• Newsletter Issue #298

    August 15th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Are you having any problems picking up our live The Tech Night Owl LIVE broadcasts? Please let us know about it as soon as you can. We’re especially interested in the kind of computer you have, your operating system and the type of connection you use. The more information, the better. The IT people handling the broadcast servers will do their best to resolve the remaining issues. Right now, some people with dial-up connections are reporting problems, but the situation appears to be improving. Meantime, you can always download the archive files from our show site, one of the Podcast directories or via iTunes.

    As to our August 11th episode, we headlined eWeek columnist David Coursey, who has been favorably impressed by the first beta of the newly minted Windows Vista. But he still likes the Mac OS, so don’t throw those tomatoes at him just yet. Last week’s show also featured long conversations with author and multimedia wizard Jim Heid, and Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen. Steve came on board to tell us about the latest round of back to school gadgets.

    We’re still finalizing the schedule for August 18th, but we’ll be talking with Dan Tynan, author of “Computer Privacy Annoyances: How to Avoid the Most Annoying Invasions of Your Personal and Online Privacy.” And, no, folks, it’s not just for Windows users. We’ll also be paying another visit to the “David Biedny Zone.”

    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 APPLE/INTEL REPORT: JUST IGNORE THE HACKERS

    The news is spreading like wildfire. Hackers have found a way to make the developer’s version of Mac OS X for Intel run on vanilla PC boxes. The stories claim that this proves that Apple won’t be able to lock the genie in the bottle. The implication here is that Apple might as well own up to the reality of the situation and simply release Mac OS X as an operating system upgrade for all x86 computers.

    I suppose that sounds all right in theory, but theories don’t always reflect reality. This is not to say the stories aren’t true. I’m willing to accept the fact that ways have been found to bypass the security precautions. According to published reports, one of those methods involves using VMWare’s PearPC emulator, which supposedly lets you run PowerPC operating systems on any platform, Apple’s Darwin open source operating system, a PC with a processor that supports the SSE2 enhancements and some additional files put together by a hacker to complete the process.

    No, I’m not going to tell you where to get this stuff or how to make all these disparate elements function. I do not support using pirated software or hacking to violate a company’s user license and nondisclosure contracts. I’m more interested in the impact of these little episodes, and whether Apple has reason to be concerned that it all happened so quickly.

    I do not doubt for one moment that Apple might very well call upon its legal staff to put a stop to these efforts to crack its operating system. But that doesn’t meant that Apple’s plan to restrict Mac OS X for Intel to its own hardware will fail. Not even close.

    Let’s not forget that the Mac you buy with Intel Inside a year or two from now will quite likely be very different from the Power Macs Apple cobbled together for developers to test. That computer, part of the Developer Transition Kit, uses standard off-the-shelf Intel parts. It isn’t designed to be sold to anyone. In fact, Apple isn’t selling it to developers either. They are expected to return those test computers by the end of 2006. At that time, real MacIntels will be shipping, and I don’t doubt for a moment that it will be a lot harder to crack its operating system.

    By this time next year, Intel will offer a hardware-based security system called LeGrand, which will supposedly be a far more resilient protection scheme. Obviously, the product isn’t here today, and nobody outside of, perhaps, Intel’s development labs (and maybe Apple), knows whether it’ll be as easy to break the locks on that new system. But I dare say Apple is betting that you won’t be reading stories about how easy it is to install Mac OS X on non-approved hardware when the real product is available.

    This doesn’t mean I’m naive enough to think that it’s going to be impossible. I do believe in that cliche that where there’s a will, there’s a way. I do not doubt for a moment that someone, somewhere, will find a way to make it happen. But this isn’t going to be anything like the situation of the early 1980s, when IBM couldn’t stop PC cloning. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are both software and hardware protections involved, and that even if you could somehow install Mac OS X on your $300 Dell box, performance will be absolutely unsatisfactory. It may give someone bragging rights of course, and it may also give that someone a chance at a court visit too.

    But this isn’t going to stop some people from suggesting that Apple knows it can’t stop the practice forever, and that there is a plan afoot to eventually allow you Mac OS X for Intel to work on generic PC boxes. It may not happen the first year, or the second, but Apple will have to relent some day, even if forced kicking and screaming to do so.

