There's a sensible assumption on the part of many that, without Steve Jobs, Apple would have vanished into insignificance and the tech industry as a whole would produce far fewer user friendly products. But in light of the unsurprising revelation that Steve Jobs was, as reported for years, not a very nice person, some have suggested his legacy must therefore be seriously tarnished.
That takes us to this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we put the wraps on 2011 with three fascinating guests. First, commentator Kirk McElhearn discussed a peculiar take by a book reviewer on the impact of Steve Jobs and Apple, where those iconic products were blamed for polluting the environment. Kirk wasn't too pleased with the reviewer inserting personal political views in a book review, and no wonder.
Now understand that Apple has been at the forefront of consumer electronics makers in promoting easy recycling and low power consumption. Besides, Apple's overall share of most of the markets in which they participate, except for iPods and the iPad, is far from a majority position. What about the rest of the industry?
Prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus mused on what might have happened to Apple had Steve Jobs not returned to the company in the mid-1990s. You see, he is not only a book author, but he was an active pitch person for a Mac OS cloner back then -- Power Computing. When Apple, under Steve Jobs' leadership, bought out Power for a song, LeVitus' stock options were toast, but the company's slick online ordering system was re-purposed. It's the progenitor of today's online Apple Store. Bob also discussed the possibilities of an Apple connected TV and how such a product would deliver the content you want.
With The Loop's Jim Dalrymple, we talked about such topics as the possible impact of the proposed Stop Software Piracy Act and how domain registrar GoDaddy got themselves in the thick of it when they first supported the controversial law, and then, in the face of customer defections, decided they must be against it after they were for it.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present long-time paranormal researcher and author Rosemary Ellen Guiley. On this episode, we'll be discussing the elements of dream interpretation, understanding lucid dreams, travel to possible alternate realities, and other fascinating topics, such as things that go bump in the night.
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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.
Over the years, I've tended to acquire Macs on two-year cycles, since that's usually how long it takes for the newest model to be substantially faster and more productive than the older machine. The intermediate updates, each year, tend to be far more incremental, although Apple's upmarket approach version of the iMac, which debuted in late 2009, was a far more significant upgrade. Indeed, the high-end quad-core Intel i7 on an iMac gave a Mac Pro a run for its money.
Although my financial situation had begun to seriously suffer from the recession in 2009, I had the credit line to sustain the purchase of a fairly well equipped and customized 27-inch iMac, with the 2.8GHz Intel i7 and 8GB of RAM. Even better, I sold my Mac Pro and a 30-inch display for enough to actually zero the credit card invoice, and leave me a few hundred dollars change with which to pay other bills. This was a tremendous deal.
After reading the reviews about the new iMac, particularly the benchmarks, it was clear that very few apps would afford the Mac Pro a performance advantage. Sure, I could add more memory to the Mac Pro, and fill the internal PCI slots with some intriguing expansion possibilities, but none of those extras fit into my workflow. But I still felt I was taking a bit of a chance, even though it was one that, in the end, cost me nothing.
After using the iMac for a few weeks, I reached a conclusion that others had already arrived at, that what used to be a fairly pedestrian consumer computer, when it came to performance, had suddenly blossomed into a productive tool for content creators.
This doesn't mean that the Mac Pro is necessarily an endangered species, although adding the high-speed Thunderbolt peripheral ports to the iMac have made it a real game changer. Of course, that also depends on the release of a reasonable number of Thunderbolt products, and the rollout remains slow. But that's poised to change in 2012, as more and more generic PCs with Intel processors will also include Thunderbolt.
Although I ran into a few system slowdowns in recent weeks due to an incompatibility involving Mac OS X Lion and some older system enhancements I didn't realize I had, removal of that stuff restored my computer to its former glory. Indeed, it's hard to see that it is any slower today than it was two years ago, right after the initial setup. As you know, that's not a given in the Windows world, and I still hear those daily radio and TV ads from online service providers offering to fix your slow PC and make it sing once again.
My advantage in this game was, except for that lone episode of incompatibility above, avoiding excess system junk. I have better things to do.
But with the 2011 iMac offering a fairly decent speed boost over the 2009 version, I've begun to wonder if I should be considering an upgrade. It's not just the speedier processors and Thunderbolt support, but the fact that Apple these days offers a two-drive configuration. If you're willing to spend hundreds of dollars extra, you can get a second 256GB drive, solid state. When used as a startup device, your iMac will seem to be on steroids, since so much of what your computer does is disk based.
But such a decision will depend on my financial outlook for 2012, not to mention whether I should simply wait a few more months and see the improvements that Intel's next processor generation, named Ivy Bridge, will bring to Macs.
The situation was more clear-cut for a client, who had a 2005 Mac mini, a first generation model. He'd replaced some generic Power Mac or other that was way out of date, and, six years later, found himself suffering from the expected performance slowdowns and the inability to run current software that is Intel only.
