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  • Newsletter Issue #678

    November 26th, 2012

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Over the past couple of weeks, it does appear that I have spent more time and space covering Microsoft than usual, simply because the company's focus on integrating PC and mobile operating systems has become so polarized. While some people, and even Consumer Reports magazine, have praised Windows 8 and the controversial Modern UI touch interface, others sharply disagree. To them, Windows 8 is a disaster in the making, and a huge mistake. Microsoft's hubris on wanting the same interface for traditional PCs, tablets, and smartphones may cause no end of grief when it comes to the company's bottom line.

    It may take until the holiday season passes before it's possible to assess how Windows 8 might fare going forward. While it might seem logical to PC makers that lots of gear will be sold in the next few weeks, there are already sharp discounts designed to move hardware quickly. A fire sale, or just the hedging of bets? Microsoft is obviously hoping for the latter.

    Now on this week's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused on the latest tech news and views from Apple and other companies with a special emphasis on Windows 8, and the tepid early reaction to Microsoft's efforts to establish what they call the PC+ era.

    You heard from veteran tech columnist Ted Landau, who writes for The Mac Observer and Macworld, usability guru Jakob Nielsen, who has actually put Windows 8 through a series of intense tests with a panel of experienced PC users, and Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine.

    During our session with Avram, he spent a fair amount of time describing his reactions to Nielsen's survey and how it very much vindicated his opinions about Windows 8. And, remember, Avram tends to be favorably disposed towards Microsoft

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris remember Jim Moseley, the UFO field's court jester and editor of "Saucer Smear," who died on November 16. His close friends join us with their anecdotes about Jim's amazing life, including Tim Beckley, Jerome Clark, T. Allen Greenfield, Geneva Hagen, and Bob Zanotti.

    Now I realize most of you never heard of Jim Moseley, but he was one of my closest friends, someone I knew from a very early age and, indeed, my first employer before I entered broadcasting. For that and other reasons, I felt he deserved special treatment and respect on our "other" radio show.

    Special Sci-Fi Update! Earlier this month, our second sci-fi novel, "Rockoids II: The Coming of the Protectors" was released. The novel continues the exciting adventures of the unique characters introduced in the first novel in the series, "Attack of the Rockoids." Rather than retread the same ground as some sequels do, the story moves forward in unique directions. My son, Grayson, and I had lots of fun writing the story, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It's available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions. Why Amazon? Well, since Kindle software is available on various platforms, we only had to make one version to satisfy as many readers as possible.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author PMH Atwater, who has engaged in an extensive study, spanning four decades, of near-death experiences. The discussion will include her three near-death experiences dating back to the 1970s, how her life changed as a result. We'll also cover some of her books, including "Near-Death Experiences, The Rest of the Story," and "The Big Book of Near Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die."

    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.

    THE RETURN OF SNOW LEOPARD CONSPIRACY THEORY

    Conspiracy theories are often entertaining. The conventional explanation about an episode, usually a tragedy, is really a cover-up. There are actually other reasons why things happen that don't necessary depend on a lone gunman, or some haphazard event over which we have no control.

    Certainly in our unique corner of the world, we wonder why Microsoft and Windows chief Steve Sinofsky parted company. Maybe he really just wanted to get out of the rat race, after 23 years at the company, and enjoy his life. Sure, being a high pressure executive can take its toll on a person, and perhaps his family life suffered as a result. Since he is also a very rich man, perhaps it all made sense.

    That's the optimistic way to look at the situation, but maybe Microsoft simply got tired of dealing with an abrasive personality, and used the completion of a key assignment, the release of Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, as an excuse to send Sinofsky packing. It's not as if he needs to worry about getting an unemployment check.

    Another theory has it that Sinofsky was shown the door because of the perceived massive failure of Windows 8. Even avid Microsoft fans have been highly critical. Perhaps, but there's also the theory that Sinofsky had been groomed as, or expected to be,the successor to CEO Steve Ballmer. So it could have been a case of bad timing and office politics.

    Regardless, it's fair to expect that Microsoft will continue to sell and support Windows 7 for a number of years yet. It's very questionable that the enterprise will want to risk potential productivity losses and high retraining expenses by adopting Windows 8. Considering that the forthcoming Office 2013 actually exists in the desktop layer of Windows 8, and pays scant lip service to touch, why should anyone bother with the new interface when a perfectly serviceable OS is still available? And that assumes a company isn't just going to stick with Windows XP.

