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  • More Apple Speculation: Sensible and Otherwise

    June 21st, 2011

    When a company withholds information about future products, you can bet that, if that company makes good stuff that’s hugely popular, the rumor mills will be actively trying to figure out what’s going on behind the scenes. So it stands to reason that Apple, the most prosperous tech company on the planet by various measures, will make people regularly talk about them, often by doing absolutely nothing.

    So you just know that there will soon be a revised MacBook Air sporting Intel’s powerful and power efficient Sandy Bridge chips, and no doubt the Thunderbolt peripheral port, although there’s little or nothing to plug in to that port so far in terms of high-speed accessories. None of this seems unexpected, because that’s the typical upgrade cycle. Besides, since the MacBook Air, at lower price points, has become a huge sales success, you can bet Apple wants to keep it up to date.

    Fine and dandy, except the next page of speculation has it that the update has been put off to July or August. Why? Well, apparently Apple would rather ship these refreshed MacBook Airs with Lion preloaded. It doesn’t make sense to release a new model one month, and a major OS upgrade the next. That puts Apple in the position of forcing people to install system upgrades within days or weeks after buying what’s supposed to be the latest and greatest.

    That makes plenty of sense. So long as current MacBook Air sales are pretty solid, it also doesn’t mean that Apple would necessarily suffer from holding off such an upgrade, if that’s what they plan to do of course. There’s also a newer story that suggests there will be a black aluminum version, shades of the black MacBook, although that model used plastics. However, a later report includes a claim allegedly from an anonymous Apple employee that the company wasn’t able to successfully produce a black coating.

    By the same token, you will probably also wait a month or two for upgrades for the Mac mini and Mac Pro. Few mention the plain MacBook anymore. I suppose the MacBook Air could be regarded as its replacement, although that truly depends on how sales fare, considering the last MacBook update came in 2010. But don’t count that model out just yet.

    While all these updates seem predictable enough, adding Sandy Bridge chips and one or more Thunderbolt ports, the direction of the Mac Pro may be a question mark. As Apple moves extra CPU horsepower and expandability, courtesy of Thunderbolt, to the iMac, I expect the prospective market for the Mac Pro is being sharply reduced. There will still be a number of content creators who need an ultimate Mac with internal expansion ports, and the highest performance possible, even if the level is, under most circumstances, only slightly ahead of a fully outfitted iMac.

    There’s also speculation that suggests a redesigned Mac Pro case, designed to fit the 3U slots in a datacenter rack. This would make it more convenient to install banks of Mac Pros doing movie special effects rendering and other tasks that can be shared among different computers. It would also, in part, resurrect the possibilities of a high-end Macintosh server, a market mostly abandoned by Apple when the Xserve was discontinued. At the same time, the $49.99 server upgrade for Mac OS X Lion has made it far more affordable for small businesses and educational institutions to consider a Mac server solution.

    From the “sky is falling” department, there’s more talk than ever about new malware threats on the Mac. This all started with that scareware episode, where Internet criminals wrote MAC Defender and similar apps designed to separate you from your hard-earned cash, or credit card balances, rather than protect your Mac against anything. Apple has even offered enhanced protection against MAC Defender and its siblings, although it may be true that these fake apps are being updated and renamed as fast as Apple can deliver silent upgrades to Snow Leopard users to protect you from downloading that useless junk.

    Certainly the millions of people who were infected with Windows-based malware over the years might feel satisfied that Mac users might be getting their share of misery. It’s also evidently true that thousands and thousands of people downloaded MAC Defender, and actually paid for it. Even though Apple is offering protection, buttressed by a number of genuine security apps for the Mac, it doesn’t seem as if the Mac platform is suddenly suffering from a huge outbreak of malware. This particular scareware episode seems a singular effort, and it doesn’t necessarily rely on security holes on a Mac, except, perhaps, a single preference setting in Safari about opening “Safe” files after downloading. It relies on social engineering, the ability of these hucksters to fool you into believing that you’re in danger from a malware infection, and they are here to offer a solution.

    Indeed, that sort of scheme doesn’t depend so much on operating system limitations as on the human condition. Nothing stops them from building versions for Linux, though the numbers of people who might be susceptible are far smaller, simply because Linux doesn’t really cater to consumers as much as the Mac and Windows.

    But I still don’t think we’re suddenly going to see a major outbreak of Mac malware. It might happen, it could happen, but it’s also clear that Apple is taking the matter far more seriously than before. Don’t forget that Mac OS X Lion will improve sandboxing of apps, and Apple may, in the end, force Mac developers to get with the program, just as they’ve already done on the iOS. That way, an app runs in its own space, and can’t impact other apps, even if it suddenly is infected with a virus. No, the Mac will never be immune to viruses, but the situation will likely be better controlled than Windows, particularly if you consider the older versions of that OS.



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