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  • Newsletter Issue #636

    February 6th, 2012

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    When I wrote an article about Apple's 10.0.3 update for Final Cut Pro X, the responses demonstrated the extreme polarization about the changes. Rather than just add some features to the existing version, Apple seriously changed the look and the feel, at the same time removing features that video editors considered to be important.

    It was a public relations nightmare for the first order, and Apple soon had to restore the previous version, Final Cut Pro 7, to the lineup, while promising that future versions of FCP X would get the missing features, which would appear in an improved form.

    Now some people believe that version 10.0.3 is just about there, while others say that they will not use FCP X; they would have preferred a Final Cut Pro 7.5, with just minor changes from the previous version. The new version is just too different for them, and they aren't going to change their workflows on Apple's account.

    Now on the latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Jim Dalrymple, of The Loop, outlined the FCP X update, and whether the problems reported by video editors have been properly addressed. He also covered the management shakeup at Research In Motion and whether it's going to make any difference for that failing company.

    Rich Sloan, founder of StartUp Nation, offered tips for new businesses, and described a partnership with Brother in which five people will receive $5,000 grants to help fund their new ventures.

    Peter Cohen, of the "Angry Mac Bastards" radio show and Executive Editor for The Loop, discussed the ongoing controversy over the working conditions at Foxconn and other companies contracted by Apple and other tech companies to build their products.

    You also heard about the ongoing prospects for Windows Phone and the Android OS from Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine and AppleInsider.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present Chris Rutkowski, an astronomer and science writer who has written nine books on UFOs and related phenomena. During this wide-ranging interview, Rutkowski will discuss key UFO cases in Canada, reports of strange noises in the sky, and his investigations into UFO abductions.

    Coming February 12: Gene and Chris will be flies on the wall for this episode, featuring a "great debate" on Roswell, the Roswell "Dream Team," UFO abductions and other topics featuring Kevin D. Randle, author of such books as "Reflections of a UFO Investigator," and Jim Moseley, Editor/Publisher of "Saucer Smear."

    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.

    WAS THIS ANOTHER APPLE SCREW UP?

    In line with predictions from the Mac rumor community, Apple this week released a 10.7.3 update for Lion, along with a set of security fixes for users of 10.6, Snow Leopard. In theory, the changes shouldn't have been terribly significant, at least if you looked at the bill of materials.

    But that didn't stop things from going awry.

    Almost from the first hour the Snow Leopard update was installed, legions of angry Mac users began to complain about the loss of Rosetta functionality, usually signaled by the onset of frequent crashes when launching a PowerPC app on an Intel-based Mac. Indeed, one of my clients, a textbook author for a major publisher, placed his "911" call to me and asked for help. He was already running up against a serious deadline.

    When I arrived at the client's home office on Friday afternoon, I examined the situation, and it was worse than a thought.

    The client used Word 2004 to ensure compatibility with fellow authors and editors, although it would seem that Word 2011, so long as the original ".doc" format was used, ought to work properly. But this is Microsoft, so I won't make predictions. Since he needed Rosetta to make that old version of Word function on his 2011 27-inch iMac, he cannot upgrade to Lion, where Rosetta no longer exists.

    The problems began for him when he experienced constant crashes, and the loss of the Save, Save As, and Quit functions, which were grayed out. Simply quitting the app, emptying preferences and relaunching the app didn't change anything. As soon as I attempted to use the Save As function, all the key commands were grayed out. So, I reinstalled Office 2004, which wasn't a pretty process. As the result of a thoroughly foolish design decision by Microsoft, each of the six available updates required the previous update to install. They were, in the vernacular, "Delta" updates, rather than "Combo" updates that would update all interim versions in a single process.

    I also noticed that the iMac's printing function was sadly broken. I could print a document in Firefox, but not in Safari or Word; the latter gave me an error about Word not being able to assess that function. All curious.

    All this happened as the furor arose over the security update and it's impact on Rosetta. But solutions soon arrived. When I checked Software Update, I discovered the version 1.1 revision to the security update file. That installation didn't restore the printing and Save functions, however, although that's, in part, what it was meant to do according to published reports. I had to reset the printing system, which is accomplished by holding down the Option key while pressing the minus or delete button in the Print & Scan preference panel.

