• Newsletter Issue #387

    April 30th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It’s surely been a busy week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE in light of Apple’s report about stellar earnings this past quarter.

    So on this week’s all-star episode, the Night Owl examined the impact of Apple’s quarterly financials, where unexpectedly large sales and profits were reported. Coming along for the ride was industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group. You’ll also heard from Joe Wilcox, editor of Microsoft Watch, on how Apple’s continued success is impacting the world’s largest software company. Another cutting-edge view was presented by commentator Daniel Eran of Roughly Drafted Magazine.

    In addition, we presented a detailed look at the latest and greatest version of Adobe’s flagship desktop publishing application, InDesign CS3, from noted author Galen Gruman. Is the upgrade worth it or not? And, of course, how does it compare to the latest version of QuarkXPress?

    Now as to our “other” show, The Paracast, I suppose I spent more than a little time wondering if I should have gotten involved with that show in the first place.

    You see, getting involved in in anything related to UFO research is surely a thankless task. It’s bad enough that lots of people will regard you as being more than a little crazy for taking a serious interest in such silly things as flying saucers.

    Some might consider a public admission of serious concerns about the subject to be akin to professional suicide. This is particularly true if you are involved in a scientific or technical occupation.

    At the same time, it’s also true that something downright weird is going on. That becomes more and more evident as the years go by, with more and more strange and sometimes frightening cases coming to light.

    I know that I’ve been frustrated more than once about the whole field on a number of occasions through the years. Despite that, I’ve managed to stick with it, more or less. I mean I have made more than a few attempts to disengage myself from it all, but I manage to return again, hoping against hope that I’ll learn something really significant this time out.

    But others have decided to throw in the towel. On this week’s episode of The Paracast, for example, retiring UFO investigator Don Ecker recounted his history in the field, the cases he’s investigated, the people he’s met and explained why he’s giving it all up.

    DO YOU REALLY WANT TO RENT MUSIC?

    When Apple announced, during its session with financial analysts, that it would apportion income from the iPhone and Apple TV on a subscription basis, some folks started wondering whether they were planning on adding a subscription service to iTunes.

    The answer is, of course, no. Apple’s public strategy, at least for now, isn’t changing. They took this action because certain unannounced free features are going to be added to Apple’s newest hardware products over time, so they can’t book all the income at once. I suppose accountants will want to weigh in on whether any of this makes sense, but I’ll give Apple the benefit of the doubt.

    At the same time, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying that he still believes that people want to own their music, not rent it, but left the door open, telling Reuters: “Never say never, but customers don’t seem to be interested in it. The subscription model has failed so far.”

    There’s also talk that the music companies are planning to push for an iTunes subscription service in their latest negotiations over contracts for the coming year. These are the pending deals that might also add DRM-free content from the rest of the majors in the industry.

    Now on the surface, renting music may seem like a really bad idea. I mean, what happens if the music service goes under? Does all the music you’ve rented for months or years disappear with it? That’s a very real danger, even though you can’t imagine that some of those companies will ever go out of business.

    On a more personal level, what if there’s a billing problem? Maybe you canceled a credit card because you lost it, so the bank gives you a different account number. If you forget to tell all of your service providers — including the subscription service that delivers music to your computer — any charges they attempt to make to your accounts will be declined.

    So what happens then? Say you’re with Real’s Rhapsody service? Will they give you a couple of weeks to sort things out, or will you wake up one day to find that your rented music library, the one you spent months organizing, is gone?

    Well, I guess that just means that you have to keep closer tabs on your credit cards.

    But what if you, for example, take a long cruise on an ocean liner, where you can’t connect your music player or computer to the Internet so it an “phone home” and reauthorize your music. What happens then? Will it all go down the tubes?

    All right, those are some of the practical limitations, in addition to the fact that these services rely on Microsoft’s “PlaysForSure” digital rights management, and are thus not Mac compatible. Rhapsody comes close, with a version of its service that you can access online from most any browser.

    And then there’s the ultimate question: Is Steve Jobs right that people only want to own their music. Well, my friend Christopher Breen, a Macworld Senior Editor, actually uses a pair of these services, and likes them as an alternative way of hearing new music.

