• Newsletter Issue #278

    March 28th, 2005


    It was triple header time again on our March 24th show. First up was Jeff Tolbert, who has written two e-books from the Take Control series on GarageBand. Jeff brought us up to date on version 2.0 of Apple’s music making software, and also delivered plenty of advice on making good recordings not just of your voice, but musical instruments too.

    A last minute addition was Pieter Paulson, our favorite network guru. In a brief interview, Pieter talked about whether the increasing popularity of the Mac OS would also make our computers more vulnerable to viruses. In a word: Yes, but the Mac still remains more secure than Windows. Even when the Mac had several times the market share it has now, viruses were still few and far between. Perhaps Symantec needs to check its history a little more carefully before it tries to sell us more product.

    Wrapping up the show was a lengthy interview with Owen Linzmayer, author of Apple Confidential 2.0. With the recent round of lawsuits against Mac rumor sites getting continued coverage, Owen gave us a history of Apple’s rocky relationship with the press through the years. You may not remember, but before Steve Jobs returned to the company, news often leaked from the top at Apple. How things have changed!

    Oh yes, in case you haven’t heard, contests are back, and we’ve been running them pretty regularly in recent weeks. But stay tuned. The best is yet to come. Beginning some time in April, we’ll be giving away iPod shuffles.

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


    Although I don’t have any inside information to offer, it would seem logical that Tiger is just weeks away from shipping. I suppose that last minute glitches could arise, but Apple is still promising delivery in the first half of the year, so there’s still plenty of time.

    In recent weeks, I’ve watched Apple’s Web site just to see if any unannounced Tiger features might appear. While the layout has changed over time, it’s still basically the same features Steve Jobs touted at his January Macworld keynote. At this point, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect any major changes, although I suppose Steve could amaze us at the last minute.

    How many new features? The original claim was 150, which expanded to 200 in January. Try as I might, I cannot find anything near that number in my journeys through apple.com. Maybe I’m missing something, but I doubt it. If some new capability for Tiger is significant in any way, Apple would have already shouted it to the skies, and that hasn’t happened.

    So I don’t expect any last-minute surprises, despite my hopes it will be otherwise, so that, as they say, is that.

    So what’s next? Well, there will someday be a Mac OS 10.5. It won’t come as quickly as previous releases, if Tiger’s development schedule is matched, but even if it’s not out until 2007, it isn’t too early to start speculating about what it might contain. I rather suspect Apple is already building a list of what it would like to see the next time around.

    Since this is my first foray into 10.5 hopes and dreams, I’ll start with the stuff that doesn’t seem to have made the cut for Tiger. As I said, Steve could still bring us one or two more things, but I’m not very optimistic. If you’ve heard this before, well, as I said, I wanted to see this stuff for 10.4. In any case, here goes:

    • Smarter system migration: The Tiger Setup Assistant described by Apple seems different from the one appearing in late versions of Panther. You want to bring files over from your old Mac, it must be by FireWire. Apple must assume your existing Mac is less than five years old, despite the fact that many of you will be transferring data from older models. I ran into another unexpected complication when I set up an iMac G5 for a client last week, an upgrade from his early generation Power Mac G4. To use the migration assistant, you set your older Mac to start in FireWire Target mode, which makes it function as just an external drive. However, it only works with the startup drive, so if you have data on a second drive, as my client did, you could, of course, set it as a startup drive and run Setup Assistant again to get your data, but in this case the client’s second drive didn’t have an operating system installed. Rather than waste time with another system installation, we ended up activating file sharing and finishing the data transfer process via Ethernet. So much for automating the process. Why doesn’t the Setup Assistant support Ethernet as an alterative? Ask Apple, please; I have no idea.
    • Smart help for novices: Whether it’s 150 or 200 new features, most Mac users never explore all the nooks and crannies of the operating system. If you’re not a power user, you have to pour through books or the Help menu to get a glimmer of what Mac OS X can really do. As I’ve said in the past, computer operating systems haven’t changed as much as you think since System 1.0. My solution is to let the operating system show you the way. It could be done this way: When the Setup Assistant appears, you’ll be given the chance to specify a user level, such as Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced. The help system acts accordingly. If you’re a beginner, for example, the system will put up helper screens (no, not Balloon Help) to suggest a better or at least more efficient way to accomplish a task. I’m not thinking of something akin to those awful Wizards that pollute Windows. Just something simple, elegant, in the Apple tradition. And if you don’t like it, there will be a little checkbox that lets you turn them off, and a way to turn them on via a System Preference. No, I don’t want to put those book writers out of work, and I have, as you know, written many of those books myself. I just think that Mac OS X is still too hard for many of you to truly master.
    • Automatic maintenance: Like other Unix-based operating systems, Mac OS X is designed to work 24/7. But it hardly makes sense for most of you to keep your Macs on when they’re not being used. Why waste electricity? If you’re not a stockholder in a power company, you’ll engage Sleep mode or just turn the thing off. But the early morning maintenance routines scheduled for the wee hours don’t run if your Mac isn’t awake. Yes, there are third party programs that can, in effect, automatically play catchup. If a scheduled maintenance session is missed, these programs will initiate the session the next time your Mac is running. But this is something Apple should have long ago addressed. Mac OS X should, as advertised, “just work,” and that means we shouldn’t be forced to learn Unix or look for a third party helper application to help the operating system do its thing.
    • Make System Preferences smarter: As I said, the system should figure things out for you. For example, there ought to be a better way to calibrate your display. Right now, you have to do the job manually, which begins with selecting Color in the Displays preference panel. But do you remember that this chore was actually done automatically with some of the older Apple CRT displays. Yes, automatic! That’s the ticket. Yes, I know that graphic artists will prefer to use more elaborate and accurate tools to perform this task, but the basic settings are good enough for most of you, and ought to be done without user intervention. Apple might even build a properly calibrated library of presets for its own displays and a set of popular third party models; basic profiles don’t count. Why ask you to do the job for the operating system that is supposed to “just work”?

