• Newsletter Issue #345

    July 10th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    On our July 6th episode, we spent a fair portion of the show discussing the ever-present issues of cross-platform integration and running Windows on a Mac. Our featured guest on The Tech Night Owl LIVE was John Rizzo of MacWindows.com. Other guests included Joe Kissell, prolific author of “Take Control of Running Windows on a Mac.” Rounding out the guest list was Jason Davies, VP of Worldwide Sales and Marketing for BIAS, Inc., who talked about the company’s extensive range of audio editing software.

    Since Davies appeared on the show, we’ve been using BIAS Peak Pro, a powerful two-channel audio editing application, for post-production on both radio shows. You may not notice much of a difference in the sound quality, but it’s proving to be a flexible tool that helps reduce some of the drudgery of the editing process.

    Coming up on July 13th will be an action-packed episode, which will feature Bob Parsons, the outspoken CEO for godaddy.com, a major Web hosting service.

    Our forums for the other show, The Paracast, have become quite active and even intense, particularly when it comes to the ever-controversial subject of UFOs and people who claim to be in regular touch with visitors from other worlds. The top issue remains the claims from Swiss farmer Billy Meier. On July 11th, we’ll have a return visit from Michael Horn, who bills himself as the”Authorized American Media Representative” for The Billy Meier Contacts. He’ll be debating co-host David Biedny, who has analyzed one of Meier’s alleged photos of a “beamship” from “out there” and pronounced it an obvious fake.

    WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO RUN WINDOWS ON A MAC?

    My friends, although it’s gotten a lot of press of late, the truth is that you’ve been able to run Windows on your Mac for years. It wasn’t always a pleasant solution, however, not because Microsoft builds a mediocre operating system, which is largely true. But there were other reasons why you would find the task to be an unbearable chore.

    Back in 1995, for example, I was asked to write a Windows 95 version of one of my books. As a Mac user, this presented a dilemma that was addressed by an emulator, known as SoftWindows. The application has since passed to the great software graveyard in the sky, but it got the job done, sort of. While I had the speediest Mac of that era, with as much memory as I could afford, every single function moved slowly, stuck in quicksand it seemed.

    I suppose I could have bitten the bullet and bought a real Windows PC, but the cost would have been too high considering the modest advance I received for that particular title. And, besides, after the book was completed, I’d end up with another wasted piece of hardware to put in the closet or sell.

    But you have to understand that it wasn’t bad programming that made SoftWindows or Virtual PC so slow. The process of duplicating the functions of another processor in software entailed a huge overhead, so that it worked at all seemed almost a miracle.

    In those days, there were even so-called “DOS” cards that would, in effect, put a PC inside your Mac. But they weren’t always reliable or cost-effective solutions. With the arrival of Intel-based Macs, you had a right to expect that the situation would change for the better, since the hardware was, in many respects, identical to that of a typical PC.

    In the wake of a very successful hack to install Windows XP on a Mac, Apple released Boot Camp, a dual-boot solution that will be part of Leopard. Although not all of the standard hardware on your MacIntel is supported, it provides all the speed of the real thing. The biggest downsides are the need to dual-boot and, of course, the fact that you have to buy a full installer of Windows, which costs more than a Mac OS X upgrade; far more if you opt for the Pro version.

    The other limitation is the delay in having to reboot whenever you want to change the operating system. But when it comes to 3D rendering software and games, it’s the only game in town, for now. Whatever limitations in hardware support will no doubt be addressed in the final version, along with the ability to run Windows Vista. But Apple VP Phil Schiller is already quoted as saying that Boot Camp will not be replaced with some sort of virtualization solution, so you can run two or more operating systems in a single session. That will be a choice left to the third parties, such as Parallels Inc., but will it be the best solution?

    As a practical matter, it’s convenient, and I’ve been using the release version of Parallels Desktop with great success. For what is essentially a 1.0 version, it has proven to be extremely fast and very reliable. But it does have some hardware limitations, particularly with USB devices. A couple of weeks back, one of my clients wanted to me test a Shinko photo printer in a Windows “virtual machine,” but Parallels couldn’t progress beyond recognizing the device once drivers were installed. We could never get it to successfully print.

    Perhaps the biggest shortcoming, however, is graphics. Forget about 3D gaming, at least for now. But Parallels’ Benjamin Rudolph tells me that the company is hoping to develop enhanced support with the cooperation of the firms that make the graphics hardware for a future version. You can’t run the Windows Vista beta either right now, but that will be addressed, he tells me.

    Another Intel-compatible virtual machine, iEmulator, apparently does promise Vista support, and I plan to examine that application shortly.

    In the meantime, Microsoft is remaining very quiet over whether we’ll ever see a Universal version of Virtual PC. That a startup company, Parallels, could produce an application with pretty much all of the features or Virtual PC ought to be a wake up call for the world’s largest software company. At this stage, the market is passing them by, and the only way for Microsoft to regain its footing here would be to offer superior peripheral compatibility, true 3D graphics support, and perhaps aggressive pricing on a bundled version with the latest Windows operating system.

    But maybe the most cost-effective solution will be to run just the Windows applications, not the operating system. Here CodeWeavers may have the answer; well, maybe. Coming in a few weeks, they tell us, is CrossOver Mac. Based on Wine, an open-source implementation of the Windows API, you’ll be able to run the applications within Mac OS X. Sounds neat, but it all depends on what applications it can support. The current list is confined to a few dozen, including such popular titles as Office for Windows, Internet Explorer and so on.

    While performance ought to be quite good, in theory, the other question is whether CrossOver Mac will offer the full slate of features on these applications. Of course, if the software you require doesn’t work properly, it won’t matter. But it’s an intriguing product that I will also be testing in the weeks to come.

