So what’s the story about Apple’s new DRM-free iTunes music? Does it really contain information about you embedded within the files? For this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we called upon our old friend, Mac author and security expert Kirk McElhearn, to unravel the information really contained within those files. He also discussed the general state of Mac security and other concerns.
In another segment, we presented an introduction to all the great new features in the just-released upgrade to Parallels Desktop, version 3.0, with the company’s corporate communication’s director, Benjamin H. Rudolph.
And if you ever wanted to upgrade to an HDTV and found the whole situation confusing beyond belief, you’ll want to hear our interview with Clark Humphrey, author of the great new e-book. “Take Control of Digital TV: Second Edition.”
Note: If you order the above book after clicking on that link, you’ll get a special discount from our friends at Take Control Books.
Here’s this week’s paranormal radio rant: I suppose having a reputation can be considered a good or bad thing — or maybe some wide variation between the two extremes. In the case of The Paracast, after 16 months we have become notorious for asking the hard questions of a guest that other shows, for some reason, choose not to address. With that comes the false impression that we’re skeptics, and that’s just not so.
While I can’t say I’ve had any genuine paranormal encounters, I’ve been around many people who have, and I understand what they’ve gone through. David, on the other hand, has had a number of experiences, only some of which he’s actually discussed on the show. That alone should demonstrate that we’re not in the business of dismissing reports of mysterious encounters that have a reasonable degree of verification.
At the same time, it’s not always easy for someone to provide evidence. Experiences usually come unexpected. Some are surely downright frightening, and so grabbing a camera and/or sound recording device isn’t always the first consideration. Most of the time, it’s running for your life.
It would be ideal to have such phenomena witnessed simultaneously by large numbers of people, all of whom report essentially the same experience. That, and hard evidence, of course. However, far too often, that’s the impossible dream. But it doesn’t stop us from striving to know more about the strange universe in which we live.
In part, it’s just politics in play, but the eternal rivalry between Mac and PC users sometimes gets just a little too extreme. I mean, in a world where Bill Gates and Steve Jobs can get along, you’d expect that Microsoft and Apple will, at times, play nicely together too. Indeed, Time magazine refers to Gates and Jobs as “frenemies,” a newly-coined term that describes the situation, where the pair seems to have a close personal relationship, yet head companies that are, at times, fierce competitors.
I try not to have a knee-jerk reaction to the Mac versus PC argument. While I have criticized Microsoft quite often for the things I think they do wrong, I actually regard computers as just tools to get the job done. Most times, this means that I’ll use my Mac. But there are times where Windows is surely up to the task, even if it’s only because there’s no Mac version of a specific application. Of course, then there’s always Parallels Desktop to the rescue.
So I’m going to talk about Microsoft in a positive way this time, so let the chips fall where they may.
One of the best things Microsoft has going for it is their line of input devices. I have used my trusty Microsoft Comfort keyboard — kind of a half-way approach between traditional and ergonomic designs — religiously for well over a year now. My aging fingers took to it as a duck to water, and I can type rapidly and long and not feel the strain. Yes, the dark grays used for its exterior seem drab and dull, but I don’t like at my keyboards much anyway, so I don’t concern myself about such matters.
Another stellar achievement from Microsoft is Entourage 2004, the email and information manager component of Office for the Mac. Recently, as a result of a writing project, I actually tried just about every popular Mac and Windows email application available. I compared all the features, and the general fluidity and efficiency in daily use.
In the end, I returned to Entourage. You see, I use IMAP, primarily because it stores the messages on my server, so I don’t have to fret over synchronization hassles when moving between desktop and note-book computers.
Here, Entourage gets it just right, and for that we have to thank one of the software’s architects, Omar Shahine. Here’s a segment of a blog entry he wrote a couple of years ago about IMAP support in various email clients: “I helped to design most of the IMAP support, so there is nothing wrong with it (hehe). Well nothing that I’m unhappy about.”
Obviously, his remark is understandably prejudiced. But on the few occasions that I met him at a Macworld Expo, he struck me as a bright, personable and modest young man. He’s simply telling you the truth, taking great pride in his work.
Indeed, Shahine and his crew did wonders crafting proper IMAP support for Entourage in a way no other email application I tried can match. It just seems to do everything well, and recent maintenance updates for Office have eliminated most of Entourage’s performance lapses.
