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Newsletter Issue #327

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

All right, we did it. Despite some minor glitches at the site, the first episode of “The Paracast” made its debut, followed, a day later, by our listings at iTunes and other Podcast sites. I’ll keep the discussion about the show brief, because it doesn’t really deal with technology, except, perhaps, the possibility of alien technology. It is heard Tuesday evenings from 9:00 PM until 10:30 PM Eastern Time. Check it out at TheParacast.com, Our first guests for The Paracast included the famous author of over 160 books, Brad Steiger, and the always outspoken Jim Moseley, publisher of a peculiar fact and satirical newsletter known as “Saucer Smear.” This week’s guest list includes long-time UFO advocate Tim Beckley, who is known to some as “Mr. UFO” and paranormal writer Tim Swartz.

Now about our “other” radio show, for March 2nd, we had some last-minute schedule changes, largely due to Apple’s introduction of a MacIntel version of the Mac mini and the iPod Hi-Fi. Industry analyst Joe Wilcox, of JupiterResearch, came on board to talk about the impact to the industry, and Macworld’s Dan Frakes talked about the products themselves, including his early take on the iPod Hi-Fi. We were also joined by Jack Minsky, President of Software MacKiev, known for The Print Shop Shop and other products, and prolific author Scott Kelby, one of the creative forces behind the forthcoming MacLive event in New York City.

For March 9th, we’ll feature ace Mac troubleshooter Ted Landau and a representative from Skype, with other guests to be announced shortly.

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.

THE TIGER REPORT: DO YOU REALLY WANT TO RUN MAC OS X ON A PLAIN PC?

Last year, when Steve Jobs announced that Macs would soon sport Intel processors inside, some wondered whether that meant that Mac OS X would eventually run on just about any PC box, such as a Dell, HP, Gateway and all the rest. No, said Apple. The Mac operating system was meant strictly for Mac hardware, although they’d do nothing to prevent you from running Windows. Of course, they wouldn’t help you either, and, frankly, no effort to install Windows on a Mac without an emulator has succeeded, at least not yet.

In some quarters, saying “no way” is nothing more than a challenge to do it anyway. Once prerelease copies of Mac OS X for Intel got into the hands of developers, a few predictably also turned up on peer-to-peer networks, and crackers went to work to see if they could prove Apple wrong. Despite the expected hardware and software protections, a few reports appeared that proclaimed success in making it run on a vanilla PC.

Were Apple’s efforts to keep the Mac OS on real Macs doomed to failure? A good question, and it’s a sure thing that protective measures were enhanced once the first MacIntels shipped. But that didn’t stop some folks from just working that much harder to find back doors and other methods to make it happen anyway.

To be sure, Apple’s legal department has gone after sites that posted the methods used to hack Mac OS X to install on non-Apple hardware. But this is apt to remain a cat-and-mouse game, with Apple enhancing its dead bolt locks and methods being found to break down the doors anyway.

Forgetting the legal ramifications, consider the time it takes to engage in this questionable process. Now consider that you can buy a real Mac, the mini, for just $599, and that it contains far more goodies that you’d find in most any PC box anywhere near its price, and you wonder why people bother. Well, there is, of course, the badge of honor, being able to do something that someone else tells you can’t or shouldn’t be done.

But let’s not forget that getting Mac OS X to install and boot on a regular PC is only part of the process. While Apple provides plenty of printer drivers covering most popular models, except the recent ones, what about support for all the thousands of possible hardware setups out there in the wild? What about drivers for graphic cards, sound cards, and all the rest? Is it worth all the bother just to get your $299 Dell PC to function properly as a faux Mac?

Yes, I’m sure that Apple will continue to do what it can to keep these characters from misappropriating its intellectual property. Whether you like it or not, it’s not just a matter of fiddling with installers and engaging in other sorts of legerdemain to fool the operating system so it works on ordinary PC hardware. The copies of Mac OS X in the wild now are mostly pirated copies, clearly illegal. Of course, I suppose some people who actually bought new Intel-based Macs are using the genuine installer DVDs to perform their illegal acts.

Illegal? Yes, because Apple licensed its operating system to run strictly on its own hardware. That could, of course, change, but I rather suspect it would only happen in a dire emergency, in the event sales of real Macs somehow hits bottom, and I don’t see that happening in the foreseeable future. Otherwise, it would be over the dead body of Steve Jobs, the man who killed Apple’s one and only attempt at licensing its operating system.

