• Newsletter Issue #319

    January 9th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    For January 5th, we had a busy show, with a surprising last-minute guest. After high definition television got a solid presentation at CES, we decided it might be a good idea to give you the low-down on how to make sense of all the formats and connection possibilities. So we featured Steve Hollington, senior marketing manager for televisions at Dell, Inc. Now it may not seem as if Dell was the best source for this information, but it so happens that their lines of affordable LCD and plasma TVs have gotten some pretty good reviews. Steve’s presentation was excellent, and right on point.

    This week, David Biedny is going to be my guest co-host for two live versions of the show at the Macworld Expo. Grayson won’t be present, because he’s working this week for his school’s daily newspaper, in advance of a new semester. So I thought it would be fitting to enter the “David Biedny Zone” for a look at the best of 2005 and some predictions for what’s to come in 2006. Also on the agenda was Alan Oppenheimer, of Open Door Networks, Inc., who talked about his company’s newest line of Internet security software.

    Tech Night Owl LIVE will appear live at Macworld Expo on Wednesday, January 11th. The first show will be presented at the Expo’s Podcast Place at 11:30 that morning. A second show will occur at the Macworld booth from 3:15 until 4:00 PM. Featured guests will include authors Joe Kissell, Ted Landau and a few surprises. Stay tuned for more updates. In case you can’t attend, no problem. The best of these live shows will be incorporated in our January 12th episode.

    In case you’re wondering about that other show, “The Paracast,” we have a couple of shows almost ready to roll, and we are now planning a debut in the latter part of January. As you might expect, the Macworld Expo will occupy our attention this week, and we want to give the new show our full attention and a proper send off.

    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, video tuner/recorders, 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 Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.

    THE MACWORLD EXPO REPORT #1: HANDICAPPING THE NEW PRODUCTS

    You’ve heard all the speculation, and some of it gets a little otherwordly, and now we poised to discover the reality. Since time is so short, I’m not about to make any predictions myself. The truth is out there, and we’ll know soon enough. Instead, I’m going to examine some of the rumors about the new and updated products Apple is poised to deliver this week, and give them a probability rating.

    I expect to be absolutely wrong in some of my conclusions, so take little of it seriously. I surely won’t.

    INTEL-BASED MAC MINI: This is an odds-on favorite. With development of the G4 processor stalled, Apple made few changes of note to its entry-level box. During the summer of 2005, standard RAM was upped to 512MB, the better to run Tiger at decent speed. Some reported getting units with slightly speedier processors, but the performance difference was of little consequence. Now Intel has the parts to give the mini a healthy speed boost, a dual-core processor code-name Yonah. PC box makers are already introducing products with this processor, and it makes sense that Apple is poised to give the mini a new lease on life. It may not get a lower price, but it might be outfitted with a remote control, an updated version of Front Row and other media center capabilities. I bet you can’t wait!

    INTEL-BASED LAPTOPS: Roughly half of the personal computers bought these days are laptops, and Apple no longer seems especially competitive in this arena. The iBook has had only minor updates in the last year, and many regard it as overpriced compared to PC hardware with similar capabilities. Yes, the PowerBook had a recent update, but the processor remained the same, so they had use smoke and mirrors to make it seem as if things had improved. The screen got more pixels and faster RAM and speedier graphics were added to eke out a little extra performance. No more legerdemain will be needed once Intel processors appear. Since the iBook and the Mac mini share many parts, it would seem likely both will be updated. I wouldn’t hazard a guess as to how form factors will change, but I would hope for a $799 iBook, the better to compete in the marketplace. But the PowerBook is another matter, and it’s possible Apple may want to wait a little longer until even faster Intel chips are available. At the very least, you may see a new PowerBook demonstrated, with a release date two or three months hence. But expect existing models to be sold off at fire sale prices, in case you can’t wait.

    INTEL-BASED IMAC: Apple made a big splash last fall with an updated iMac with built-in iSight camera, remote control and all the rest. The slightly slimmer form factor wasn’t noticeable at first glance, but the whole package was compelling enough to garner rave reviews and reports of good sales through the holidays. But is Apple ready to ditch its G5 for an Intel dual-core so soon after this model was upgraded? That’s a big question, and I can bet that the folks who bought iMacs during the holiday season are going to be mad if it happens. Frankly, I don’t see it until the second round of Intel updates, perhaps when faster processors are out. In addition, I see little reason to expect any changes to the Power Mac line until late this year or even some time in 2007.

    IPODS AND MORE IPODS: Competitors were in abundance at CES, and now it’s Apple’s turn. At the very least, expect to see more content providers and possibly even movies at the iTunes Music Store. There could be updates to some of the iPods, and the shuffle emerges as a real possibility, even though the 1GB shuffle is back in stock. So what’s going to change? There may be updated models with wireless capabilities, and maybe even a big brother to the existing iPod with video sporting a larger screen.

    DIGITAL LIFESTYLE GEAR: The possibilities are endless here. Last year at this time, Mac rumor sites faced Apple’s legal wrath because of the disclosure of a possible audio breakout box, code-named Asteroid. It never made the light of day, but something of its ilk might indeed appear this year. It’s also possible Apple is going to move into other areas of the consumer electronics arena. The long shot is a line of plasma TVs, in 42-inch and 50-inch sizes. High-end TV is a crowded arena these days. All the major electronics companies are involved, and both Dell and HP have launched creditable, competitive entries. Does it make any sense for Apple to jump in? I regard this one as a long shot, very long, but if I’m proven wrong, so be it.

