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Newsletter Issue #399

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
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