• Newsletter Issue #332

    April 10th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    One of the goals for The Tech Night Owl LIVE is to keep abreast of the latest news and change direction as quickly as we can. So when Apple announced its Boot Camp public beta, I telephoned one of our regular guests for his comments. My “victim” was David Biedny, the show’s Special Correspondent. David is fiercely outspoken, as you listeners know, and this time his visceral reaction was clearly one of amazement. I also think it made for a great interview.

    We were also joined by Macworld’s Christopher Breen, who not only talked about this highly-expected development from Apple Computer, but added information about some fascinating 911 questions that he fielded for his monthly column. In a totally different direction, author Shauna Wright, author of “Don’t Get Burned on EBay: How to Avoid Scams and Escape Bad Deals,” offered lots and lots of common sense tips and tricks on the subject.

    This week, we’ll feature John Rizzo, from MacWindows.com, who specializes in dealing with cross-platform issues. Macworld’s Rob Griffiths will return to talk about his experiences with Boot Camp and other methods to run Windows on an Intel-based Mac. Another guest will be announced shortly.

    As to our other show, “The Paracast,” on April 11th, UFO investigator Dennis Balthaser, who resides in Roswell, New Mexico, will speak about the legendary crash report and other subjects. Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman will discuss the possible reality behind the legends of Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, Mothman and other mysterious creatures.

    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.

    WINDOWS ON A MAC: ANY DOWNSIDES?

    Long-time Mac users, as you might expect, are highly polarized about the prospects of running Windows on their computers at native or near-native speeds. I always like to take the optimistic point of view, hoping things ultimately turn out as “they are meant to be,” or at least in a favorable light. But the situation is a whole lot more complicated than that.

    First of all, you want to consider which method of running Windows works best. Perhaps the most effective scheme from the standpoint of speed and compatibility is, of course, Apple’s Boot Camp. As the reports published so far and my own experiences indicate, you get what is, in effect, a regular PC with a pretty case. It’s that compatible, and performance is, in most every respect, equal to or superior to a regular Windows box with a similar range of standard equipment.

    Sure there are a few minor shortcomings. You can’t, for example, use Apple’s remote control or USB-based modem. But these are largely driver issues that will likely be resolved in a future beta version, or in the final release, where Boot Camp will be part of Mac OS X Leopard. Another notable bug many have reported, and I’ve experienced it as well, is that the Windows XP clock needs to be reset frequently. But all this shall pass.

    Another significant matter is the ability to transfer files between the two environments.. If you set up a Windows partition of 32MB or less, you can use the FAT file system, which will allow you to read and write files when running Mac OS X. Otherwise it’s strictly read-only. You can’t see the files from the Windows environment, however, without the help of a third party utility, of which you’ll be able to find a few if you look around. This may be something Apple could also address directly, since it is apt to be an important issue for many of you.

    The larger issue is whether it makes sense to have to have to reboot when moving from one operating system to the other. That takes us to another solution, the virtual machine, which is the ability to run both operating systems in a single session. Certainly Microsoft Virtual PC is the prime entrant in this category, but it’s an open question whether it’ll be upgraded to be compatible with a MacIntel. Sure, Microsoft says it’s still looking into the issue, but it may be a case of too little and too late.

    In addition to such programs as WinTel, based on open source emulators, the one that shows the most promise is Parallels Workstation. This application takes advantage of Intel’s virtualization technology and it’s now available in public beta form. But it’s early in the game and there are a few issues yet to be resolved. One is the critical question of using your Mac’s optical drive and the other is support for your video driver. Right now, it seems to work fine for 2D content, but not so much for 3D, which means you probably won’t get playable performance from many of those popular Windows-based games.

    Some have also remarked that Parallels has a rough interface as well. But again, it appears that the publishers are working hard to make it work as seamlessly as possible. Even if there’s somewhat of a performance hit, as you might expect, it may not be enough to hamper your use of most Windows software.

    But there’s a downside to the virtual machine scheme as well, even if performance truly exceeds 90% of native, and that’s memory. For the convenience of operating two or more operating systems at the same time, you must allocate a sizeable chunk of RAM for each. The minimum for decent performance with Windows XP, for example, is 512MB, so you’ll end up having to max your Mac’s RAM to gain the best possible performance, and you need to weigh that against of the convenience of dual booting.

    Since Parallels is a work in progress, and one that I’ll be trying soon once some more bugs are fixed, there’s no final verdict to be had, but there are other questions to consider.

    I understand well that some of you might prefer to “just say no!” when it comes to using Windows on your Mac. The fact that you can do it doesn’t mean you should. Another critical question is how developers are going to react. Consider games, where Mac users have been shortchanged for years. Even when a popular game gets ported to the Mac OS, performance is apt to suffer when compared to the Windows version. It’s not a secret plot to make you want to ditch the Mac OS. These games were originally created and optimized for x86 processors and bringing them to a different processor has its trade-offs. However, the Universal versions seem to run quite well on Intel-based Macs.

