• Newsletter Issue #325

    February 20th, 2006


    We get letters, lots of letters, and not just entries for our weekly contests. You listeners tell us what you think about the show, the guests, and you don’t hold back. Consider one of our regulars is well-known multimedia expert David Biedny, who has been writing about Macs and Mac software since the very beginning.

    David is, as you probably know, extremely outspoken, and sometimes a little over-the-top. He likes to push buttons, but he’s also extremely knowledgeable about a lot of subjects. So it’s not surprising that opinions about his regular appearances on the show are all over the map.

    One example: “If you insist on putting that liberal nut job Biedny on your show, could you please have him keep his verbal masturbations about his political ideas out of your TECH show? I can tell he likes the sound of his own voice, but I don’t share his view of the world and his arrogant, elitist crap. I understand that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but I don’t believe that your tech show should be used as their own personal soapbox?”

    On the other side of the coin, another listener writes: “Please get David Biedny back on sometime soon. He cracked me up!!!”

    He will indeed be back. He is, even as his critics state, entitled to his own opinions, and he expresses them extremely well. Moreover, when we tell you to expect the unexpected on the show, that means you won’t necessarily agree with all our guests. We don’t select guests on the basis of whether they adhere to any particular point of view.

    Now as to our February 16th episode, we featured Craig Crossman, whose Computer America radio show is the longest running syndicated program of its type. By the way, I’m also a special correspondent for Craig’s show, and I consider him a good friend. Other guests included Rob Pegoraro, the Personal Technology Columnist for The Washington Post and Macworld iPod guru and 911 columnist Christopher Breen.

    For February 23rd, we’ve invited Intego’s David Loomstein back to talk about that newly discovered Mac virus, or is it a virus? You’ll also hear from Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, and a representative from Xerox, who will be talking about their solid ink printing technology. You’ll also want to read a preliminary review of one of those solid ink-based printers in this week’s issue.

    In case you’re wondering about that other show, “The Paracast,” we have a couple of shows almost ready to roll. We hoped to debut this week, but the site and other elements just aren’t ready, and we’d like to give the show a little promotion ahead of its debut. So we’ve decided to postpone the show’s debut until the latter part of February. Our first guests will include the famous author of over 160 books, Brad Steiger, and the always outspoken Jim Moseley, publisher of “Saucer Smear.” Other guests include long-time UFO advocate Tim Beckley, who is known to some as “Mr. UFO.”

    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 The Tech Night Owl LIVE Web site to listen to our archives or download the Podcast version. Enjoy.


    If you can use the experience of recent years as a guide, you can depend on Apple charging you the full upgrade fee for each annual revision of iLife, iWork and your .Mac membership. Mac OS releases have been throttled back, apparently, to an 18 to 24 month cycle, but you still won’t get any benefits unless you buy a new Mac a retail updater kit very close to release time.

    Other than special family license versions for its software, Apple isn’t going to do you any favors.

    At the same time, suppose you are a content creator and you earn a living from Apple’s Final Cut Studio or any of the applications that ship with the suite, which include Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Motion and DVD Studio Pro. The entire package lists for $1299, but if you have the current version and just want the Universal version to run native on your Intel-based Mac, it’s just $49 for the upgrade. Even better, you can upgrade any single recent version of these applications to the full suite for $199. Only older versions of Final Cut Pro, prior to version 4 carry a higher price tag: $699. In other words, users of Apple’s professional applications, which are industry standards, can get sizeable discounts on upgrades.

    Regular users, who don’t need these applications, and who do not earn a living from Apple’s consumer-level software, have to pay full price year in and year out. Is that fair?

    I’m not about to say that Apple Computer isn’t entitled to a reasonable profit from its products. I have little doubt, for example, that the coders for iLife and iWork put in long hours and perhaps worked weekends to deliver the products in time to ship each January. If you consider the cost of each application in the suite, you’re actually getting quite a good value. Consider the five applications in iLife ’06: iPhoto, iMovie HD, iDVD, GarageBand and iWeb. At a U.S. retail price of $79, that’s just shy of $16 for each application, which is a downright bargain. The same can be said for iWork ’06, which carries the same list price, and it means that you are paying less than $40, each, for Keynote and Pages.

