• Newsletter Issue #389

    May 14th, 2007


    All right, most of you probably don’t pay all that much attention to the staffing lineup at a magazine, newspaper or online information resource. But when things change under a cloud, it garners headlines, which takes us to the recent flap involving Harry McCracken, long-time editor-in-chief over at PC World, sister magazine to Macworld. That episode of staff musical chairs formed the topic of one of our discussions this week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    On this week’s all-star episode, the Night Owl talked about that strange temporary change in leadership at PC World, a greener Apple, the possibility that Microsoft might merge with Yahoo and other hot topics in the tech industry with WiredNews.com’s Managing Editor, Leander Kahney.

    In addition, Macworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes also talked about the brief soap opera at PC World and Apple’s environmental commitment.

    But perhaps the most important issue of all is the fate of Internet radio. You see, there’s the possibility many of the online radio stations, particularly the ones that play music, may disappear if they’re forced to pay huge increases in licensing fees. We talked about that troubling subject and whether a satisfactory resolution might be possible with Mark Lam, CEO for Live365.

    On this week’s episode of The Paracast, we were joined by digital imaging expert and paranormal investigator Jeff Ritzmann to talk about what’s lacking in many of the UFO photos that accompany sighting reports. You’ll also heard from researcher Tom Levine, who came on board to talk about his investigation into the mysterious sightings of black triangles.

    This is Tom’s first appearance on national radio, and he recently became a moderator for The Paracast Discussion Forums.


    The other day, I had a brief exchange in a message board about operating system preferences and taste. The poster maintained that Windows is used on more than 90% of the world’s PC desktops because customers voted their preference, that they liked it better than all the rest.

    Now I suppose it’s easy to reach that conclusion, based on the numbers alone, and the fact that Microsoft has held onto its dominance of the operating system market for many years. But the larger question is just how did Microsoft reach its vaunted position and on what basis do folks choose which PCs to buy?

    Do you readers honestly believe that people select Windows after doing a genuine comparison with the Mac OS or other choices? How are such decisions made?

    Well, I could deliver a few historical anecdotes about how Microsoft pulled a full bait and switch tactics, promising great things and, instead, delivering products that were, well, merely adequate? Or how Microsoft ran roughshod over other companies to attain its dominant position, finally confronting the Department of Justice dead on.

    Indeed, I’d love to have a penny for every dollar Microsoft has paid in legal settlements over the years, or squandered on products that never made a profit.

    The real issue, however, is a matter of choice and why that choice is being made over and over again, despite the wealth of information out there that there are far better alternatives.

    Well, when it comes to software, there may be no choice. Despite the fact that there are well over 23,000 Mac products out there, the application you need for your business may only be available in Windows form. There may be Mac applications in the same category, or maybe not, but that’s an important business decision that outweighs the question of computing platforms.

    Sure, nowadays, you can use a Windows virtual machine or Boot Camp on your Intel-based Mac, but it’s still Windows. No way around that, except, perhaps, CrossOver Mac, which lets you run some of those applications without Windows itself.

    There is also the inertia factor. A business long ago settled on Windows for whatever reason, and switching to the Mac may not be such an easy process. It’s not just the cost of replacing all the computers. It’s the expense of buying new or upgraded software, and retraining employees and support people. Sure, it may be relatively simple to use a Mac, but there’s still a bit of a learning curve.

    As far as the home user is concerned, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to want to use a computer that’s similar to the one you have at work. It’s an easy decision to make, and the fact that there are far more games available on the Windows platform may be the icing on the cake.

    Indeed, none of that has anything to do with which computing platform is superior. It also demonstrates why it’s so very difficult for Apple to compete. That Macs are gaining in the marketplace where the competition is so deeply entrenched may seem a downright miracle to some.

