• Newsletter Issue #312

    November 21st, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    For a brief moment, Grayson and I wondered whether we should even have a show this week, since it would fall on the Thanksgiving holiday. But the feeling passed quickly, because we have listeners around the world that don’t observe the holiday and, besides, a great many of you hear the show a day or two courtesy of the Podcast version. So there you go.

    On November 17th, our featured guest was CNET’s Molly Wood, who has been following the sad saga of SONY BMG’s invasive CD copy protection scheme. The whole sordid affair resulted in demonstrations, the threat of lawsuits, and finally a recall of millions of CDs from the store shelves. Supposedly they’ll be replaced by versions without the protection scheme. You have to wonder, though: Do executives sit up nights coming up with this nonsense? In any case, Molly delivered a fascinating status report on good intentions gone wrong.

    This episode also included a lengthy talk with Macworld’s Jason Snell, who started the conversation by addressing the expectations for the first Macs with Intel chips. As you know, the rumor sites have been hot and heavy that it’ll happen beginning in January, with the official announcement at Macworld Expo in San Francisco. We were also joined by Clark Humphrey, author of the new e-book, “Take Control of Digital TV.”

    Our November 24th episode will feature Glenda Adams, Director of Development for Aspyr Media. She’ll talk about the trials and tribulations of porting their popular Mac games from PowerPC Intel, and alert us about some of their upcoming titles. We’ll also be joined by Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus and Scott Knaster, author of “Take Control of Switching to the Mac.”

    And don’t forget our weekly contests. So far we’ve given away such prizes as iPod shuffles, iPod accessories, 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 or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.

    THE MAC HARDWARE REPORT: WHY IS APPLE’S MARKET SHARE INCREASING?

    After bottoming out with a worldwide market share at less than two percent worldwide, Apple has begun to regain its footing and is actually managing to keep ahead of the PC industry as a whole. This has been quite a change. Although Apple has been quite profitable over the years, Mac sales have been pretty well stagnant, failing to keep pace with Windows boxes.

    It’s hard to imagine here in 2005, but Apple once had a double digit market share. But that’s long ago and far away. It may happen again, but nobody is betting on any such thing for the foreseeable future, although few expected the iPod to take off either, so I’ll never say never.

    In any case, what are the forces at work in moving more Macs into homes and small businesses? If you ask, you can get several answers, and all of them make sense, so that makes matters doubly confusing.

    First, there is the famous iPod “halo” effect. Millions of Windows users are getting a taste of Apple technology, and so they want more. Perhaps they buy their iPods at an Apple store or another dealer that handles Macs, so they become curious enough to give those attractive computers a try next.

    Now I won’t say I don’t believe in halos, although it took several years for it to take hold. I can also understand why love for one’s iPod would make one feel warm and fuzzy towards the company’s other products. It sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? One can only hope that, as iPod sales continue to fly, Macs will continue to fly off the shelves too. But is that the only reason?

    There are also the chronic ills of the Windows platform. The ever-present malware threat has to be a major factor, as more and more PC users say “enough is enough” and look for something different and hopefully better. The fact that more and more technology writers are extolling the virtues of their own Mac switching attempts no doubt encourages their readers to try the very same thing. I mean, other than not being able to get software for specialty markets and missing out on some computer games, there’s not a lot to be said for sticking with Windows.

    While I can’t say I’ve read every column on the subject, I do not recall any technology writer saying that he or she ditched Windows and embraced the Mac simply because they were turned on by the iPod. The reasons were far more substantial, almost always related to freedom from malware, ease of use and all the rest of the virtues Mac users cherish.

    I am not about to dispute either story. Perhaps it’s a combination of the two. Both iPod owners and disgruntled Windows users have come together to acquire new Macs, and if true, perhaps the pace will accelerate as Apple begins to embrace Intel processors over the coming year. If Apple doesn’t falter, with a poorly designed product or serious reliability issue, more serious than the ones that have occurred so far, these new Mac users may well stick with their new platform.

    Yet there is a third reason why Mac sales are up, and it has nothing to do with folks abandoning another computing platform for one reason or another. It can all be summed up in two different words. One is “replacement” and the other is “upgrade.” True, Mac users tend to keep their computers in regular use for longer than their Windows counterparts. But there comes a time when you’re ready to retire that old box, give it to the kids or a distant relative, or just put it in storage.

    Imagine the owner of an early generation iMac who wants to upgrade to Tiger, but discovers there’s no FireWire port, which is required for installation of 10.4. Yes, there are alternative’s, such as Ryan Rempel’s XPostFacto, but you still end up with a slow computer, and Apple has covered an awful lot of ground in the past six or seven years.