    Now when it comes to the Apple universe, you sort of expect that an older version of OS X will disappear quickly after a successor appears. That was certainly true of Lion with the arrival of Mountain Lion in July.

    On the other hand, it's been reported that millions of Mac users insist on running OS 10.6 Snow Leopard on their computers, even though it was released way back in 2009. That, in the Mac universe, is an eternity. Evidently you can now order an installation DVD at Apple's online store for $19.99, shipping included. That's $10 cheaper than the original price, and the same amount Apple charged for the 10.1 update for OS X early adopters in 2001.

    At the same time, sales of Mountain Lion reportedly slid quickly after the rush of early adopters had downloaded their copies. So is this a huge Apple misstep, or just a sign that many Mac users have other priorities, or won't bother with a new OS till they buy new Macs? Is it possible that OS 10.8 isn't a compelling upgrade compared to Lion, or were so many Mac users jaded by the adoption of some iOS features that they opted to stick with the tried and the true?

    After the initial round of maintenance updates, Snow Leopard has emerged as quite a snappy and reliable OS. More to the point, the controversial iOS-inspired changes are nowhere to be found. But the larger issue is the simple fact that you can still run PowerPC apps on Snow Leopard, courtesy of the Rosetta translation software. For reasons known only to themselves, Apple excised Rosetta from 10.7 and 10.8.

    This is actually a huge issue for a number of Mac users. I have one client, a textbook author, who continues to require Word 2004, a PowerPC app. His dilemma is nothing unusual. While you can now get an Intel-savvy version of Intuit's Quicken financial software, for example, there are loads of other important and mission critical apps that will never, ever be upgraded. Snow Leopard remains the only option.

    So in the larger scheme of things, keeping Snow Leopard around makes perfect sense for Apple. The sales of OS X aren't huge cash cows because of the low price of admission. When these customers buy new Macs, they'll be presented with the latest OS anyway. It's a situation totally unlike the one Microsoft confronts because of near-endless backwards compatibility of Windows and PC hardware.

    So it will probably still take years before Windows XP really fades from view around the world, whereas Snow Leopard's market share will steadily erode. In short order, only a small number of Mac users with older hardware will continue to use it. By restoring Snow Leopard to the Apple Store, Apple merely made a logical choice, just as they made the logical choice to continue to sell Final Cut Pro 7 when the reinvented Final Cut Pro X met stiff resistance in the marketplace.

    APPLE CONTINUES TO CHIP AWAY AT PRODUCT BACKLOGS

    One of the huge downsides in building custom manufacturing processes for new products is that Apple will inevitably have problems meeting early demand for a hot selling item. So, there's still a two-week backlog at Apple's online store for the iPad mini and the iPhone 5. But if you shop around, you might even get instant gratification on most configurations of either. Indeed, if you don't object to refurbished hardware, you can save $100 on an iPhone 5 at AT&T, assuming the one you want is available.

    On the other hand, you still can't place an order for the 2012 iMac, either the 21.5-inch version or the 27-inch model. The former was promised for November, and time is running out. The latter was expected in December, and there has been no change in the promised delivery timeframes. I suppose if the smaller iMac ships on November 30, Apple has kept the promise.

    Despite claims of delayed delivery because of the complicated manufacturing scheme, Apple recently insisted the iMac was on schedule. So we'll see. Regardless, shipments will reportedly be constrained for a while, so it's not expected that the new model will be a huge factor in holiday quarter sales, unless a bunch of them can be shipped before the end of the year. But since 80% of Mac sales are confined to notebooks, maybe it won't be a huge problem. After all, where do customers go if their new iMac isn't ready? It's not that they will rush to buy a Dell all-in-one instead.

    Some might suggest that Apple should have found some way to ship these products earlier. Maybe it didn't make a whole lot of sense to seriously revise the iMac right now. Maybe do it next year, with sufficient time for a production ramp that wouldn't harm holiday sales. On the other hand, the existing iMac came out in the middle of 2011, so sales were likely on the decline anyway. Besides, it's not always easy to predict how sophisticated manufacturing steps will fare as production quantities increase. That Apple does as well as it does under the circumstances may be considered almost a miracle by some. Besides, why should Apple's creativity be sidelined because a product is hard to build?

    After all, how many of Apple's competitors are busy perfecting new manufacturing processes and parts configurations? Most take off-the-shelf stuff, make a few visible changes to the case, package it and ship it. I suppose Microsoft used some innovative designs with the Surface tablet, but it's a larger question whether their design choices made a whole lot of sense. There are even reports that the touch keyboards are fraying for some within a short time. That hardly makes a customer feel warm and fuzzy towards Microsoft, and the Surface may already be a hard sell.

