A popular TV show uses the buzzwords “ripped from the headlines” to describe the lurid plot lines of their latest episodes. But here at The Tech Night Owl LIVE, I don’t necessarily look at the latest tech news or fads when I’m planning a show. Instead, I consider what you and I might really be interested in, and use that as the yardstick.
Sometimes the two coincide, as they did on last week’s episode. One of the hot topics in the halls of Congress, when they aren’t fighting over the war in Iraq and other pressing matters, is Internet neutrality. I’ll weigh in on the subject in more detail later in this newsletter, but on the show we invited Adam Engst, publisher of TidBITS, and Bryan Martin, CEO of 8×8, Inc., which provides Packet8 Internet telephone service, to provide their viewpoints on the controversial matter.
In another segment of the show, you heard from noted Mac troubleshooter Ted Landau, author of the “Mac OS X Help Line: Tiger Edition.” He delivered his own wish list for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, and then discussed whether it makes sense to get an extended warranty. And the latter is not an easy with a simple solution, so you may want to think twice about what to do when you get the pitch from the salesperson or cashier.
For this coming week, we’ll talk about back-to-school gear with Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen, and industry analyst Ross Rubin, from the NPD Group, will be on hand to talk about computer and electronics industry issues, including Apple and Microsoft.
I’d also like to invite all of you to visit our new Tech Night Owl LIVE forums and check out a special section we’ve added covering Apple War Stories. You’re invited to participate with your own tales of woe or even your positive experiences.
As to our other show, The Paracast, on this week’s episode, you’ll hear an exclusive interview with Dr. Jesse Marcel Jr., whose dad, the late Jesse Marcel, was one of the key figures in the 1947 Roswell UFO incident. When he was 11 years of age, Dr. Marcel personally handled debris that may have indeed come from a crashed UFO, and you’ll hear the full story of his childhood experience, the aftermath and details of his forthcoming book, “Roswell: It Really Happened.”
We’ll also talk to Bob White, author of “UFO Hard Evidence,” who recovered a strange artifact right after a close UFO encounter.
On the surface, Apple has a fairly complete line of products. If you want a relatively inexpensive note-book, for example, you spring for the MacBook, although some might not consider it so cheap. The MacBook Pro covers the rest of the line, but there are some who might crave for the really thin and light note-books that come, say, with the Sony label on them.
When it comes to a professional desktop, right now the choice is to spend a lot of money, or compromise. And, yes, today, two thousand dollars is a hefty figure to ask of a customer to pay when they see all those ads about cheap PC boxes from Dell for just $399.
Of course, there are all those comparisons that demonstrate that the Mac and the PC are similarly priced when you assemble all the appropriate options on the latter to match the former. And there’s certainly evidence that Dell wants to move you quickly up the line so its profit margins will increase. Things aren’t so go at Dell these days.
But the real issue here is what the customer actually wants and needs. The Power Mac can be overkill for many, but it has its good points, such as the fairly easy expandability. Unless Apple pulls a real surprise, the successor, which will probably be dubbed Mac Pro, will be little different in terms of the basic form factor and pricing.
But what about something that lies between the Mac mini and today’s top-of-the-line desktop? Is Apple missing a golden opportunity here?
Today, that spot is filled by the iMac, a great computer, but not if you want to mix and match parts. Except for adding RAM, Apple has made the iMac’s internals a hostile place you don’t want to visit. But for both home and business users, it’s a great product if you want to put everything in one box and limit customization to the order sheet when you first buy one.
While I can’t speak to Apple’s real plans, surely the cooler running Intel chips will allow Apple to deliver a smaller, lighter, cheaper computer with some of the same expandability of its full-size workstation. Imagine being able to swap graphic cards, add specialty peripheral cards, change drives, and get it all for, say, $1,000 or so.
