• Newsletter Issue #288

    June 6th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Back in January, our Macworld Expo special featured over half a dozen guests. We didn’t quite match that feat with the June 2nd show. We actually prefer the longer form interviews when possible, because you get a lot more good information and, sometimes, a better chance to learn something about the person being interviewed. The sales spiel that survives 10 minutes and a pair of spots will tend to disintegrate over 20 minutes, and you soon learn that there’s a real human talking to you.

    In any case, last week’s show had five guests. First, we presented that postponed interview with Paul Kent about Macworld Expo Boston. In addition, Lino Pucci of Bose Corporation described the company’s speaker systems for both the iPod and your Mac. Tim Twerdahl of Roku joined us to discuss the company’s SoundBridge line of network digital music players. And yes, they do work on Macs. Paul Kafasis, who describes himself as the CEO and “Lackey” of Rogue Amoeba Software, came aboard to talk about Audio Hijack Pro, Nicecast and other programs.

    A last minute addition to the guest lineup was our old friend, Pieter Paulson, a computer guru with years of experience with the Mac OS, Windows, and various flavors of Unix. This time, Pieter talked about wireless network security, and that’s a real can of worms, because most makers of wireless hardware don’t provide much guidance about proper security setups.

    With WWDC this week and the major announcements everyone is talking about, David Biedny will take us on a voyage to The David Biedny Zone to provide his unique insights. We’ll also be joined by two representatives from Centurion Technologies, who will discuss the company’s MacShield and MacShield Enhanced Edition. Both programs are designed to protect you from allowing unwanted programs, installations or downloads to ever penetrate the hard drive. Adam Fingerman, Director Product Management, Mac products, for Roxio, will also join us.

    And there will be some unannounced surprises in the offing from WWDC.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, software, books, and we’ll have more goodies on hand for upcoming shows.

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

    THE MAC HARDWARE REPORT: MARKET SHARE MYTHS REVISITED

    Do you believe that Mac users ditch their computers every year? Well, I suppose you get that impression when you read those market share statistics. Even though more and more Windows users are discovering Macs because of the huge success of the iPod, Macs are still stuck in the two percent zone. It doesn’t seem terribly impressive, and you can’t help but feel a little disheartened that so few of your fellow computer users have made the right decision.

    Maybe those perfectly awful and incredibly dumb TV spots from the likes of Dell and Gateway are appealing to the masses after all. Dell is, after all, selling more personal computers than any other computer maker. It must be doing something right, or maybe it’s the quantity of commercials rather than the quality.

    Or maybe Apple just isn’t trying hard enough to get its message across. Do you really think all those cute iPod ads will send people rushing to a Mac store to buy a new iMac? In fact, you can buy an iPod at many places that do not sell Macs, and probably won’t sell Macs anytime soon.

    Now I suppose you could subscribe to the BMW theory. Recent annual sales figures show that BMW is selling around a million cars a year, not including its subsidiary brands, such as Mini and Rolls Royce. Its market share here in the states hovers in the two percent range, but the company remains quite profitable. Like Apple, BMW is known for its unique designs and excellent performance. But while BMW makes cars primarily for the well-heeled, Apple supposedly builds its computers for the rest of us. In other words, it’s not supposed to be a luxury or boutique brand, but history has taken it in a different direction. For the sake of this discussion, I won’t delve into Apple’s glaring strategic mistakes over the years. If things had been different, Apple might be number one today, or at least it’s something you can cling to.

    So why are so few people using Macs?

    Well, first and foremost, we need a little reality check here. There are, in fact, a lot more Mac users than the conventional wisdom, such as it is, indicates. Consider that, when Mac OS X was first introduced in 2001, Steve Jobs said that Apple’s user base was in the area of 24 million. Of course that figure includes people who hang onto their Macs, some for quite a few years. With sales of three to four million units per year since then, it would be fair to place today’s Mac user base at around 30 million or so. That’s based on some assumptions on my part. The first is that, obviously, a number of Mac users have more than one, and it also assumes that a certain number of older Macs were taken out of service. In addition, those 30 million might be sitting on at least 50 million working Macs. I realize other estimates show a lower figure, but that’s what they are, estimates, and this one seems as logical as any.

    The other important fact to consider is the fact that Windows boxes seem to have shorter lifespans. I mean how many homes and business are using them, say, five or 10 years after they were originally purchased? Just where are those vintage Dells? Yet a fair number of you have Macs dating back to the early days. One reader wrote me just the other day about a collection of three dozen vintage Macs that includes a 128K.

    What’s more, many of these older Macs are still purring away, even though they cannot run today’s operating systems and software, and, in fact, even get online.

