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Newsletter Issue #295

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

Now you can have it your way. You can hear the live feed as it happens each Thursday evening, the automatic playback of the most recent episode when you access our show site, or download the Podcast version. We are still working out a few glitches, though, so if you have any problem hearing the show, please let us know.

For our July 21st program, we called upon our favorite troubleshooting wizard, Ted Landau, to bring us up to date on Tiger and other matters. TidBITS publisher Adam Engst talked about the future of the Macworld Expo and other issues, and we also heard from Kevin Ford of Parliant, whose flagship product, PhoneValet, won a “Best of Show” award at Macworld Boston.

We’re still working out details of the July 28th show and there will be some surprises, so check The Tech Night Owl LIVE site for the latest updates to the guest list.

And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, memory upgrades, network music players, software and books. More great prizes will be offered in the weeks to come.

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 OPERATING SYSTEM FORMERLY KNOWN AS LONGHORN

Two years late and counting, Microsoft has decreed that Longhorn isn’t a terribly sexy name for its new operating system. No, I’m not going to comment on the wisdom of naming the successor to Windows XP after a breed of cattle with long horns or an elongated beetle with long antennae. Clearly it wasn’t meant as the final name, and now the cow is out of the barn, or whatever.

After an extensive round of focus group testing and research, Microsoft decided that its new operating system must bring “clarity” to our digital world, and thus begat Windows Vista. Why Vista? Well, according to Microsoft, “It enables a new level of confidence in your PC and in your ability to get the most out of it. It introduces clear ways to organize and use information the way you want to use it. It seamlessly connects you to information, people, and devices that help you get the most out of life.”

Are you excited about it yet? One definition of vista, by the way, is “a pleasing view, esp. one seen through a long, narrow opening.” So it’s a long, narrow route to instilling confidence in your malware-ridden PC.

Now I shouldn’t sound so negative. After all, the darn thing hasn’t even reached beta yet, and I suppose Windows Vista sounds better than, well, Windows XP Ultra or some other variation on the theme. And, at this point, Longhorn doesn’t have an especially good pedigree, what with all the delays and the process of jettisoning features to get it ready within a reasonable time frame.

Among the more important features of Windows Vista, assuming it appears as scheduled in the second half of 2006, is improved security. Those of you who are forced to endure the rampant spyware and virus infections under current versions of Windows will be pleased, assuming Microsoft can meet its goal. There will also be a Parental Controls feature, improved home networking, and improved access to your files and external devices.

If some of this sounds suspiciously like what today’s Mac OS offers, you’re not alone. But the success of Windows has never been based on who got what feature first. Assuming Windows Vista provides all or most of its advertised features, and doesn’t bring a slew of new incompatibilities, it’ll probably succeed. Now Windows users may not be lining up to buy the upgrade, but it becomes available in newly minted PC boxes, it’ll eventually catch on.

However, it’s still going to be a hard sell. Today, nearly four years after the debut of Windows XP, millions of PC users still use older versions. Many businesses refuse to upgrade past Windows 2000 because they don’t want to undergo the pain and agony of deploying a new operating system upgrade on thousands of mission critical computers. For Vista to spread beyond computers on which it is preloaded, Microsoft is going to have to make a compelling case that it has changed its ways, that it has truly overcome the security problems and installation uncertainties of the past. That’s not something that’ll happen overnight.

If all goes as planned, the first beta version will appear next month, designed to give developers and IT people a chance to get an up close and personal look at the new system and put it through its paces. Another beta, geared towards a wider audience, is promised for next year.

But with more than a year to go before being released to manufacturing, Windows Vista could still be delayed if problems appear during the beta cycle, though I suspect that Microsoft will sooner dump more features than postpone its release any further. It doesn’t need any more egg on its face.

Yet even though Tiger already offers much of what Windows Vista will provide next year, Apple ought to be working full steam towards delivering Mac OS 10.5 Leopard as soon as it can. Right now, the projected release date of Tiger’s successor is late 2006 or early 2007, and the feature set probably won’t be known until next year’s WWDC. But you can bet that Microsoft will be turning up its marketing machine full tilt as Vista’s arrival approaches, and the fact that its features aren’t all that new may be forgotten by folks who are just glad something, anything, is nearing release. It may not even matter if Vista, in the end, emerges as nothing more than a warmed over Windows XP.

At the same time, Apple will be in the midst of its transition to Intel processors. Some developers may even be wondering whether they should hold off on delivering Universal Binaries of their Mac products until they see how much work will be necessary to make the products compatible with Vista. In an ideal world, they’ll do both, but if a lot of work is required to update their Windows products, Mac versions could get short shrift.

In fact, it may be a good idea for Apple to find a way to accelerate its processor migration timetable as much as it can, and redouble efforts to deliver Leopard ahead of Vista. Yes, we can enjoy a few chuckles today at the path from Longhorn to Vista, but Microsoft is going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to convince one and all that it will be the greatest operating system on the planet. It may not matter, in the end, that the final product doesn’t quite fulfill Microsoft’s lofty goals.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: BEAM ME UP ONE MORE TIME

It may seem hard to believe, but many engineers and students were inspired to choose their professions by a Canadian actor with a faux Scottish accident, who labored against impossible odds to save the galaxy on a fictional starship in the 23rd century.

The actor in question, James Montgomery Doohan, better known as “Scotty” to fans of Star Trek, died last week at the age of 85, after struggling with pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease. When he first took on the role as Montgomery Scott, the irascible Chief Engineer of the starship Enterprise, in 1966, he was just another of those veteran character actors who you’d see and hear in dozens of roles but never quite recognize.

Like other actors who became associated with a popular TV series, Doohan became typecast as Scotty, but managed to embrace the role that gave him worldwide recognition. It seems strange, in retrospect, how actors will work all their lives trying to find a career-defining role, and then, if it happens, work just as hard to escape it and move on to other pursuits.

So, for nearly 39 years, Doohan and Scotty were one and the same, perhaps in the same way that the late Clayton Moore remained “The Long Ranger” to millions of fans long after his TV series left the airways.

I actually met Doohan a couple of times at Star Trek conventions back in the 1970s. I remember asking him, on one occasion, to imitate a 70-year-old Scotty, not realizing that he’d still be playing the role at that age. Indeed, in the wake of incredible success of Star Wars, the folks at Paramount recommissioned the Enterprise, took Star Trek to the movies, and created several spin-off TV series. So there was Scotty, once again, complaining to Captain Kirk that the warp drive couldn’t sustain any more abuse, but somehow hold things together long enough to stay one step ahead of the enemy.

But even though Scotty is no longer among us, he will be remembered for decades to come when the original Star Trek TV shows and movies are rerun. And if primitive efforts at matter transportation eventually bear fruit, maybe we’ll one day be able to say, “Scotty, beam me up” and mean it.

THE FINAL WORD

The Mac Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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