    Compare these prices to shareware offerings and what you can get on the Windows platform and you’ll see what I mean. I have no argument whatever with these price points, at least as far as the initial purchase is concerned. In addition, when it comes to the $129 you pay for Mac OS X, well consider that it’s closest competitor on the other side of the computing aisle is the $199 Windows XP package and you’ll see what I mean.

    But shouldn’t folks who already bought a previous version get some benefit, particularly if that purchase was recent? Say you bought iLife ’05 for the holidays. Do you feel happy knowing it became obsolete from a retail standpoint a month later and that you have to pay that same $79 all over again to get the new version?

    Of course, you could buy a brand new Mac and get it free, and that’s a nice value proposition, but not one that you’d want to take advantage of unless you also need to upgrade your system.

    Now take a look at your .Mac membership. In addition to the mailbox and online disk storage, there is a fair amount of value these days. You get online tutorials on Mac OS X and other Apple software, free backup software, online contact syncing and lots more. The $99 purchase price is quite decent in the scheme of things, taken by itself. But it’s also true that iLife is tightly integrated with .Mac, and to get the maximum value of each package, you have to buy both. But there is no financial benefit for doing that. There’s no, say, $30 price reduction for the .Mac membership that enhances the value of Apple’s digital lifestyle suite.

    Look at most of the rest of the software industry. There is almost always a reduced price if you’re upgrading from an older version of a product. The standard pricing is a 50% reduction, or perhaps a rebate. Regardless of the pricing policy, you almost always get the benefit of being an existing customer.

    But when it comes to Apple, only the professional users of its video and sound editing software benefit from lower upgrade pricing. What’s more, if you use these products to earn your paycheck, and own a business, you can take a tax deduction on that purchase, whether you pay full price or not. True, these products are far more expensive to acquire. For example, Shake 4, used for video effects in the film and TV industries, lists for $2,999 per copy. Upgrades to the current version are $999.

    Now it is perfectly true that content creation firms will doubtless buy multiple copies of these products. They are expensive purchases, and if Apple didn’t discount those upgrades, you can bet these creative artists would simply look for alternatives that are more attractively priced. Apple has to survive in a hotly competitive environment.

    When it comes to its low-cost consumer-grade software, there are few low-cost alternatives, and I can’t think of any that are cheaper. Is Apple being greedy by not giving you the benefit if paying a better price if you bought last year’s version? This isn’t to say that you’re not getting a lot of value for your money, but are the new features for iLife ’06 worth paying full list price if you already have iLife ’05? It’s not as if the latter will stop working suddenly because the upgrade has been released. Of course, the new iLife is also a Universal binary, but that means nothing since it comes free on the new MacIntels.

    Am I just being too picky here about such things? Maybe, but I don’t think so. I don’t dispute the fact that it may cost Apple a fair amount to establish some sort of equitable upgrade program, along with a way to confirm that you do own a recently-purchased copy of a previous version. But fair is fair, and I think Apple can and should do better.


    When I select a new product for review, I strive to find something that offers something unique, innovative, and sometimes it’s not easy. Take printers, for example. There are dozens and dozens of inkjet and laser printer available. So many, in fact, that shopping can be a confusing affair. Although they may differ to some extent here and there, and deliver output ranging from fair to excellent, the basic underlying technologies are easily summarized.

    Forgetting the frills and all, an inkjet printer places an image on paper by spraying tiny jets of ink. The laser printer, in contrast, is a far more complicated animal, employing at the start of the print process, a photosensitive drum and laser beam to project the data from the printer’s memory onto the drum. One or more toner cartridges, depending on whether the printer is black and white or color, is used to transfer the image from drum to paper. A heated cylinder, known as a fuser roller, is used to heat the paper, so the toner’s plastic particles adhere, or fuse, to the paper. This description is ultra-simplified and each process in translating the data to paper is actually quite involved. It’s no wonder that the laser printer was once priced in the same range as a subcompact automobile, although technology, and the use of largely plastic parts, has brought the price down to as little as a couple of hundred dollars.

