• Newsletter Issue #289

    June 13th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    I won’t say five is our magic number on the show, but, once again, we had that number of guests on the June 9th episode. The main topic of discussion was, as you might expect, Apple’s plans to migrate to Intel processors by the end of 2007. Right after the rumored announcement during a shortened Steve Jobs keynote, I cornered Macworld’s Christopher Breen for a brief commentary. Later that day I hooked up with Leander Kahney, author of “The Cult of Mac,” at a nearby Starbucks. Why Starbucks? Well, Wi-Fi reception at Moscone West, site of the WWDC, was perfectly awful and I needed to catch up with mail and site updates.

    Back at the studio, and I rung up David Biedny, who took us on a voyage to The David Biedny Zone to provide his unique insights into the Apple/Intel deal. For an outsider’s view, I called upon noted industry analyst Joe Wilcox. To round out the show, we were joined by Adam Fingerman, Director Product Management, Mac products, for Roxio. And, by the way, Roxio is going to support Universal Binaries, the updated programming scheme that supports both PowerPC and Intel processors.

    For June 16th, we’ll continue coverage of the emerging Intel Inside saga. Macworld’s Jason Snell and Jim Dalrymple will participate in an on-air conference on the subject. Andy Ihnatko, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times and lots of other places, will offer his typically unique and humorous slant on the state of affairs. We’ll also present that postponed segment with two representatives from Centurion Technologies, who will discuss the company’s MacShield and MacShield Enhanced Edition.

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, network music players, 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 APPLE/INTEL REPORT: THE MYTHS WILL NEVER DIE

    It will probably be weeks before the furor dies down. Although I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less which processor resides inside your Mac, others might regard the issue with a quasi-religious fervor. How can Apple abandon its long-time association with IBM and that Motorola spin-off, Freescale Semiconductor, and embrace Intel? And I have to say that both literally and figuratively, witness the scene of Steve Jobs and Intel’s new CEO, Paul Otellini, hugging each other on stage during the WWDC keynote.

    To be sure, I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of pages on the subject, and even checked out some of Apple’s developer’s documentation. While a lot of the reportage simply summarizes the original Apple/Intel press release there has been, as you might expect, plenty of commentary. Some of it is well-informed, thought-provoking. Other stories are just that, stories, without much factual basis.

    Now I won’t attempt to dissect every report out there. It’s not worth the time and trouble, but some of the claims and theories seem way out there, to put it mildly. Of course, to be perfectly honest, if you asked me a week ago, just minutes before Steve Jobs took center stage for his WWDC keynote, whether Apple would announce an alliance with Intel, I would just laugh. Yes, I read the speculation and it’s clear in retrospect that these were likely all carefully calculated leaks. But I couldn’t ignore my supreme skepticism.

    Today, the development seems so natural and I have to feel it could not have gone any other way. IBM failed big time delivering more powerful G5 chips, and taming them for use in a PowerBook was an unrealized dream. So Apple had no choice but to look elsewhere.

    Now I don’t know the specifics of the roadmap Intel delivered to Apple to cement the processor deal. Yes, Intel isn’t shy about telling you about its future products, but we can’t be certain which of those products will end up in future Macs. It’s quite possible Intel will build processors custom tailored for Apple, even though conventional wisdom, such as it is, has it that regular off-the-shelf parts will be used.

    Beyond that the picture is cloudy and it’s open season for speculation, but some of that speculation is downright silly. Take those stories that you’ll be able to install Mac OS X on any plain, vanilla PC box. Now maybe some hackers will be able to reverse engineer the hardware protection schemes Apple and Intel will devise to prevent such things. But it’s not going to be a repeat of what happened when PC clones took over the market from IBM years ago. Mac OS cloning will be stopped dead in its tracks, even if it requires a steady stream of lawsuits.

    Indeed, Apple has made it perfectly clear that you won’t be able to run Mac OS X on anything but an honest-to-goodness Macintosh computer. How? Well, you might expect custom support chips or even specially designed motherboards for Apple’s equipment. Now, you might ask, wouldn’t it be a better idea for Apple to open up its platform, so anyone could buy a copy of the Mac OS and run it on their PCs?

    Forget for the moment how that might cannibalize sales of Macs. Consider compatibility? One main reason Mac OS X remains highly dependable is the fact that it is optimized for a small number of computers, known quantities. If you let it run on any old PC, welcome to the wild, wild west. Consider the headaches Microsoft encounters trying to make Windows run halfway reliably with untold numbers of motherboards, sound cards, graphic cards and so on and so forth. That Windows operates at all sometimes seems a miracle, and do you really believe Apple can avoid such pitfalls if it allowed cloning?

