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  • Newsletter Issue #694

    March 18th, 2013

    THIS WEEK'S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Moving to another country? Well, the issues that might arise when it comes to your tear gear and services was part of the discussion on this weekend's episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. When I spoke with commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld's "iTunes Guy," and the editor of Mac OS X Hints, I asked him about his pending move from France to the UK, and the problems he might face, for example, with transferring his Apple ID and iTunes account. And let me tell you that Apple doesn't make it easy to deal with your digital content.

    I also posed a hypothetical situation: What if I wanted to buy a new Mac and send it to my son, Grayson, who lives in Madrid? That, my friends, isn't such an easy thing to do. I can't just go to Apple's online store and place my order, or even do it at Amazon or another third-party reseller. Evidently Apple won't allow you to have one shipped overseas. Instead, you have to contact Apple's international order center, and place the order in the home country of the recipient. When you add Spain's Value Added Tax and other costs, the price for even an entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro is several hundred dollars more than you'd pay in the U.S.

    As to Amazon, they put restrictions on a variety of products "Buyers outside the U.S. cannot purchase the following types of items from sellers: video games, toy and baby items, electronics, cameras and photo items, tools and hardware, kitchenware and housewares, sporting goods and outdoor equipment, software, and computers." And the same conditions evidently apply to a U.S. customer sending a gift to recipients in other countries.

    Update: Another possible solution is to buy the item, ship it to your home or office, and then mail it overseas. But it appears the recipient may have to pay hefty import duties to actually receive it, and that's far and above the hefty shipping rates. According to someone with whom I spoke at the Spanish Embassy to the U.S., the recipient would have to pay approximately 10% duty, and 21% VAT. The only way around this would be for someone to physically take it with them on a trip from the U.S. to Spain. In the end, buying it direct from Apple's online store in Spain may be more convenient since Grayson is a teacher and thus qualifies for educational pricing. Where's Star Trek's Transporter when we need it?

    Our next two segments returned to hot tech gear. Now that Samsung has announced the newest reputed iPhone killer, the Galaxy S4 smartphone, we brought on board Roy Choi, Managing Editor of TechnoBuffalo, and Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, to discuss the potential impact of the new gadget, and the good and bad points, including hands-on impressions.

    I'll have more to say on that subject in the next article.

    On this week's episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return visit from paranormal researcher and author Rosemary Ellen Guiley, author of a new book on a mysterious and powerful race of often evil entities known as the Djinn, entitled: "The Djinn Connection: The Hidden Links Between Djinn, Shadow People, ETs, Nephilim, Archons, Reptilians and Other Entities." You'll also hear Rosemary answer listener questions about her ongoing research.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! 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.

    WALL STREET'S CURIOUS RESPONSE TO THE SAMSUNG GALAXY S4

    For several months, Apple's stock price has taken a dive from a high of over $700 down to the $400 range. The critics have suggested the company has lost its way and that CEO Tim Cook will never succeed without someone like Steve Jobs around. When you add to that unconfirmed reports supposedly originating in the supply chain that point to potential sales shortfalls, it's easy to think Apple might be in really big trouble.

    However, in recent days industry analysts have begun to speak well of Apple. But there is one more thing that caused a surprising change.

    In the run-up to the introduction of the 2013 version of Samsung's flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S4, you almost thought the company could walk on water. It's predecessor, the S3, was the only smartphone to actually exceed the iPhone in sales, at least for a brief time, in 2012. Less reported is the fact that the iPhone emerged victorious in the December quarter, even though Apple was downgraded because of missing inflated revenue and profit estimates. But not Apple's fault; it's all about perceptions rather than reality.

    So in a harshly criticized presentation at Radio City Music Hall, Samsung proudly unveiled their Swiss Army Knife concept of a smartphone. Journalists and industry analysts, including Consumer Reports magazine, were granted a decent amount of time to put the preproduction units through their paces, and guess what happened next?

