mac portables, uses solid state storage. Consider the advantages, such as twice the speed and the freedom from the ever-present danger of mechanical failure. Yes, I grant that drive recovery services might not appreciate the growth of SSD, but we wouldn’t need recovery services if a more reliable method of storing data had been devised.

    I remember some of the first commercially available hard drives back in the 1970s, which cost thousands for a few megabytes of storage. Today you have affordable 3TB gear, but as more and more data migrates to the cloud, that may be overkill.

    Indeed, my late 2009 27-inch iMac has the standard 1TB of storage. I worked hard to fill it with stuff, but less than half the drive remains filled. The 500MB storage on my MacBook Pro is two-thirds empty.

    Of course, hard drives won’t disappear overnight. SSD is still far too expensive. To get the space contained in a $100 hard drive, you have to spend upwards of $1,000. But that’s today, and, as more and more design and cost efficiencies are invented by the industry, it won’t be long before 256MB and 512MB SSDs are only slightly more expensive than their mechanical equivalents.

    It may not happen this year or the next, but buying a MacBook or MacBook Pro at current prices with generous solid state storage isn’t far off. It would be a godsend for anyone who has suffered from the loss of data when a hard drive fails, without an immediate backup at hand.

    One of my clients suffered just such a problem when upgrading from a Power Mac G4 to a 27-inch iMac a few weeks back. The G4’s drive failed, but the problem was minor, and it cost less than $300 to recover the client’s stuff.

    But think about it. In a few years, there will be no Adobe Flash, no mechanical hard drive, maybe not even a mouse button on the Mac — maybe the PC, if Microsoft realizes these are things they just have to imitate.

    WILL THE MAC APP STORE KILL INDEPENDENT SOFTWARE DEALERS?

    In the old days, I attempted, with rare success, to buy Mac software at a local dealer. We’re talking of the late 1980s here, where dusty boxes of a handful of Mac apps were placed in shelves in the back of a store, and those titles were often out of date. I learned that you had to get one of the mail order catalogs to find a decent selection of software. We even called them applications then.

    Even today, the available titles at a retail store are still slim, but that’s true of Windows too. You normally place your orders online from a dealer or direct from the developer. But, in the Mac universe at any rate, independent software suppliers may be a dying species.

    Now you understand why there’s an App Store, and its incredible success has made it possible for you to easily — and cheaply — acquire all sorts of interesting apps for your iOS gadget. With the arrival of the iPad, it even appears that productivity apps might gain some traction.

    In any case, having a Mac App Store may seem a convenience for the customer, but the developers are clearly freaking, particularly after reading Apple’s initial guidelines that borrow much from the iOS App Store.

    Indeed, it is very possible that many of the applications we all depend on would be rejected outright.

    Among the exclusions in the initial rules of the road are apps that install files in various locales on your Mac aside from the Applications folder, such as Applications Support. This is a perfectly normal process that appears to be barred from the Mac App Store. Using supposedly unsupported APIs — system hooks that aren’t officially published by Apple — would also make it impossible for many developers to gain admission. The same holds true for kernel extensions.

    Now even your Web browser puts something in Application Support. The ability to capture audio conversations in iChat and Skype, hallmarks of such apps as Ambrosia Software’s WireTap Studio and Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack Pro, would be prohibited.

    Independent developers that do not distribute product to retail outlets will clearly chafe over Apple’s 30% commission, and the fact that they would lose the direct relationship with the customer would also present complications. That is, assuming you can’t register your installed app with the publisher as you do now.

    Sure, Steve Jobs made it quite clear that the Mac App Store will not be the exclusive supplier of software for the platform. Developers can continue to sell directly to customers, and arrange distribution through traditional dealers.

    The reality is that the very existence of a Mac App Store will make independent sales a dying breed. As more and more apps become available, customers will find it far more convenient to do their browsing from a single vendor that is, basically, standard on their Mac, rather than seek out other options. Developers with specialty products that won’t be allowed in Apple’s walled garden are certain to suffer.

    There is a glimmer of hope. The current guidelines are works in progress. As developers express their concerns, Apple might loosen the guidelines. The walled garden might make sense for the iOS, but restrictions cannot be as severe on a Mac. Think of all the great apps that you won’t be able to buy. Think of all the developers who might give up the platform, or, to stay in business, abandon the gems that many of you depend on.

    While the prospects of a Mac App Store might be particularly appealing to people new to the platform, Apple has an awful lot to reconsider before it goes live. Let’s hope they listen.

    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
    Business Development: Gil James Bavel
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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