    Of course, with the recent severe drop in the stock price (and it's on an uphill climb once again), it's been easy to attack Apple for real or imagined purposes. Production bottlenecks would only be a part of the misery factor, assuming there are serious problems yet to be solved. If the iMac's delivery date is moved off till next year, that development might appear to vindicate the critics who crave doom and gloom for Apple. But that's a company you shouldn't bet against.

    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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    13 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #678”

    1. Elmor says:

      Hate to say it, but one reason that I have not upgraded my desktop is due to the Intuit Quicken issue. Just have not found a money manager to replace it. Not saying that Quicken is all stellar and such, and matter of fact it does some weird things bug wise every now and then. Not waiting for Intuit to come out with a improved version, either. They have lost my business with regards to this software as I don't see them supporting Apple as they have the PC. And I don't like being an after thought.

      Yes, I've looked at other money managers, and I find I just don't like their interfaces. And that's not to say that I ever cared about Quicken's, either. But for now, Quicken is bought and paid for, and it is something that I know how to use and gets the job done.

      Another software that is now defunct is Bias Peak. Using the Express version for converting tapes and digitizing music into CD's, when needed, or for iTunes. Again, just have not found anything else to replace it as it gets the job done. I use it less often and I forget how to do things in it, and I never have used all the functionality. From what I recall, Garage Band doesn't offer the creating separate tracks a CD would need. So as much as I like Garage Band it doesn't do that aspect, though I know it'll send files to iTunes.

      Well, I know this isn't an opportunity to create a list of collective things of why users don't upgrade to 10.7 or 10.8, but may be interesting to find out why others choose not to upgrade

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on November 26th, 2012 at 10:22 AM:

      @Elmor, Bias Peak worked pretty well on new Macs running Lion or Mountain Lion, however. So you can continue to use the software so long, I suppose, as the product authorization servers remain active. I've since moved my radio show post production workflow mostly to Sound Studio, a worthy shareware app that has proven to be reasonably fast and highly reliable.

      As to Quicken, you can get a Lion (and I assume Mountain Lion) compatible version for $14.99, although the Windows version has a richer feature set:

      http://quicken.intuit.com/personal-finance-software/quicken-2007-osx-lion.jsp

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

      JB replied on November 26th, 2012 at 12:04 PM:

      Yes, Elmor, as Gene says below, there is a Lion/Mountain Lion-compatible version of Quicken 2007 now. It works perfectly well on Mountain Lion.
      @Elmor,

      Reply To This Comment

    2. gjs says:

      Beyond satisfaction with Snow Leopard, users may be disinclined to update because Apple hasn't created any reason to beyond pushing users to iOS.

      Since Snow Leopard, there has been almost no innovation (and I would argue some attack) on those who work with a large monitor and mouse. (See: visual devaluation of scroll bars, shrunken window buttons, "Save As," and the un-evolved and frustrating Finder.)

      I am curious to see whether Apple has any serious long term interest in people who need to use computers as we know them. All indications are they are happy to let this market erode (to use your words.)

      Reply To This Comment

    3. John Beach says:

      I would have gone to Lion if it had come on an install DVD. The lack of a non-download version of the OS slowed my college from adopting 10.7/10.8 for our IT classes where we routinely have the new students freshly install the OS on the machine (from the media without requiring Internet access). And, as I teach what they are using, I didn't have much incentive to upgrade my personal Macs.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on November 26th, 2012 at 1:50 PM:

      @John Beach, Poor excuse. Lion also came on a USB stick, and it's not difficult to make DVD installers of Lion and Mountain Lion. Plenty of instructions online. Do your research.

      Here's an example:

      http://lifehacker.com/5928780/how-to-burn-os-x-mountain-lion-to-a-dvd-or-usb-flash-drive

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    4. Rod says:

      While Lion was okay, it appears to be the Mac equivalent of Vista. Mountain Lion is the Lion that we should have gotten.

      Some applications, which work well in Snow Leopard, simply do not work as well in Lion, yet work perfectly well in Mountain Lion.

      I have hundreds of users and many complained about Lion so I installed Snow Leopard instead of Lion. I am now upgrading those same users to Mountain Lion and they are all happy.