    It’s also very possible that many long-time Mac users avoided the transition to Mac OS X. The cost of buying more memory, a new computer, and lots of new application upgrades, proved too daunting, so it took a few years to save enough money to cover all these expenses.

    Regardless of the reason, perhaps many of those new Macs are giving to existing users who were finally ready to replace their vintage Macs. It doesn’t expand the user base, of course, but a sale is a sale, and if a new upgrade cycle is upon us, so be it. Consider the millions who bought those early iMacs, for example. The second incarnation of the iMac maybe didn’t tempt them, but imagine what the $1,299 that bought you the first iMac gets you now.

    So there you have it: Three perfectly sensible reasons why Mac sales are on the increase. You could probably attribute the growing market share to all three, although I suspect only Apple’s marketing people have the actual breakdown, and they’re not saying much, at least not yet. If the information comes from any other source, let’s just call it a guess, educated or otherwise.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: LIVING WITHOUT TIVO

    Well, I admit it. I never bought a TiVo. It’s been a matter of convenience, since the TV providers I’ve used had their own DVR recording systems for sale or lease. Now maybe the user interfaces I’ve run across aren’t quite as spiffy as the one used by TiVo, but they got the job done. Now I suppose that’s the argument Windows users give when you invoke the words Apple Macintosh, but that’s how it is.

    First off, when I had Dish Network, I relied on their own equipment for recording shows, since they never licensed TiVo. I could have bought it separately, of course, but there goes the convenience factor. After switching to Cox (returning to be more precise), so I could receive local high definition stations without having to use a separate antenna, I took what Cox offered, which is the Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD.

    Now, as you might have heard, Cisco is acquiring Scientific Atlanta, so it can offer a complete soup to nuts solution for TV service providers. Now I suppose Cisco could have shopped for a larger company that makes set top boxes, but Motorola is a little out of their league. In any case, that isn’t going to change the products or focus any time soon, since Cisco supposedly intends to keep Scientific Atlanta’s employees and key executives intact.

    In any case, I have to agree with CNET’s David Carnoy that the 8300HD might not be a match for TiVo, but it’s probably good enough. My comparison, however, is not to the TiVo, since I do not like to cover products that I haven’t tried myself. Instead, I’ll use the last Dish DVR I used, the DISH Player-DVR 942, for this report. Both the 942 and 8300HD offer a pair of HD tuners, so you can watch a program while recording another. The Dish product also has an off-air tuner, so you can attach an antenna for local high definition stations, and that’s a poor substitute, but that’s how it is until the company makes HD locals available as part of its regular service.

    The 942 offers a 250GB drive, while the 8300HD’s storage is 160GB. This may seem a huge difference, but in the real world it doesn’t quite work as you think. Dish claims a capacity of 180 hours of standard definition programming and 25 hours of HDTV. Scientific Atlanta rates its 8300HD as storing 90 hours of regular TV and 20 hours of HD. Evidently Scientific Atlanta is using some sort of compression scheme to get that many shows to fit in a substantially a smaller space, but, frankly, I don’t see a difference. What’s more, the real world capacity of the 942 was more like 23 hours. Don’t ask me to explain the disparity.

    In any case, if 20 hours isn’t enough for you, the 8300HD offers an SATA port at the rear for an external drive, which can address the capacity issue. I’m tempted, but I also suspect there will be successors to the 8300HD with larger drives, and since cable companies lease rather than sell the units to customers, upgrading is simple. What’s more, there’s no guarantee that the 8300HD’s replacements will continue to offer the port for the external drive, so I think I’ll wait, since I haven’t confronted the storage limitations, at least not yet.

    In both cases, the interfaces are serviceable. Dish offers up to nine days programming in advance, but the 8300HD is limited to seven. However, it is a tad easier to restrict recordings to the newest episodes on the latter. The former is better suited to speed through commercials, because you can move forward in 30 second jumps. With the Scientific Atlanta unit, you are limited to just three fast forward speeds, and sometimes you overshoot and have to back up a little. It’s also not quite as easy to resume playback at the point you left a show the day before, but I presume that’s an issue that could be addressed in software. The other oddity I encountered was the inability to store a show from time to time on the 8300HD when only selecting the new episodes; I was able to get it to “take” by choosing all episodes in a given time slot (or all time slots) instead. However, that problem has apparently worked itself out in the past week or two, which may indicate that the cause was quietly addressed with a software update or a fix at Cox’s transmission center (or “head end”).

    I know those of you who use TiVo can show chapter and verse why it’s slicker in nearly every respect. That may indeed be true, but the 8300HD gets the job done in a reasonably efficient way. For now, at least, that’s precisely what I need.

    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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