    All right, I suppose this is just a list of leftovers, and I haven’t begun to think what feline Mac OS X 10.5 will be named after. In the end, maybe it’s high time for Apple to rethink the entire graphical user interface and find a better way, before some startup company in someone’s kitchen gets there first.


    Here in the Phoenix metropolitan area, we are lucky when it comes to telephone and TV service. In most neighborhoods, and I emphasize most, you don’t have to rely on the local phone provider, Qwest Communications, to keep your telephone ringing. Aside from a dwindling number of companies that lease Qwest’s lines to deliver alternatives, the main local cable provider, Cox Communications, has a phone alternative using its own fiber optics. Then there are Internet phone services, such as Vonage, but don’t forget you have to have broadband service installed for VoIP.

    When it comes to TV, again we have choices. Some residents still prefer their old fashioned antennas, but when it comes to digital TV, you can choose Cox, Qwest Choice TV, which uses your regular phone line, Direct TV, Dish Network and, if it survives a heated boardroom fight, Voom, the HDTV-oriented satellite service. There are exceptions, of course. Choice TV isn’t licensed in some of the cities around Phoenix, and Qwest hasn’t built network pedestals in others. Also, a few neighborhoods use a service other than Cox for regular cable television.

    In some housing developments, however, the builders have decreed that they can pick and choose our telecommunication services for us. Over the weekend, Mrs. Steinberg and I decided to spend the afternoon checking what’s available in the event we decide we need a new home. Talk about sticker shock; we didn’t realize how much home prices have risen!

    In any case, one particular developer, DC Ranch, who has large tracts of land with hundreds of houses in North Scottsdale, has inked a pact with Qwest to be the exclusive provider of wired telephone and television. For most residents, it probably doesn’t make much of a difference, but there are limitations that, for us, would be the deal breakers even if we found a home of our dreams in that area.

    First of all, Qwest Choice TV, while it delivers decent quality digital television, still doesn’t support HDTV. If you don’t have high definition in your radar, this isn’t a problem; otherwise it’s critical. Choice TV does feature integrated broadband, but the speed tops at at one megabit downloads, whereas Cox delivers from four to six megabits, depending on the service you choose. You want a different phone company, other than an Internet-based solution, forget about it!

    What about satellite? Well, I got the unofficial word they wouldn’t object, although they’d prefer the satellites were installed in some locale other than the roof.

    When it comes to local phone service in these parts, it doesn’t matter much. Qwest has reduced its prices to a point where it’s almost competitive with the alternatives, in a desperate bid to stop the hemorrhaging of subscribers. But broadband is different. In my business, I require the fastest possible download speeds, and Qwest has nothing better available to homeowners in that development. HDTV? Well, as I said, there is satellite.

    I asked whether it would be possible to order Cox, for example, assuming I was willing to pay to have them bring the lines to my home. The answer was absolutely not and so we left! While I can see the advantages of prewiring for both telephone and television, I don’t like someone telling me what services I must use, and I particularly object to exclusive contracts of this sort.

    As I said, for most of you, it’s no big deal. But for me, it is, and if and when we decide to buy a new home, it won’t be in that development.


    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
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