• Newsletter Issue #266

    January 3rd, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S MAC NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    We took the week off last week and ran a “Best of” offering. Of course, we weren’t alone. As most of you know, most of the major TV programs, other than news and sports, were repeats as well. In any case, our show featured a discussion about QuarkXPress 6.5 with associate product manager Tim Banister. Palm One’s Anthony Armenta talked about the latest Palm handhelds. And, if you got a new HDTV set for Christmas, you’ll appreciate all the sage advice on digital TV from home video guru Lance Braithwaite.

    As I’ve learned in setting up my own HDTV system, it’s an adventure unto itself. The satellite TV services all tout high definition, but, except for the newcomer on the block, Voom, only give lip service to HD. You bought into satellite to free yourself of TV antennas, but now you discover that you have to add one to receive your local HD stations. And that’s not always an easy proposition if you live in the suburbs and want to avoid putting one up on the roof. But that’s another story, and we’ll cover that odyssey in the coming weeks.

    This week show will feature the latest on Internet telephone service with a representative from Vonage. In addition, our favorite Mac critic, David Biedny, will be on hand to test the limits.

    Meantime, if you haven’t heard the show, be sure to visit The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to one of our archives. Enjoy.

    IT ALL BEGAN WITH A TEST PAGE

    A year-end review is pretty much a tradition these days, and I suppose I have to dive in with both feet. But first, let me explain just how The Mac Night Owl began. Back in the days when I was writing instruction books on AOL, I created test pages to show my readers how easy it was to build a simple Web site. Around the same time, a radio show host suggested that I register my name on the Internet before someone else got there. Thus began genesteinberg.com. Having my personal vanity domain encouraged me to actually put something online, so I took one of those test pages and actually inserted some content. It didn’t take long to realize that it could become boring real fast if I didn’t post regular updates.

    Not too long after that humble beginning, my wife suggested that, since I wrote all those commentaries early in the morning, I had truly become The Mac Night Owl. So here we are, still hanging out at the keyboard, still getting up at the crazy hour of 2:00 AM to present news and views to a growing number of readers. From a few dozen, we now have hundreds of thousands of page views a month, and we’re read in a few high places, judging by some of the subscriptions to our weekly newsletter.

    But that’s just a personal observation, and maybe most of you don’t care how we started. The real news is the fact that Apple, in 2004, began to become relevant, while it became very clear that Microsoft’s best days are in the past.

    How things changed so suddenly may have come as a surprise to most of you, but it really marked the beginning of a new start for Apple. Like many technology writers, I only considered the iPod in passing. I wasn’t a Walkman fan; I just didn’t feel comfortable walking the streets with earphones filling my ears with music. It felt confining, but that’s another story. So as the iPod gained ascendancy, I wasn’t paying attention.

    In 2004, it really came together, and all the elements were in perfect alignment. More and more Windows users had embraced the iPod, Apple demonstrated a clean and slick method to download music legally, and the iPod mini hit the ground running. Apple could barely keep iPods in stock, as production ramped up. Despite predictions that the competition would soon surpass it in sales, that just didn’t happen. The iPod became more than just a digital music player. It was a lifestyle, embraced by young and old in all walks of life. Even the president and vice president have iPods to call their own, and it’s clear the phenomenon transcends political boundaries.

    You want a portable music player, there was the iPod, and then the rest, which came and go without making a dent in the market.

    The iPod also led the way to making Apple the darling of Wall Street. If you invested heavily in Apple stock during the days when the price was under $15, you had to be shouting at the rooftops when the price crested $50 and then $60 per share. As 2005 began, it almost seemed that the sky was the limit, and that the glory days of the dot.com boom may have indeed returned.

    At the same time, other developments were in play that had the potential of really boosting Apple’s share of the PC market for the first time in years. It wasn’t a single Mac model, although the iMac G5 came close. It was the combination of the iPod, which exposed Windows users to Apple’s cool technology, and the growing frustrations with the Windows platform.