    One reason for this is the fact that Mac users are far more devoted to their computers than Windows counterparts. Another is that, for the most part, the Mac has a superior repair history, meaning it develops fewer problems and thus stays in service for a far longer period of time. I know, for example, that you can find folks successfully running Tiger on a Blue & White Power Mac G3, circa 1999, or an iMac DV from the same era. In fact, even older Macs can run Mac OS X reliably courtesy of Ryan Rempel’s XPostFacto. Version 4 of the application, now in beta, even supports Tiger and Ryan continues to use his 7300 not only as a test bed for further development, but as his regular work computer.

    In contrast, six years in the PC business is like an eternity.

    So the next time someone tells you that only a small number of people use Macs, it’s time to set them straight.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: WELCOME TO THE HANDSFREE GENERATION

    When I reviewed a Motorola Bluetooth phone and headset recently, I had an opportunity to decide whether they could really make you a safer driver. And my feelings after a few weeks dealing with handsfree telephony are decidedly mixed.

    As you probably know, more and more states are considering whether to prohibit use of a cell phone in a car unless you’re using some sort of handsfree device. If you’re caught, your local or state police may serve and protect you with a summons. These laws supposedly weren’t passed just to give the authorities another income stream, from the fines you pay. They are, supposedly, there to protect you from yourself.

    The theory goes that holding a regular cell phone in one hand while dodging city traffic or traversing the freeways will make you a dangerous driver. On one level, I agree that anything that can distract you creates the potential for disaster. But it doesn’t have to be a phone conversation. You could, for example, be trying to cope with an unruly child while trying to stay in line and not crash into oncoming traffic. Some of you are known to scarf down a meal while at the wheel of your car, and I’ve seen a few putting on makeup. I recall the scene in the Albert Brooks movie, Defending Your Life, in which the protagonist is at the wheel of a brand new luxury car when he reaches down to pick up something and ends of crashing head on into a truck. The movie is mostly devoted to Brooks’ character trying to justify his life to a jury of advanced or heavenly beings so he can advance to the next plane of existence rather than be reincarnated for another lifetime on Earth.

    No matter, the real issue here is whether driving and holding a cell phone at the same time is something that should be prohibited by law. But are the substitutes really worthy of the name? Consider using a Bluetooth phone with your car’s audio system. The caller on the other end may seem loud and clear through your car’s six or eight speakers or whatever, but the person you’re talking too won’t be so lucky. Imagine using a speakerphone in a noisy, enclosed environment, and you sort of get the picture. It doesn’t sound very good, particularly with today’s digital mobile phone networks, where audio quality even on the best handsets is just plain awful. But isn’t a headset a better solution? Depends. Some of the new, ultra miniature models must be designed with the idea that your mouth is lodged in the center of your right cheek, for that’s where the headset’s mic points. Sound quality may be all right, of course, but a full size headset, which appropriately places the mic at the side of your mouth, is far better. But there are still distractions. You have to press a button at the side of the headset to initiate a connection or answer a call. To actually contact somebody, you must fight the phone’s voice recognition system, and it’s easy to make a mistake. Stretch your imagination and think about the philandering husband who calls wants to dial his mistress, gets his wife instead, and spills a few too many intimate details before he realizes he got the wrong person. In the real world, the problem of getting the voice recognition system to dial the correct number may sometimes be an exercise in futility.

    Now maybe I’m overlooking something, but isn’t that a greater distraction than simply picking up your phone and pressing a speed dial number? If you’re reasonably flexible, you can usually do that with one hand, or you just wait for the traffic light or the traffic jam that brings you to a dead stop in a busy freeway.

    Frankly, after playing with handsfree devices for a while, I feel more comfortable just picking up the handset, which I usually leave in one of the cup holders, when it’s not otherwise occupied with a beverage of one sort or another.

    The real point here is that many things could interrupt your focus on being a safe driver. If you’re going to take this concept to its logical conclusion, you’d be banning all sorts of behavior while behind the wheel. In fact, you might as well just shut up, because any conversation that causes some level of emotional stress could be sufficient to cause you to swerve off the road. In fact, why drive at all? As more and more auto makers develop technology to keep you at a safe distance from the car ahead while on cruise control, or warn you if you veer over a lane divider, you can see where it’s all heading. Some day you may not have to do any driving at all. Just punch your destination into the navigation system and it’ll speed you on your way, automatically sidestepping obstacles and avoiding traffic tie ups. Of course, if you place your life in the hands of a computer, you’ve got to hope that there aren’t any bugs that might cause your car to smash into a railroad train, rather than guide you safely to your destination.

    To be sure, the number of auto fatalities is far too high. One death is one too many. But in the efforts to protect us from ourselves, I just hope that the authorities and the auto makers don’t deprive us of the joy of driving. I don’t know about you, but I like to feel that I’m still in control when I get behind that wheel. Many of you regard the automobile as a lot more than just a convenient way to get from one place to another. But if that’s all you want, maybe you should hope that scientists and engineers will someday develop a working teleportation machine. Beam me up, Scotty!

    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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