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  • Newsletter Issue #395

    June 24th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Every time Apple releases a system update, you can bet there will be problems as well as solutions. So this week, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we examined the latest Mac troubleshooting news, covering the newly-released Mac OS 10.4.10 update, the Safari 3.0 beta and more, with MacFixIt Editor Ben Wilson.

    You also heard from Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell on his reaction to Safari for Windows, and the newly announced features for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. In addition, security guru Alan Oppenheimer, of Open Door Networks, brought you up to date on whether there are any new and pressing issues in regard to Mac security.

    On this week’s episode of The Paracast, David and I spent an evening with veteran UFO investigator and photographic expert Dr. Bruce Maccabee. You’ll heard Dr. Maccabee’s comments about the Gulf Breeze UFO flap, and other major cases that he’s studied in detail over the years.

    Coming July 1: Richard M. Dolan, author of “UFOs and the National Security State,” returns to The Paracast.

    Today marks an anniversary of sorts. You see June 24th is a special day if you’ve been following that wild ride of a UFO saga for any length of time. This year, it’s 60 years since businessman Kenneth Arnold saw nine disc-shaped objects flying in the vicinity of Mount Rainier in the state of Washington. The description of their movements as resembling “saucers skipping across water” produced the term “flying saucers” and the rest is history.

    I got involved in this crazy subject at the age of 11, when my late brother, Wallace, left a copy of a book by Major Donald E. Keyhoe on his coffee table. It attracted my youthful curiosity, and I borrowed the book. A few days later, I was hooked, and, through my teens, I haunted the used book stores in search of more material on the subject.

    Over the years, I’ve had a love and hate relationship with the field. From time to time, I’ve become disgusted by the constant in-fighting, but I’ve always returned because of the lure of the unknown, the possibility that a solution may indeed be at hand in my lifetime.

    To be sure, I’ve never actually seen an object that I could not identify as something conventional. But many of the people around me have had sightings of various types of unconventional aircraft. Sometimes I feel left out, and sometimes I feel grateful that I wasn’t lucky enough to have my own extraordinary encounter. Some of these experiences are quite unpleasant.

    Then again, maybe I did have an unusual experience or perhaps several during my childhood. There are those dreams of huge, dark objects coming toward me that I’ve mentioned on the show from time to time. Just a dream, or something more? Maybe I don’t want to know.

    In any case, you can rest assured that The Paracast will continue to explore this most fascinating subject, which may indeed by the greatest mystery humankind has ever confronted.

    DO MACS MAKE SENSE FOR BUSINESS?

    From the very first day the Mac appeared, the critics said it wasn’t a serious personal computer. The graphical user interface meant it was just a plaything for the rich and restless, and that you couldn’t get any serious work done on it. That was the function of the real computer, the one that you manipulated with text commands.

    Of course, that argument didn’t sit very well when Microsoft adopted many of the same interface niceties. Maybe it was a pale imitation of the original, but the basic concepts, requiring keyboard and mouse, were still present and accounted for.

    Yet even when so-called business computers came with point-and-click interfaces, somehow the Mac was still relegated to the category of a toy. It didn’t matter that graphic artists embraced Macs for such chores as desktop publishing, digital artwork and movie special effects. You see, a real business computer was supposed to be used for spreadsheets, and databases and that sort of thing. Sure there was Mac software available that could carry out those functions as well, but Apple did an extremely poor job of making its products affordable for companies that needed to order them by the hundreds or thousands.

    That and other strategic missteps left a bad taste in the mouths of even devoted Mac users who, by the mid-1990s, deserted the platform in droves, along with some software publishers. Yes, the Mac wasn’t in a good way when Steve Jobs took control of the company he co-founded a decade ago.

    This is not to say that Apple’s resurgence has made the Mac any more acceptable for the hard-core business setting. You can still visit a doctor’s or dentist’s office and find rows and rows of Dells and HPs. If there’s a Mac present, it might represent an individualistic professional in a sea of cheap PC boxes, or a company’s art department, where they expect their employees to be, well, a little eccentric.

    Of course, a little of things have changed in recent years. The iPod, the mystique surrounding the iPhone, and more and more dissatisfaction with Windows have combined to raise the Mac’s image as a serious machine for personal computing.

    In recent months, Apple’s market share has soared, particularly in the fast-growing note-book category, where it holds more than 14% of the market in the U.S., according to the latest estimates.

    Certainly, you could say that most of these sales are going to home users and students in large part. But what about the enterprise?

