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  • Newsletter Issue #399

    July 22nd, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    On this week’s all-star episode The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl explored back-to-school gear for dads and grads with Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen. You’ll also heard a Mac news and views update from Adam Engst, the editor and publisher of the online newsletter, TidBITS. Adam, by the way, is one of my favorite guests, and not just because he’s one of the few people on the planet to actually launch at my jokes (such as they are).

    In addition, we presented the latest troubleshooting information about the iPhone and other Apple products from MacFixIt’s Ben Wilson. Indeed, despite a stellar beginning, the iPhone has had a few growing pains along the way. Most of you who bought Apple’s flashy new gadget haven’t had any trouble at all, but a few have, and Ben was on hand to explain what’s going on and what to do about it. He also delivered the distressing news that the recent Mac OS 10.4.10 update is one of the most troublesome in recent history. It’s been OK here, but the information was nevertheless of concern.

    This week on The Paracast, you’ll spend an evening with Thomas J. Carey and Donald R. Schmitt, co-authors of “Witness to Roswell: Unmasking the 60-Year Cover-Up.” Gene and David will ask the guests about the newly-released deathbed confession from key witness Walter Haut and other significant issues surrounding this major UFO case.

    You’d think, after 60 years, that we’d be closer to some sort of answer as to what really happened in the New Mexico desert. Sad to say, it doesn’t seem that way.

    Coming July 29: The Paracast presents a special all-star Roswell and State of the UFO Field Roundtable. This informative session features Nicholas Redfern, Jeff Ritzmann and Mac Tonnies.

    Coming August 5: Introducing John Greenewald, Jr., who manages a huge repository of paranormal and conspiracy theory information online at The Black Vault.

    When it comes to the paranormal show, it seems we’ve developed a reputation. During the Roswell Festival earlier this month, one of our loyal listeners mentioned The Paracast in talking to a several of the featured guests and got widely-varying opinions. Some loved us, others hated us, without any indication of whether our detractors actually ever listened to the show.

    One of the reasons we have gained a bad rap is because David and I aren’t afraid to ask tough questions, rather than restrict ourselves to the softball inquiries other hosts prefer. You see, we’re not here to just show off people with strange beliefs and/or experiences. Instead, we’re trying to provide information to help you listeners decide whether these guests have something on the ball, or are perhaps mistaken, deluded, or just trying to make a few fast bucks from books and lecture tours.

    Perhaps the worst show taking the softball approach was a recent TV interview that featured a number of guests talking about UFOs. One, whom we might call a house skeptic, kept interrupting other guests with silly comments, while playing with little alien action figures.

    Although I didn’t expect the host to do anything about it, the show would have been almost watchable had he just told the skeptic to say his piece, shut up, and let others talk.

    One of these days, we might present a skeptic versus believer debate, and you can rest assured each party will get their fair chance to express themselves, but they will absolutely not be allowed to dominate the show.

    ISN’T IT TOO EARLY TO REVIEW LEOPARD?

    When we all first heard about Mac OS 10.5 at Apple’s 2006 WWDC, a few critics came out and suggested that the feature set wasn’t all that compelling. After all, a built-in backup application, a multiple desktop utility, enhancements to chatting and email software and perhaps a few added system tricks weren’t sufficient to tie an upgrade to.

    On the surface, they may have been right, but it’s also true that Steve Jobs made it clear that the original disclosure of 10 new Leopard features didn’t represent everything. Sure, the claim that he didn’t want Microsoft to start their copying machines prematurely was just market-speak. After all, Mac developers would have to be fully apprised of everything in Leopard to make sure their applications were fully compatible, and, of course, that they took advantage of the new programming tools. And, as you know, one of the largest of those Mac developers is none other than Microsoft.

    It may have been that, with Leopard so far off into the future as of the summer of 2006, Apple just didn’t have all the features present in a serviceable form to demonstrate publicly. It may even have been true that the entire slate of new features hadn’t been worked out yet.

