• Newsletter Issue #412

    October 21st, 2007


    So is Steve Jobs becoming a devoted blogger? Well, with three under his belt so far this year, you’d think so. True, the writing style doesn’t seem so smooth, so maybe he did write that stuff himself. Or maybe he rounded up his corporate communications department and had them prepare the blogs, and then took his blue pencil to fix the prose.

    Actually, it doesn’t really matter in the scheme of things. What really counts is what he says, and you can be sure the comments were quoted around the world. How’s that for a beginning blogger?

    So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Macworld Senior Editor Christopher Breen talked about the latest blog, which detailed Apple’s plans to provide genuine support for third-party iPhone and iPod touch applications in February of next year. Also on the agenda: cheaper prices from the iTunes store and the high anticipation for Leopard.

    In addition, Andrew Welch, of Ambrosia Software, was on hand to reveal details about their new audio capture and editing application WireTap Studio. Indeed, we’re really impressed by its possibilities, and we’re actually using it to record material for our newest episodes. The first improvement is already obvious: Improved sound, reduced background noise. Thanks Andrew.

    We also had OpenDNS CEO David Ulevitch, who presented an update on Phish Tank, a company he created that tracks those dangerous phishing sites.

    In this week’s Web Tips segment, Denis Motova discussed what you need to know if you want to start your own online forum.

    On our “other” show, The Paracast, long-time researcher Scott Corrales discusses UFOs in Latin America, emphasizing the “high strangeness” factor.

    Coming October 28: Paranormal and folklore author and lecturer Joseph A. Citro talks about the great mysteries confronted by humankind.

    Coming November 4: Senior scientist Boyd Bushman talks about anti-gravity and other cutting-edge scientific developments.


    As Leopard approaches, you have to wonder whether even 300-plus new features and enhancements will be sufficient to sway the skeptics about its potential. You see, as far as software numbering schemes go, incrementing a single tenth of a point usually signifies a pretty insignificant update.

    I mean, you can name most any application’s transition from, say 7.0 to 7.1, and the differences will be awfully minor. It may be a little more involved than a few bug fixes, but still nothing worth charging a full upgrade price.

    In the 1990s, even Apple had larger increments in its numbering schemes. Take Mac OS 8.0 and 8.5. Not substantial in any respect. However, moving from System 7 to 8 gave Steve Jobs leverage to seriously inflate charges to those Mac OS clone companies, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of them. Otherwise, maybe 8.0 would probably have been 7.7.

    But moving to 9.0 was the equivalent to a full version upgrade, with a price to match. Sure, there were only a handful of new features, but it was a decent marketing tool to keep the Mac OS alive under Mac OS X arrived.

    In the scheme of things, it’s really hard to understand why Apple is so stingy with its numbering system for Mac OS X, except, perhaps, to postpone the inevitability of Mac OS 11. Indeed, based on Apple’s current operating system schedule, you won’t have to worry about that until the next decade.

    In saying that, though, I wonder about the critics who claim that the difference between Tiger and Leopard is much, much less than the difference between Windows XP and Windows Vista.

    They might even be right, if you simply look at the interface variations between the two versions of Windows. That’s particularly true if you happen to be lucky enough — or rich enough — to have a PC that is powerful enough to run the Aero interface. Alas, far too many PC boxes — particularly cheap note-books and desktops — are saddled with a much less striking appearance.

    Supposedly, Microsoft spent five years toiling over Vista to extensively rebuild the internal components of the system, particularly when it comes to security. I’m not about to dispute that claim. Surely, thousands of Microsoft software engineers didn’t expend billions of dollars of the company’s R&D budget playing video games and eating pizza for lunch.

    To be sure — and despite its notable flaws — Vista represents a considerable amount of work. Yes, even operating system train wrecks can take a long time to build. They don’t just happen by accident, although sometimes you wonder about that when you are exposed to some of Vista’s most blatant flaws.

    And, no, ladies and gentlemen, I don’t need to be reminded of the Copland debacle from Apple in the 1990s. We all know they have had their share of disasters.

    In looking at Leopard, it’s perfectly true that Apple has only altered the interface in subtle ways, at least based on the visual evidence posted so far. Basic functionality appears to be quite similar, which ought to mean that the learning curve won’t be terribly daunting.