    After reset process was complete, I simply added the client's Xerox laser printer, and full printer functionality returned. I am not about to guess why a broken Rosetta function would have taken the printer down, or why the revised security update didn't set things right.

    After I returned to my office, I noticed that the security update wasn't the only problem for Apple. The Delta update for 10.7.3 was causing serious problems for some of you. After the installation and restart, apps would consistently crash, displaying error boxes that exhibited strange overlays, with gradient boxes that read "CUI CUI," beneath which were bright red question marks. It's almost as if those computers became somehow possessed. Having run that same update on my 2010 17-inch MacBook Pro, I felt lucky that nothing went wrong.

    Apple has since pulled the Delta update, and only the Combo update remained available as of the weekend. For those afflicted by the problem, one possible solution requires having another Mac around. You restart the affected computer in FireWire Target mode (holding down "T" at startup and waiting for the FireWire icon to display). You can then network that Mac with another by FireWire and use the other Mac to install the Combo update. All well and good, if you have another Mac around. Otherwise, you may be looking for a fellow Mac user or rush to a nearby Apple Store, if one is in your neighborhood.

    Or use the method not mentioned in some of the articles I read, which involves using the Recovery HD, part of the Lion installation, to reinstall the OS. Apple has posted an information document about using the Recovery feature, which commences by restarting your afflicted Mac with the R key held down.

    All in all, it wasn't a pleasant end to the week for some Mac users. Although this isn't the first time OS updates were broken, you have to wonder how Apple managed to deliver two of them at the same time. If published reports are correct, the 10.7.3 updater had been seeded to Mac developers for several months. Surely such a problem would have been discovered during the test phase, unless, of course, Apple made a last minute change that they have now come to regret.

    DOES THE WORLD NEED AN ARM-BASED MACBOOK AIR?

    While Intel sits on the sidelines, the mobile computing world has, in large part, gone with ARM-based processor technology. Even Apple, whose A4 and A5 chips are basically enhancements to ARM designs.

    Now ARM, headquartered in the UK, doesn't build their own chips. Instead, they license their designs to over 900 partners, who take care of various fine-tuning and manufacturing issues. Indeed, if you think Intel is big, when it comes to the number of chips in use, some 16 million ARM-based processors are shipped every single day, finding their way into mobile computers, TVs, automotive computers, braking systems, coffee makers, and loads of other products.

    Some have even suggested that a future iteration of Apple's chips, perhaps the rumored quad-core A6 or something even more powerful, would serve as a replacement for Intel processors on some Mac portables. This is a rumor that has appeared from time to time in recent months.

    As a practical matter, however, the real question is why.

    Even if the ARM chip was powerful enough to deliver a satisfactory computing experience and retain the extended battery life for which this processor family is famous, it's not as if you can just swap chips and be done with it. This is the dilemma Microsoft is confronting on building an ARM version of Windows 8.

    Let's not forget what happened when Apple went from the PowerPC to Intel. Yes, a fair amount of a Mac's internal hardware could exist unchanged, such as storage devices and batteries, but Apple also had to build a new version of Mac OS X to support Intel. Indeed, development of that version began several years before the Intel switch was announced. Even then, Apple had to supply Rosetta, a translation tool to allow you to use apps built for the older processor on the new models.

    In the same way, you couldn't just run Mac software under ARM, even though the iOS supports that chip. Developers would have to build special versions, perhaps "Universal" to support both ARM and Intel, and there would have to be some sort of translation code allowing older software to run on these new models. Six years after the Intel transition began, a dual Intel/ARM strategy wouldn't seem to make much sense. It's not as if Intel is not delivering the goods for Macs, even though mobile computers are becoming more and more popular.

    Indeed, there are published reports that Apple CEO Tim Cook has already thrown cold water on the prospect of an ARM-based Mac anytime soon. After meeting with Cook and CFO Peter Oppenheimer, Citi analysts got the strong impression that Apple expects the iPad, the "post-PC device," to continue to become more and more useful and thus reduce the need for traditional personal computers. Therefore, there's no need for an ARM-based MacBook.