    At present, my Windows requirements are fairly modest. I need to check compatibility of my various sites, and evaluate products for some of my clients. For now, Parallels Desktop gets the job done. But if something better comes along, I’ll be sure to let you all know. Meantime, I’m curious about your experiences and expectations.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: VOIP: VONAGE REVISITED

    For the past year and a half, my main business telephone line has been run on the Vonage network. This is the country’s most popular VoIP service, but it has been battered and bruised by a flawed public stock offering and occasional complaints about customer service problems.

    To be sure, I’ve only had one meltdown with Vonage that couldn’t be blamed on my broadband ISP, and that was a couple of weeks ago. For about two hours, the Vonage line couldn’t accept calls. If you dialed, you’d get a busy signal, except on the Verizon Wireless network, where the message would claim the number wasn’t in service.

    My attempts to get help failed. The tech support line would usually deliver busy signals, and when it seemed to function, nobody ever answered. Fortunately, service was restored before things got out of hand, but there was no message to customers about the outage, even though I suspect support was slammed during that period.

    But that wasn’t the only problem. Although Vonage offers good voice quality, I encountered one bug that may be an irritant with some businesses. Sometimes, when you attempt to navigate a phone menu system that requires the beeps from your touch tone phone to move from one department to the next, the beeps aren’t recognized. The problem is particularly troublesome when you have to enter, say, a long account number or even the digits for a prescription when you contact your druggist for a renewal.

    Over the past couple of months, I have, at times, gotten through to Vonage support. But it appears a lot of it has been moved offshore, and this particular problem seems too subtle for them to understand its significance. After going through the basics, such as restarting the device that interfaces with your ISP, they claim to be addressing the problem at their end. But it never happens.

    This isn’t a serious shortcoming, to be sure. I can handle such chores quite nicely on my regular landline, which remains on the Cox network. But if you hope to ditch your local phone company and use Vonage instead, consider the possible imitations, and I’m not talking about 911 emergencies, where support is improving.

    I’m looking into other VoIP services, and will welcome your war stories. Or maybe Vonage, which is using the funds from its public offering to cover massive debt and promotion, will eventually realize that superior customer service is critical to its future success. The major phone companies and cable providers can beat Vonage at its own game with comparable pricing and features, particularly with International calling. It hasn’t happened yet, but time is short and making customers unhappy isn’t going to help boost Vonage’s falling stock price.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech 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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #345”

    1. Maurice Smiley says:

      I have had Vonage for over 18 months with my business as well. However, due to a recent move I was forced to look at other VoIP providers because Vonage didn’t offer area codes in the region I moved to. After doing a little research, I found a company called Packet8. http://www.packet8.net.

      Long story short is that this company has an outstanding product and great pricing. I highly recommend to anyone that they give them a try. They are only $19.95/mo and they apparently spend their money on infrastructure and technology instead of television commercials. Quality is IMHO superior to that of Vonage. I’ll be switching my business line to them soon.

    2. David Walker says:

      I am currently using VoIP from Digital Voice as my home phone. With a bundle of calling features it’s roughly half the price of a traditional land line, but leaves a lot to be desired in the quality department and my wife is insisting we go back to a “real phone”.
      It is common for calls to take a long time to connect. Dialing a number and then waiting 5-10 seconds with dead air to see if the call is going to go anywhere is frustrating.
      Some calls, particularly long distance, never connect. I dial and wait and wait and after 30 seconds of dead air give up and try again.
      Virtually every call suffers from an echo problem. Either I can hear myself with a 1 second delay or the person I’m calling can. Elderly people seem to have a particularly difficult time when they hear their own voice echoing back, sometimes mixed with mine.
      All messages left in residential voice mailboxes are hopelessly garbled. I’ve listened to ones my parents got from me and even I can’t figure out what I said.
      Messages in corporate voice mail systems seem clearer so either the local phone company (Telus) has a poor quality system that can’t cope with the echo problem or they’re intentionally sabotaging voice mail from VoIP users.

    3. Terrin says:

      I use Vonage, and for the most part have been satisified. That is until quite recently. Recently, my Broadband connection shuts off intermittently. Often during phone calls. Comcast, my broadband provider, claims the problem is not it. Vonage claims the problem is not them.

      Who ever the problem can be attributed to, one thing is for sure, currently I do not have reliable phone service. I would go to AT&T for Broadband if they were not turning all their customer’s private phone calls over to the government.

    4. Tim Allison says:

      I first signed up with Vonage in September of last year, and was satisfied with the service until January of this year. Typical problems are with line static and decreased audio quality. The biggest problem though is when the signal drops entirely, leaving 5 or 10 seconds of silence in either the voice I am hearing or in what I am saying that is heard by the other party (almost exactly like the Cingular commercials). I have had problems with my Internet connection locking up (necessitating a restart of the cable modem and router. I’m not sure where the fault in this lies though (I have slightly more frequent lock-ups with a new Netgear router, but I still don’t know if that is to blame). I am suspecting that at least some of the quality issues are with Comcast (my ISP) as the Vonage sound quality is usually (not always) better in the mornings and early afternoon. Most of the problems occur in the late afternoon (when kids get home and jump on the computer) or in the evenings (when everyone is getting home and online).

      My most recent experiment was signing up with Skype to see if it was any better, and unfortunately, I have to report that it isn’t. I encounter the same problems (both when calling a regular POTS number or when calling another Skype user).

    5. Jamie says:

      I use Comcast Digital Phone Service, and have been pretty happy with the service and the way it cooperates with other household technology (like the fax and house alarm) … I am curious, though, about the beep I almost always hear when a call is starting. Am I being recorded?

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