- The Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com/newsletter -

Newsletter Issue #410

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

On the surface at least, the iPhone 1.1.1 update would seem like a good thing. After all, it fixes a few shortcomings with the hot-selling gadget, such as low volume, and also adds some features. What could be wrong with that?

Well, if you hacked the phone to allow it to work with other wireless carriers, the update would turn it into an iBrick. If you simply added some third party software, you can forget about regaining those features unless the folks who were able to jailbreak the iPhone discover new ways to do their thing.

On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we called upon several experts to talk about the implications of Apple’s controversial update and other fascinating subjects. First on the agenda was author and columnist Ted Landau, who explained why he’s disappointed with the update. You’ll also heard from Macworld’s Senior Editor Rob Griffiths, who also revealed his findings after reviewing the popular methods to run Windows on an Intel-based Mac.

In addition, industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group talked about the failure, at least so far, of the new high definition DVD formats to catch on. Has time passed them by before they gain any traction?

Oh, and Ross also commented on the ongoing iPhone issues.

And, in this week’s Web Tips segment, Denis Motova discussed the latest upgrade and problems with WordPress, the popular open source blogging software.

On our “other” show, The Paracast, you’ll discover new information about the 1952 Flatwoods Monster case and the UFO flap from Frank Feschino, Jr., author of “Shoot Them Down! — The Flying Saucer Air Wars of 1952,” and veteran UFO researcher Stanton T. Friedman. Did the Air Force really order their aircraft to fire at UFOs? You’ll learn more during this provocative episode.

Coming October 14: Researcher Dennis Balthaser discusses the mysteries of Great Pyramid of Giza. Was it constructed by an advanced Earth-based civilization in ancient times, or by unknown beings from the stars?

Another guest will be announced shortly.

IS THIS WHAT MICROSOFT’S MAC BUSINESS UNIT MEANS BY “INNOVATION”?

To many of you, the Mac programmers over at Microsoft are the company’s shining stars. Although they labor within the confines of a byzantine bureaucracy and strangely wrong-headed policies, they are not supposed to be drinking the company’s kool-aid. Rather, they’re supposed to be devoted Mac users who have carved out a solid niche where creativity reigns supreme.

Now that may be true to a large extent. I do think that the Mac BU tries really hard to deliver great software, within the serious constraints imposed on them by their employer. On the other hand, this also means that they live with assumptions that may not be entirely realistic.

It is perfectly true that, in developing Office for the Mac, they have a set of contradictory goals. One, of course, is to maintain full or virtually full compatibility with Office for Windows. But, as they learned with the infamous Word 6 in the last decade, you cannot build a Mac application and make it look like you’ve exited Apple’s universe and entered Microsoft’s.

We Mac users are quite demanding of certain constants, on of which, of course, is that a Mac application, for the most part, adhere to the conventions of the platform. In other words, it must be “Mac like,” to use the Microsoft parlance that implies a resemblance but not necessarily a reality.

I am concerned whether they have really considered the implications of that phrase.

Well, maybe it’s just a poor choice of words, well-meaning and all that, but typical of some of the concerns I have about Microsoft’s Mac products.

With Office, you get what is probably the best that Microsoft can offer along with some of the well-known mediocrities. Typical of its Windows counterparts, Office for the Mac can be, at times, slow, and you feel it’s fat and bloated and filled with features buried so deep you’re apt to find them purely by accident.

In recent releases, Microsoft has touted so-called “Mac first” Office features that supposedly trump the Windows version of the suite. Indeed, as Office 2008’s release date approaches, you’ll find more and more details in the accelerated postings on the Mac Mojo blog.

For Office 2008, for example, there will be a page layout view in Word, supposedly to enhance its desktop publishing capabilities. Of course, I wouldn’t give up on Adobe InDesign or QuarkXPress just yet, but let’s not forget that Apple’s Pages has always offered a similar capability.

There’s also a thoroughly redesigned Formatting Palette. Instead of just supporting text formatting, you’ll be able to click on an icon to switch to other tools needed to work on your document.

Of course, that feature is nothing new. Lots of applications have multifunction palettes of that sort, including the late, lamented FreeHand, and even Pages and the various versions of Nisus.

The Mac BU’s innovative approach is to provide a Toolbox Settings dialog, sporting a host of options for the Formatting Palette, such as which tools are displayed and some thoroughly outrageous choices, including as how long it will take an unused palette to vanish. Is that something that’s high on your wish list — or even on the radar?

