• Newsletter Issue #272

    February 14th, 2005


    All right, contests are back. We reintroduced them on our February 10th show, where we asked listeners to identify our new theme song, and answer a movie-related trivia question during one of our interviews. But that’s just the beginning. A lot more will be coming in future shows, including some fairly big prizes.

    The show also featured Preston Gralla, author of Internet Annoyances. As you might expect from the book’s title, we focused largely on coping with Internet-related troubles, such as spam, pop-ups and other irritants. In addition, we paid a visit to the “David Biedny Zone,” where our favorite critic talked about what he regards as the absolute worst iPod accessory. We also discussed a fascinating way to use the iPod to help you combat insomnia and other cool stuff with Adam Engst, editor and publisher of TidBITS.

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


    Over the years, Apple Computer has been pronounced dead and buried, or at least pretty close to buying the farm, but it has managed to live long and prosper anyway. It’s obvious that no company can put its life in the hands of a Wall Street financial analyst. On the other hand, there are growing signs that Microsoft, yes Microsoft, is in the very early stages of a death spiral.

    Now you are probably going to laugh at such a silly pronouncement. After all, I’m talking about the world’s largest software company, headed by the world’s richest man. How could it possibly be facing doom? But remember, I didn’t say it was imminent, but you still have to read the signs.

    I have to tell you that this particular outburst, or whatever you want to call it, was inspired by an article I read from technology pundit Michael S. Malone, at the ABC News site. On the surface, it would seem either a dream come true, or an emotional tirade representing hopes rather than facts.

    In my opinion, Malone seems to have his head screwed on right, and he makes some points that won’t sit well with Bill Gates and the rest of his crew. How does Malone reach his conclusions? Well, he starts by talking about something he calls “the smell test: the faintest whiff of decay that comes from dying companies.”

    He goes on to claim that he was right on the money when he wrote about problems at Silicon Graphics and at HP; the latter after Carly Fiorina took over. In fact, he suggested that her “stewardship of HP would be an unmitigated disaster, and would destroy the world’s greatest company.” Well, Fiorina is out, but the jury is also out as to how HP will fare in the aftermath of her departure, and whether the company will find the right path to renewed success. I wouldn’t suggest that HP’s board acted because they came to believe Malone’s pessimism had a basis in fact.

    So where does that leave Microsoft? Well, we are reminded that “great, healthy companies not only dominate the market, but share of mind.” He contrasts the great press that Apple is getting these days with the fact that much of what you hear about Microsoft is negative. In the wake of that fine Microsoft had to pay the European Union, we continue to read about the latest bouts of malware infecting the Windows platform. In the past, any new product from Microsoft would get great and lasting press coverage. These days?

    Well, let’s look at some examples of what Microsoft has been doing lately. Do you remember MSN Music? Does anyone? It doesn’t seem to have made much of a dent in Apple’s music download market share. Claims that Microsoft would soon put its marketing muscle behind its fledgling service and give Apple a good licking are no longer repeated in responsible circles.

    How about Microsoft’s new search engine? Well, the other night when a character in the “Crossing Jordan” TV show talked about finding information on the Internet, the word “Googled” was uttered. Clearly the script writers never thought anyone would understand if they mentioned Microsoft’s search tool in mixed company. And it doesn’t appear that the powers behind Google are shaking in their boots.

    These days, when someone talks the talk about a powerful browser, the name Firefox comes to mind. Internet Explorer? A relic of the bad old days, laden with security problems, and hemorrhaging market share big time. Now maybe Firefox won’t be the dominant player any time soon, or ever for that matter, but it’s now clear that Microsoft’s vulnerabilities are not just security related.

    But this is nothing new. Some years back, a lot of folks felt that AOL would be threatened when MSN arrived. But MSN remained the also ran. AOL has to look to the past to see its best days, of course, but Microsoft wasn’t responsible, and it’s questionable how long MSN will persevere as an ISP, rather than simply a Web portal.

    That takes us to Longhorn, the promised replacement for Windows XP. As you know, Microsoft has had difficulties in getting new operating systems out on time for a while now, but Longhorn seems to be the hardest nut to crack. One of the signs of a troubled software company is the inability to get products out on schedule, and the need to shed promised features before release.

    So what’s going on with Longhorn. Well, it’s two years late and, indeed, such notable features as desktop searching are going to be postponed. Now it’s perfectly true Apple went through operating system growing pains some years ago, and if it didn’t jump in bed with Steve Jobs and NeXT, it would have been the company on a death spiral now. But Apple is on a roll now, and I doubt anyone expects that Tiger will be late.

    Do these troubling signs indicate that Microsoft is about to die? I don’t think that any sane or mostly sane person expects that to happen any time soon. Love it or hate it, Microsoft will be around for many years. On the other hand, Malone concludes with this telling point: “But if you sniff the air, you can make out the first hints of rot.”

    Now I have nothing against Microsoft, but I find it hard to disagree with that pronouncement. Ask me again a year from now.

    Do you recall that trip to the drug store to buy a couple of rolls of film before taking a vacation? And returning there with the completed rolls to get them developed? Years ago, I even had a small photo lab in my home, but I was a teenager then and my mom suggested in no uncertain terms that she couldn’t stand the odor from the chemicals used to make negatives and prints. I was reasonably rebellious in those days, and maybe that hasn’t changed, but I nevertheless agreed with her and shut it down.

    When the first digital cameras appeared, I didn’t really consider that they’d replace or largely supplant traditional film cameras. They were expensive, and picture quality left a lot to be desired. But as prices dipped and the number of megapixels increased, you could see the handwriting on the wall.

    Today, you can get so-called “point-and-shoot” digital cameras with resolutions of three and four megapixels, for less than $200. They may not be tools for pros, but you can still get pretty decent picture quality and actually make prints as large as 8×10 and 11×14. Unless you’re making posters, that’s probably all you need for family shoots. If you’re interested in professional caliber cameras, you have plenty to choose from. For example, take a look at a Canon EOS Digital camera. One particular EOS model has a whopping 16.7 megapixels resolution and features that any photo maven will cherish. Sure, it has a street price of around $8,000 and that’s just for the camera body. Yes, lenses are extra. But you can bet that you will see cameras of similar quality for a fraction of that price in a very few years.

    Film? What’s that? In fact, it won’t be very long before virtually all movies are shot with digital cameras. That trend has already begun, and I’m sure the film industry will love it, especially when they look at the deteriorating prints in their movie vaults. And imagine being able to make perfect copies on tape or giant optical discs, or just sending the images to your local movieplex via satellite? You don’t have to worry about rapidly deteriorating picture quality.

    Of course, it’s not that digital is any cheaper. When you add up the cost of batteries for your camera (assuming they are not rechargeable of course), and giving your ink jet printer regular doses of fresh link, it begins to add up.

    All right, some of you might suggest that digital will never have the “feel” of film, regardless of resolution. Of course, some say that about the CD when compared to LP records. It will be many years before film is obsolete, and while some might lament its eventual passing, I have grown to love the instant gratification of digital.

    How about you?


    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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