    But with alternatives to easily run Windows on a MacIntel, will some developers just give up their Mac porting efforts? Why bother if you can just install Windows and run the original version of the application? Wouldn’t that destroy the incentive to produce two versions of the product?

    I can see the point, but I also expect that requiring someone to spend $200 or more for an operating system installer just to run a $50 game is a bit much. Besides, I do believe that folks who choose to use both operating systems will spend the larger part of their time using Mac OS X. Windows will be there for the applications that require it, but that’s it! Sure, some businesses might buy Macs and simply regard them as fancy-looking Windows PC’s, but I don’t think that’s going to be the larger source of sales.

    Perhaps the same can be said for regular productivity applications, that cross-platform developers will consider abandoning their Mac versions. But consider that, for years to come, there will be millions of PowerPC Macs in use. Why sacrifice such a large audience, even if it diminishes over time? And if most users of MacIntels choose to spend most of their time using the Mac OS, why should they be forced to use a different operating system?

    For me, I do not consider the ability to run Windows at near-native or native performance to be a serious problem. The reason that Wall Street has reacted so favorably is that they feel this new development will only boost sales of new Macs. Clearly Apple didn’t do it for any other reason. They are in it for profits and market share, not just to be cool, although the cool factor certainly influences many of their design decisions.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE ULTIMATE HANDSFREE ACCESSORY?

    As more and more states ponder whether you need to stop picking up your handset in your car when you want to use it, I’ve been spending more and more time with handsfree alternatives. And I’ve found a solution that works well for me, although you might want to consider upgrading your phone to a model with Bluetooth for the most convenience.

    Despite the fact that talking on a handset in a car is illegal, although I don’t think the police will give out citations except as part of stopping you for a larger offense. As to whether holding a phone detracts from your ability to drive safely, I would suggest the same can be said for drinking coffee, a sandwich, or even talking to someone else in the vehicle in an animated fashion. But if we want to extend this concept to its ultimate conclusion, what about listening to an exciting sports event, or singing along with your favorite tune on the radio? Or your iPod? Wouldn’t that also cause your attention to waver from driving safely? Might as well motor on in silence, right?

    But to get back to the subject at hand, I have experimented with wireless car-based wireless systems, where the vehicle’s own audio system permits two-way conversations. In large part, the system is flawed, since the vehicle’s mic isn’t near your mouth, or near enough to avoid background noise and create a hollow, echo-laden sound. One close relative is a little hard of hearing and she could never understand a thing I said when I called from the car. Even those with good hearing would sometimes ask me to repeat myself, so I looked for a better alternative.

    The cordless headset may be the best compromise. The original system I tried, the Motorola HS850, has gotten good reviews, but it wasn’t terribly comfortable. Volume levels were limited, and the thing kept flopping up and down on my ear when I was walking. Clearly Motorola needed to do its homework in choosing a method to properly fit the ears of most people.

    I then chanced upon a review of the $119.99 H700, and decided to give it a whirl. Although I could get one locally at most any store that sells mobile phone accessories, I opted for Amazon.com, where I could save a little money.

    The tiny headset is feather-light, and, most important, felt comfortable on my right ear. The hook, by the way, is reversible, so you can use it on your left ear if you prefer for convenience, or you have a hearing issue that requires that alternative. Linking or pairing with my Motorola RAZR V3c took about a minute, and I was soon putting the H700 through its paces.

    Compared to the HS850, call quality is superior, and I was able to raise the volume to a higher level if I preferred, but not so high that it would hurt my hearing. Since the headset doesn’t fully enclose your ear, it doesn’t noticeably impair your ability to listen to outside sounds with both ears. The most important factor, however, is whether callers can hear me well enough, and here the H700’s noise reduction feature seems to work wonders. Most of the people I was talking to couldn’t tell the difference between the wireless headset and the phone itself, even that relative who has hearing problems.

    Like most of these devices, however, the system isn’t perfect. I can no longer keep the RAZR in my pocket, because reception isn’t good enough in that location. Instead, I had to go and buy a belt clip. It’s not inconvenient, really, but it meant another expense before I could use the system to its best advantage. The other issue is when you are calling numbers that have voice menus, since you are forced to place the phone in your hand to press one for customer service and two for technical support, etc. Sure, some of those menu-driven systems can be voice activated, but not the voicemail systems of the cellular systems I’m familiar with.

    Despite the minor shortcomings, I’m quite satisfied with the H700 so far. I haven’t tested Motorola’s claim of six hours talk time, but battery life seems quite satisfactory. I highly recommend that you give it a try and see if it doesn’t answer your needs for handsfree capability.

    And don’t worry about the strange stares from people watching you talk through your headset as you go about your daily chores.

    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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