This week, I helped him set up his 2011 Mac mini. The process was fairly seamless, except for the need to convince him to buy iWork to replace AppleWorks 6, which won't work under Lion because of the lack of support for PowerPC emulation courtesy of Rosetta. Semi-retired, the client is hoping this will be his last Mac for many years to come, and he was amazed at the performance boost for such a small box.
Getting six years out of any personal computer is a pretty good achievement, of course. Macs tend to have greater longevity than PCs, as most of you know, even when the Mac is the cheapest model. I just wonder how a six-year-old Windows box of modest specs would fare with Windows 7, and the latest and greatest processor and graphics-intensive apps. Sure, these old boxes might work well enough in a business environment, running Windows XP with vintage software, but regular people would complain loudly.
Of course, you shouldn't rush to buy a new Mac on my account, or because of anyone else's recommendation. If the one you have does what you want, relax and enjoy. Apple will just have to prosper on someone else's dime.
An amazing number of you have free email accounts with Google, Microsoft and even Yahoo! I suppose it makes sense, since you keep the same address even if you switch ISPs. I know I have accounts with all of them (you can pretty much guess the username), but I seldom use them. In fact, it's probably been months since I've logged into the Yahoo! account, although I visit their news site from time to time. But the account remains active, which also surprises me. The same is true for Microsoft's Hotmail, or Live Mail, or whatever they choose to call it nowadays.
On the other hand, I still access the Gmail account, largely because it's desktop friendly, and offers more features than you can imagine, even if some are still classified as beta. Unlike the other two, Google was smart enough to add support for IMAP, an email system that puts the messages on the server, and thus lets you sync your email regardless of what computing device you're using. I'll leave Apple's iCloud out of the equation for now, since your mac.com or me.com email only recently became free, and it's still rather bare bones compared to Gmail.
But Gmail's Web environment can be quite intimidating when you examine the detailed settings windows. It suffers from severe feature bloat, and a busy interface that requires a little study when you change settings. For me, it doesn't matter. I'm happy to try new things, but I mostly access Gmail and other accounts from a regular email client and avoid the misery. On the other hand, I ran into a problem trying to help that client who bought himself a new Mac mini.
He wanted to move his email from his ISP to Google, but I ran into a roadblock trying to recover his forgotten Gmail password. The recovery system requested the name of his cat, a name that had several possible spellings. After entering the wrong one several times, Gmail locked him out, saying that the password could, if he wished, be sent to an account on another service that he didn't even know he had.
In the quest to find another free email service, one with IMAP support so he could move back and forth between his new Mac mini and an older Mac notebook and still keep his messages in sync, I stumbled on GMX, almost literally. I had received email from someone with a gmx.com account, and got curious.
It turns out that GMX is, like the other freebies, ad-driven. It's operated by United Internet, the German-based company that owns 1&1, a large Web host and domain registrar, plus other online properties. GMX stands for Global Mail Exchange, and was founded in 2008 as a worldwide service. But it has remained so far under the radar that you probably won't find any listing for it on 1&1's site, even though it shares the same U.S. headquarters near Philadelphia, and some of the same public relations people.
GMX has a smooth, relatively modern look and feel that emphasizes dark blue and shaded green, although you can choose from several color schemes with which to customize your online message window. The overall look, with Windows-like menus and buttons, strikes me as a slimmed down version of Gmail. It's almost as if GMX's developers understood Gmail's complexity, and wanted to deliver the features you need, not the ones that'll confuse you.
GMX also expands on the fundamentals. You can send attachments of up to 50MB in size, compared to 25MB with Gmail. Mailbox size is described as "unlimited," compared to somewhat over 7.5GB with Gmail. But that's still more than anyone I know about will likely need, though I know of one person whose mailbox has already exceeded 5GB. GMX also gives you 2GB of free online storage, a decent address book that can import individual contacts from most popular formats (including Apple's Address Book), an online calendar, and a Collector feature that allows you to manage your messages from other email accounts.
The rest of the features are pretty much standard, such as decent spam and virus protection, email filters or rules, and the ability to set up aliases. The latter feature allows you to use several names, assuming they are available, and have them all link to your regular GMX account. In my brief tests, I found the Web interface to be pretty snappy, and messages were sent and received with good performance.
So how does GMX remain free? Well, it's those ads, not single text streams as you find in Gmail's online interface, but regular banners. But they appear to be restricted to your account's home page, so you can easily bypass them. Or stick with IMAP and a regular email client, so you're never confronted with promotional services.
My experience with GMX has been brief so far. It seems robust enough, has Facebook support, and, according to the company, is actually environmentally friendly: "GMX.COM and it's sister company 1&1 has partnered with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF) to offset 100% of the energy usage of our data center in Lenexa, Kansas by purchasing Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs)."
If you're curious, you can sign up with GMX at their site, and give it a try. You'll be joining some 13 million fellow account holders, according to their estimates. Besides, you have nothing to lose, except perhaps, establishing yet another email account you'll never use if you don't like it. But I think you'll discover that GMX is as good as free email gets these days.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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