• Newsletter Issue #330

    March 27th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Although I like to plan things in advance, that’s not always possible with a weekly radio show. Something happens at the last minute to make you want to shift gears rapidly. So when Microsoft announced yet another delay in releasing Windows Vista last week, I made a last-minute change to the scheduling for the March 23rd episode, and decided to explore the matter and its possible impact on Apple Computer.

    The show led off with Rob Enderle, principal analyst for Enderle Group, who specializes in the goings on at Microsoft. JupiterResearch senior analyst Joe Wilcox, who covers the same beat, also weighed on on his impressions of the impact of the latest Vista delay. It’s fair to conclude from all this that Apple could gain a lot of traction in boosting the Mac’s market share, particularly if it can release its next OS upgrade, Leopard, in time for the 2006 holiday season.

    Rounding out the show was MacFixIt editor Ben Wilson, who talked about the site’s forthcoming 10th anniversary, and Richard Gingras, Co-Founder and CEO of Goodmail Systems, who discussed a new service called CertifiedEmail. This is a program that supposedly will help combat spam by providing legitimate companies with a way to certify their messages as genuine. So far, Goodmail has signed up AOL and Yahoo, which is an impressive debut for the forthcoming service. By the way, Gingras was also a key figure in the development of Apple’s eWorld service back in the 1990s, and he has a long history in the technology industry.

    Our March 30th episode will feature author Kirk McElhearn, who lives in France and will explain the complicated maneuverings involved in that controversial law that is, among other things, designed to open up Apple’s and Microsoft’s DRM for their online music services. Despite what you read elsewhere, this is no slam dunk, and it’ll take a long, long time to resolve one way or the other. We’ll also hear from Apple Computer, Macworld’s Rob Griffiths and author Owen Linzmayer.

    As to our other show, “The Paracast,” on March 28th, David Biedny will play guest for a change, and he’ll be joined by his brother Barry to describe an incredible UFO encounter in Venezuela a number of years ago. Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) Field Investigator David Twichell will be on hand to not only interview David and Barry, but provide descriptions of his own unusual experiences.

    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.

    FIVE WEEKS WITH AN INTEL-BASED IMAC: WEEK ONE

    When Apple mentioned they had a spare 20-inch iMac with Intel Core Duo processor available for me to review, you can bet that I jumped at the opportunity to get ahold of one. Even better, the computer was fully decked out with 1GB of memory (the standard installation has 512MB) and the 256MB version of the ATI Radeon X1600 graphics chip. The additions make a $1,699 product into an $1,874 product, which is still a pretty good price.

    To put matters in perspective, my review of its predecessor suggested it might very well be, as some have said, the best all-around PC on the planet. So how can Apple improve upon perfection, and is the move to Intel a potential holy grail?

    Of course, I’m perhaps putting too much emphasis on the internal workings of an Apple product, but that’s the perception, and it should be addressed first. With my all-too-brief close encounter with the previous model in mind, opening the new iMac’s box didn’t yield any surprises. It looked pretty much the same from the outside, and that may indeed be the perfect way to herald a processor switch. Yes, it’s still a Mac folks, and don’t worry if the processor comes from Intel instead of IBM these days. It’s just a chip.

    But there’s more than meets the eye here. The iMac’s predecessor had a single 2.1GHz G5, and it ran cool enough, but imagine if Apple tried to stuff the dual core version of that chip in the same case? Don’t forget that the Power Mac is big and bold and has lots and lots of fans to keep things cool, not to mention liquid cooling in the high-end version. How could Apple put the same chip in the slim interior of an iMac and not have it suffer a meltdown?

    That, of course, is a main reason why Apple is ditching the G5, which only graces the Power Mac these days. The other is that Intel may indeed be providing chips with greater number crunching capability, even though the G5 was long touted as a Pentium killer. That takes us to the Intel Core Duo, a 2GHz version of which graces the top-drawer iMac.