It wouldn’t contain the same advanced gear as the model that almost everyone expects to appear as the Mac Pro, and probably wouldn’t cannibalize sales all that much. What I’m talking about here is a step up from the Mac mini, with processors from the mid-range of Intel’s Core 2 Duo line. It would use standard desktop-grade hard drives and optical drives, and a mid-range card from ATI or NVIDIA.
This would be, my friends, the real headless iMac. Today’s Mac mini is closer to a headless MacBook if you examine the raw materials.
What should we call this new, affordable minitower? Why the Mac of course.
Where’s the market for such a box? Well, consider any home or business who doesn’t want an all-in-one computer, and considers the Mac mini to be severely underpowered and lacking easy expandability. And, just as important, wouldn’t be able to spring for a full-blown Apple workstation.
There’s got to be a fairly big market of mid-range users here who’d buy such a step-up product. I can’t say that I’ve done extensive market research here, but if Apple is truly destined to push headlong into grabbing Window’s switchers, it needs to hit as many potentially profitable market segments as possible.
I’m sure some will argue that Apple shouldn’t spread itself too thin. After all, the MacBook actually replaced three Apple products: The two sizes of the iBook and the 12-inch PowerBook. Wouldn’t a low-end Mac Pro, say in the $1,500-$1,750 range do the job?
Not if you check the budgets for home and business users in the real world. And surely not if you check the pricing of the PC boxes that currently fill these requirements. Apple really doesn’t play in that sandbox, and they should.
Although I’m sure the fathers of the Internet probably didn’t envision how all-encompassing it has become, they did strive to make it relatively neutral. The impact is simple for most of you. You can send and receive email and access the sites you want (more or less) without someone at your ISP stopping you.
But if the big telecom companies have their way, things may get more difficult. You see part of this “Net neutrality” debate is whether these huge companies have a right to charge extra to an outsider that sends it lots data. The most obvious examples, of course, are Google, MySpace and YouTube.
They want to be able to have the right to charge for “preferred access,” so the bandwidth hogs can place their stuff on a faster lane. Now in theory this may seem to make sense. But who is really paying for that bandwidth anyway? Well, the large Web portals are investing huge sums of money to maintain their own networks and buy bandwidth from independent companies when needed.
At the other end of the pipe, you are paying for the data you receive, and this isn’t a one-price-for-all deal! Most broadband ISPs I know about offer different packages. If you’re not getting the speed you need, you simply go up a tier or two, and they’ll be most happy to collect your money.
So you see that, in the real world, the ISP doesn’t have to worry where to get the money to cover the costs of handling higher-bandwidth demands. You pay them for it, and if they see the need to exact a higher fee, they’ll raise the price, although there is competition in some localities to minimize that.
So, in addition to double-dipping, what are the dangers? Well, the big telecoms aver they aren’t going to slow down regular access at the expense of the “preferred” access, for which Web portals pay a special fee. If you can believe that, there’s a certain bridge from Brooklyn that I can sell you. More to the point, in such an environment, what happens to the small company that wants to get a piece of the business?
If they are forced to pay extra, over and above their own network expenses, to get decent access on your ISP, it means they suffer. It means the next great Internet idea may never see the light of day.
As we all know, companies like Google and Yahoo were started by smart college students with little or no money, but a vision. If the telecoms demand a huge payoff to get good access, the hopes and dreams of these have-nots may never see the light of day.
Of course, the issue is far more nuanced than that, and it is fair to say that both sides of the argument should be considered fairly. The easiest thing to do would be to just let the FCC handle complaints of Internet interference, if and when a cable company decides to close the pipes on, say, an independent broadband phone service. Let the FCC consider enforcement with fines and cease and desist orders and whatever is required.
Alas, when Congress gets involved in a debate, the issues of politics and patronage rear their ugly heads. Whatever regulations they produce may only end up creating more levels of bureaucracy, more obstacles to obeying the law and, in the end, making one big mess of the whole thing.
The Internet got to where it is because, in theory at least, there was open access for everyone. Let’s keep the cooks out of the stew and let it stay that way!
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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