    Now here’s where the rubber meets the road, and I can see where Chris is coming from. You see, I want to own my music too, but what about just sampling new tunes? Sure, you can do that with iTunes now, but you’re limited to just a 30-second snippet. That may not be enough to decide if you really like a song, since you might miss out on something if you don’t pickup on all the catchy hooks that make a tune truly memorable.

    If you do find a song that stands the test of time, then you can decide whether to buy the single or the entire album. But there are also lots of songs that sound all right the first few times you hear them, then become tiresome over time. If you bought them, you might not want to listen to them after a while, but you’re still out that initial purchase price.

    Of course, with a physical CD, you can just hand them off to a friend or relative, or take them to the used CD store and exchange them for something you prefer. With a music download, the DRM might make the process more complicated, but you can always zap the file and be done with it, if that’s what you want.

    So I do see a purpose for a music subscription service, and I’m sure Apple can deliver a truly elegant, state-of-the-art variant. But will such a thing ever come to pass?

    Well, we all know that Apple can deny it’ll do something one day, and then do that very thing the next. And let’s not forget those three intriguing words from Steve Jobs: “Never say never.”

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: I’LL TAKE MY DNS OPEN

    To most of you, the initials DNS are probably meaningless, an arcane Internet acronym that doesn’t concern you the least bit.

    But every single time you attempt to access a site on your favored browser, on a Mac, PC or Linux box, you’re calling upon your ISP’s Domain Name System servers to translate everything behind the scenes. So, for example, when you call up our site, technightowl.com, it’s translated behind the scenes to our unique IP address, which is 208.97.184.69, after which our content is retrieved to display on your computer.

    All this happens within the blink of an eye, mostly. Problems between your computer and your ISP’s servers may slow things down, as will trouble all through the complicated highways and bi-ways of the Internet.

    Now there’s a fairly new company that promises to not only speed up online access, by way of a sophisticated highly sophisticated DNS caching mechanism, but to provide correction of common typos in an Internet address and even phishing protection.

    All of this and more are part of OpenDNS, a free service that promises to make your Internet access faster, more reliable and even safer. Their latest feature is so simple, you wonder why your ISP didn’t think of it. It’s called “shortcuts,” and it allows you to map the URL of a site to a word or abbreviation, such as “bank” for whatever financial institution you use.

    Do they deliver? Well, actually yes, after you spend a few moments configuring your Mac or PC or your router to bypass your ISP’s own direct DNS connection. What you have to do, basically, is enter OpenDNS’ two server addresses in the DNS category in your network settings panel, or your router, which are 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220. Refresh your connection or restart your router (whichever is required) and that’s it! And by the way, OpenDNS provides easy setup instructions for both Mac and Windows users.

    So what happens next?

    Well, once your computer reconnects, you’re apt to see a perceptible speed-up in performance. Depending on the speed of your connection, it may not be a vast difference, but most of you will see some sites that formerly took their sweet time to appear on your browser suddenly appear more rapidly than you might ever have imagined.

    That’s part of it, of course, and it may only be a small part of what OpenDNS is offering. They can also fix your typos — well some of them at any rate, so entering www.craigslist.og will deliver the correct destination, which is www.craigslist.org.

    One of the most powerful features is built-in phishing protection. Yes, you probably know that Firefox and other browsers already include this feature, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in Safari for Leopard.

    However, phishing remains one of the most dangerous online crimes, simply because it relies on social engineering rather than implanting a virus or other malware on your computer. You might, for example, get a message that purports to come from your bank. If you click the link in that email, you’ll be taken direct to a site that almost exactly matches the home page of your financial institution, but when you give out your personal information, Internet criminals will take that data and use it to steal your money.

    If you’re not paying close attention to what you’re doing, it’s very easy to make this sort of mistake accidentally. OpenDNS stores information about counterfeit sites, and also links to worldwide organizations that track such unsavory locales, and it puts up a warning message if you try to access such a site.

    So how does OpenDNS perform all this magic at no cost to you? Well, they do it, in part, by advertising placed on sites that you might reach by accident. They also imply in the descriptions at their site that they may provide value-added services beyond these basics that will also carry a price-tag.