    The Intel chip was designed for laptop computers, so it has to run cool, but it is also supposed to be incredibly powerful. Apple, in fact, claims that the Intel version of the iMac is two to three times faster than the G5 version. These figures are largely based on tests that benchmark the processor, not applications, but at the same time there are application tests that show a more modest but still impressive improvement. This is something I’ll get into as I continue to put the iMac through its paces.

    For now, however, let’s look at the out-of-the-box experience, since first impressions count for a lot. Here those of us who have used Macs for a number of years know that installation and setup is a snap. With more and more Windows users switching, the initial installation process can be a significant issue. No, you don’t get the color-coded cables that grace a Windows box, but there are fewer wires to deal with.

    The main concern of a Windows user, though, is how to transfer files from the PC. Here, Apple provides lots of online information on how to get started. Of the six file migration methods mentioned, the first, having the dudes at the Genius Bar at an Apple Store do it for you, is probably the easiest. Another method is Move2Mac from Detto Technologies, which provides for a direct file transfer, sufficiently automatic that you’ll be able to get up and running pretty quickly.

    If you already have a Mac, consider yourself if it is running Mac OS X and has a FireWire port. With FireWire Target Mode, you can easily link the new computer and the old, and engage in an almost seamless file transfer. Apple’s Setup Assistant, which launches when you turn on your iMac for the first time, has a migration feature, with clearly labeled directions on how to make it happen. Here, I linked the iMac to my PowerBook G4, went out for lunch and came back an hour later to find the process finished. Everything not already duplicated on the iMac was transferred without missing a beat.

    The alleged achilles heel of the MacIntel is the fact that it must run PowerPC software in emulation, under Rosetta. In practice, it’s not a major shortcoming, because even a speed hit of 50% isn’t such a bad thing. That merely makes a computer with a 2GHz dual processor into a 1GHz duo processor model strictly for emulated applications. It doesn’t affect anything else. So if you run the Universal version of an application at the very same time, it still operates at full speed.

    As I’ve observed elsewhere, Mac OS X seems to have been a stealth Intel-based operating system all along, because virtually every element of Tiger’s user interface seems to become snappier on a MacIntel. The iMac is no exception. It boots in less than 30 seconds flat, lots faster than the PowerPC version, and the Finder seems to have taken a needed dose of steroids. Compared to the Power Mac G5 Quad that I am using as my main workstation nowadays, you can’t see much of a difference, which is a tribute to how well this Intel transition is going.

    Other than the speed boosts to Tiger and the Universal applications that ship with the iMac, I challenge anyone to just look and tell it apart from the G5-based predecessor. And no cheating by consulting the About This Mac screen.

    Over the weekend my son, Grayson, spent some time on the computer to catch up on his email. I did not mention to him that it had an Intel Core Duo inside, and he didn’t say anything until I asked him a few pointed questions. Did he notice any differences? Yes, he said, that it seemed faster than his 17-inch PowerBook. Did he know it had an Intel chip? “Oh?” he said, but technical niceties don’t impress him, so he simply returned to his previous task, which was to respond to someone’s message about a story he was writing for his college’s daily newspaper.

    And that, my friends, is probably the greatest compliment Apple can receive as it moves to the second half of its Intel transition. I’ll have a follow-up on the iMac in about four weeks.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: HIGH-END EARPHONES: A WORK IN PROGRESS

    When I first read about XtremeMac’s FS1 High Definition Earphones, I was intrigued. It’s not that I was especially disappointed with the ear buds that Apple provides with its iPods. They sound all right, with reasonably balanced sound, but if you value bass with an impact, you’ll be disappointed.

    The $149.95 FS1, which was designed for XtremeMac by Future Sonics, a firm that provides hardware for the pro audio industry, “includes a dynamic transducer that provides smoother and more consistent low frequency response, as well as a more natural overall tone.” Of course, you expect superior sound from pricey headphones, but the trip from here to there might involve a lot more work that you might expect.

    For me, the full story has yet to be written, but I can tell you that I have had two of these units in for testing, and I have yet to experience the “natural tone and rich, deep bass” touted by the manufacturer, but let me explain.