    Surveys demonstrated that perhaps three quarters of home PC boxes were riddled with malware of one sort or another. Whether spyware or viruses, or a terrible combination of both, just keeping a Windows computer running in a reasonably efficient manner seemed almost a full time job. Home users, who simply wanted a computer to surf the Internet and perhaps play a few games, were suddenly forced into becoming PC service people. If you didn’t install spyware and virus protection software, and keep it up to date, you could wake up to find your computer spitting out so many pop-up windows that it was almost impossible to get anything done. One day you had a pretty fast computer, the next you felt you were trudging through quicksand.

    No, I am not exaggerating. During the past year, I have visited the homes of several PC box uses, and, in almost every case, the computers were infected with something or other that seriously impacted performance. You might think offices fare better, but IT people had to work overtime to keep up with the security lapses.

    At the same time, an open source browser, Firefox, garnered millions of downloads from people who were simply disgusted with the rampant problems with Microsoft Internet Explorer.

    Those developments, when combined with the iPod, have made more and more people look to the Mac as a potential solution. In recent days, rampant rumors have emerged that Apple about to introduce a cheap Mac, a $500 computer with all the essentials but without the display. While some folks call people who believe in such speculation “deluded,” it became clear last year that Apple could really make a dent in the PC market if it really built such a product.

    All eyes now look to the famous Steve Jobs keynote next week at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Expectations are so high that Apple might have difficulty meeting them. I can’t wait to see how it all plays out, and I expect that my 2005 wrap will report a lot of truly fascinating things in this tiny corner of the universe.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: TIME PASSAGES

    Last spring, I gave pretty high marks to a cheap but full featured DVD player, the Apex Digital AD-2600. At the time it cost around $55, which is actually somewhat expensive right now. But the real point is that I was impressed with the rapid growth of Apex Digital, which started from nothing and became a billion dollar company in just a few years.

    Now I’m not so impressed.

    According to a report in The New York Times, the company’s chairman, David Ji, was recent arrested in China for financial fraud in connection with his dealings with a large TV maker, Sichuan Changhong Electric Appliance. What do I mean by fraud? Well, the authorities in China claim that Apex Digital owed the TV maker $467 million. You can imagine that a financial loss of this level can have a pretty wide ranging impact, and sure enough Changhong’s stock, listed on the Shanghai stock exchange, took a terrible beating after announcing huge losses.

    If the claims are true, this may be the tip of the iceberg. Apex supposedly failed to supply Genius Company, a supplier of DVD players, some $4.3 million and the article states that other companies may report losses as well.

    In the end, whether in China or anywhere else, this sort of behavior may line the pockets of the alleged criminals involved, but it could have the net effect of putting companies out of business, or at the least causing layoffs. Either way, people lose their jobs. If Ji is indeed responsible for ripping off those companies, I hope he gets what’s coming to him.

    Of course being charged with a crime and being guilty of a crime are two different animals. I want to be fair to Ji and his business partners and I hope they can explain why Apex’s suppliers claim they never got paid.

    With a cloud hanging over the company, however, I am withdrawing my favorable rating of that Apex Digital DVD player. For the time being at least, I would suggest you regard the company’s products with caution. If Apex eventually folds, there goes your chance for warranty repairs, though I suppose it doesn’t make much of a difference with a cheap DVD player.

    IN PASSING: I was saddened to learn of the death of actor Jerry Orbach. He was 69, young these days, and succumbed to prostate cancer. Although he came to fame late in his life as the wisecracking veteran detective, Lennie Briscoe, on TV’s Law & Order, Orbach was, for a number of years, a highly successful song and dance man on Broadway. For example, he originated the Billy Flynn role in Chicago back in the 1970s. That’s the part that Richard Gere played in the film, and, although Gere did a pretty good job, Orbach really delivered the old razzle dazzle to that role. He will be missed.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Mac 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 and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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