    ILIFE ’06: Apple may or may not have spilled the beans on this product by mistake, or just to stoke the fires, with an “accidental” posting at its Web site last week. Hasn’t that happened before, days before an Expo? The popular digital lifestyle suite may or may not be enhanced by iWeb, an HTML-authoring tool to make the process of building Web sites super simple. That would seem a logical direction to take it, although I’d hope for some needed enhancements for iPhoto and GarageBand. There’s also a crying need for a smarter version of iTunes, the better to deal with duplicates, particularly if you are managing a large music and video library.

    IWORK ’06: The promised successor to AppleWorks was a non-starter. The word processing and layout application, Pages, works well enough, and Keynote is a worthy alternative to Microsoft’s PowerPoint. But it wasn’t enough to garner reasonable sales, according to published reports. Now if Apple would only add a spreadsheet, and perhaps some drawing capabilities that match those available in AppleWorks. Will the combo serve as a potential competitor to Microsoft Office? No, I don’t think that Apple will go that far, but a cheap office productivity suite may be just the ticket for the rest of us who only use a fraction of the features of the Microsoft alternative.

    MAC OS 10.5 LEOPARD: Well, if Apple plans to get this one out around the time Windows Vista makes its debut, this would be a nice time to give us all a preview of what to expect. After Microsoft made its big splash at CES last week, this would be a great way to trump the Bill Gates and the rest of the crew in one fell swoop. No, I’m not about to suggest this is likely. I give it at best a 50/50 possibility, but I’m hopeful.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: GUILTY PLEASURES FROM TV AND THE MOVIES

    Not every TV program or movie must be a potential award winner. There’s nothing wrong with just watching something that’s enjoyable, even if others may scoff at your particular tastes. So I’ve assembled a list of of some of the things that rate at the top of my must-see list from 2005, with no apologies and no expectations that anyone will agree with me.

    BATMAN BEGINS: On TV and in the movies, the caped crusader has served as straight man for a procession of outrageous villains. Here he’s the star, in the person of Christian Bale, who has the dark looks and persona to pull it off. But credit director Christopher Nolan for grounding the entire production in reality: What if some rich dude, traumatized by the violent death of his parents, decides to assume the persona of a masked avenger of the night to right wrongs? Is a sequel in the works? I hope so, as long as the same director and cast are signed.

    SERENITY: Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, got short shrift from Fox when his space opera, Firefly, got a brief network run. It was abruptly cancelled, even before all the episodes that had been filmed got on the air. It found a new home and a cult following on the Sci-Fi channel, so the cable network’s parent company, Universal, put up the money for a film based on the concept. It had all the ingredients: Great action, believable ensemble acting and crackling dialogue. But it was a bust at the box office, and one can only hope the DVD will find an audience. I loved it, and I hope Whedon, who is busy working on the script for a Wonder Woman movie these days, will revisit the Firefly concept again in the near future.

    CROSSING JORDAN: That other procedural show dealing with a team of medical examiners, CSI, focuses more on solving crimes than on the characters. Not so with Crossing Jordan, which is virtually all about its eccentric cast of misfits, headed up by Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh, as portrayed by the glorious Jill Hennessy. Her mentor, who frequently has to put his own job on the line because of Jordan’s outrageous antics in pursuit of criminals, is Dr. Garret Macy, portrayed with steely excellence by Miguel Ferrer (George Clooney’s cousin, believe it or not).

    STARGATE SG-1: The series is a spinoff of Stargate, a rather silly movie from the creators of Independence Day. It’s now in its tenth season, making it the longest surviving science fiction adventure series on television. The SG-1 concept imagines a series of matter transporters, known as Stargates, which were installed on numerous worlds across the universe by a race of advanced beings known as The Ancients. SG-1 is first among a crew of explorers who travel from planet to planet to seek out new life and allies in the ongoing war against various races of evil aliens. The show got a bit of a makeover during the past year, with some new cast members, but the excitement continues. But you’ve got to watch a few episodes, both new and old, to catch the show’s rhythm.

    STARGATE ATLANTIS: In Stargate SG-1, many of the ancient gods of Egypt were in fact evil aliens who enslaved humans and other races throughout the universe. In this spinoff of a spinoff, an SG crew finds the lost continent of Atlantis in another galaxy and also a new set of evil-doers, the Wraiths, a race of vampire-like creatures that feeds on the life force of humans. Like the original show, it sustains itself on a great ensemble cast that now features Mitch Pileggi, the fellow who played an assistant FBI director on the old X-Files series. My wife, who has also gotten hooked on Stargate SG-1, caught a couple of episodes of Atlantis, and said she prefers its grittier approach.

    BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: It’s based loosely on a campy science fiction series in the late 1970s. A rag-tag band of humans is on the run, pursued by a race of evil robots known as the Cylons. They seek the planet of their birth, Earth, which some believe no longer exists. Most of the characters have the same names as in the original, but the resemblance ends there. Some call the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica the best science fiction show on TV; others pronounce it best in any category. The excellent ensemble cast is led by veteran Edward James Olmos, who portrays Commander William Adama. It’s a gritty, edgy, military drama with plenty of intrigue, conspiracies and plot twists and turns. For TV, special effects are pretty good too, and I can’t wait till it appears on a high definition version. Earlier seasons are now available on DVD, so if you find yourself a little confused as to what’s going on, it’s a great time to catch up before the next new episode. You won’t be disappointed!

    Just the other day, I watched the Director’s Cut version of Superman: The Movie, featuring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. In June, director Bryan Singer will update the concept with Superman Returns, which will star the always excellent Kevin Spacey as arch-villain Lex Luther. I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

    THE FINAL WORD

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

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis



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