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  • Newsletter Issue #353

    September 4th, 2006

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE UPDATE

    Is Internet radio realizing its potential? A good question, and one I pondered when I first started hosting The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Although it’s quite possible to avoid traditional broadcast outlets and still have a going concern, I always had that option in the back of my mind. You see, I spent a number of years working on terrestrial radio, and combining that and the online universe has been our ultimate goal.

    It’s a goal we’re starting to attain with The Paracast. Effective with the September 10th episode, the show will also air on KLAV, AM 1230 radio in Las Vegas, and that’s a huge development for us. It’s also a beginning of a larger plan to expand the outlets for the show. As to the Internet version, it’ll still be hosted from our site, but it will also move to Sunday night, from 6:00 PM until 8:00 PM Pacific, 9:00 PM until 11:00 PM Eastern.

    So we have two episodes of The Paracast coming in rapid succession. First, on Tuesday, we’ll honor the editors and publishers of UFO Magazine on its 20th anniversary. The featured guests will be William and Nancy Birnes, and Vicki and Don Ecker. Together and separately, they will explore how the field of UFO research has changed over the years. This will definitely be a fascinating idea exchange.

    On Sunday, September 10th, we’ll feature world-famous nuclear physicist and UFO investigator Stanton Friedman.

    We’ve also been busy on The Tech Night Owl LIVE and last week’s show featured the return of the inimitable Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who explained how how mating his athletic shoes with his iPod have helped him lose weight, plus lots of other cool stuff. Industry analyst Joe Wilcox of JupiterResearch delivered an update as to whether Windows Vista is yet ready for prime time, and digital music guru Eliot Van Buskirk evaluated the prospects for Microsoft’s Zune player, and whether it can really compete against Apple’s iPod.

    We’ve got a fascinating range of guests coming up for this Thurday’s episode, so stay tuned for the details.

    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.

    MICROSOFT’S MAC BU BLOG: THE SPIN STOPS HERE!

    Getting online and writing a blog is so simple that millions do it every single day. Some folks even get a few readers, so I guess I should consider myself lucky. And while the concept is far from original, Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit, which boasts of having the largest team of Mac developers outside of Apple, now has a blog to call its own.

    Now Microsoft is fairly open about its plans, although those plans and reality sometimes don’t have very much in common. So I suppose giving the employees of the Mac BU a public face and a public voice is a good marketing ploy. No doubt it’s designed to give you a warm and fuzzy feeling about Microsoft, and not suffer the pangs of fear or distaste about the company.

    The first few blogs have been interesting reads and all, only they seem to have all been vetted through a team of marketing people, because the writing styles of supposedly different people come across as remarkably similar. Well, at least it seems that way.

    This is not to say that I don’t believe that the writers who are named aren’t real. I’m sure they are, but that doesn’t mean that they are responsible for every single word attributed to them, or even some of those words.

    While I wouldn’t want to necessarily regard them as the “Stepford” Business Unit, they all seem to function in lock step with the basic premise that Mac developers at Microsoft are highly respected in the company and that they work extremely hard to build the best Mac software they can.

    Sure, I won’t deny they put in long hours in the code mines to create new versions of Office, Messenger and such. But it’s also true that Microsoft has been slowly reducing its Mac roster, which means that the Mac BU has less work to do. It also raises fears that the company may, some day, even phase out Office, which is essential to Apple’s even limited penetration into the business marketplace.

    Forget for the moment the argument that you can live without a Microsoft product on your Mac. It’s true to a certain extent, but that’s not the whole picture, and I’m not inclined to want to look at Office substitutes right now, even though there are some useful choices.

    Instead, let’s briefly look at the stuff that Microsoft his ditched in recent years, and this is the area where the Mac BU’s bloggers will gloss over the fine details, and provide a list of canned excuses as to why it’s happening.

    Now first, you and I are told that Microsoft is a wonderful place at which to work, and that the fears of some of these employees about working for the “Dark Side” proved to be unfounded. No doubt the fat paychecks they probably receive for the work they do, and the fact that their families are well-fed, as a result is sufficient reason for them to feel positive about their jobs. That and some careful editing of their blogs before they go public.

    I suppose it’s easy to think that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer crack their whips relentlessly to keep their troops in line. Consider the common perception of Gates, for example, as an evil nerd. I recall, for example, that episode of the old “Lois & Clark” TV series, where a Gates-type character was depicted as a psychopathic killer who spend his spare time playing war games with Star Trek action figures.

    In the real world, though, it almost looks as if Microsoft’s huge bureaucracy has, at times, lost control of the company, which is why products can’t ship on time, and are often bereft of some of the promised features. Windows Vista is a prime example.

    When it comes to those products that are no longer being developed, the Mac BU gives transparent, superficial excuses. Why was the Mac version of Windows Media Player transferred to a third party, Telestream, with no support for Microsoft’s digital rights management? The Mac BU bloggers claim that another division of the company handled the media player, so they’re not responsible. True or not, it’s still not a valid excuse.

    Virtual PC? Well, one of the bloggers was the former lead developer of the product when it was still being produced by the originator, Connectix. I’m sure, as he says, that he’s sad that it’s no longer being updated and is now in so-called “maintenance’ mode. But Microsoft wants us to believe that it’s simply unable to compete with a small startup company, Parallels, which has only been in business for about a year and has a staff that’s a fraction of that of the Mac BU.

