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  • Newsletter Issue #609

    August 1st, 2011

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    For most people, installing OS X Lion has been a non-issue. A few clicks, and they’re done, as far as the initial manual labor is concerned. The actual installation process may take half an hour or so, plus however long it takes to download a copy. Depending on your access to broadband Internet, that can take hours. I wonder, in passing, if such fast food outlets as McDonalds and others that offer free Wi-Fi are getting lots of extra visitors with Mac portables in tow, particularly if they are located in rural areas where broadband is difficult or impossible to get.

    Yes, Lion has various and sundry 1.0 glitches. I’ve seen very few, but they seem focused largely on apps that aren’t fully compatible with the new frameworks, which offer Auto-Save, Resume, and other nifty features. But in the case of a colleague, a noted author and commentator about all things Apple, putting Lion on his new 27-inch iMac was fraught with problems. Under mostly reproducible conditions, he’d be able to cause a heavy-duty system crash, when playing videos, forcing him to force a restart. Not good.

    Well, with  OS X front and center, that very subject formed the lead interview on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where author and commentator Kirk McElhearn detailed that unusual problem that he confronted after installing OS X Lion, along with a possible — and surprising — solution.

    Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell joined us to talk about what went wrong with America’s space program, and also covers some of the new and possibly confusing features of OS X Lion. But it was the first topic that loomed front and center, because Jason is a fan of space exploration — as we are — and thus he’s not happy about NASA’s failure to realize the amazing potential of the 1969 moon landing.

    Laptop magazine’s Online Editorial Director, Avram Piltch evaluated Apple’s upgraded thin and light note-book, the MacBook Air, how it compares with Windows portables, and about the growing trend to remove optical drives from such products. And remember that Avram is not just another Apple loyalist. He’s a knowledgeable and fair tech journalist.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris introduce researcher Paul Budding, of The Serious New UFOlogy Institute, who has explored both the so-called “Old” Ufology and the “New Ufology,” not to mention Jungian psychology.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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.

    SAY SO LONG TO THE OPTICAL DRIVE

    One huge difference between Apple and other PC makers can be summarized by the word “legacy.” They rarely look back, even when it comes to honoring an anniversary, which is why you never saw a twenty-fifth anniversary Mac in 2009.

    This marketing strategy became obvious first in 1998, when the original Bondi Blue iMac was introduced. The critics howled. The customers howled. Where is the floppy drive? Where are all those ports I need to hook up my accessories, such as hard drives and printers? All I see is USB and Ethernet.

    For a while, there was a market for external floppy drives, along with converter plugs so that your old stuff would still mostly work the way it used to. In fast order the floppy vanished from other Macs and even the staid PC world soon followed, with most models lacking floppy drives. As old peripherals and the need for floppy drives lessened, the accessory drives and converters went away.

    But Apple has been otherwise somewhat cautious in introducing new technologies without some sort of backwards compatibility. Back when the first PowerPC models arrived in 1994, there was an emulation layer that allowed older software to run with decent reliability, although a lot slower. The migration to Intel chips in 2006 — which happened in months rather than years — brought with it Rosetta, the PowerPC translation layer. App developers had several years to get their stuff together and either support Intel or lose their customers.

    For OS X Lion, Rosetta is history, and with it support for older applications that managed to survive in your Applications folder. While Universal or Intel upgrades are available for the most part, some software companies, and Intuit is a huge offender, somehow missed the boat and left customers with products that no longer work.

    On the other hand, Apple decided that five years, an eternity in the PC business, was quite enough. Time to move on. Maybe developers who failed to heed the message deserve to see a declining customer base unless they get with the program.

    The latest effort by Apple to ring out the old and ring in the new is the optical drive. At a time when people still hope and dream that Apple will actually replace DVD drives to Blu-ray, they are doing quite the reverse, which is to get rid of all of them as quickly as possible. The world has changed. Software is more and more available online, and the retail box that contained discs and manuals goes with it. The same holds true for music and, to an increasing extent, movies.

    Optical Drives were first banished from Macs in 2008, with the arrival of the MacBook Air. It was overpriced, underpowered, with no optical drive in sight, although you could get an external version or share the drive on another Mac if you still needed one. Sales weren’t stellar by any means, but enough customers cherished the thin and light approach to keep it in the product line.

    The MacBook Air came into its own in the fall of 2010, with the introduction of cheaper configurations that also dispensed with mechanical hard drives. It was SSD all the way, despite the fact that you had to pay lots more for much less capacity. Still, the Air took off in a big way and, with this summer’s refresh, became near as powerful as a standard Mac note-book. The Mac mini lost its optical drive in the latest revision, but it’s also $100 cheaper as a result.