    Of course, we’ll never know for sure, and maybe in doesn’t matter all that much anyway. What is most important is not what could have been or should have been, but what actually makes it into the final release.

    Segue to the summer of 2007, where the picture is a lot clearer. Instead of having 200 or 250 new features, Leopard will feature a grand total of over 300. Of course, if you totaled each and every component of all the bundled applications and the various and sundry system-related tools, you may not come up with that figure — well, at least not yet, but don’t be surprised if a complete bulleted list is forthcoming before Apple begins to take orders for Leopard.

    At the same time, an operating system isn’t just the new features, but how well they function, how well they integrate with other system capabilities, both old and new. You may find, for example, that the Time Machine backup utility is a wonderful idea, but the implementation is lacking some of the fineries.

    But this is not a judgment call. I frankly don’t know how good Mac OS 10.5 really is, and I’ll withhold comment until Leopard is shipping and I have a real release copy to work on and evaluate. The same is true for all the other features. You can only learn so much from online presentations, or even the slide shows that Apple will likely present during road shows at its retail outlets.

    On the other hand, snap judgments are part of the scene when it comes to commentaries these days, and I’m already seeing suggestions as to whether Leopard is just some more eye-candy and not much more.

    That statement is, of course, absurd! You may get a sense of how Leopard functions when you watch those QuickTime movies Apple has already put up, but until it’s installed on your own Mac, how will you really know? More to the point, how can the critics possibly know, unless they’ve been playing with beta versions? Besides, the confidentiality agreements that come with authorized access ought to prevent them from talking about it in public.

    As a practical matter, though, I like the fact that the Finder’s look and feel has been smoothed and, in large part, mimics that of iTunes. By providing a more unified interface, I’m sure that both newcomers and experienced Mac users will feel less rattled by what they perceive to be inconsistencies. While I’ve learned to live with the peculiar behavior of brushed metal compared to gray or whatever, a little predictability can’t hurt.

    But will the Leopard Finder also overcome the deep-seated performance issues that plagued previous versions? What will happen if you initiate two or more copying operations, or disconnect a shared volume from the network? Will you feel that you’re trudging through quicksand? Will the Finder come to a dead stop until things sort themselves out?

    Sure, saying something is faster or less buggy doesn’t sound so sexy as part of a list of system improvements, but I’d willingly trade some of that fancy new look for improved multithreading if that was the only choice. However, I don’t think it is. I find it difficult to believe that Apple isn’t fully aware of the Finder’s limitations. No doubt they’ve been working hard to overcome as many of its shortcomings as possible for Leopard’s release.

    There is yet one other significant matter: Despite some lingering problems with various maintenance updates, Tiger works really well, thank you. As Mac OS X becomes better and better, selling upgrades becomes far more difficult.

    While a Mac OS X upgrade installation is a far less onerous process than a Windows upgrade, it can still seem daunting to some. From time to time, it doesn’t succeed as well as it should, and those of you who have encountered problems in the past might be a bit gun-shy about doing it all over again, despite the promise of a more successful outcome.

    Of course, Microsoft is encountering an even more difficult situation in migrating its customer base from Windows XP to Vista. You see, in making XP more secure and more reliable, the argument to upgrade to Vista becomes less compelling. More to the point, Dell has been offering XP instead of Vista when you customize some of its boxes.

    In the end, it’ll probably take years for businesses to transition to Vista. With the Mac, it’s a much quicker process. Not just because of new machines preloaded with a new operating system, but because the upgrade process, despite occasional hiccups, tends to be far more predictable.

    Will that help speed migration to Leopard? I have no idea, but at the same time, I’m not going to review 10.5 without actually using it on an extended basis. Too bad other writers are taking a different approach.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: SHOULD WE OPEN UP THE CELL PHONE INDUSTRY?

