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Newsletter Issue #328

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

We had an active show on March 9th, which begin with our favorite Mac troubleshooter, Ted Landau. Next up was John Quain, a consultant for Skype, who delivered the particulars about the popular Internet-based phone service that was recently acquired by eBay. Closing out the show was David Biedny, now the show’s Special Correspondent. This episode of “The David Biedny Zone” covered the iPod Hi-fi, the death of film and other hot topics.

For March 16th, we’ve invited Joe Kissell, author of the new e-book, “Take Control of Maintaining Your Mac” and Leander Kahney, author of “The Cult of Mac.” More guests will be announced shortly.

As to our other show, “The Paracast,” David and I will be talking with Williams Birnes, “UFO Magazine” publisher and co-author, with the late Philip Corso, of “The Day After Roswell.” In addition, Larry Arnold will speak about reports of spontaneous human combustion, which he says must be taken seriously. “The Paracast” broadcasts each Tuesday from 9:00 PM to 10:30 PM Eastern time.

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.

PLEASE, DON’T PUT THAT APPLICATION IN THE WRONG PLACE!

From the very first, we Mac users were a stubborn lot. We insisted on the right to put our stuff where we wanted to, with a few minor exceptions, such as the famous System Folder. One of the reasons that so-called traditionalists in the Mac universe rebelled when Mac OS X came along was its essential rigidity about some things.

Now maybe it doesn’t matter so much where those thousands of system files, visible and otherwise, must be placed, but what about an application? Must they all reside in the Applications folder? From a logical standpoint, what’s wrong with subdividing the folder and put the applications into separate folders labeled by category? This way, all your Internet apps can be separated from the rest of the pack.

Or just stick that application on the desktop for simple access. Why mess with an alias and add one level of complexity to the process?

In many cases, this basic level of customizing will work just fine. No question about it, although the application you move is usually not a single file, but a package, a folder containing lots of files that masquerades as one item that you can double click to the launch the application. From a practical standpoint, that shouldn’t matter, and usually it doesn’t.

You run into problems with some of Apple’s applications, because Apple’s updaters have been notorious about not finding them if they happen to be moved elsewhere. But there are still other situations where putting an application elsewhere can create complications, and that brings us to a problem reported by one of my clients, who has been working on Macs for nearly 15 years. While you’d think he’d know better after all that time, he’s not a power user, not even close. Technology is not his friend, but he copes.

So he called me the other day complaining that his copy of Microsoft’s PowerPoint wouldn’t open. He’d get messages about missing “shared libraries.” That seemed a relic of the Classic Mac OS, but he was using 10.4.5, and Microsoft Office 2004. All right, this shouldn’t be a big deal, I thought. I first suggested he dump the preference files, and when that didn’t work, I suggested he reinstall the application. “How do I do that,” he asked?

Worse, he had just moved, and his pile of software CDs was boxed away, somewhere, and it would take hours to sort things out. Was there no immediate solution? Understand that he didn’t really need PowerPoint except to view some silly presentation slapped together by one of his friends, but to him that was nearly as important as getting some real work done, and he wasn’t a particularly patient person.

Fortunately, there was a solution, and I suppose it was all Microsoft’s fault all along. You see, Office 2004 contains not just the applications that are part of the suite, but additional folders containing critical files that are shared by those applications. You can see what I’m getting at here. If you leave well enough alone, the applications should run normally. If you pluck PowerPoint or another Office application from its folder, it can’t locate those support files and hence won’t launch and that’s what the client had done. No, he doesn’t know why he did it. Maybe he just intended to drag the icon to the Dock and his aim was off.

It doesn’t matter, really, for when he put the application back in the proper location, everything worked just fine. It also saved me a house call, which was particularly pleasing, because his frantic call for help came on a Saturday, and I had promised Mrs. Steinberg that I’d take her to a movie and to dinner. As much as I enjoy the extra money, family has to come first.

I suppose you can criticize the client for being so foolish as to put PowerPoint in the wrong place, but was it really his fault? If all those folders and their contents are critical to running Microsoft Office applications correctly, why can’t the core application be a little smarter about looking for them if its moved from its default location? But Microsoft isn’t the only offender here. Try doing the same with any application in Adobe’s Creative Suite. Yes, they may launch, but critical components won’t be available, which will seriously reduce functionality. QuarkXPress? Same deal, even with the beta of XPress 7. The modular architecture requires that you leave well enough alone.

Of course, the developers in our audience can no doubt propose solutions that would resolve such issues, but I wonder how many technical support calls are fielded from people who were guilty of the same innocent but critical error my client made. And, no, it really wasn’t their fault. Even if they moved the application somewhere else by mistake, they have the perfect right to do that without being forced to suffer nasty consequences.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: WHO WILL EDUCATE CONSUMERS ABOUT HDTV?

As I wrote in an earlier column, upgrading to high definition television is a little more complicated than just buying a new TV. That is only the start of the process, but it becomes a matter of significance now that the transition to digital TV in the U.S. is the law of the land. By February of 2009, the analog stations will be history, with the frequency spectrums freed for other uses.

Assuming Congress doesn’t extend that deadline, which is always possible, how will the millions of people who will be affected be educated about the need to order cable or satellite TV or buy a digital adapter for their existing sets? Or will they have to see their TV’s go dark before they act? You see, the law provides a government subsidy to fund the cost of digital to analog adapters, but how will they be distributed? Will you have to go to a dealer and request one, provide an income statement to prove you can’t just buy the box or a new TV?

Will the stations themselves begin to advertise the changeover far enough in advance so you can act in time?

This is not a simple question to answer, although it’s likely there will be some sort of shared responsibility to get the word out. I do hope, however, that they do better than the electronics industry has done so far in getting the word out about HDTV. As it stands, at least according to the survey I wrote about in that column, nearly half of the people who own such sets don’t take advantage of the ability to receive high definition broadcasts. They don’t update their set-top boxes for cable or satellite to receive superior reception, for example, and some even believe the HD labels that appear on certain programs indicates that they are already getting it. They don’t apparently realize that the labels the broadcasters display is for general information and not an indication that they are actually receiving the higher quality signal.

More to the point, I wonder how many of these people ever complain to dealers or service providers that they don’t see any real difference, that HDTV looks, to them, no better than ordinary TV. And as far as responsibility for this confusion is concerned, what role do dealers play? When you come in and are ready to plunk down a princely sum for a new widescreen box for your living room or bedroom, does the sales person take a few moments to make sure you understand that it requires more than just turning it on to get high definition?

Yes, I am certain specialty resellers will act to educate you, if only because they might also sell you a satellite system as part of the package. The profit incentive can do wonders here, but what about the discount retailers where you go in, select the product, and it’s brought to your car or shipped to your home? Does Wal-Mart, for example, tell you what you need to do to get HDTV? Is there a little brochure next to their HDTV displays that provides the critical information you need? Of course not, despite the fact that Wal-Mart stands to gain there too, because they also sell satellite equipment, but knowledgeable customer service isn’t to be expected from many discounters. In the end, you just have to educate yourself.

Now maybe I’m just old and cynical, but I don’t think the electronics industry can depend on the government telling people about the transition to digital TV. Yes, there may be some public service spots here and there, assuming they are broadcast at a time when anyone will notice, but in the end the companies that build the products are going to have to make sure the word gets out.

I’m sure the publications, online and print, that cover the industry will do their part. But will anyone be listening before it’s too late?

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