Shortly after the January 25th episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE aired, my friend and co-host for The Paracast, David Biedny called, saying that he wished he had the chance to complete his analysis of Photoshop CS3. He had covered maybe 40% of the new features, and there was a lot more where that came from.
Now David is a world-class digital artist, so I said yes, of course. Indeed, the features he discussed last week were not always emphasized in Adobe’s marketing literature. You see, David doesn’t rely on corporate puff pieces to dictate what he says about a product, or the scope of his coverage. He tries to go beneath the surface and, in that respect, he’s different from some of the product reviewers out there to whom “thorough” is a dirty word. And, no, I won’t mention any names, other than to remind you of the people who reviewed that Xerox printer I wrote about a few months ago, who “chickened out” of defending themselves when I challenged them.
As to the rest of the show, we also presented a direct comparison between Windows Vista and Mac OS X Tiger from John Rizzo of MacWindows.com. No, this wasn’t just a Mac user’s attempt to trash Windows. In fact, John finds some useful aspects to Microsoft’s newly-released operating system, although he says the Aero interface annoys him. In addition, Sumana Harihareswara, of Fog Creek Software, came onboard to talk about the recent addition of Mac support to their remote access service, Fog Creek Copilot.
As far as The Paracast is concerned, this week David Biedny and Jeff Ritzmann delivered an exclusive in-depth analysis of a pair of camera-phone photos purportedly depicting the UFO at O’Hare airport. In addition, Jeff presented an account of his interview with an eyewitness to the encounter. Instead of the brief second-hand reports you’ve heard elsewhere, The Paracast broadcast a direct report about what David and Jeff learned and what it all means.
In addition, prolific paranormal author and investigator Brad Steiger talked about some of the most compelling paranormal experiences that he has written about. I’ve known Brad for years, and he’s a terrific story-teller. Even more compelling, these stories were presented as fact!
On February 11, The Paracast will feature Mark Allin, one of the three owners of AboveTopSecret.com, the number one “Alternative Topic” discussion site on the World Wide Web. Mark has been interested in and studying conspiracy theory for over 20 years, with a focus on the UFO Phenomena and the apparent “Disinformation Campaigns” carried out by unseen but ever-present entities with questionable motives.
You’ll also hear from conspiracy theory expert Kenn Thomas, publisher of Steamshovel Press, who will talk about the latest issues from the fascinating world of parapolitics. That field covers everything from the Kennedy assassination to the mysteries of Area 51.
It’s a well known fact that Microsoft user focus groups with which to test product features. Apple? Well, they aren’t saying, although the general perception has it that Steve Jobs is the focus group of one who makes all the decisions, even the minutiae that some might not consider terribly important.
Sure, Apple makes mistakes. Take the Cube, which was widely regarded as underperforming and overpriced, something with which I must totally agree. But Steve Jobs evidently has a thing for cubes, since his crew cut it in half (roughly speaking of course) and, more or less, morphed it into a Mac mini, which is priced just right. Then he split it yet again and begat the Apple TV and the newest version of AirPort Extreme. So there is indeed life after the Cube.
But Microsoft seems to have a penchant for repeating its mistakes, all in the name of “innovation.” That’s their buzzword, the excuse they used when they confronted the Department of Justice in that infamous antitrust action. How can the government possibly break up Microsoft and prevent them from building innovative new products.
Now it’s fair to say that the Zune isn’t particularly innovative, since its based upon a failed Toshiba music player. The software is built upon the most recent editions of Windows Media Player, or built down, since it removes some of the features of the latter.
Was that all decided by a focus group?
Last week, Windows Vista finally reached the stores. Unlike the huge lines that celebrated the arrival of Windows 95, Vista’s reception was reportedly far more tepid. Some stores reported barely any traffic at all.
But the reception doesn’t necessarily mean Vista is bad, although some of Microsoft’s decisions appear to be questionable. But the ones that are most annoying don’t necessarily include the look, the feel, or the performance, but some of the decisions made about marketing the product. I’m certain no focus group came up with these lame ideas.
Take the decision to restrict virtualization support (legal at any rate) strictly to the “Business” editions of Vista? That means that if you want to run Vista using Parallels Desktop or the forthcoming “Fusion” from VMWare, you cannot use the “Home” versions. Does that make sense to you? It sure doesn’t make sense to me, although Microsoft’s marketing department could probably come up with the appropriate spin about the matter, stating, perhaps, that only business users could possibly need to run Windows in a virtual machine.
Maybe so, but what about home users who might have Windows applications that they don’t want to abandon, because there’s no Mac counterpart? Besides, when Parallels adds 3D support later this year, what about gamers? Are they business users too? Maybe, although I’m sure the management of those companies expects their employees to be doing productive work, not attaining a new plateau of achievement in the latest computer game.
On the other hand, if you do try to install a Home version of Vista in a virtual machine, will Microsoft permit you to activate that copy, or will it somehow self-destruct? Without revealing any inside information, so far, at least, the answer to the former appears to be no!