    Well, at the same time, tech writers that deal with the business world have written widely about how easily the Mac adapts to a cross-platform environment. The MacIntel, and its ability to run the Mac OS and Windows with equal flexibility, has made Apple’s computers the most compatible on the planet.

    Claims that Macs are more expensive than comparably-equipped PCs have fallen by the wayside as the math shows that this just isn’t so. At the same time, the most important question of all remains unanswered: Is Apple going to ever make a serious effort to improve market penetration in the business world?

    Compared to the likes of Dell and HP, who depend on businesses for much of their profits, is Apple devoting heavy resources to competing? Or is the business market simply an afterthought, a side-effect of business owners buying Macs for themselves and then suggesting to their IT departments that they bring more in for testing and perhaps wider deployment?

    Of course, there are still those rampant superstitions about Macs, such as the claim that there is a lack of software, lack of custom configurations, and few entrants in the low-priced arena. Also, Apple still doesn’t seem to have a staff of sales reps that constantly call on businesses in order to schmooze and wine and dine them into buying more Macs.

    It’s also true that many IT people still regard Macs as alien invaders that they not only do not understand, but would rather not deal with. Is it a fear that a more stable and reliable computer will threaten their jobs, or simply a lack of knowledge of how to properly manage Macs on their networks?

    So where is Apple’s business strategy? Do they somehow hope that, by increasing their penetration among students, the newly-minted Mac users will continue to embrace them as they enter the working world? Or that, as more and more consumers buy Macs, they’ll get the message, that they are also perfect for business?

    Lots of questions, and, alas, there are few illuminating responses from Apple. But right now, they’re too busy rolling out the iPhone. Oh yes, some feel the iPhone can’t be a serious business phone either. Does that remind you of anything?

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: HAS HDTV COME OF AGE?

    When those $20,000 flat-panel plasma TVs first appeared in consumer electronic stores, I viewed them as extravagances for the wealthy, although I felt certain they’d eventually come down in price to the point where they would be affordable to regular people.

    I’m sure that the first people who bought those sets didn’t have much to watch in terms of stretching the highest resolution of which those costly gadgets were capable. Indeed, as of only a couple of years ago, it was probably real hard to get high definition reception in your city. Maybe the local stations offered it, but you still may have required an expensive rooftop antenna to get the stations you wanted.

    Cable? Satellite? Slow on the uptake, and you were lucky to find even a dozen HDTV stations available, even though all the major networks and more and more local stations were offering the higher resolution formats. I mean, how could HDTV miss? Whether it’s watching your favorite TV police procedural or the local news, being able to see it all in widescreen, with exquisite detail, was nothing short of breathtaking.

    Of course, it meant that makeup artists would have to find a better way to cover face blemishes, and visual effects artists couldn’t get away with quite as much amateurish trickery, but it all came together in the end.

    As I write this, we are poised for an HDTV revolution? Comcast, the nation’s largest cable TV provider, is talking of offering 500 HD stations to their customers by the end of the year. You can bet the other cable companies will have comparable offerings. Cox Communications, for example, talks of a “Generations” service that will greatly expand such fare. The satellite providers will, by dint of launching more satellites and using superior image compression techniques, be able to compete pretty well, I gather.

    Today, you can buy a genuine digital TV for a few hundred dollars, and true high definition for not much more. The 50-inch plasma TV that cost five figures can now be had for $1,400 and even less. And these aren’t cheap off-brands, but high quality products that deliver near state-of-the-art picture quality.

    Of course, the proliferation of lower-cost HDTV gear has meant more and more confusion at consumer electronic outlets. There’s so much to choose from, and the differences between various technologies, such as plasma and LCD, aren’t always crystal clear except to experts. If the picture is bright and sharp, isn’t that enough?

    Getting reliable information is also difficult, particularly when it comes to actually hooking up these sets and receiving real HD content, and not just the same standard definition channels you received on your old set.

    All that, of course, adds up to proper consumer education. It’s something the industry might be forced into, kicking and screaming, because of the fact that analog TV signals will disappear in the U.S. in less than two years. Before that inexorable deadline, you’ll be able to get a pair of $40 coupons that will cover most of the cost of an analog to digital converter box, but it’ll also mean that a lot more high definition gear will be sold.

    And there will be a lot more content for you to watch. The Apple TV, for example, is only a small part of the HDTV revolution, a revolution that is now in full force with no end in sight.

    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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