    Well, on Friday, Apple's stock price rose $11.16. Imagine that! So what's going on here?

    In the past, Apple has been attacked because new versions of their key products didn't change enough from version to version. Evidently, Samsung is guilty of the very same thing with the Galaxy S4. Yes, the display size is a tad larger (five inches compared to 4.8 inches), it is a tad slimmer and lighter, and the specs are predictably more robust. A preliminary benchmark from one magazine, which employed a free Android app to run the test, revealed a sizable performance boost, which is to be expected with a faster processor.

    There are also loads of software enhancements, including a Smart Scroll feature that uses the front camera to detect if your eyes are staring at the unit. Tilt up, down or sideways and the content on the screen will scroll accordingly. Smart? We'll see.

    When you put it all together, reviewers and Wall Street weren't so impressed. The hardware changes were pedestrian. Samsung is sticking with a thin polycarbonate case rather than moving to glass or some exotic metallic assembly scheme. They admit it makes the units cheaper and easier to build, so I suppose it makes sense from a certain point of view. And if you stick the thing in a case anyway, maybe it doesn't matter. Indeed, some suggest that Apple's alleged cheap iPhone will use plastics as a cost-saving measure.

    The software additions also may strike some as gimmicky, and I'm only going to discuss a few of them here. You can learn the rest at the dedicated site Samsung has set up for the S4. In passing, though, you have to wonder what Google might think about all this. Sure, the S4 will sport the current version of Android, version 4.2.2 Jelly Bean, but all of the highly-touted software features are exclusive to Samsung, or similar to "exclusive" features on smartphones from other companies. Maybe Android doesn't matter so much, and I wonder whether Samsung may eventually feel confident enough to drop the platform and replace it with their own.

    Some of that may depend on just how well Samsung's home-brewed software works in the real world, and not just on spec lists. Certainly, the company seemed to be trying to pull out all the stops in building the S4. The hardware features mostly took advantage of the usual technology enhancements. It doesn't look much different, but Samsung believes that such features as being able to wave your hand above the S4 to engage new gestures, have it scroll on a tilt, and shoot pictures from the front and rear cameras at the same time, will give it an advantage over the iPhone and, of course, other Android handsets.

    A lot of it depends on how smoothly those features work and integrate with the overall user experience. A few missteps, and the new features will go largely unused after the excitement wears off. Here the reports from reviewers who had hands on experiences with the S4 prototypes portrayed a mixed bag.

    The Consumer Reports blogger reacted positively to tilt scrolling, reporting, "I found this capability worked better than I thought it might, engaging quickly whenever I stared at the screen. I was also [able] to control the rate of scroll quite easily with subtle wrist movements." Other reports mentioned a half second delay in engaging a scroll, supposedly a deliberate choice, which might make the feature less fluid in the real world. Or just a not-so-useful gimmick that people will soon tire of.

    Samsung at least succeeded in getting a lot of publicity with the S4 rollout, but since it's weeks away from actually going on sale, you wonder if potential customers might just turn their attention to something else in the meantime. Or just go about their business. Certainly Wall Street has already moved in that direction, but you can hardly take the market seriously regardless.

    SAYING A MAC ISN'T IMMUNE TO MALWARE IS OLD NEWS

    The other day, I saw yet another story reminding readers that the Mac isn't invulnerable to malware infections. Such reports appear from time to time as if the revelation is something new, unexpected, and not facts that long-time Mac users know full well.

    The recent concerns arose out of the Flashback infection, a Java-based Trojan Horse outbreak designed to steal your personal information. In all, some 600,000 Macs become victims, through the actual figure is based on a claim from a single security software company, Dr. Web. Regardless, it was still something to take seriously.

