The arrival of the personal computer delivered the promise of the paperless office. You wouldn't have to stuff file cabinets and desks with paper misery, since you could store much of that data in computer files. It was a great dream, until someone started selling printers to connect to those computers. Suddenly the paper explosion grew worse.
In last weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, prolific author Joe Kissell joined Gene to talk about the myths and the reality of the promise of the paperless office. Is such a thing really possible?
Based on what Joe told us, and his ebook on the subject, it's clear that it takes a fair amount of discipline to save trees. Certainly scanning your documents with well-executed OCR software, to read the words with reasonable fidelity, is a large part of it. You'll also want to consider dumping your fax machine (or not using the fax feature on a multifunction printer), and relying on an online resource to handle such material.
I have signed up with an Internet fax service for one of their 30-day free trails. I'll let you know if that solution, plus developing a little discipline in not printing out documents I can just as well read online, helps me reduce the cost of paper and consumables.
In the next segment, Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell brought you up to date on Apple's new Mac App Store, covering all the advantages and the possible disadvantages of the new software repository; I'll have more to say on the subject in the next article. And since Jason is also a fearless TV critic, he also expressed his views about the new "second season" in the U.S.
Author and commentator Steven Levy, a Wired Magazine Senior Writer, discussed some of the announcements at the Consumer Electronics show, focusing on the new tablets, and the keynote from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Well, maybe Ballmer wasn't so interesting, but you should pay at least some attention to what he says about Microsoft's future moves in the tech industry.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien joins Gene to present the return of nuclear physicist and UFO authority Stanton T. Friedman, who will cover not just the history of research into the enigma, but the possibilities that, at long last, we might be finding the evidence needed to convince mainstream science that they are real.
Coming January 16: Co-host Christopher O'Brien joins Gene to present UFO historian Jerome Clark, author of such works as "The UFO Encyclopedia" and "Hidden Realms, Lost Civilizations, and Beings from Other Worlds," delivers a fascinating overview of UFO research and some of the related mysteries.
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.
The news that there were over one million software downloads from the Mac App Store in the first 24 hours seems but a blip on the horizon. It's not a lot when compared to the iOS App Store, but you can surely see the handwriting on the wall. What's more, as third-party developers line up to get their products displayed, some will quickly abandon their own efforts to sell their products in favor of Apple's solution.
Certainly having Apple's marketing muscle behind all those third-party developers, even those run by a single person, can take a relatively unknown product and turn it into a best seller almost overnight. Some might feel that Apple's 30% cut is somewhat high, but consider how it simplifies bookkeeping chores for a small business. Just sell the product, and sit back and wait for Apple's monthly check.
Of course, nothing stops developers from selling their own stuff through their sites or elsewhere. As a matter of fact, Apple's stringent (but evolving) restrictions will likely cause rejection letters from loads of apps that would seem otherwise to be compelling entrants.
Over time, of course, I expect Apple will find ways to deal with many of these exceptions. I like to think that audio capture utilities, such as Ambrosia Software's WireTap Studio, which installs a kernel extension as part of the setup process, would be an ideal candidate for App Store customers, if only system changes and/or enhancements would be allowed.
To be sure, any app that performs its magic behind the scenes will have problems entering Apple's famous (or infamous) walled garden. Take Intego's free VirusBarrier Express. Sure, they'd rather sell you the full-featured version, but since it scans your Mac in the background, Apple will say no way. At least for now, so Intego has to offer only the limited feature edition.
Handling the apps you already have on your Mac is also apt to present some complications. The App Store software consults an installed app's bundle identifier and version number, and compares it to the stuff that's in the store. If it finds a match, that app is labeled as "Installed." But if the developer changes that data for the App Store version, I expect many people might mistakenly buy that app all over again, and I don't think that'll be grounds to ask for a refund.
Also, if you already installed an app, you won't be able to depend on the App Store for updates, at least not yet. Being able to integrate your existing software library with the App Store would be a great feature, if and when it happens. Maybe there will be a better solution for Mac OS X Lion. I can see a huge source of confusion there.
But the process of buying the apps of your choice is going to simplify matters for many Mac users. Consider the basic installation process. Some apps are distributed as disk image files. When you download them, the image opens, and you're expected to drag one or more icons to the Applications folder (or wherever you want it to be). That's it, but for other apps you have to double-click on an Installer to complete the setup process.