    You see, the FS1 apparently works best when you get a good seal between these earphones and your ear canal. XTremeMac provides seven of its ComfortFit sleeves, so you can get the best possible fit. This is critical, because just putting them in and turning up the sound is apt to yield disappointing results. In fact, since your ear canal is different from mine, success is not a given.

    The sleeves are easily inserted and removed, and you’ll want to try them all to see which set provides the best possible fit. If the seal isn’t complete, the audio will sound harsh, with minimal bass. In fact, that’s what’s happened to me, and I’ve tried all seven sleeves, dutifully following the manufacturer’s recommendations. The problem has persisted through two samples of the product, which leads me to believe, based on a long conversation with a representative of Future Sonics, that I might require a different sort of sleeve.

    But that’s me. I’ve read other reviews from a number of highly respected sources praising the FS1’s sound quality to the skies. This is, however, my first encounter with in-ear-canal headphones, and it could be that my ears are sufficiently unique to make a proper seal difficult, if not impossible. But this isn’t my last word on the subject. I plan to continue to work with XtremeMac and Future Sonics to find a solution, and I remain optimistic about eventual success.

    WRITE TO US

    Thanks for all your wonderful letters about our newsletter. Please send your comments and questions and news tidbits to: news @ technightowl.com. If you have a problem or question about the Mac or the Mac OS, feel free to write and we’ll try our best to get you a fast response.

    ABOUT OUR EDITOR

    Gene Steinberg is the best-selling author of over 30 computer and Internet books, and has also written articles for both national newspapers and the major computing magazines. For a complete list of some of his current titles, point your browser to our Books page.

    FROM THE ROCKOID FILES

    If you’re a regular visitor to our “Attack of the Rockoids” site, you may have noticed changes are afoot. The second exciting novel in the Rockoids saga, “The Coming of the Protectors,” is in the hands of the editor now, and it will be published later this year.

    Here’s a summary of the plot of Book II: When Ray Perkins conceives of a far-fetched plan to return to the future and the woman he loves more than life itself, he finds himself pursued by government agents. His journey, however, is just getting started, for he arrives in a galaxy turned upside down, with millions of peace-loving beings threatened by terrible new enemies.

    Worse, these enemies are after Ray Perkins. Some want him dead; the rest want his soul. And that’s only the beginning. Check our site for a sample chapter of episode two of this exciting series, and get ready to continue the adventure of a lifetime.

    If you want to see where it all begin, check out the “Signature Edition” of the first book in the series. Our online store now has all the particulars. What’s more, part of the proceeds from the sale of the book will go directly to Grayson’s college education.

    We’ve gotten hundreds of letters in response to Rockoids. A typical reader writes, “This is a book that anyone can pick up and enjoy; it manages to maintain the same level of excitement and enjoyment throughout. I found it difficult to put down and I was disappointed when it ended. The book introduces characters that will make an impact on even the lightest of readers . . . I look forward to the sequels. Buy it. You won’t be disappointed.”

    A recent review also comes from Brenda Gill, writing for the Sime~Gen Web site, which is run by the authors of a popular science fiction series: “The father-son writing team of Gene and Grayson Steinberg have written a marvelous, fast paced story of interstellar warfare and star-crossed love. The battle scenes are so descriptive, you can see the space ships explode and be consumed by gigantic balls of flame. I enjoyed this story and the authors say there is more to come about the characters and the future world of the Rockoids. Fans of Star Wars and Star Trek will enjoy this story and look forward to many more adventures of Ray and Zanther.”

    Another review comes from Robert Simpson, a well-known science fiction editor who has worked on a variety of books over the years, including novels based on “Star Wars” and “Indiana Jones.” He has given us many helpful suggestions about the story in recent months, and finally sent us this comment:

    “Though filled with scenes of action, heroism, intergalactic political intrigue and high drama, the soul of ‘Attack of the Rockoids’ lies in its heart and passion for building a convincing tale of a love that spans the galaxy. A thrilling story!”

    Folks who have seen such flicks as “Frequency,” the cult fantasy classic “Somewhere in Time,” and even the “X-Files,” might feel the very same connection when they probe the core meaning of the Rockoids saga.

    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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