    That has been true with previous Mac OS X releases. You can essentially begin with your present store of knowledge about how the system works, and then, over time, discover the various differences. This is quite unlike Vista, where Microsoft has made substantial and arbitrary changes, even in control panel settings, where the things you did before suddenly no longer apply. I suppose they just don’t understand how to manage a usability study.

    In fact, does Apple actually have focus groups and usability studies? They do claim to have been influenced by your requests and my requests, but does that mean there are formal studies to see how a particular interface element or setting functions in the real world?

    Other than developers who sign up with Apple’s paid programs, and perhaps a few favored souls, does anyone outside of Apple formally see prerelease operating systems while they undergo development?

    I know in the old days, I was actually enlisted in Apple’s beta team, but my press credentials got in the way and I was eventually removed from the program. More recently, a selected group of book authors, working on volumes covering a new system, routinely get access fairly similar to what developers receive. Both sign appropriate confidentiality agreements, which means that a book about the new system can’t be released until the system actually ships, but, aside from communicating with your assigned Apple contact about specific questions and/or problems, you really don’t have much impact in shaping the direction of the new operating system.

    Too bad the same authors don’t get access to other Apple software. Imagine how you feel if you just had a book or magazine article published about the latest version of Final Cut Studio, only to see a major upgrade hit the streets soon thereafter. Frustrating, but there’s nothing you can do about it.

    As to Apple’s Mac OS X numbering scheme, that won’t change either. Software version numbers do not have to adhere to specific scientific standards. They can be marketing tools as well, which is something Apple learned long, long ago.


    If you want a free email account, you have lots of options, both small and large. Most of you are probably familiar with the big players in the business, such as Google, Yahoo and, of course, Windows Live Hotmail or whatever they are calling it these days.

    For the most part, these services work pretty well. You get huge amounts of storage space, in the multi-gigabyte range, and the standard features, such as spam filtering. There are even extra-cost options that grant you bigger mailboxes and extra features. Microsoft, for example, gives you the ability to access Hotmail with your own email client if you choose to pay for it.

    But I have more than enough mailboxes, these days, from my own Web host, so I don’t bother to check on my accounts on those three providers very often these days. So I hadn’t realized that Microsoft, in its efforts to clean up its tarnished reputation as a major source of spam, had seriously overreacted.

    Indeed, how often have you received junk mail over the years with Hostmail listed as the sender? All right, to be fair to Microsoft, maybe it wasn’t really from their email servers. Perhaps it the address was faked, and I’ll grant that.

    These days, though, Microsoft’s efforts to protect Hotmail users from the scourge of junk mail have gone astray. Their technology is called SmartScreen, which is a misnomer of the first order, because it’s the dumbest spam filter I’ve ever seen!

    What do I mean? Well, it seems SmartScreen is notorious for taking perfectly benign personal messages and dumping them into its huge black hole. I seldom send messages to Hotmail recipients, so I didn’t catch the issue until some fellow customers of the hosting service we use mentioned the issue in their customer support forum.

    So I worked with my good buddy, Denis Motova, to figure out what went wrong, and it turned out it was just typical behavior for SmartScreen. Indeed, it appears that lots of people have found their messages unfairly declared as spam, and when it happens, the message not only doesn’t get through, it doesn’t get bounced either.

    It almost begins to seem like a government’s tax department in its behavior.

    Worse, you can lose business that way, because you are unable acknowledge or follow up on orders. Since the messages don’t end up on your personal junk mail folder, they are out of sight and out of mind.

    When you ask Hotmail support about the problem you just get some meaningless corporate spin. Certainly nobody in the support area is going to admit the spam filter is broken, but you can also encounter a bureaucratic runaround that’ll tax your patience if you decide to press the issue, as I did.

    In the end, I convinced Hotmail to relent and afford me the privilege of permitting my messages to get through. At least for now.

    Of course, if you have customers using Hotmail addresses, you may not find out that you’re losing business by not being able to reach them until it’s too late. So I would recommend that, until Hotmail fixes the overactive glands on its spam filtering technology, you choose another free email service. It’s not as if you don’t have other — and definitely superior — choices.


    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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