• Newsletter Issue #313

    November 28th, 2005

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    During the day, the Steinberg family enjoyed a Thanksgiving buffet at a local restaurant. There are few relatives residing locally, and just roasting a turkey for the three of us has never seemed practical. But once we got home, it was show time, and this week’s episode was one of the best.

    One subject we haven’t touched upon so far is games. The reason is that we used to be part of a network that had another show devoted to that area, so we didn’t want to duplicate their efforts. But now that we’re on our own, building this show and that other, of which I’ll tell you more in a moment, we decided it was about time.

    So our November 24th episode featured Glenda Adams, Director of Development for Aspyr Media. She discussed the trials and tribulations of porting their popular Mac games from PowerPC Intel, and alerted us about some of their upcoming titles. We also joined by Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, and we had a great time talking about topics that ranged from Bob’s Mini Cooper to Apple’s best products of the year. We also heard from a new friend, Scott Knaster, author of “Take Control of Switching to the Mac.”

    Now about that second show that’s in the wings, we are still preparing the first episodes, and we expect it’ll debut before the end of the year, but we’re keeping that deadline fluid. A few more things have to jell before we’re ready. Meantime, there’s one change. The title is now The Paracast, and we’ll tell you more, possibly as soon as next week’s newsletter.

    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 TIGER REPORT: ABOUT THAT OLD FASHIONED G4

    The other day, a friend begged me to sell his old Mac, a G4/733 from 2001. It seemed a simple task. The computer had just received a brand new 120GB hard drive; the original, a somewhat slow 40GB mechanism, was, more or less, nonfunctional. This particular Mac had the standard CD-RW optical drive, 384MB of RAM, and looked as good as new. In case you’ve forgotten, a version of this model came with the first Apple drive to burn regular DVD blanks, better known as the SuperDrive.

    One of my clients, a busy graphic artist, thought it would be ideal for his home office, once he added some more memory of course. So I brokered the deal, and, on Friday afternoon, the client came over to pick up his computer. Unfortunately, the sale nearly fell through, because the optical drive wasn’t a combo device, which means it could not read DVDs, such as the one that comes with the Tiger upgrade kit. Perhaps he hope to negotiate a better deal, although the price he was given was way below that for the same computer on a typical eBay auction.

    Before he got to the door, I quickly explained how easy it would be to set up the G4 under FireWire Disk Mode, so its drive would mount on another Mac with a DVD reader. That way he could install Tiger without much fuss and bother. I also located some online sources for combo and SuperDrives, so his objections were promptly silenced. The transaction concluded a few minutes later.

    As you no doubt know, Tiger ships on a single DVD. If you want CDs, you have to use a special Media Exchange order form from Apple’s site, and return the DVD to Apple with $9.95 for the replacement media. What’s strange about this offer is that it expires on December 22nd of this year, even though Tiger will probably be on sale for another year or more before it is replaced with Leopard. Does Apple somehow feel that the people with older Macs have already placed their orders and that everyone buying a Tiger upgrade from here on has a newer computer? If it sounds strange to you, it’s outrageous in my book.

    Consider my friend’s situation. He has a Mac that he bought a little over four years ago, yet the drive is not compatible with the media shipped with the latest version of the Mac OS. There are probably millions of potential Tiger users with similar situations, and that is that they own Mac that’s otherwise completely compatible and capable of delivering great performance with 10.4. But they have the wrong optical drive, even though it was the right one just a few years ago.

    Now I can understand that Apple wants to save a few dollars and pressing a single DVD is no doubt less costly than several CDs. Then I looked at the box to ship Tiger, and all that empty space, and you wonder whether the saving of a dollar or two in production costs compensates for setting up that special media exchange scheme. Maybe money has nothing to do with it. Apple feels that people will become confused if both the DVD and CD versions were included in the same box, even if the labels on the media envelopes were big and bold.

    I’m not going to speculate on the reasoning behind this silliness. If the offer isn’t extended, I wonder how Apple support will address the complaints from Tiger upgraders who decided to postpone upgrading until they were assured of its reliability. After all, 10.4.3, considered by many to be the first truly complete version of Tiger, only shipped at the end of October. Retail boxes have just been upgraded, and it doesn’t give you much time to order the media package you need.