So why did Microsoft devise such draconian licensing policy except to earn a few hundred million dollars in upgrade fees? Or did it ever occur to them that some people may simply avoid Vista altogether for the time being and stick with XP as a result? Besides, until there are a lot of Vista-savvy applications out there (whatever that means), is it going to make much of a difference in the real world?
And, other than the new interface, what features would such an application possess that could possibly enhance your productivity? I’m asking, and maybe some of you Vista experts can enlighten me. I’m happy to discover new abilities.
Another annoying report has it that, if you upgrade to Vista from an existing copy of XP, the latter ceases to function. Or at least it can no longer be activated, which may amount to the same thing. That means you can’t just install it on another PC and hand it off to the kids or your parents.
Of course, there’s the “squirting” feature of the Zune music player, which caps the life of a music track you send over Wi-Fi to another Zune (if you can find one) to three plays or three days, whichever comes first. And this regardless of the actual licensing of the piece. That means if you downloaded it legally from a free music site, or you recorded it yourself, the same restrictions would apply.
Now I may just be whistling in the wind here, but it seems to me that Microsoft isn’t winning over people these days as much as it used to. Microsoft has even had to induce favorable coverage, witness the reports that some Web sites have even received free state-of-the-art PC note-books preloaded with Vista. And, no, they don’t have to return the computers.
Imagine trying that with Apple’s PR department and see how long it takes for them to send you any more products. Can you spell never again?
Of course, this doesn’t mean Microsoft is always rigid about the things it does. If it starts receiving backlash in the form of nasty letters reduced sales of upgrade licenses, things might change.
And if they don’t, they deserve to suffer the consequences. Besides, I don’t think Microsoft is going to suffer from low profits anytime soon regardless.
Some products stand the test of time, while others manage to leave you with bitter second and third impressions. It’s like the restaurant that delivers a delicious meal during the first visit, but never manages to duplicate the experience when you return. Of course, in that case, maybe it’s because you lucked out or — unfortunately more often than not — the chef left for a better job, and the rest of the hired help in the kitchen just can’t deliver comparable meals.
With a mechanical or electronic gadget, it’s a question of quality control, and whether the manufacturer has engineered it to be reliable on the long haul. Take cars. There’s a common perception that a new car may begin to self-destruct after the warranty runs out. So you trade it in, consider an extended warranty, or just take a chance and hope for the best.
An example is my son’s 2003 Volkswagen Passat GLX. It has gotten good ratings as one of the best mid-sized cars around, with great safety features and a decent level of reliability; well, decent for VW, a company that’s hard problems with keeping its vehicles out of the repair shop in recent years.
The vehicle came with a four-year or 50,000 mile limited warranty, better than most of the competition. My son is not the kindest to a motor vehicle, but the Passat seemed a trusted companion during those first 50,000 miles; we handed it over to Grayson last year when his aging Honda bit the dust. Just before the warranty was due to expire, Grayson noticed that the car would seem to lurch somewhat when turning at highway speeds. He called the VW dealer who has serviced the vehicle from the day it was purchased, and scheduled regular service, which included that lurching problem.
The verdict wasn’t too pretty. The regular maintenance process was relatively inexpensive, but the rear brakes were shot. Such matters exact a pretty penny on most German cars. But the real annoyance was the cause of that lurching: the engine mounts. Total cost of all this joy was nearly $1,500, and Grayson didn’t look too kindly at how closely he’d hit his credit card’s limits.
On his behalf, I telephoned VW’s customer service and reminded them that the engine mount failure occurred before the warranty expired, on New Year’s weekend. Grayson had it serviced on the next business day, and had driven around 150 miles or so in the interim. They relented and dropped $300 from the price-tag, which covered the mounts but not the installation process.
To add insult to injury, the car began to leak oil not two week’s later. That symptom was traced to a burst oil pump, which added another $650 repair bill.
Grayson saw the handwriting on the wall, and is now looking at replacing the vehicle with something newer. In retrospect, is this problem typical of a Passat? Is it designed to self-destruct at the end of its warranty period? I don’t pretend to know, but it is true that VW has suffered from corporate shakeups and problems with its sales in the U.S. They pledge improved quality control, and I hope they’re right. The VW has its own unique panache, with beautifully-crafted interiors and a unique look and feel. I hate to see the company suffer because it has forgotten how to build its vehicles to last.
But that’s not the only evidence of a quality control lapse that I’ve seen lately. Take that Motorola H700 Bluetooth headset I have been using of late. In recent days, callers have remarked that voice quality has become inconsistent. Is it the phone or Verizon’s “world-class” network? No, it was the headset. When I switched to that Jabra JX-10, everything sounded great once again.
On the other hand, the Jabra hasn’t been the most reliable product either. As you recall, this is the third sample I’ve tried, and I just hope I don’t have to request a fourth.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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