    But none of that should concern you at the least.

    My recommendation is that, whether you’re a home or business user, give OpenDNS a try for a while and see if you like it. You can always go back, but I think that once you get a taste of a faster, safer Internet, you will be glad you made this ultra simple change, and don’t forget to tell your friends about it.

    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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    7 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #387”

    1. […] Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter. […]

    2. Dana Sutton says:

      I can see why any music (or movie) customer would react exactly as Gene does. But consider software. If you read the legalese when you acquire almost any commercially-developed software you will discover that you have not bought it, as you thought you were doing, but that you are actually only leasing it. Sometimes this is pretty invisible and non-annoying. But it can become very annoying indeed if the maker of the software has some cumbersome and intrusive activation or verification scheme (once, the time I had to reactivate Micromat Dreamweaver just because I upgraded to an new version of OSX, and again when I migrated to a new Mac ), I think with entertainment media the same deal applies. As long as your use of the music is transparent and hassle-free, I don’t see that some legal theory that you are renting rather than buying tunes is a problem per se (and it might conceivably help Apple in its copyright dealings with the music industry). It’s all in the specific implementation of that theory — and the idea that you should have to keep paying to keep listening is flatly unacceptable. As with software, your rental or licensing fee should be a one-time, up-front thing.

    3. Karl says:

      I’m not convinced the subscription model would work if you want to sample music. Where is the incentive to buy? You’re renting it and then going to buy it? (Rent to own maybe?) Doesn’t make much sense.

      Plus with iTunes you’re only risking a dollar. With the “Complete the Album” feature if you happen to actually like the song and want the album you aren’t going to re-buy the same song.

      Too bad internet radio maybe be going away. If you want to discover music in a wide variety of genres, both old and new, that is one the best ways to do so.

    4. I’m not convinced the subscription model would work if you want to sample music. Where is the incentive to buy? You’re renting it and then going to buy it? (Rent to own maybe?) Doesn’t make much sense.

      Plus with iTunes you’re only risking a dollar. With the “Complete the Album” feature if you happen to actually like the song and want the album you aren’t going to re-buy the same song.

      Too bad internet radio maybe be going away. If you want to discover music in a wide variety of genres, both old and new, that is one the best ways to do so.

      We don’t do music on our shows, so the issue on Internet radio doesn’t impact us. On the other hand, I wonder what that agency was thinking in setting prices that these outlets can’t afford. I trust that’ll get resolved soon, before it’s too late.

      Peace,
      Gene

    5. Dave says:

      Rent music? No way!

    6. Karl says:

      Yes, I too hope that internet radio issue gets resolved and it sticks around. Since I don’t really listen to the terrestrial radio and I won’t “rent” music. So discovering music for me is internet radio.

    7. Jack Leckliter says:

      At the moment I don’t have an iPod, or buy or rent music, but that may change soon. One of the reasons I haven’t jumped into any of it yet is because of DRM, but an equally big reason is the ridiculous 30-second clips on Amazon, iTunes, and elsewhere. 30 seconds is a total joke–I’d need as a very bare minimum at least 60 seconds but in the majority of cases 2-3 minutes out of a song to really reliably be able to gauge whether I am going to like something I’ve never heard before. Especially for the kind of music I like which is off the beaten path, and not like typical pop music that throws an A verse plus a B refrain at you, then repeats them ad nauseum with little variation or improvisation or anything until you go bonkers with boredom from it.

      So for me the big reason to rent (which I am considering) is unlimited listening time to fully evaluate music I may want to buy, and I would consider $10-15 per month or whatever pretty reasonable. But by the same token, I sure wouldn’t count on songs I’ve rented being playable too long into the future (thus I’d go ahead and buy those) given the the rate at which companies go out of business these days.

      In the past I tried buying some music off of Amazon based on their 30-second bites, and I can’t tell you how many times I got burned doing that taking chances “hoping” the rest of the song would justify the risk, before I elected to simply stop buying songs that way. Other people must have a lot of money to waste throwing dollars down the 30-second rathole, but that’s just something I refuse to do anymore.

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