    While Mac users don’t generally pay much attention to the Dark Side, it’s also true that the tinier Windows note-books are also dumping optical drives in some models, and adding solid state storage devices. Again, Apple has shown the way.

    Since mechanical drives are major points of failure in personal computers, getting rid of them may ultimately be a good idea, although there may be lots of pain along the way before the gain.

    For many of you, an optical drive isn’t necessary. You’re not buying software on physical media, and maybe you don’t use for computers to listen to music on CDs, or watch movies on DVD. I took stock of the situation the other day, and I can’t recall using the optical drive on my 17-inch MacBook Pro, from 2010, since it was originally set up. My 2009 iMac reads an optical disc every six months or so; the last being the installation DVD for Microsoft Office 2011.

    However, my son, Grayson, isn’t prepared to give up his CD and DVD libraries just yet, and the optical drive on his MacBook, from 2008, gets regular use. He is not the customer that Apple would hope to convert to optical drive-free status. If he purchased a MacBook Air, the accessory drive would be part of the package.

    But there’s now talk of new lines of lighter but larger Mac portables, both 15-inch and 17-inch, without the optical drives. I think lots of customers will complain loudly if those models replaced the existing MacBook Pro lineup. But it will happen in the relatively near future. But I’m mostly hoping for the arrival of new generations of cheaper, larger solid state drives. You can’t imagine how fast they really are until you try one, which is why the MacBook Air is in many ways snappier than more traditional and more powerful note-books.

    And, whether it matters or not, don’t forget that your Mac will become far more reliable when mechanical drives are a thing of the past.

    OF TELECOM MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS

    In 1984, the same year in which the Mac was introduced, Ma Bell was broken apart into seven separate companies, the better to foster competition in America’s telecom industry. As history has shown however, that which can be done can also be undone.

    So we have the curious situation in which seven has become three. Four of those original Baby Bells, Ameritech, BellSouth, Pacific Telesis, and Southwestern Bell have, by dint of various and sundry mergers and acquisitions over the years, morphed into AT&T. Bell Atlantic and NYNEX have become Verizon. U.S. West, acquired by Qwest in 2001, has since been purchased by CenturyLink.

    While Qwest has had a shaky history in the business world, and no doubt deserved being bought up by another company, you hardly expect AT&T and Verizon to combine, nor would regulatory agencies allow such a thing to occur. At least, it seems highly doubtful.

    But that hasn’t stopped the Big Two from swallowing, or attempting to swallow, smaller telecom providers. Verizon Wireless, the result of a partnership between Verizon and Vodaphone, a UK-based wireless provider, became number one among wireless carriers by acquiring Alltel, a regional carrier.

    In turn, AT&T is trying to complete a merger with T-Mobile. This leaves one other major wireless provider in the U.S., Sprint, which as been struggling mightily to keep customers from jumping ship to take advantage of richer selections of smartphones, including, of course, the iPhone.

    The $39 billion cash and stock deal between AT&T and T-Mobile, however, isn’t getting much love. Members of Congress have announced their opposition, and the appropriate regulatory agencies are giving the proposal a long, hard and skeptical look. Yes, maybe it’ll happen in the end, but probably not until some time in 2012. Even then, the transaction may carry loads of restrictions, particularly when it comes to the ability to raise prices beyond their current levels.

    The logic behind the move is to allow AT&T to expand their network far more quickly and efficiently than would be possible as a separate company. But even if the merger gets approval, it may take a year or two, at the very least, to combine the networks and support operations. Typical of such deals, an untold number of employees will find their positions “redundant” and will end up on the unemployment lines.

    But you have to wonder what might have happened if AT&T just took all or most of their planned cash investment in this deal and used it, instead, to finance expansion of their own network. That would surely make them far more competitive in locales where coverage is not so good now.

    Even if the deal is finalized, and I expect it will be, where would that leave Sprint, which is struggling now against three major competitors? Would they somehow be forced to seek a merger with Verizon, which has a compatible network? If that were to happen — and the chances of getting regulatory approval would probably be far more difficult — we’d be left with two big companies managing our wireless connections. How would that be a good thing, except for the companies involved?

    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: Sharon Jarvis



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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #609”

    1. […] Continue Reading… Please Link to Us!<a href="http://www.technightowl.com/2011/08/newsletter-issue-609-say-so-long-to-the-optical-drive/&quot; >Newsletter Issue #609: Say So Long to the Optical Drive</a>Related Articles:What Mac Features Do You Want to Give Up?More Apple Speculation: Sensible and OtherwiseApple, Auto Makers, and Regular UpdatesCan’t You Live Without an Apple Product Update? (Revised!)The Optical Drive is Next to Go […]

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