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  • Newsletter Issue #647

    April 23rd, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It’s amazing to see how much has changed in technology during my lifetime. I remember when phonograph records ruled, and other formats, such as cassettes and eight-track, were alternatives that weren’t always acceptable in terms of sound quality. But when the CD arrived, the world changed. Despite some people who maintain that it’s “analog forever,” digital music rules. These days, even the CD is passé, with iTunes in control, boasting a digital library of millions of tracks, and reported to be the number one music retailer on the planet.

    The personal computing world has changed as well, as many expect the iPad (and maybe other tablets) replacing the PC for many of you. Yes, the venerable PC may not disappear so soon, but it will occupy a smaller and smaller role in the computing world.

    Now what about someone born in 2012? How will the tech world change when that child reaches the age of 10 or 15? Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, discusses the 15 technologies that will be history by the time his newborn son, Isaac, becomes a teenager.

    Tonya Engst, of TidBITS and Take Control Books, speaks about the Department of Justice’s antitrust lawsuit against Apple and major book publishers from the viewpoint of a small e-book publisher. She’ll also discuss her latest book, “Take Control of Your iPad.”

    You’ll also learn about the most secure methods to transfer your files from Ian Shray,  Co-founder and CEO of WellRedApps, who will be talking about the release of a new file encryption app, DropKey.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present crop circle investigator Nancy Talbott. During this episode, we’ll be reporting the very latest developments in her ongoing research, including key lab reports. Much of this material is already posted on her site: BLT Research – Crop Circle Science, so you can follow the evidence that she’ll be revealing on this week’s show. Nancy will also offer an update on the unusual phenomena reportedly experienced by Robbert van den Broeke, a young Dutchman and possible psychic, who lives in the southern Netherlands’ village of Hoeven.

    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.

    NO, MICROSOFT, IT WASN’T JUST THE OUTLOOK DATABASE

    If you’ve read my commentaries about the Office for Mac 2011 SP2 update from Microsoft, you’d see I described it as somewhat imperfect. But based on comments from our readers, the blogosphere, and from others who downloaded the update, it was a true bag of hurt. Between Outlook identity database issues, prompts to reenter your product key (serial number) and other issues, it was clear this was a troublesome release.

    Well, it didn’t take long for Microsoft to get the message. As of this weekend, the update has been pulled from AutoUpdate (it’s still available online), primarily because of problems with the Outlook database, where it keeps asking you to upgrade and won’t let the application ever run, and not because of any other programming lapses. But I’ll get into that shortly.

    If you’ve already installed the update, and have encountered database problems, you are left with a fairly involved workaround to set things right, as posted in a Microsoft Support document. If you haven’t done the installation yet, there’s yet another scheme, no less involved, to prepare the database for the update. Or maybe just delete everything and start over.

    Now I should point out that this database bug doesn’t happen to everyone. I didn’t encounter any problems of this sort when I ran the update. It’s also true that I haven’t used Outlook 2011 very much, so it wasn’t a matter of having to deal with a possibly corrupted database. But the larger problem is that Microsoft promised that database issues would be almost eliminated in Outlook, because your email was being stored as separate files, in the fashion of Apple Mail, thus making the database a whole lot smaller.

    Indeed, in the days when Microsoft’s Entourage served the email/contact management functions on the Mac platform, everything was kept in a monolithic database that, as it grew larger, would be prone to corruption. This is why there’s a database repair tool in the first place.

    Indeed, even the simplified database scheme in Outlook demonstrates full well that Microsoft took the wrong direction in building that app from the ashes of Entourage. Certainly database corruption still occurs. Certainly the tools to repair that corruption are still in place. But none of this has really helped address another core issue with Outlook, which is its pathetic performance.

    Yes, maybe Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit rebuilt the thing from the ground up in Apple’s Cocoa programming environment, as they claim. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t port the basic email engine from the previous app, since it functions pretty much the same way, conveying the impression of slogging through quicksand, never quite reaching the surface.