    Steve Jobs makes a big deal of the fact that Apple is the only PC maker who designs the whole widget from hardware to operating system. This vertical integration is what makes Macs special, and that won’t change even when the Intel transition is complete. Look at the iPod and the iTunes Music Store and you’ll see that unlocking proprietary hardware and software isn’t in Apple’s DNA. It won’t happen unless Apple is dragged kicking and screaming in that direction, and even then it would be a last, emergency resort.

    I have no doubt of that whatsoever. Of course, I was wrong about plans to put Intel chips inside Macs, so all bets are off.

    The other burgeoning myth is that Intel plans to buy Apple some day, a theory voiced by at least one commentator in recent days. So where’s the logic in that? What’s in it for Intel, which historically has done best when it made parts rather than finished systems? Do you really think Steve Jobs would stick with Apple if it was taken over by another company, and would the board of directors even allow it? As history has shown, an Apple without Steve Jobs is an unfocused company, one doomed, eventually, to failure. Their fates are destined to lie in the same direction.

    Now it’s true the situation may change if and when Steve Jobs decides he just wants to move on or simply retire. But, assuming he remains healthy and active, it’s not going to happen any time soon.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: ANOTHER GREAT MULTIMEDIA SPEAKER SYSTEM

    It has to be almost ten years since I stuffed my home office with a dozen and a half computer speaker systems for a lengthy review. What was I thinking? I wanted to cover as much ground as possible, and, in retrospect, I think I did a pretty good job. But it was one royal pain at the time to keep the parts separate, so the Logitech wouldn’t get, say, the cables from the Bose.

    The winner of that comparison was also the most expensive, a $699 Bose multimedia system. Well, Bose did have a penchant for being more expensive than the competition in those days. Anyway, segue to 2005 and, while talking to Bose product person Lino Pucci on a recent episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I asked about today’s top-of-the-line system, the $249 Companion 3. I wondered how it might compare to a product costing more than twice as much, and I was surprised to hear the spokesperson claim it was actually better.

    Really?

    Well, I had to admit I was skeptical when I requested a unit for review and the surprises were just beginning. The photos at Bose’s Web site didn’t quite capture just how small the Companion 3 really is. The satellites, finished in an attractive graphic and silver trim, measure just 3.5 by 2.5 by 2-3/8 inches and weigh just half a pound. I didn’t expect the tiny things to offer much in the way of sound, though I was more encouraged by the hefty Acoustimass woofer module.

    Overall, the Companion 3 is a smarter design. That vintage multimedia system had volume and tone controls on the woofer itself, an awkward setup, although I would simply rely on the volume keys on my Apple keyboard. There are no tone controls on the new model, just the power switch and a woofer level control, the better to mate it with the satellites. Bose’s better idea is a control pod which, in addition to a multifunction volume and mute control, includes jacks for headphones and an extra input source, such as an iPod.

    In addition to the usual equalization circuitry to tailor the frequency response to the speakers, there are two other signal processing schemes in the Companion 3. One is something called “compression circuitry,” which is supposed to keep the sound from distorting, even at high volume levels. The other is TrueSpace, which is supposed to widen the sound field, so the audio sound stage seems to extend way beyond the satellites.

    Setup is typically Bose, which means ultra simple and little different from other computer speaker systems. And, if you don’t want to have speakers on your desk, you can used the supplied mounting brackets to affix them to your display. In any case, after about five minutes of unpacking cables and removing twist ties, I had the unit ready to roll.

    Just to put things in perspective and do a proper comparison, I set up one of those older Bose systems on a desk behind me, connected to my 17-inch PowerBook. I spent some quality time with the more expensive system, long out of production, and then used the very same source material with the Companion 3. In case you’re wondering, it was a simple mixture of rock and classical, and I wasn’t shy about turning the systems up real loud.

    The basic character or voicing of the two systems was similar. Typical of Bose systems across the board, it was rich and full, with strong, authoritative bass. The Companion 3 distinguished itself with crisper mids and highs and I was able to play it louder than the original multimedia system without distorting. What’s more, as claimed, the sound stage did indeed seem wider than you had the right to expect. Is it the best computer speaker outfit on the planet? I don’t know, since I have neither the time nor energy to undergo that test en masse once again. But it’ll give the other systems I have heard a run for their money.

    It’s always great to be able to get more for less, and I am pleased to give the Bose Companion 3 speaker system an enthusiastic thumbs up.

    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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