When planning and recording episodes of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, it's never certain how events might conspire to change our interview schedule or the show's content. Certainly the passing of Steve Jobs last year made it necessary to redo some of the recorded segments in order to keep that week's episode current, and to properly cover his life and my brief encounters with him over the years.
Well, Apple surprised us Thursday with the news that Mountain Lion will be sprung upon the Mac universe some time this summer. This development, welcome as it was, certainly puts the lie to the claim by some that Macs are getting shortchanged by Apple these days because the iPhone and the iPad continue to get a far greater share of the company's revenues.
But the Mac remains a key core business for Apple. Indeed, it appears there will now be annual OS updates to roughly coincide with revisions to the iOS. But I'll have more to say on that subject later in this issue. In the meantime, I did change the agenda for the final interview of this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, so we could begin our coverage of Mountain Lion, which is only known as 10.8 in a Mac's About box. It's all about the names and not the numbers these days.
But first, we began the show with author and commentator Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, who talked about the dream of the "paperless office" and the two broken Mac updates recently released by Apple, along with the problems they caused.
You also heard from Macworld's Dan Moren on the four important issues that need fixing in the App Store and, of course, the Mac App Store.
With the launch of Mountain Lion on the table, we brought aboard Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus to discuss some of the new iOS-inspired features you can expect when Apple releases the OS late this summer. Bob, by the way, is already hard at work on a new book about Mountain Lion that'll probably arrive this fall, shortly after the actual release.
On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a special UFO roundtable to observe the life and accomplishments of the late UFO researcher, Lou Farish. The guest list includes UFO historian Jerome Clark, author of such works as "The UFO Encyclopedia," long-time researcher Rick R. Hilberg, Curt Sutherly, author of "UFO Mysteries: A Reporter Seeks the Truth," and crop circle researcher Nancy Talbott, from the BLT Research Team.
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.
Except for the members of the media who received copies of Mountain Lion ahead of the Thursday launch, few suspected that Apple would get out another Mac OS X upgrade so quickly. After all, to some at any rate, Lion still needs work. Why would Apple rush headlong into completing a successor?
Well, Apple isn't about to follow anyone's conventional wisdom, and maybe it's true that the arrival of Windows 8 later this year, with integration between desktops and tablets, might have spurred Apple on. Or maybe not, because Mountain Lion seems such a natural progression from Lion that it's hard to believe that it was somehow rushed.
With Lion, Apple got attacked rather severely in some quarters for somewhat clumsily moving iOS features into the Mac OS. In particular Launcher, which provides a display of your apps that closely resembles the iOS version, comes across as one large miss. Reverse scrolling, though it can be turned back to the traditional Mac (and Windows) method via a simple preference checkbox, didn't earn Apple many plaudits either.
But it's also true that Apple always regards an OS upgrade as a work in progress. Lion began the migration of iOS features into the Mac. The similarities make sense, because a large portion of iPhone and iPad users don't own Macs yet. Many of them are considering a Mac instead of a Windows PC when it comes time to get a new computer, and making the transition as seamless as possible is a good thing.
So even though there are, and will be, significant differences between a traditional personal computer and a mobile computing device, having system apps with the same name and similar features is a good thing. It makes it easier to move from one to the other and back again. Indeed, nearly seamless iOS/Mac OS X integration must have been the main marching order for Mountain Lion. That's the reason for this marketing label: "Inspired by iPad. Re-imagined for Mac."
So nine of the ten key features emphasized by Apple are, in large part, derived from similar or identical features on the iPad. The tenth, the enhancements to iCloud, only continue Apple's move to migrate more of your stuff to their server farms, for better or worse.
With some 100 million iCloud users, according to Apple, this would make a whole lot of sense. The original release of iCloud has been a confusing affair for many of you. If you used the expiring MobileMe service, you saw features vanishing, and Apple still has to consider how best to solve the case of the multiple Apple IDs. But nothing was said about the latter in the initial promotional material about Mountain Lion.
The one iCloud feature that's truly appealing is document synchronization. Imagine opening a word processing document in Pages on your iPad, and continuing to work on that document on your Mac without waiting to have the contents sync. Of course that will also require new versions of Pages on both the Mac and iOS that will offer near-identical features and file types. So that likely presages a new iWork release in our near future.
Since Apple is making the hooks for this and other Mountain Lion features available to all developers, you can expect that other apps will soon get with the program. I'm not, however, expecting any immediate support from Microsoft. They haven't even come up with a Lion-savvy version of Office for the Mac, and the chances that there will be an iPad version in the near future seem little to none. But if you can move from Mac to Mac and continue working on the same Word document without missing a beat, particularly not having to confront file sharing annoyances, it will be a tremendous boost in your productivity.