    I haven’t even considered the interface lapses. As I wrote previously, I cannot adapt to the way it switches the focus when you delete email to the previous message, rather than the next one, when your messages are displayed with the most recent emails first. That strikes me as reverse logic. Certainly it’s the opposite of how I expect people would handle messages, which would be the oldest unread first, followed by the more recent ones. But Thunderbird does the very same thing.

    Since Microsoft is such a stickler for giving customers endless options, maybe they should consider some sort of checkbox to allow you to change this setting. From my point of view, Apple Mail appropriately adheres to the logic of the situation.

    But Apple Mail is also quite fast, though not the fastest. But with over 50,000 messages, I seldom find the app struggling to keep up with my needs. But the larger question is whether you even need Outlook. Apple has improved native support for Microsoft Exchange Server, which remains the most popular email system used by businesses. Sure, I grant there are some features that Outlook supports that haven’t appeared in Mail, and that may be a critical issue for some users.

    The real reason Outlook is used, however, may well be that many businesses demand compatibility with Office for Windows, and that’s a key promise for the Mac version of Outlook. So even though it’s really not a very good app, at least it is similar enough to the Windows version to satisfy system admins who only grudgingly approve of Macs on their networks. If they are running essentially the same software, it’s not such a serious problem.

    I also know people who are accustomed to the decent level of integration of the various Office apps, and do not want to experiment with anything new. They coped with the shortcomings of Entourage, and they are prepared to cope with the possibly greater shortcomings of Outlook.

    But Microsoft has at least admitted there is a problem, although the SP2 update remains available at Microsoft’s site. I expect they are working hard on fixing the database glitches, and will have a new version out shortly.

    But maybe, just maybe, they’ll do something to improve Outlook’s efficiency, to make it perform better with large message stores. If that happens, though, it won’t come soon. Microsoft may be working 24/7 to fix the database bug, but it’s not as if they would be expected to fix anything else as part of the package. Maybe with SP 3, assuming there aren’t other problems to confront.

    THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE FOR AN APPLE SMART TV

    The other day, I started to consider when I would be ready to buy a new flat panel TV. The current set in our master bedroom, a 50-inch Panasonic TH-50PZ80U, a relatively low-end model, was purchased at a large discount in early 2008 before the worst of the recession devastated the family finances.

    The Panasonic delivers a first-rate picture, with rich colors, deep blacks, and, typical for plasma flat panels, smooth rendering of sporting events and movie action scenes. But it hasn’t been a perfect experience. A little over a year after I bought the set, the power supply failed. The warranty had expired, and it took the progression through several levels of Panasonic’s support department before they agreed to cover most of the cost of the repair, which would have otherwise been over $400.

    Since then, the set has worked flawlessly. The specs state that the panel will last 100,000 hours before it reaches half brightness (which merely means you have to increase the brightness level I suppose). That means 30 years of useful life if you play the set eight hours a day. Even at 15 or 16 hours, which is not uncommon for many families, a four-year-old set is just breaking in.

    Since the Panasonic offers full 1080p resolution, and a fairly decent assortment of picture enhancement tricks, it’s not as if current models promise a whole lot more. A casual look at current offerings doesn’t, to my eyes, show that much of a difference in image quality — except for 3D of course, which is still a hard sell. It’s not as if lots of people are rushing to fight over the glasses to catch the 3D version of a popular movie when it becomes available. Yes, the 3D version of a Blu-ray player is relatively inexpensive. Yes, some video-on-demand services, such as DirecTV, offer a sprinkling of 3D content. But it’s also true that only a handful of movies seem to benefit from such treatment.

    So it’s not as if 3D is necessarily the main reason to buy a new set.

    There’s also the “smart” or “connected” TV, which offers a slate of online services or apps that expand the reach of your set. From Netflix to Hulu, you can get content that goes beyond what the cable and satellite providers traditionally offer. But that’s nothing you can’t get with a separate set top box, such as an Apple TV (although it doesn’t offer Hulu — at least not yet). So where’s the argument in favor of buying a new TV?