    I’m not so sure. Unless its financial model changes drastically over the next few years, Apple will still earn the lion’s share of its revenue from selling new Macs. Compare those figures to what it gets from selling a $129 shrink-wrapped Mac OS X upgrade box. Consider whether people will be willing to pay extra for a fully loaded Macintosh when they can put Mac OS X on that cheap old Dell, HP or Gateway. More to the point, consider the consequences if Mac OS X for Intel were allowed to run on thousands of possible PC system combinations. One of the reasons Microsoft can’t get its new systems out on time is the near-impossible process of making it compatible with the wild, wooly world of PC hardware. Wonder why Windows can sometimes be unpredictable? Same reason.

    Now considering all the problems Microsoft has with its huge resources, do you think it’ll be any different for a much smaller company like Apple if it decided to enter the same sandbox? Yes, it is possible that Steve Jobs may still be harboring hopes that he’ll be able to strike back at Microsoft and eventually dominate the PC market in the same way he dominates the music player industry.

    But I don’t think releasing Mac OS X for Intel unfettered is going to change history, except, perhaps, in a very negative way for Apple.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: DOES ANYONE TEST THIS STUFF?

    Back in the early 1990s, I wanted a cheap, reliable car for the family. After being intrigued by those cute Saturn ads, and the fact that you could buy one without undergoing the pain of agony of haggling with greedy salespeople, I bought a white top-of-the-line version with upgraded audio and all the rest. It was a pretty decent car, with comfortable seats, good handling, although the door panels had a tendency to buzz in sync with the engine.

    The dealer’s service department was clearly aware of such issues, for they spent a few hours filling the insides of the doors with foam inserts and managed to massage away the worst of the rattles and buzzes. After that exercise, my experience with the Saturn was great. The car even managed a comfortable near cross-country trip as we moved from New Jersey to Arizona in 1993. Eventually, with mileage mounting, I traded it in for a 1995 version of the same vehicle.

    However, that was the last Saturn I ever bought. By 1999, I was prepared to buy the redesigned model, and took one for a test drive. To say the seats were uncomfortable would be an understatement. Somewhere along the way, the management of “a different kind of car company” lost its way. I began to wonder how an affiliate of a company that had been building cars since the early part of the 20th century couldn’t figure out how to build seats that wouldn’t cause back aches in five minutes flat.

    But I shouldn’t have been surprised. During the next few weeks, the family and I took test drives in other cars in search of something better. Along the way, we responded to a cheap lease offer for a mid-sized Infiniti I30 and took one out for a brief spell. It seamed nicely styled, and had a decent amount of luxury fittings for the price. But Mrs. Steinberg, a petite woman who weighs barely 100 pounds soaking wet, couldn’t find a comfortable position in the passenger’s seat. She spent agonizing minutes fiddling with the power adjustments to no avail. I had no problems with the driver’s seat, mind you, but I had to consider her comfort. For the rest of the day, she continue to complain of back pains.

    As we drove away, I had to wonder how the designers of a motor vehicle with a list price north of $30,000 fared no better than Saturn in building comfortable seats for passengers of different sized anatomies.

    But it’s not just seat comfort that is somehow forgotten in certain car designs. It’s usability. Years ago, almost anyone with adequate driving skills could learn the ins and outs of a typical motor vehicle in a few minutes. Now you are confronted by a bewildering array of electronic gizmos, and you have to wonder whether you need to degree in computer science to sort things out.

    Just the other day, I read profiles of five $50,000 luxury sedans in Consumer Reports. You would assume that car makers who build vehicles in that price category would be able to figure out how to supply comfortable seats, and you’d be partly right. Rear seat comfort on two of the tested vehicles was merely adequate. Worst, the menu driven navigation systems were clearly designed by people who had no clue about the meaning of the phrase “user friendly.” The words “frustrating and distracting” say it all.

    Now you’d think that cars designed for well-heeled buyers would provide the ultimate in comfort and safety. Cars of this caliber ought to be simpler to master, right? If an important feature is distracting, it makes the car less safe, or am I just missing something?

    I have to wonder: It typically costs hundreds of millions of dollars to design a motor vehicle and bring it to market, and that’s a conservative figure. Do these car makers really test their products with regular people? Or do they just make a few wild guesses and hope for the best?

    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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