    Imagine if you saw a car you just loved, but before you signed the papers, the dealer told you that you could only drive on north/south highways. If you wanted to drive east and west, you had to choose another brand.

    Well, I suppose you could say the American wireless phone industry is similar, in a sense. You find a phone you like, and it may, like the iPhone, be offered exclusively by a single provider. In other other words, you’re stuck, more or less.

    True, there are ways to hack phones to release them from their reliance on the service who sold you the product, or the one whose label it carries. But moving to another service isn’t altogether easy or possible. Here in the U.S., for example, some wireless companies offer CDMA, while others offer GSM.

    The technology behind them doesn’t matter in the scheme of things, other than GSM is widely used in other parts of the world. In the end, you can get good service from either, but it means incompatible hardware, and that limits your options after paying a bundle for some of the more sophisticated gadgets, such as the iPhone.

    Now you may not realize this, but outside the U.S., most phones are sold unlocked. That means the purchase price isn’t subsidized in your two-year contract with a company, and it means you can pick whatever service you want, so long as the technology matches that contained in the phone itself.

    Would this setup work here in the “colonies”? That’s a good question. Obviously, if all mobile phones were sold unlocked, you wouldn’t be getting $100-$200 discounts, which is what the carriers pay to get you to sign-up for those two-year deals. At the same time, wouldn’t it be nice if you weren’t forced to succumb to one-year or two-year contracts to get favorable pricing from your wireless service?

    Rather than rely on iron-clad contracts and exorbitant early-termination fees, a wireless phone company would have to depend on delivering good service and support to keep customers for on a long-term basis.

    Consider that I pay for my land-line, broadband Internet and cable TV on a month-to-month basis. Sure they probably have a lot invested in setting me up as a customer, but as long as they continue to provide great service — and for the most part Cox Communications really does deliver the goods — they’ll continue to deserve my business. It’s as simple as that.

    The same is true for the company from whom I get my VoIP phone service. I can cancel at any time, so they have an incentive to continue to deliver service at a satisfactory level.

    With the typical wireless phone provider, once the initial 15 or 30 day trial period has expired, they’ve got you locked in. They only need to recognize your existence again when the time comes to renew that contract.

    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #399”

    1. Michael says:

      “You see, in making XP more secure and more reliable, the argument to upgrade to Vista becomes less compelling.”

      I think that SP2 for XP amounts mostly to switching the firewall on by default, switching off daemons that most people didn’t need by default, and pushing out updates automatically by default. About time in all cases, since most home users simply accept the defaults and wouldn’t know how to change them. But I’m not convinced that is enough going forward to keep most of those home users safe.

      Underneath Vista seems to be a major re-write and those users if they upgraded would get UAC (which makes it more like OS X) ASLR (which even OS X hasn’t yet got), DEP in hardware, a protected mode in IE (which surely needs it) and quite a bit more.

      Vista is no good if it won’t work with your hardware – which is why Chris Pirillo, famously, hasn’t switched. And it is a lot slower on comparable equipment. But I doubt that, even after SP2, XP is safe enough – unless set up and maintained by a knowledgeable sysadmin. There are – literally – millions of compromised machines out there in botnets and whatnot, and they can’t all be running older versions of Windows.

      I think there’s always a trade-off between flashy features and changes “under the hood” that aren’t immediately obvious. Most people probably bought Tiger to get Spotlight and Dashboard. Personally speaking I can do without both of those, but I suspect Tiger was worth having for stuff like Core Data and Core Image that aren’t obvious on the surface to users. I think the same will be true of Leopard.