    Certainly, the TV makers are struggling to find the magic formula, and enhance picture rendering technology and other features, to entice you to upgrade, but prices continue to fall simply because the market is saturated. People expect their TVs to last for years.

    And there are those frequent rumors that Apple is working on their own answer to a question few are asking, which is whether you need to throw out your old TV and buy a new one? One key argument in favor of Apple is the promise of a new and snazzy interface. Certainly the menu-driven setup screens on most any TV are poorly executed. Even when presented with an initial setup assistant, most of you will just click through whatever you see, and get on with your business.

    In saying that, most TVs offer a load of adjustment options to enhance the picture for specific uses (such as Games, or Cinema), or to compensate for the aging of the panels. But they are seldom touched. There are even test pattern discs designed to ease the picture calibration process, but the audience is mostly power users. I admit to using one, though I found the Cinema configuration to be just about as good on the Panasonic, if a bit less bright.

    An Apple-born solution to guide you through the setup process, assist in picture calibration (or use some room sensing routine to optimize the picture, though some models do that already), and get you ready to enter the world of TV entertainment ,would help a lot. It’s possible Apple would bring newer panel technologies to the table to seriously improve picture quality, and perhaps offer a tricked out sound system to deliver a more movie-like audio experience.

    But for day-to-day use, an Apple TV accessory may potentially be all you need. Yes, a smart TV from Apple might be easier to set up. Yes, sound and picture might be superior to current models, but that tiny Apple TV component is where the sales volume will come unless Apple can enter the TV set market with aggressive pricing and loads of unique features.

    However, the audience for a new TV would largely consist of people who haven’t already upgraded to the latest and greatest high definition models in recent years. Unlike PCs or smartphones, TVs are still sufficiently appliance-like that you expect them to serve your needs for many years without the need to fiddle with settings or pay expensive repair bills. That may be the biggest obstacle Apple will need to confront should they attempt to enter yet another new business.

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #647”

    1. […] Continue Reading… Related Posts: Newsletter Issue #646: Still Not Ready: Microsoft Outlook for Mac 2011 […]

    2. Alberto says:

      Why suffer? Use Mail. It works. WELL.
      Nowadays the only remaining useful M$ app is Excel. Still waiting for a decent version of Numbers!!!

      • @Alberto, I do not disagree. But I’d be remiss in my job as a tech journalist not to check out the other apps from time to time. Businesses may mandate use of Microsoft apps, and Outlook may be a somewhat more complete Exchange client.

        Word still works well for me, though I use Pages more and more.

        Peace,
        Gene

    3. Lazer Wolf says:

      I’m still not sure I understand the logic of Apple selling the whole TV widget or “smartTV”. As you say, televisions are basically an appliance and I am not sure how fast the turnover is for an individual/family when it comes to buying a television. But it is not like upgrading your ipod or mobile phone for that matter, which you could do once every year or every other year, the cost is prohibitive.

      What is the impetus to buy an Apple branded television versus the current add-on AppleTV ? I don’t think easing the set-up process or picture adjustment protocol or better audio output would convince many to upgrade an entire television. As you say, most people will never adjust the picture once they get it to some reasonable state.

      On the other hand, for myself, I think the only motivation would be if the Apple television could cut out or cut down cable costs. I truly believe we are getting to the point where many people are beginning to or are well on their way to resenting what cable costs. And there is a growing segment looking for cost effective alternatives.

      How could an Apple television help off-set cable costs? This would necessitate the Apple television driving a reduction in the cost of cable content and/or hardware. I think Apple can handle the hardware aspect and eliminate the ugly cable box/dvr, which are monthly rentals, but I still don’t see what they can do about cable content and the bundled packages the cable companies sell with cable/internet/telephone.

      I’d be interested in your thoughts on the possibility of an Apple television driving down monthly cable costs as an impetus to buy an Apple television.

      • @Lazer Wolf, There have been rumors that Apple is working on a subscription TV service. Problem is that such a service would require loads of Internet bandwidth, which would put many people in danger if exceeding the caps from their ISPs.

        Peace,
        Gene

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