However, I wonder how document synchronization and the other enhancements to iCloud will hit your 5GB limit. Will Apple increase it to 10GB, or expect you to upgrade to a paid version if you need the additional storage? Well, that's one way to fund the upkeep on those huge server farms.
I have yet another concern, and that's Gatekeeper. The goal is commendable. One of the few malware issues on Macs these days is the Trojan Horse app, the ones that masquerade as a version of an existing program or a new and useful one, but really does nothing or may cause mischief. Since the MAC Defender outbreak, where Internet criminals were selling a bogus security app, Apple has provided system protection against such exploits.
Gatekeeper takes it further by giving you three options to install or open apps on your Mac. The default setting, which will appear in Mountain Lion's Security & Privacy preference panel, will let you use apps from the Mac App Store or from registered developers who embedded an Apple certificate in their software. The more stringent option restricts you to apps from the Mac App Store, a choice that will not sit well with developers who want to operate independently, or cannot get approval from Apple because their apps won't meet the stringent (and sometimes arbitrary) requirements. The third option lets you run anything you want without constraints, except for the initial warning prompt on first launch.
Of course, you can easily defeat the Gatekeeper warning. A right-click, or control-click, will give you the choice to Open an app or installer anyway, approved or not. Once that's done, Gatekeeper will stay out of the way for the app in question.
Unfortunately, both iCloud and Gatekeeper depend on almost continuous online access. If you are offline for any reason, even if it's because your ISP had an outage or you're at a coffee shop without an active Wi-Fi connection, will Gatekeeper simply stop running until the connection is reestablished? What about the documents you are syncing in iCloud? Will you also have a locally stored copy, just in case?
But it's early in the game. Maybe some of these questions will be answered in the next few weeks. I do hope Apple will make allowances for work situations where no Internet connection is available for any reason.
And, of course, the Night Owl will continue to cover Mountain Lion, and ask the questions nobody else is asking.
The so-called Antennagate fiasco, in which the iPhone 4 was blamed for having a defective antenna system, was somewhat of a public relations disaster for Apple. When the first reports that a "Death Grip," holding the handset the "wrong" way, would seriously degrade reception, Steve Jobs responded with a flippant remark that you should just hold it differently.
Clearly that was the wrong answer, because more and more people actually tested the Death Grip, which involved covering the external joint between the antennas on the left side of the iPhone 4, and found that it could cause problems. Sure, other mobile handsets had similar defects, for better or worse, but this is Apple. Apple is different. The iPhone is different, so how could it possibly be imperfect?
Well, when Steve Jobs summoned the media to an Apple briefing, he revealed that the company had a $100 million antenna testing and development lab in house. Assuming appropriately talented engineers, Apple clearly knew how to design antennas, and if Jobs said that they were doing their best to cope with an imperfect system, you ought to take him at his word.
But that didn't stop Apple from offering to refund disgruntled customers, or give them a free Apple bumper (or other selected case) if they had reception problems. After a while, the furore died down, although Consumer Reports -- demonstrating once again their incredible ignorance about properly testing tech gear -- refused to recommend the iPhone 4. That didn't stop sales, however, until Apple customers lined up for its successor last summer.
Now as you might expect, those ever-present ambulance chasing lawyers got into the game. There were a total of 18 class-action lawsuits claiming that Apple cheated the public in designing a defective product. The lawsuits were consolidated into one, and a settlement has now been offered.
In exchange for bypassing Apple's initial offer of a free bumper, participants in this lawsuit will get -- you guessed it -- a free bumper! But not a selection of cases from different companies. This time, you get Apple's case, or $15 cash, for your time and trouble.
Seems like a thorough waste to me, although that's true with many legal actions of this nature. Quite often just complaining to the company will get you a better deal than waiting for the lawyers to settle a case, and remember such settlements are never certain. Here, Apple probably just wanted to put the whole affair behind them, which makes sense, and retain customer good will.
On the other hand, the legal teams handling this case are definitely going to get one huge payday from their efforts. And a little publicity, although not from me. I will not dignify the lawsuit any further by mentioning their names. They do not deserve the attention.
Sure, I agree that a class action lawsuit is an essential tool, particularly when going against a company that does something that hurts the health and welfare of the population. In cases of that sort, the offender, if guilty, deserves to lose. But when the end result is nothing more than a discount coupon or a tiny amount of cash, it's not worth anyone's time or energy.
But so long as lawyers can earn huge amounts of money from filing trivial lawsuits, expecting companies to settle rather than suffer ongoing bad publicity from an extended trial, you can bet they will continue to pull stunts of this sort.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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