    Is there a hidden motive? Well, the Mac BU won’t tell you in their blog. Let’s just assume that they got caught with its pants down and that it’s not worth putting in money for development and marketing of a product for which there’s already too much competition.

    The loss of the Mac version of Internet Explorer, on the other hand, is no big deal. Between Safari and Firefox, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. In fact, Microsoft barely bothered with the Windows version of their browser until Firefox’s uptick in market share became too embarrassing. Even then, Internet Explorer 7 just about matches the competition in terms of features, and it little that’s new or different.

    In the end, though, the Mac BU’s blog isn’t a bad read. Yes, there’s a reasonable and expected level of corporate spin to its contents. At the same time, they could do worse and not have a blog at all, and maybe, just maybe, there will be an accidental insight or two into the their real corporate culture. At least I hope so.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: THE MINISTRY OF SILLY FEATURE DECISIONS

    In light of this article’s title, you might assume that Apple is off the hook here, since it’s supposed to be the world’s leader when it comes to user interface design. But, no. In fact, I will start right out by listing a decision in Mac OS X Tiger that, while it may be logical from a programmer’s point of view, it is not logical from the standpoint of the user.

    Say you want to save a document, Web, word processing or otherwise, in PDF format. It would seem to make sense to put that option in the Save As dialog box, right? It does make perfect sense, yet, as most of you know, to go there you actually click the PDF button in a Print dialog box.

    But you aren’t printing, are you? Well, not exactly, but the document is being processed in the much the same fashion as a print job, so I suppose that’s why the programmer’s felt it belonged there. But I have explained this to more than a few people, who sounded perplexed that such a feature was implemented in such a strange fashion.

    Now that I’ve put Apple in the hot seat, for a moment at least, I could go on and on. Instead, I’ll talk about another victim. Take LG Electronics, which makes some pretty decent mobile phones. Their most distinctive product right now is the VX8500, affectionately known as the Chocolate, which is part phone and part music player. It even has a faux scroll wheel that resembles the one on the iPod but doesn’t work quite the same.

    All right, it seems fully featured enough with Bluetooth, a 1.3 megapixel camera and a slide-out phone keypad. But early reviewers of the product have pointed out that it lacks such basics as speakerphone capability. Does that make any sense to you? Well, it seems a silly omission, and I wonder what LG’s product designers were thinking about. Or maybe they just forgot to add it in the rush to get the phone to market. It also has a proprietary headphone jack, rather than a conventional one, but it at least comes with an adapter.

    No it won’t really compete with the iPod, but at $149.99 with a two-year contract at Verizon Wireless, it seems a satisfactory alternative to the “conventional” mobile phone, as if any are conventional these days.

    Then there is the widely-advertised Bose Quiet Comfort 2, which prides itself on its noise-canceling capability. It’s also a pretty decent sounding headphone, but, in the effort to keep it simple, Bose doesn’t let you use them without the noise canceling feature activated. It’s either all on or all off, and when activated, it sucks juice from a single AAA battery. The newer, compact Quiet Comfort 3 appears to operate in precisely the same fashion, according to the product manual.

    Oh yes, you can use its noise reduction feature without listening to anything. Just turn it on, but don’t plug it in to a sound source. But not the reverse, unfortunately. I wonder what Bose’s designers were thinking, but it seems to be doing well enough in the marketplace. I even own one of these things.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #353”

    1. Paul says:

      >But early reviewers of the product have pointed out that it lacks such basics as speakerphone capability. Does that make any sense to you? Well, it seems a silly omission, and I wonder what LG’s product designers were thinking about.

      My guess is that they did not want to have people using the speaker to play their music and relating the fact that it did not sound good (out of a such a small low quality speaker) to the actual phones/music players quality. In other words if music sounded like garbage out of the speaker people might think it was a cheap device altogether.

      >It also has a proprietary headphone jack, rather than a conventional one, but it at least comes with an adapter.

      What is the difference between the two?

      Paul

    2. Actually, the PDF decision makes some weird sense if you remember that PDF stands for Paper Definition Format. If actually have to do a printer setup to generate PDF, so that the PDF driver knows if you are printing to 8.5×11, A4, 6×9 or whatever. While there are web browser extensions that let you save an entire page in a long, tall PDF file, most PDF output is paper and page oriented. Perhaps the default PDF output should be “big enough” to fit everything on one sheet of paper, and the printer based PDF output should, as now, allow you to set the paper size.

      P.S. Yes, I know what PDF stands for, but it is a digital-paper bridge technology, and it works really well for what it is.

    3. Charlie Michelson says:

      I believe PDF stands for Portable Document Format.
      WEB site>>> partners.adobe.com/public/developer/pdf/index_reference.html

      On the general topic:
      The difference between a Mac OS and a Windows OS always seemed to me to be:
      1. The Mac Graphical User Interface was designed to react in an intuitive way for the user, and the required programming was done to support that.
      2. The Windows interface looked like the programmers first decided on the steps they wished to perform and then tried to figure out how to place those steps into a Graphical User Interface.

      I think the Mac team occasionally loses sight of that and PDF is a perfect example. It is a (Portable) Document Format that competes with .doc and .rtf for universal readability.

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