As you might imagine, I've seen people who, not knowing where the app they just downloaded was placed, download it over and over again, and sometimes run them from the disk image itself.
When you make a purchase from the App Store, the act of selecting your product delivers a fancy graphic effect, where the icon travels from the App Store page directly to your Mac's Dock. Any question about where it's really located vanishes (it's placed in the Applications folder of course).
Uninstalling an app is also not as simple on the Mac as it should be. Dragging the icon to the trash may remove only some of the files the installer places on your Mac. If there's a solution at all, other than consulting Application Support, Preferences, and other repositories for app-related files, it's using an uninstaller. Adobe provides them, for example, to remove all vestiges of their sprawling Creative Suite software. A similar approach is taken by Parallels for their Mac virtualization app. Some third parties have built uninstallers, but they are often just making good guesses. More often than not, some files are left anyway.
The Windows scheme of app installation and removal benefits from having a predictable method to get rid of the ones you don't want, except for the stuff that Microsoft requires to be present, of course.
Right now, it appears that the stuff you install via the App Store is readily removed by dumping a single file, just as in the days of old on the Mac platform. It will usually leave a preference file, however, and the Preferences folder can get really clogged with the remnants of apps that are long ago and far away. I had 1,067 of those things as I wrote this column. Some day I might even run one of those cleanup utilities to clear the stuff I no longer need.
The long and short of it is that the App Store, if nothing else, will surely simplify how your apps are handled. It may even provide a few lessons for developers that have made installation and removal unwieldy, particularly if they want to get their apps accepted by Apple.
Right now, though, it would be great if there was a way for the App Store software to not just recognize all (not some) of the apps you've previously installed on your Mac, but provide a universal method to simplify management and removal of the ones you don't want. That indeed would be a valuable feature for Mac OS X Lion. While the third parties can fill the gaps to some degree, they are largely doing what Apple should have accomplished long, long ago.
Many of the interviews for our two radio shows are recorded via a Skype connection, and, if the guest has a decent mic on hand, the sound quality is pretty good. I'm sure many of you believe that our guests are actually in the studio with me, and that's been true only on a very few occasions.
At the same time, I am decidedly reluctant to let people use their mobile phones, simply because audio quality is so bad. Sometimes the guest sounds as if they were talking under water, with words and, in fact, the identity of the caller, almost impossible to recognize.
I suppose it's easy to blame the phone. In fact, Consumer Reports continues to label the audio fidelity on smartphones as average even though the iPhone, at the very least, sounds no better or worse than any the mobile phone I've used over the years. I'm happy to attack CR's value judgements on such matters because they get things so wrong so often it's incredible they are taken so seriously by the mainstream media. Clearly the veneer of incorruptibility is sufficient to make people believe that they must also be more accurate than other publications that review consumer products.
Why mobile phones usually sound so bad can be blamed on a variety of factors. It's quite possible that the handset makers don't really care, so long as you get a solid connection and can usually understand the person at the other end of the connection, and be understood. The carriers can also be blamed for compressing the signal as much as they can to increase network capacity without actually beefing up their networks.
So long as customers accept this sad state of affairs, call quality will never improve beyond that you could easily achieve at the end of the 19th century. Why should it?
Certainly 21st century technology ought to allow for mobile phone calls to consistently deliver audio quality close to Skype or iChat, again assuming the sound reproduction hardware is up to the task. It shouldn't consume an intolerably high amount of bandwidth, just applying smart technology to the task of transmitting the human voice.
Maybe I'm just whistling in the dark, but when I hear a phone call reproduced through my iMac's external speaker system, a Bose Companion 5, or my car's audio system, which isn't the best but pretty decent, I feel we are being cheated. Mobile phone hardware usually isn't cheap. The reason they appear to cost next to nothing is because of the subsidies carriers provide if you agree to one of their service contracts.
But carriers are getting another chance to demonstrate what they can really do. The upcoming LTE technology that'll be embraced by AT&T, Verizon and loads of other companies, promises far greater bandwidth. You'll be able to download multimedia content a whole lot faster. And maybe, just maybe, there will be a tiny bit of bandwidth left to deliver decent audio quality for regular phone calls.
As I said, I'm whistling in the dark. I'm sure it can be done, but unless customers clamor for better call quality, don't expect it to happen any time soon.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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