    2. Dana Sutton says:

      a.) “As the Mac OS X becomes better and better, selling upgrades becomes far more difficult.” The added bells and whistles aren’t the main selling point of Leopard. The real hook is that this will be (or at least should be) the first OS built from the ground up for the Intel processor and the latest and best video cards. In terms of such things as multiprocessing, 64-bit technology, and 3-D graphics I expect it to let me fully capitalize on the full potential of my Mac Pro (especially if third-party software developers upgrade their products to capitalize on the new hooks Apple will give them, as I am sure that many will). Same in the future, as hardware technology evolves, the Mac OS will always be playing catch-up, and this spiral will continue merrily onward.

      b.) “While a Mac OS X upgrade installation is a far less onerous process than a Windows upgrade, it can still seem daunting to some.” I’m not at all daunted by this OSX upgrade per se, I’ve never had anything but smooth sailing with previous ones. But what does daunt me is finding that current versions of some of the applications I rely on for my work break under Leopard, then having to wait until their authors get around to putting out Leopard-friendly versions (some will be very prompt, but some won’t), and in some cases having to fork out money for the privilege of being able to continue using applications I have already bought. The cost of the upgrade will turn out to be considerably more than meets the eye, and it will be weeks or even months before every last little detail gets straightened out. This is how it worked out with previous OSX upgrades, and I don’t expect it to be any different this time around.

    3. Arnold Ziffel says:

      I work for a mental health agency in Texas that is in the middle of upgrading its PCs, and IT is “scratching” Vista and installing XP before each is delivered to approximately 300 desks getting new ‘puters. One IT guy told me they had to perform 80 updates after XP is installed! Our IT department’s long-term goal is to switch to Linux and Open Office, due to the expense of MS products. While I, as a Mac user, would prefer to move to OS X, I am glad our guys are open-minded enough to ditch MS.

      We certainly will be buying Leopard as soon as it ships–bought and installed OS X the day it went on the market and have never looked back.

    4. hmurchison says:

      I too see these comments (“the new Mac OS upgrade is underwhelming”) all the time. It’s easy to form a snap judgement based on a dearth of information. I frankly don’t see anything HUGE in Leopard that has me gobsmacked. Does that mean it isn’t worth $129 to me? Nope. My the efficienty of my computing life depends on a plethora of small features working well. I use the built in Dictionary in Tiger more than I do Spotlight although I like having both of them. There are users to seem to think Apple OS releases are about entertaining them. Thus , expect little excitement from these people if they don’t see some whizzbang feature that blows them away.

      The rest of us will generally wait to the final release…read a good review which will hightlight the fixes to many of the niggling little problems affecting us and we’ll hop in when we’re ready. The only way to truly ascertain how good an OS is will be to fully understand the components and be able to identify the issues that need to be corrected. A small trivial feature to me may be a huge feature to someone else.

    5. Yacko says:

      >There is yet one other significant matter: Despite some lingering problems with various maintenance >updates, Tiger works really well, thank you. As Mac OS X becomes better and better, selling upgrades >becomes far more difficult.

      Something else to ponder – the time span between major updates is getting longer. To wit:

      10.0 March 26 2001
      10.1 September 25 2001 11 months to
      10.2 August 24 2002 14 months to
      10.3 October 24 2003 18 months to
      10.4 April 29 2005 29-30 months to
      10.5 Oct ?? 2007

      If there is any reason Tiger has such a load of contemporary and robust software. making it less likely someone might upgrade, this is it. I wonder how long it will be until 10.6?

      As to unlocked phones, does this question even have to be asked? The more the better, though I suspect it will only happen when we have ubiquitous free wifi calling. If added competition just got the hated and loathed double billing off my back (pay for both incoming and outgoing), I’d be happy. I don’t blame Apple. They played the market as best they could but it isn’t quite the revolution. Perhaps it will act as a starting wedge to shake things up, though I expect the possible Google 700MHz bid could have more impact. I hate giving a shout out for Google but what other entity is going to be an agent of change? Normal companies (like Cisco)? The telecoms? Congress? Executive branch? Ha-ha!

    6. Gene Steinberg says:

      Just a point of clarification: Apple said some time ago that major operating system upgrades would be less frequent. As Mac OS matures, they are far less necessary. It’s not as if they have to rush to keep up with Microsoft 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

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