    After being unaccountably late in delivering a fix, Apple stepped up to the plate and released several updates to address the infection. They also began to disable support for Java applets in a browser, which would have blocked Flashback. In fact, there a few reasons to use a Java applet, other than some of those online chat rooms. Apple also has to depend on Java's publisher, Oracle, to provide the fixes, and it seems it's a continuing cat-and-mouse game with online criminals. It's also a game that Mac users shouldn't want to play.

    Apple has certainly taken steps to shore up the OS. iOS users, for example, don't have much to worry about over potential malware. Apple sandboxes the apps, to keep them walled off from one another, and carefully curates the content. This helps reduce the chances for mischief. In contrast, the potential for malware infection on the Android platform is far greater, which is why there is a rich selection of free and paid security apps from which to choose. Indeed, when I set up a Galaxy S3 for testing, one of the first purchases I made from the Google Play app store was a security app.

    With OS X, Apple evidently still wants to give developers freedom to innovate, but getting into the App Store now requires including sandboxing support. Older apps without the feature that were previously accepted cannot be updated until the changes are made. The downside is that some features that require inter-app communication can't be supported, so even disk repair utilities are verboten.

    Apple also added the Gatekeeper feature to OS 10.8, Mountain Lion, which limits the apps that can be opened. By default, you can run an app from the App Store, or from an independent software resource so long as the app has an Apple security certificate. This is a way of certifying developers as sources of safe software.

    But Gatekeeper is easily bypassed. Control-click or right-click an app icon, choose Open, and it'll run anyway. You can also set a system preference that lets you use any app regardless. Gatekeeper is also limited to the first launch, with the assumption that the app will be safe after that, which may or may not be true if a third-party infection takes control.

    There's also a decent number of security apps from which to select, so if you feel you need the ounce of protection, you can get it free or for a modest fee. But susceptibility to malware isn't new on the Mac. There were Mac-based viruses even in the early days of the platform, but it has long been felt that Apple's relatively low market share helped keep the attention of virus creators elsewhere, specifically Windows.

    In the twilight days of the PC, the higher Mac market share has made some believe the platform may be subject to renewed attention by Internet criminals. But, aside from the Flashback episode, and an older Trojan Horse involving a fake antivirus app, there hasn't been much damage. At least not yet.

    Apple also appears to have demonstrated reasonable concern over security issues by releasing regular fixes for the last three OS X versions, and that includes 10.6 Snow Leopard, first released in 2009.

    Every so often you will read a news story or commentary trying to correct the alleged assumption that a Mac cannot be infected by a virus. That assumption was never true, and such stories seem to be written more to gain attention than to educate customers.

    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #694”

    1. Louis Wheeler says:

      NEWSFLASH!!!! Antivirus software is not perfect.

      At times, not only did antivirus software not protect, but a virus was distributed on the Compact Disk. Sure, this was a long time ago and does not apply to any current antivirus venders, but you can't be too careful, nor can you be fair handed in your presentation. Therefore, let us damn every antivirus vendor for the faults of a few. Let us bring up examples which no longer apply to any current antivirus solution.

      Also, we should fail to state that 95% of the malware is on Windows systems, because Windows does not have a UNIX type permission system. The other 5% of malware, Trojan Horses and spam mostly, is not applicable to Apple alone, but also to Windows and Linux.

      Nor should we ever admit that there is no business model for exploits on a Mac. And that the vulnerabilities in Apple's Mac OSX UNIX foundations, or in third party applications such as PDF's, Flash and Java, have never been turned into an exploit to system security. We should never say that hacking contests allow physical access to the Mac, something which is unlikely. Nor should we say that where Macs have been compromised on lost or stolen equipment, it always turns out that the data was unencrypted.

      We should set up strawman arguments which no sane Mac user would ever make: that a malware attack on a Mac is impossible.

      Similarly, we should never say that Fort Knox is impregnable, because that is tempting fate. We should, instead, say that compromising Fort Knox's security is so difficult as to be impracticable. But, it is in no one's interest to scream "Fort Knox is not immune to attack!" They'd get laughed at if they did.

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