Another blog entry touts the enhanced charting features in Excel 2008, implying that it has long been the only significant tool for building charts on the Mac. When I read that claim, I thought about the venerable DeltaGraph charting application that I first used way back in the early 1990s.

Now I’m not about the compare the charts you build in DeltaGraph and Excel feature for feature, except to say that it is highly presumptuous on Microsoft’s part to want us to believe that you can only get the job done with their products.

They also boast of the use of Quartz imaging technology for those charts, forgetting that have made similar claims for previous versions of Office for the Mac. So are you to interpret this as meaning that Excel 2008 will have a greater degree of Quartz compatibility than Excel 2004? I’m just wondering.

I also felt a strong dose of deja vu when I heard the Mac BU extol the greater level of discoverability for their upcoming version of Office, as if to admit that they knew many features were previously quite hard to use.

That is, of course, true, but that word, “discoverability,” isn’t unique to Office 2008. The Mac BU has used it before, so maybe they are conceding they didn’t get the job done for Office X and Office 2004.

Of course, migrating everything to Apple’s Xcode to build a Universal version of Office no doubt gave the Mac BU a chance to take the suite on a healthy diet, to clean out the dead wood and work on all the features and, perhaps, approach them in a different way. Well, at least it sounds good.

No, I’m not going to touch on the subject of the loss of Visual Basic for Applications. Innovative? Well, there’s talk that it’ll also disappear from the Windows version of Office in a future version, so maybe it is the start of a trend.

In the end, it may well be that Office 2008 will be a terrific productivity suite, sleeker and faster than anything the Mac BU has ever produced. Though I’m troubled by some examples of their innovative approach, I remain ever optimistic.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: WHY THE AMERICAN AUTO INDUSTRY ACTS LIKE MICROSOFT

Once upon a time, the American auto industry was king of the hill, worldwide, and nobody could compete. Even when the fledgling import industry arrived on our shores, most of those foreign vehicles were little, quirky things that couldn’t stand up to the punishment of American roads and driving techniques.

Well, I suppose there was the original VW Beetle, which got quite a few sales in those early days. Then came the Japanese subcompacts from Toyota and Datsun (now Nissan), which were nothing if not miniaturized American cars.

Without considering where everything simply went wrong, today the remaining American car makers are collectively fighting for their lives, while Toyota is about to become the world’s top auto manufacturer. In fact hundreds of thousands of vehicles from Toyota, Nissan, Mazda and others are assembled the U.S., while the domestic car industry is rapidly shedding plant workers and executives alike.

Pretty much all the competitive vehicles delivered by GM, Ford and Chrysler have fallen short. They are never quite good enough.

So where did the U.S. car industry go wrong? How could it hold a Microsoft-like dominance, only to watch it all fritter away over a period of several decades?

Certainly, our auto engineers are as smart as the ones from Germany, Japan and South Korea. Surely the designers all have comparable skills, so why is it so hard, for example, to find an American vehicle that can match the smoothness, seamless design and reliability of a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima or Hyundai Sonota?

This isn’t to say that American cars are necessarily bad. They’ve come a long way in recent years, but it still seems as if the manufacturers take the Microsoft approach to dealing with competition, which is to make the products almost as good, seldom better, and then wonder why nobody’s buying.

Where decent cars are developed, some of that ingenuity comes from overseas. For example, the Ford Fusion and its Mercury counterpart are based on the Mazda6. Ford uses Volvo underpinnings for its reincarnated Taurus.

Over at Chrysler, the 300, which was a hot seller at one time, used suspension parts and other components from the Mercedes-Benz 300 series. No, it wasn’t quite as good, but it certainly resulted in a vehicle that had lots and lots of clever attributes, with probably as many serious flaws, such as poor outward visibility.

Of course, Chrysler has been dismissed by its German parent company, and is out on its own, struggling to survive in a new competitive environment.

So where is the innovation? Why are American cars generally regarded as almost as good in most respects, rather than better? It almost reminds you of the typical comparison between the Microsoft Zune and the Apple iPod. Microsoft tries to match Apple on pricing, ads a couple of features from a bulleted list, and they imagine they’re competitive.

From interiors, to design, features, and general reliability, you may save some money when you buy American, but will you get a product as good as an equivalent Toyota, Honda and so on?

Some suggest the American auto industry is suffering from its death throes. After experiencing huge losses amounting to millions of dollars, dismissing tens of thousands of workers and closing plants right and left, the executives somehow believe they will wake up one day and find themselves back in control.

Whatever happened to the concept of building a better car, marketing the hell out of it, and then creating a buzz so people will feel excited to drive one home? Or is it just too late to bother?

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