      Reply To This Comment

    5. David says:

      At home each family member has a Mac. Two of us could be running Mountain Lion, one has ML compatible hardware but would need a memory upgrade, and the fourth has a 2007 MacBook that cannot run ML and would run poorly on Lion. To make life easy I want all four Macs to run the same OS so Snow Leopard it shall remain until we can afford some new hardware.

      Snow Leopard works well and we're all used to it so there's really no reason to change. In fact there has only been one occasion where we we've unable to do something because the OS was too old and that was a website that required Java 7. In the coming year I expect there will be more pressures to upgrade and, unfortunately, another OS release from Apple.

      I really think this annual release thing is a mistake. Not only are there a lot of Snow Leopard users out there, there's a huge pile of Lion users too. Next year a 4th OS will be added to that mix. For a company that criticizes the fragmentation of Android, they seem to be doing everything they can to create a similar situation on the Mac. I don't know why they didn't foresee that users, especially Windows switchers, would stick with what came pre-installed on their Mac. Even if Mountain Lion had been completely free I don't think the numbers would be much different than they are today. $19 isn't stopping anyone who can afford a Mac. Clearly the main barrier is an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality.

      There will always be users running 4+ year old Macs and equally old operating systems. If you release every 24 months those people remain safe for 4-6 years. If you release every 12 months you either have to keep making updates for 4-5 different OSs or leave users to the wolves after just 3 years. Apple should never have gotten themselves in such a tricky situation.

      Reply To This Comment

    6. Jeremy says:

      I still, for a few things, need Classic (thx Sheepshaver) as well as Rosetta and a functioning faxmodem. Apple's abandoning users like me causes clinging to Snow Leopard. Besides, 10.6.8 is mostly very polished.

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on November 26th, 2012 at 4:54 PM:

      @Jeremy, Sheepshaver, except for some minor issues, appears to work with Mountain Lion:

      http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/20615/sheepshaver

      I switched to an online fax service a long time ago. No need to depend on any one device to receive faxes.

      I feel your pain about Rosetta, but are there no replacements for the PowerPC apps you need?

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    7. Joel Bruner says:

      I believe the main reason for dropping PPC/Rosetta support was sandboxing. At WWDC, I recall there being a mention of 64 bit processes being able to take advantage of NX memory protection (no-execute). And I think that was the main reason. That and Apple doesn't hang on to "old" technologies, as frustrating as that is...

      However there IS a solution: virtualize a 10.6 install to retain Rosetta support. You can do it for free with Virtual Box. Or pay for VMWare or Parallells. The one thing to note with the pay versions and I can only speak to VMware, is that it will check if 10.6 is server due to Apple's licensing terms. However, it is just ONE file, a plist, and it can be altered ever so slightly to be seen as "server". This might be the best solution for your readers to move forward into 10.7/10.8 yet still be able to run PPC apps.

      For VMWare it goes something like this:
      Clone your 10.6 system to an external disk (boot off CD and use Disk Utility)
      Install VMWare/Parallells (VMWare 5 can be installed on 10.6.7 and above)
      Purchase Mountain Lion from the App Store, but don't install yet, make sure everything works first!
      Create a 10.7/10.8 virtual machine using the App Store installer (easy, since there are no licensing restrictions with 10.7/10.8)
      After installation of the VM, shut down, Add a new virtual Hard Disk, choose a location a folder level above the VM bundle, so it's easier to find later.
      Attach your external disk with 10.6 to the VM
      Clone from the External to the New virtual drive using Disk Utility
      Alter the file that makes it report as server (I'll leave it as an exercise in Googling)
      Shut down. Remove the vitual Hard disk from the VM, but keep the file(s).
      Now you take the VMDK file(s) that were created and create a new 10.6 Server VM with the New Virtual Machine Assistant.

      Perhaps I should write a blog post about that... :) Anyway I hope that offers a glimmer of hope for some folks....

      Joel

      Reply To This Comment

      Gene Steinberg replied on November 27th, 2012 at 10:17 AM:

      @Joel Bruner, The obvious solution is just don't bother with Lion or Mountain Lion unless or until you can replace the PowerPC apps. Other than running new software not compatible with 10.6, or buying a new Mac, where you have no choice in OS versions, the virtualization solution shouldn't be necessary.

      Peace,
      Gene

      Reply To This Comment

    8. hammeroftruth says:

      What I have been finding is that a lot of people who owned older iOS devices, had Macs with Leopard on them. Then they upgraded to a new iOS device which REQUIRES at minimum 10.6.8. I think that this is the biggest reason why Apple has decided to make the dvds available again.

      Reply To This Comment

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