    Of course, the fact that so much malware has infiltrated the Windows platform surely doesn’t hurt, but even that situation has, over time, become just the way of doing business for many. It’s very much like dealing with a seasonal cold infection. You just get out your stash of aspirin and whatever cold remedy is available on sale at the local pharmacy, and you’re ready to endure the onslaught.

    Driver problems? Well, the other day, I heard an ad for an online support company that offered what they claimed was a novel way to solve such difficulties. How? Well, simply by using a remote desktop management tool to take control of your PC and repair the damage.

    Driver problems on a Mac? Sure they happen, but not all that often. After all, Mac OS X contains drivers for lots of popular printers, so you may find you don’t have to do much more than simply add the device. If you do have to install a new driver, the chances that something will go wrong are slim. Even then, you shouldn’t have to suffer through a process of hours of troubleshooting to set things right. More than likely, the manufacturer has an update at their Web site that will set things right.

    Over time, you might hope that Windows users will begin to realize that things aren’t so great on that platform, and that a better way is available. Sure the Mac and PC ad campaign manages to focus on the salient issues in a slyly humorous fashion. But even the best spots grow weary after a while, and users of the TiVO and other DVRs are just as likely to fast forward past those commercials too. I know I do, but then I’m not in the target market.

    I’ve said in the past that the laws of entropy might indeed apply to Microsoft, and that they may be on a long, inevitable, downward spiral. But that doesn’t mean it’ll happen any time soon. For now, it’s safe to say that Windows users might indeed remain in the vast majority for many years to come, but not necessarily because they believe they bought the best product.


    Over the years, I’ve reviewed dozens and dozens of tech products. I remember when I had nearly 20 sets of speaker systems strewn across my home office and extending into the living room. Boy, you can’t imagine the grief I took as a result of that venture from my wife, although a couple of large workgroup printers can waste a lot of space too.

    Indeed, I’ve seen a steady stream of boxes move in and out of here, and, for the most part, I’ve been pretty lucky. Big and small, very few have come to me in damaged form, but there were a couple of notable exceptions.

    Back in the days when I wrote for CNET — and this was before the dot-com meltdown caused them to cut back big time — I was expecting a new iMac fresh from their test labs. Unfortunately, the delivery person from Federal Express zigged when she should have zagged, and the box fell off the end of the truck.

    The top of the box was smashed in. Indeed, the top of the iMac’s case was also crushed, but the computer was otherwise perfectly functional. The damage looked worse than it really was, however, as the part could be replaced for less than $50. To be sure, Apple PR was good-natured about it, saying that we didn’t have to go through the bother of filing an insurance claim to cover the cost of the modest repair. I did anyway, and hoped that would be the last time I’d encounter a damaged product for a while.

    But last Thursday, something went wrong all over again, and it brought about a rather messy cleanup process. This time it was another workgroup printer. The name of the manufacturer isn’t important, because it could happen to any product.

    At first, the damage wasn’t obvious. I didn’t notice until I actually tried to set up the printer, and noticed some strange warning messages in the unit’s LED status display. Well, I opened the top of the unit, and systematically pulled out and reinserted the toner cartridges one by one. Typical of color lasers, it had four, plus a fuser assembly. When I pulled out the yellow cartridge and looked it over, it literally fell apart in my lap. I have to tell you that the process of watching that yellow stuff circulate from pants to carpet and on to the adjacent file cabinet was nothing if not disconcerting.

    Evidently something had come loose in the shipping process.

    Upsetting? You bet. Fortunately, the damage wasn’t as serious as it appeared at first brush. A little carpet cleaner and some deep rubbing took care of the worst of the damage. The manufacturer agreed that it was a good idea to send the unit back and promptly sent a replacement, which functioned normally. You’ll read that review in the very near future.

    But I can tell you that, after confronting this minor disaster, for just a moment I fervently wished for one of Star Trek’s matter transporters. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to beam the product right to the correct spot in your home or office?

    Then again, it could have been worse, I suppose. Imagine if this episode involved an inkjet printer? Now that would be a real nightmare.


    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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