    That may not be news Intel would like to hear, although they continue to develop the Atom processor family as an alternative to ARM. This doesn't mean that Apple won't see the benefit in doing yet another processor switch some years hence if they are unhappy with Intel's ongoing roadmap. In the near-term, however, Intel continues to develop chips that deliver satisfactory combinations of higher performance and greater power efficiency.

    Of course, an ARM-based MacBook Air, with the promise of far greater potential battery life or perhaps somewhat lighter in weight, might appeal to some who want to misread Apple's intentions. And just because Apple executives poo-poo the possibility of building a specific product, that doesn't mean such a product isn't being readied for production in the development labs.

    But other than the possibility of lasting longer on a single battery charge,  just what advantage would an ARM-based MacBook Air deliver? The ability to run both iOS and Mac apps perhaps? Is that what we really want right now?

    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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    8 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #636”

    1. Ron Glick says:

      Read you all the time. Thx for your insight...You, btw, are the only person attempting to keep CR honest that I know of, and God knows, they dearly need it.

      R

      Reply To This Comment

    2. Andrew says:

      So Apple releases a buggy update that kills Rosetta in Snow Leopard, and you rant about an 8-year-old version of Microsoft Office?

      I'm usually quite happy with Apple, and indeed my 10.7.3 update (thus far) has been smooth. If I was a Snow Leopard user depending on PPC software like your client I would be enraged at Apple, not Microsoft. The fact that a Xerox printer driver also had issues only reinforces that this time it was clearly an Apple problem.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on February 6th, 2012 at 9:26 AM:

      @Andrew, It happens that folks who use Office 2004 were among the people impacted worst. I would love to see my client move to Office 2011. But it won't happen for a while.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    3. PhillyG says:

      "... just what advantage would an ARM-based MacBook Air deliver?"

      Here is a little irony for you:

      If the rumors of Windows (phone?) 8 on ARM are true, then "an ARM-based MacBook Air" could be used to run Boot Camp 8 (to coin a phrase) for continued Microsoft compatibility!

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on February 6th, 2012 at 10:27 AM:

      @PhillyG, And just how does Microsoft propose to make it possible for traditional Windows apps, such as Office, run on an ARM? The OS might be based on the same code base, but that's the ticklish problem that needs to be addressed.

      In the Mac universe, Apple would have to deliver an ARM-based translation layer, a new type of Rosetta, to run your old apps at, by the way, somewhat reduced performance because of the emulation overhead.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Peter says:

      I had to reset the printing system, which is accomplished by holding down the Option key while pressing the minus or delete button in the Print & Scan preference panel.

      Ah...that intuitive Mac interface I hear so much about... :^D

      My favorite was the system update back in early versions of Mac OS X that worked great--as long as the name of your hard drive did not have spaces. But that's okay...it's not like the default name "Macintosh HD" has spaces in it.

      The concern Apple needs to have is that when an update like this comes out and breaks things, it makes people less inspired to try the next update.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. dfs says:

      Apple’s “continuous beta“ philosophy is asserting itself once more. The downside of releasing relatively frequent system upgrades is that it puts the entire user base in the position of being beta testers. The upside is that when problems emerge they can be fixed quickly. Contrast this with MS’s policy of issuing Service Packs at much longer intervals. These probably do contain less gotchas because they have presumably been subject to more extensive and rigorous pre-release testing. But Windows users have to live much longer with whatever bugs do survive the testing process. I don’t know which philosophy is ultimately preferable. Would Apple perhaps do better to release public betas of OS upgrades?

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on February 11th, 2012 at 2:20 PM:

      @dfs, This, of course, isn't true. Microsoft has an infamous "Patch Tuesday" for release of frequent security and other OS updates:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patch_Tuesday

      Apple's security updates are far more infrequent, and the recent troublesome release was fixed in a couple of days. Nobody forces you to accept an Apple updater.

      More to the point, there are always ongoing Windows OS releases as needed. The Service Pack will tend to conglomerate those releases in a single downloadable package, but that doesn't stop updates from being pushed to Windows users without notice or advance approval, unless they change that option.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

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