    Pity the poor soul who decides that it’s better to wait for the inevitable 10.4.4 or 10.4.5 before jumping in, and then sees the disc repeatedly pop out of their Mac’s optical drive. What will they do then? Go back to the dealer and insist they got a bad disc? Sure, the fine print on the box does indeed explain that only a DVD is provided, but how many of you read fine print with or without reading glasses?

    I like to think that Apple had a sensible reason for skimping on media, and that putting the Mac user through additional aggravation somehow makes sense after a fashion. Perhaps they’re telling you that any Mac that can’t read a DVD is obsolete, even though replacement media is available, and replacement combo and SuperDrives can often be had for $100 or less.

    Now it’s always possible that someone will buy a copy, open the box, and find both types of media therein. Maybe someone in the accounting department will wake up and discover that’s a more efficient way to package Tiger than to set up a special fulfillment program. Or maybe the fulfillment of replacement CDs has been farmed out to a third party company that needs the business, or has executives who are closely related to an Apple executive and they need a little extra cash to fill their Christmas stockings this year.

    I’m not about to guess, of course, on the reasoning. It’s always possible that, on December 23rd, Apple will answer such objections and extend the program until Tiger has become another operating system of yesteryear. Maybe there will be an even more illogical marketing scheme for Leopard. I just can’t wait.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: I’LL TAKE BOTH SATELLITE RADIO FORMATS

    Just imagine your dilemma. You’re a fan of National League baseball, and so you are tempted to subscribe to XM satellite radio. But you’re also a fan of shock jock Howard Stern, and when he arrives at Sirius in January, you’d like to be able to hear his show as well. Unfortunately, this creates the ultimate dilemma, because the radio that supports one of the satellite services doesn’t support the other.

    For home use, there’s a practical solution. Buy one radio for each service, and subscribe to both. True, there will be lots of duplication when it comes to regular music, news and talk programming, but at least you’ll have your favorite sports events, and enjoy Howard’s typically outrageous shenanigans, which are apt to be more outrageous when he no longer has the FCC watching his back.

    When it comes to car radios, it’s rather more difficult. True, more and more auto makers are including satellite radios as optional equipment. Some choose one service or the other; others offer both, but never at the same time.

    Do you see a product idea in the offing? Now I don’t think the satellite providers would necessarily like the idea. However, consider the fact that your cable or satellite provider has no problem with you ordering up HBO and Showtime as part of the same package. I rather suspect it wouldn’t take more than a chip or two to decode either satellite service. The rest of the circuitry could be identical. So where’s the dual-format satellite radio? Now maybe there is such a product, but I haven’t seen it, but it is the logical solution for folks who want both services. Of course, you still have to subscribe separately; no special combo deals are in the offing. But if you have no problem with that, there ought to be a radio device of some sort to satisfy that need.

    Now it is perfectly true that both satellite services are hemorrhaging money big time, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year. But nobody is suggesting that either one or the other will go out of business any time soon. They were created for the long haul, with the expectation that income will finally exceed expenses in the next year or two. Howard Stern, for example, will supposedly attract millions of new subscribers to Sirius, and big-buck sponsors as well, all the better to compensate the service for spending $500 million on that deal.

    No doubt baseball fans will embrace XM with great vigor, and it will also earn a solid return on the investment.

    There have been suggestions from time to time that the two services ought to merge. I, for one, wouldn’t like to see that. I prefer having choices and having more than one satellite radio service will keep them from becoming greedy and asking for too much money in subscription fees. Just as you have both cable and satellite TV in most locales, you are free to pick the provider that offers the best deal from both a price and programming package standpoint.

    The real solution, in the end, is dual-format. It’s an idea that, from my limited point of view, makes an awful lot of sense. Aside from the doubling of subscription fees, of course, I rather suspect the radio wouldn’t have to sell for that much more than existing devices. As I said, it can all be reduced to a chip or two to decode the appropriate signals.

    Now maybe there’s no real demand for such a product, or at least not enough to make it practical. Maybe the two satellite providers would object, but a subscription from any source is still a subscription. Maybe someone will soon make it happen.

    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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