The Things We Now Take for Granted

November 11th, 2008

Back in July, the iPhone 3G, newly-released, seemed to be a buggy mess to many of the early adopters. Apps crashed constantly, so they say, and people couldn’t sustain decent voice connections or speedy broadband access. You had to wonder whether Apple had lost its mojo in its drive to push new products out the door as quickly as it could.

That was then and this is now.

As much as I liked the two iPhones I’ve owned, it’s also true that they had connection problems in my Scottsdale, AZ neighborhood. My wife would call me from time to time, and the phone wouldn’t ring, or if it did, wouldn’t keep the call active for more than a minute or two. And no my wife wasn’t just hanging up on me. In any case, the iPhone 3G seemed better able to handle marginal connections, but it wasn’t perfect.

Segue to November, weeks after the 2.1 firmware update addressed many of the connectivity issues. It also appears that AT&T has done its share of work to enhance network quality, as signal strength is more consistent, handovers from 3G to EDGE and back again are more seamless, and there are indeed fewer dropped calls. Now I don’t pretend to know what is actually going on behind the scenes to make it work better, but the formerly marginal connections in my home are more solid too nowadays.

That’s of high importance to me, because the local cable Internet provider, Cox, has been doing some heavy-duty reconstruction work on their network. As a result, I’ve been without Internet for up to a few hours on some days recently, so I’ve had to rely on the iPhone to get online.

As to Cox, all those service interruptions are symptoms of their efforts to improve their system, to support more high definition TV channels and to, ultimately, embrace the DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem standard. That, and a new cable modem to handle the upgraded technology, will allow for far faster broadband speeds. I get up to 20 megabits downstream now, and it’s very likely that will double or triple once all the hardware and software is in place. Of course, all that speed may come at a higher price too, but I hope not too much higher.

When it comes to my two Macs, I usually take them for granted these days. The first five maintenance updates seem to have cured Leopard’s worst ills, although certain Mac troubleshooting sites seem a little over-eager to find problems that either do not exist, or are extremely rare.

Wi-Fi connectivity, a bugaboo since the initial 10.5 release, appears to have become more reliable, at least in my particular environment. However, Leopard’s Spaces feature can still be problematic. Some applications, which spawn multiple windows and palettes, aren’t happy in a multiple desktop setup. You will find, for example, some palettes in one space, another in a different location, and it can get mighty annoying if you want to run the software properly. I don’t know if this is Apple’s problem to solve, or something that third parties will just have to handle more efficiently.

A year from now, of course, we all might be working on the second or third update to Mac OS 10.6, affectionately known as Snow Leopard. Well, that assumes you also have an Intel-based Mac in your computing arsenal, as it doesn’t really seem that the next Mac OS upgrade will support the PowerPC. Then again, by 2009, it’ll be over three years since the Intel transition began, so maybe it’s time to consider retiring the old hardware, although it does appear that Leopard will continue to get updates for a while.

When it comes to security, every time a proof-of-concept infection or even a potential security exploit is discovered, a number of salivating skeptics will rush to write purple prose claiming that the expected avalanche of malware is about to strike the Mac platform. Just you wait and see, they claim. It will happen real soon now, so be protected.

The first official release of Mac OS X arrived in the spring of 2001. Seven-and-a-half years later, that malware epidemic has yet to arrive, even though Apple is selling two or three times as many Macs as it used to.

No, this isn’t an invitation to trouble. It’s just a fact. Yes, maybe some minor malware infections have been found in the wild, and a small number of people have been impacted, but I don’t think the time has arrived to rush out and purchase security software.

Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice safe “HEX,” as someone once described safe computing practices some years ago. You still shouldn’t click on a link in an email that purports to come from a merchant or financial institution with which you deal. Those online phishers are quite capable of duplicating the look and feel of the real sites. If you’re not sure, just go to the site directly, access your account and check things out — or just give them a call and see what’s what.

The other thing to take for granted is that Microsoft is not taken quite as seriously as it used to be. As I said in yesterday’s commentary, some ill-informed tech pundits still take statements from a Microsoft executive as gospel, without checking the facts or questionable history of the company.

That, too, will eventually change, and you can take that to the bank.

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