• Newsletter Issue #281

    April 18th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S MAC NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Make that The Tech Night Owl LIVE. I said we’d make the official announcement on our April 14th show, but the artwork isn’t quite ready yet, so it’ll happen on April 21st, to be effective, if all goes well, beginning on April 28th. Why are we making this change? Well, Apple Computer is not just about Macintosh computers anymore, and we’ve long embraced a wider range of subject matter too. And so it goes.

    We had an action-packed show on April 14th. First up was Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus who was as outspoken as usual, labeling most Mac rumor sites as “crap.” I rather suspect some will disagree with him, but he’s entitled to his opinion. Next up, computer guru Pieter Paulson and I talked about some of the less-publicized features of Tiger. You’ll have to hear the show to learn some of my favorites. During our second hour, Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen came on board to talk about the latest ultra-cool gadgets, in addition to the iPod of course. He agrees with Steve Jobs, by the way, and that is that HDTV is really gathering steam and could break through big time this year.

    Yes, it’s official. Beginning with our next show, we’ll be giving away iPod shuffles. You’ll have to tune in for the particulars, though, and we’re still working out the details of our new contest.

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

    IS THIS THE LAST PANTHER REPORT?

    Yes, I do like Panther, and my experiences have been near-perfect almost from the day of its release in October, 2003. But operating systems do not age like fine wine, so I felt it was time to move on and prepare for Tiger. But Apple had other ideas.

    On Friday afternoon, 10.3.9 was unleashed upon an unsuspecting Mac universe. Well, not quite unsuspecting, because there had been rumors of such an update for several weeks. The reality is a file that weighs in at just over 51MB in size, the usual oversized amalgam of bug fixes and performance enhancements. The specifics may be found on the 10.3.9 update page. There’s also a 117MB Combo Updater, in case your Mac never went to 10.3.8, or you encounter problems with 10.3.9.

    The changes, for the most part, fit into the arena of “improved file sharing and directory services reliability for mixed Mac and PC networks; improved Mail, Safari and Stickies application reliability; better compatibility for third party applications and devices and previous standalone security updates.” There’s also a corresponding update for Mac OS X Server.

    The most compelling question, no doubt, is whether it’s worth bothering with now that Tiger is so close at hand. That depends. If your experience with Panther has been extremely positive, and you already have Tiger on order, or intend to buy a copy real soon, maybe not. If you are running into issues that are addressed by 10.3.9, of course, and your Internet connection is fast enough not to waste hours to get a copy, maybe it is worth the bother.

    But the promised Safari updates may be a mixed bag. According to the folks at MacFixIt, my favorite troubleshooting site, some of the folks who updated to 10.3.9 are encountering startup crashes with Safari, or crashes when accessing Java-related content. Not a good sign.

    If you run into this problem, you may find a solution by, according to MacFixIt, “re-applying Security Update 2005-002, which made several significant changes to critical Mac OS X Java components.” Other problems may be caused by using some shareware plugins, such as Acid Search or Pith Helmet. If you are using these add-ons, you might check with the publishers to find a compatible version.

    Additional report bugs include logging in to some multiple user accounts, performing updates to Norton Anti-Virus and running CheckPoint Secure Client.

    As usual, issues of this sort may not happen to everyone. In fact, I haven’t encountered anyone reporting any of these bugs. The only issue I’ve run across comes from a client who works as a professional photographer. At first, she had problems actually downloading the file, but managed to achieve a successful result after a few tries. She’s also reported that Safari runs much slower, contrary to the experience of most 10.3.9 users. One possible solution for this phenomenon, according to MacFixIt, is to delete the Icons folder, which is located in your personal Library/Safari/Icons folder. That folder contains the cache files for the a site’s custom logos or favicons, such as the one you see when you access The Mac Night Owl. Fortunately, the favicons are rebuilt next time you access a site, so it’s not a permanent problem.

    My advice for installing the update is pretty much as before. Run Repair Disk Permissions in Disk Utility, and then install the update. Repeat the Repair Disk Permissions process. You now should be good to go. If you still encounter crashes or other performance anomalies, consult the solutions I’ve discussed so far, and if they don’t help, go ahead and download and install the 10.3.9 Combo Updater. This is the version that includes all the updates beginning with 10.3.1, and it sometimes produces a more reliable update. But don’t rush to download a copy if everything is all right. Why waste your time?