    There are other technologies used, such as LED for imaging, but the focus of this preliminary review is on a line of printers that promises to deliver some of the best qualities of the laser and inkjet, and I’m talking about the Xerox Phaser 8500 and 8550. Although their external look very much resembles a typical low-profile printer, the method of putting images on paper is quite different. Rather than toner or ink cartridges, they use small ink sticks, which are kept heated in a reservoir. The imaging process involves transferring the image to a single rotating drum, and then to paper, in the fashion of an offset printer.

    Xerox’s Phaser line of solid ink printers, acquired from Tektronix a few years ago, are nothing new. The current models, introduced in mid-2005, are, according to Xerox, actually 14th generation products. So there has been plenty of time to develop and perfect these printers over the years, and plenty of time for technology writers to understand how to evaluate them accurately. However, that doesn’t always happen, as you’ll notice when you examine that article I wrote on the subject earlier this month.

    The 8500, which starts at $899 before rebate, and its more expensive, higher-performing sibling, the 8550, are oriented towards the small and medium business user. If you forget about the differences in consumables and the way images are put to paper, you’ll find they operate very much like a laser printer. You unpack the unit, plug it in to your network (there’s also a USB 2.0 port if you don’t have a normal network), turn it on, and after warmup, configure your Mac or Windows PC to recognize the device. Tiger users will find this ultra-simple, since the operating system already contains the PostScript PPD for this model line. If you opt to install Xerox’s drivers, you’ll also get XSupportCentre, a combination configuration and print status application that also provides help information via your chosen Web browser.

    The main operational limitation of solid ink is that the unit should be kept on all the time. The power on cycle includes a cleaning step that can consume a fair quantity of ink, according to Xerox. But don’t fear for your electric bill, as power requirements are said to be fairly modest when the unit is in its low-power mode. Over the first few weeks of operation, it’ll even configure itself based on the hours of the day when the printer is used most frequently, so you don’t have to endure a warmup cycle before your pages begin to output.

    Xerox sent me the $1099 8500DN, which is identical to the cheapest model except for the ability to print on both sides of a page in a single operation. Basic features include output speeds of up to 24 ppm and resolution of up to 1200 dpi. Even better, the first page of a job is delivered in about six seconds. That capability alone puts it ahead of most lasers, even those with somewhat higher speed ratings.

    The 8550 line upgrades the electronic and mechanical components to increase output speeds up to 30 ppm and the print resolution to 2400 dpi in a special High Resolution/Photo print mode. I’ll have one of these higher cost units to evaluate in about a month.

    Considering its relatively modest price points, you get a lot of value when you buy an 8500 or 8550. In addition to reasonably snappy output speeds, you receive, as standard equipment, a second paper tray that stores up to 525 sheets of paper. Some of the competition only offers 250 or 300 sheet capacities, and bigger input trays are strictly optional. The cost of consumables on a printer is never cheap, but ink sticks and maintenance kits lie at the lower end of the scale when compared to a color laser, and you’ll appreciate that if your monthly output is high.

    Because of the unique nature of the Xerox’s solid ink printers, they are going to get an extended review, and I’ll skip most measurements until I have both the 8500 and 8550 at hand. Briefly, however, print speeds are in line with the ratings. The 24 ppm spec is based on the lower resolution FastColor mode, and regular text documents will definitely approach that output rate. The default print mode, Enhanced, is rated at 12 ppm, but seems a lot faster because of the rapid delivery of the first page.

    Output quality is top-notch. Text is sharp and clean right down to tiny point sizes. If you are the critical sort and you carry a magnifying glass or loupe with you, you’ll find the letterforms are a little thicker than on the best laser printers, but you probably won’t notice the difference unless you look real close. Color graphics and photos are surprisingly bright, with extremely accurate colors and are noticeably better than on my HP Color LaserJet 3700dn, which is actually a more expensive product. Sure, an inkjet printer can do better with glossy photo paper, but consider the cost. The Xerox can print as well on cheap paper as on expensive, and the solid ink process imparts a fancy waxy sheen to the image.

    I’ll be giving the printer a thorough workout over the next few weeks, and I’ll have a follow-up after I’ve evaluated the Xerox Phaser 8500DN side-by-side with that 8550, once it arrives. But for now, I’m extremely impressed with solid ink technology. If you are in the market for a business-class printer, these models should get your undivided attention.


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

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