I only hope that the forthcoming Office 2008 will retain the best of Entourage, and simply make it better. For now, though, after trying really hard to get such applications as Apple Mail and Mozilla’s Thunderbird to handle IMAP email the way I want, I keep returning to Entourage, which delivers my particularly personal brand of perfection.
It may not be yours, of course, and I wouldn’t presume to suggest that Shahine talked to me before he and his coworkers devised their IMAP support in Entourage, but they surely anticipated my needs, and that’s good enough for me.
Now as to Word, what can I say? I’ve used it since the 1980s, not long after it made its debut, which happened to be on the Mac platform. I bet you Mac newcomers didn’t realize where it all started, right?
Word can be flaky, overwhelming, and often just a lumbering beast. But it’s also a perfect tool or writers and editors. Yes, there are reasons why you might prefer the various iterations of Nisus, Mariner Write, and even Mellel, but Word has set the standard in word processing for roughly two decades. I am particularly pleased with the Track Changes feature, where you can keep tabs on the various stages of editing your manuscript until it is ready for publication.
Yes, other programs, such as the open source Office alternatives, claim to provide full compatibility, but I still come back to Word. Maybe I’m too old to change, but that’s how it is.
My fervent wish, of course, would be for Microsoft to do more for the Mac. They got caught flat-footed when Parallels Desktop (and soon VMWare Fusion) pulled the rugs out from under them when it comes to running Windows on a Mac. I think that such programmers as, yes, Omar Shahine, who went to work on the Virtual PC team after leaving the Office group, could have done a terrific job if given the time and budget to complete the job.
But we’ll never know, will we?
I would also like to see a Mac version of Windows Media Player, but that’s not done by the Mac Business Unit, so I suppose you’ll have to continue to depend on updates for Telestream’s Flip4Mac to play such audio and video files.
When it comes to the electric company, like them or hate them, you don’t usually have much choice in the matter. So you pay them, they keep the power on, and, hopefully you don’t have reason to talk to them unless there’s a power outage for some reason. That may be the ideal relationship with a utility provider.
When it comes to wireless phone service, though, no such luck. There’s always some reason to speak with them. Maybe you’re having difficulties getting good connections in a certain part of town, or the last bill had an additional charge you can’t explain. Maybe your phone is crapping out, and you need some help. Regardless, there will come a time when you have to bite your tongue and give them a call for help.
The response depends on the company. As some of you know, the firm with which Apple partnered for the iPhone, the company formerly known as Cingular, doesn’t have a terribly good customer service track record. And, despite their claim of fewer dropped calls, third party evidence says they’re among the worst as far as the big wireless services are concerned.
But all of these companies carry enough baggage that you have to hope you’ll never have reason to contact them, except to verify that your payment was received, or to order a new phone when the old one needs to be retired. Of course, you can do the latter at a retail store too, which may be the best option of all.
But it all comes down to this: Today’s wireless phone service in the U.S. is fairly cheap, with lots and lots of plans from which to choose. There’s a generous selection of phones for every budget and the iPhone will shortly join them.
It’s also true that this country’s mobile phone service generally sucks. As analog systems are being phased out, you are stuck with low-grade digital that can sometimes approach the quality of a landline, but more often than not is immersed in digital haze. The wireless companies have reportedly invested in billions of dollars in their networks, but things don’t seem to get any better. About the best they can accomplish, it seems, is to spread mediocre service to more locations.
The phones themselves are largely fragile affairs. If you don’t destroy them by allowing them to fall too often on a hard floor, they might still fail for no discernible reason at all. Even when they work, they generally sport perfectly awful user interfaces that just about guarantee that only the very basic features will be accessed by the vast majority of users.
If you decide you want to drop your wireless company, you are basically forced to do so at the very beginning of the contract, before the initial guarantee period is over, or at the end, to avoid paying a huge early termination fee. All right, you can find places online where you can “sell” your contract to another victim and saddle them with your troubles.
Is there any solution? Well, perhaps not tethering phones to a particular company, aside from support for a particular technology of course. That system seems to work in other countries. But that would make mobile phones more expensive, since you cannot take advantage of a particular provider’s subsidy.
Of course, the iPhone, should it become the smashing success so many people expect it to be, might shake up the industry in some respects. Or maybe it’ll just give Apple another income source, but otherwise make little if any difference in the sad state of affairs.
THE FINAL WORD
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