    Does this mean that Apple will now be forced to come up with a 10.3.10 to fix the remaining bugs? Probably not, as they all have simple solutions, and do not affect everyone. If that’s the worst 10.3.9 can deliver, I expect we’ve seen the last of Panther. But it’s been a good ride. Despite some early bumps in the road, millions of Mac users, myself included, have been absolutely delighted with this “coming of age” edition of Mac OS X. It’s the one that enabled many of you to put Mac OS 9 to rest for good.

    And what about Tiger? Well, issue 283, the one that will appear right after the release of 10.4, will include my initial reactions. For now I remain optimistic that there will be no need to rush to a 10.4.1, but I’m still crossing my fingers.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: NO MORE VIDEO STORES?

    Think about how it used to be. You wanted to rent a video, you went to a store in your neighborhood. Over the years, the locally operated establishments were supplanted by Blockbuster, Hollywood Video and your neighborhood supermarket. But the routine was pretty much the same. You paid a fee for each rental, and if you kept the tape or DVD too long, you had to pay extra in late fees. In some cases, the late fees exceeded the original cost of the DVD. Not good.

    Now wouldn’t it be nice if you could take advantage of a selection of videos far larger than any individual store can offer, and never leave your home except to visit your mailbox? And no more late charges! That’s the theory behind Netflix, the California based online DVD rental service, which set up shop in 1999.

    The Netflix routine is simple. You pay a monthly fee for a fixed number of DVDs, from one to eight. As DVDs are returned, you get more in return. The standard setup is $17.99 for three DVDs at-a-time. Netflix’s three million members can choose from a library of over 40,000 titles, ranging from the latest releases to supremely rare stuff, such as the 1941 Republic serial, The Adventures of Captain Marvel. There aren’t any X-rated titles that I know of, but every “conventional” movie I did search for was available. Outstanding.

    Service is incredibly efficient. When you sign up, you can assemble a queue of DVDs, in the order in which you want to receive them; the order can always be changed, by the way. As your rental slots open, the videos are mailed to you in order, as they become available.

    But doesn’t mail order delivery slow things down? Not really. According to Netflix, some 90 percent of subscribers get their DVDs within one business day. The speedy service results from a network of shipping centers throughout the length and breadth of the U.S. When Netflix receives your returned DVD, they ship out the next in the queue, usually on the very same day.

    So how good is it? Well, I am one of those regular renters who selects the latest and greatest releases, and Netflix has always managed to deliver the goods. I’ve never had to wait, though I suppose it’ll happen if a title is in greater demand than the service anticipated. What’s more, your rental queue can actually include future releases, so, for example, mine includes The Aviator, which won’t be released until May, and Batman Begins, which won’t even open in movie theaters until June 17th. Obviously you won’t get your videos until they are officially released, but it never hurts to get to the front of the line.

    A large community of videophiles has arisen on Netflix, and you’ll find reviews from the pros and fellow members for every title, even the ones not yet released. You can also rate movies and, based on the ones you like, Netflix will deliver a list of recommended titles for you to try. In practice, this system works just great. I’ve been able to find movie treasures that I’d never previously considered.

    What’s more, I’ve almost always received next day delivery. If problems arise, Netflix promises to promptly replace videos that are defective or fail to arrive. They are working pretty much by the honor system here, depending on your honesty, and the system so far appears to work.

    Now Netflix isn’t the only entrant in the online rental arena. The number one video rental chain, Blockbuster, seeing its market eroding big time, has introduced fixed price deals at it stores, and an online service to compete with Netflix. There are also reports that Amazon will soon partner with one of these companies to provide its own customized rental service. I’m willing to bet Netflix will be selected, but there’s no sense waiting.

    You can sign up today at netflix.com. The usual deal is for a two-week free trial. If you don’t like the service, cancel and your credit card won’t be charged. But I don’t think you’ll cancel. Once you get accustomed to the convenience, service and selection, you’ll become a loyal member, just as I did.

    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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