It all comes back to this basic question: What makes a Mac a Mac? From a practical standpoint, do you really think millions would pay what they might consider a premium price for a genuine Apple product, however attractive it looks, when there’s a cheaper alternative that runs the very same operating system? If you take a thin putty knife and open the case of, say, the new Mac mini, would you find much, if anything, that differs from a standard PC? The hard drive and the optical drive would be the same, as would the RAM. The logic board? Well, it’s a standard Intel chipset, complete with integrated graphics and such things as USB, FireWire and Ethernet chips are pretty standard these days. So aside from the simple, compact case, what separates the mini from a generic PC?

That’s a rhetorical question, of course, but it explains why Apple doesn’t want you to run Mac OS X on other personal computers. That, however, won’t stop crackers from finding ways around whatever protective measures are taken by Apple, regardless of the legal consequences. Of course, every time they succeed, it will only encourage Apple to work harder to enhance its security.

In the end, a small community of people who succeed in running Mac OS X on their PC boxes will probably persist. Even a warning from an attorney with the threat of a lawsuit, or the actual legal papers, won’t stop them. But maybe it’ll encourage them to consider the easy way out of their dilemma, which is to just buy a Mac.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE SEARCH FOR THE ULTIMATE LAPTOP CASE

My quest began as I walked from the airline gate to the train station, moments after my arrival in San Francisco for the Macworld Expo in January. As usual, I had carry-on luggage, since I didn’t want to suffer a wait at the baggage carousel or, worse, lost or missing bags. My PowerBook case, as usual, hung from my shoulder, and, also as usual, it didn’t take long for that painful sensation to return. The persistent ache remained a common symptom of carrying my 17-inch PowerBook a reasonably long distance. And when I had to lug it with me on the Expo floor later in the week, because it was needed for two live radio shows, I announced my intention to seek out a shoulder case that would provide a reasonable level of comfort.

I didn’t expect the task to be easy. One of the Apple corporate communications people suggested I’d be better off with a back pack, but I persevered. It’s not that I have any objection to such things, but I refused to give up on shoulder cases. I talked with several vendors, and got promises, but no merchandise, at least not immediately.

One brand mentioned several times was Brenthaven, a brand that boasts superior comfort and protection. After stating my preference from a shoulder case, the company representative suggested the $179 Pro 15.4/17, which is said to be “designed exclusively for Apple.” The nylon fabric bag includes the company’s 6-sided CORE protection system, a two-inch foam and reinforced corner insert that is supposed to keep your PowerBook from suffering damage if you drop the case.

There are the usual assortment of internal pockets for your spare gear, such as digital camera, iPod, cables, backup CDs and all the rest. One pocket is well suited for tickets, paperwork, magazines and the other stuff you’re apt to accumulate on your trip. There are thick, robust-looking zippers and reinforcements that speak of quality and durability.

A long and wide padded shoulder strap supposedly “distributes weight comfortably,” and that was my sincere hope, since that was the reason for embarking upon this quest.

The case itself weighs 4.2 pounds, a little lighter than some of the competition. While its robust construction is apparent if you look closely, the black bag’s style is otherwise suitably anonymous, which may be an advantage when you pass among a crowd with a potential thief in its midst. Drawing too much attention in such surroundings is not a good idea.

My initial impressions were favorable. The multiple pockets had plenty of storage space for my stuff, and the PowerBook insert was impressively thick, as was the strap. After a few minutes spent transferring the contents of my previous laptop bag, I closed the zippers, adjusted the shoulder strap for comfort, and proceeded to visit a local client on an emergency service call.

I didn’t pay much attention to the new case as I carried it to the client’s office, a long stroll from the parking space. Several hours later, after returning to my home office and unpacking my gear, I realized that my shoulder felt absolutely normal. No dull aches or any other symptoms of carrying my PowerBook a little too long and too far. I also recalled that there were few impediments to rapid removal and repacking of my gear. The Brenthaven didn’t possess any elements that drew attention to itself; it just stored my stuff with quiet efficiency, and didn’t create any undue symptoms that made me regret its presence.

Over the next few months, I’ll have a chance to take the Pro 15.4/17 on lengthier trips and I’ll have a better idea of just how it withstands regular use and abuse, and, just as important, whether there will be any painful consequences. From my brief encounter, however, it is definitely the best laptop case I’ve ever used. It’s also good to know it has a lifetime guarantee, and I’ll have a follow up later in the year.

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