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  • Newsletter Issue #413

    October 28th, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Apple scored with terrific numbers in its latest financial report, and Wall Street rewarded the company with another large increase in its stock price. In keeping with that development, we put Apple on the front burner this time out. So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Joe Wilcox, editor of Microsoft Watch, came on board to talk about the prospects for both Apple and Microsoft. He’ll also explained why he sold his iPhone, and therein lies a tale.

    As he explains in the episode itself, the decision was made as a point of protest, because the last update for the iPhone firmware, 1.1.1, disabled unlocked phones. In light of Sprint’s decision to allow you to unlock their phones when you sign up, this may become a significant issue for the future.

    Of course, even with an unlocked iPhone, you only have one other provider that supports the GSM wireless standard in this country, and that’s T-Mobile. In the end, I certainly grant Joe the right to protest and dump his iPhone, but I think his anger is misplaced. It’s not as if he ever intended to switch carriers, since he says he’s happy with AT&T. Indeed, maybe he should be complaining, to them, since it’s probably their influence in this deal that made Apple go after iPhone jailbrakers, although it may just be an unintended consequence of the most recent update. Oh yes, Apple does get a piece of the action, but it’s not as if they’re desperate for the money.

    In another segment, security expert and former industry analyst Rich Mogull discussed the encouraging prospects for greatly enhanced security in Leopard. In addition, Matt Milano, of Infinity Data Systems, introduced you to “Odysseus,” the code-name for a project to create what they regard as the true successor for the Eudora email application, and, no, we don’t mean Mozilla’s Thunderbird.

    And Denis Motova joined me to interview Lisa Sabin-Wilson, author of “WordPress for Dummies.”

    On our “other” show, The Paracast, paranormal and folklore author and lecturer Joseph A. Citro talks about the great mysteries confronted by humankind. Do all paranormal events originate from the same source? That and other issues will be dealt with during this fascinating episode.

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

    THE NIGHT OWL SPECIAL REPORT: THE LEOPARD REVIEW
    Night Owl Rating: ★★★★★

    The first time you gaze at the Leopard upgrade kit, you wonder how something that does so much fits into such a small box. But Apple has taken its environmental pretensions to heart and reduced the extra stuffing in many of its latest software packages — except, of course, for the new Logic Studio, which is positively huge — and rather heavy to boot!

    There’s even a tiny manual that contains something more than a short installation guide for once. In its 80 pages, you actually learn about many of the ultra-slick features that Apple has wrought in Leopard. But you’ll still need the Help menu if you want to explore matters further.

    What you really want to know, though, is just how loudly this cat roars, and it’s deafening!

    Indeed, the most telling comparison I can make between Mac OS X Leopard and Windows Vista is the fact that the former installs reliably, works as advertised and then some, and doesn’t possess any invasive online activation and forced upgrade schemes. In recent days, for example, it’s been reported that Windows OneCare, which is supposed to protect your PC, also happens to turn on automatic updating behind your back, without your permission.

    In fact, there’s no major difference between the way Leopard installs on your Mac and previous versions of Mac OS X.

    A Seamless Upgrade Path

    There has been a fair amount of fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about Apple’s operating system installation process. Indeed, many suggest that you avoid the simple Upgrade Mac OS X scenario at all costs, and, instead, select the Archive & Install, or the Erase and Install options.

    The latter, however, is the most invasive, since it involves wiping your hard drive, though, if you have the full backup you’re supposed to have, it’s not so bad.

    Why is Upgrade such a “bad thing”? Well, the theory goes that Apple’s installation process, which simply upgrades all the system stuff on your hard drive to the new versions, and installs the necessary additions, has its work cut out for it. Tens of thousands of files are going to be copied to your hard drive in a single, lengthy process. Accordingly, you’re facing an uncertain result and things might go badly.

    In practice, if you did add some system enhancement todays, one of the other clean install options might be a better choice. Otherwise, I wouldn’t bother. In fact, I did simple upgrades on two Macs at a client’s home — a first-generation MacBook Pro, and a brand new 24-inch iMac — prior to writing this article. Both installations were flawless and, indeed, so will millions of others.

    Although problems may occur from time to time, they are usually confined to a very slim but vocal minority of a minority. Unfortunately, those are the very people whose claims of doom and gloom show up in prominent Mac troubleshooting forums.

    For my own computers, I did Archive & Install on my 17-inch MacBook Pro simply because I had been running certain legal prerelease software on it. The same holds true for my Power Mac G5 Quad, which had one of its two internal drives erased first. Otherwise I probably would have gone for Upgrade too.

    In any case, prepare to devote at least an hour to the basic Leopard setup process, and add an hour or two if you have to restore your data from another drive.

    Either way, my Leopard upgrade experience has been perfect so far, with one extremely minor glitch noted in the final section below.

    For more guidance on preparing your Mac for Leopard, you’ll want to consult this article, which covers giving your Mac a basic health checkup and backing up your files.

    Features Galore

    Every single review I’ve read covers the basic ten new or updated features in Leopard. Rather than repeat the same laundry list that you’ve read a dozen times already, I’ll give you some quick reactions instead to the features that impressed me the most:

    • Time Machine: Leopard’s showpiece feature has the proper degree of visual “bling,” so I’ll mention it first. The Time Machine interstellar interface is also the default “signature” desktop backdrop for Leopard, so I, of course, switched to it. In short, Time Machine recognizes when you hook up an extra drive — or have one ready to go inside your Mac minitower — and offers to use it for backups. Once you OK the process, that’s all you have to do. After several hours to capture all your data, future backups are incremental — covering just what’s changed — and the whole thing takes advantage of Leopard’s superior multithreading capability, so you barely know it’s happening. If you’re a power user, however, you may still want to use third-party software, which will have far more configuration options. But since only a fraction of you ever bother to backup your data, I recommend Time Machine without hesitation, even if you have to go out and buy a backup drive.
    • Spaces: There have been several Mac applications over the years that offer virtual or multiple desktops or automatic hiding of applications that are open but not being used. Spaces puts a pretty face and simple operation on this scheme. My particular setup divides applications by categories. All browsers go in one space, and the applications used to stream my radio shows go into another. Although some find Spaces a mite flaky, it works fine for me, and everything happens fast with the proper Apple panache.
    • Revitalized Finder: The Mac OS X Finder has its supporters and detractors. Your viewpoint will probably not change, but the simple Sharing label in the Finder’s sidebar makes file and screen sharing (being able to run a networked Mac, or one accessible via your .Mac account by remote control) butter smooth. If a file share disconnects, the Finder keeps on ticking without producing a spinning beachball. Mutiple copying operations are also far less apt to bring your Mac to a screeching halt.
    • Quick Look: Select a file, be it a picture or document in a common format (such as Apple’s Pages or Microsoft Word), press the spacebar, and you can view it without opening it. Boy, what a time saver!
    • Spotlight on Steroids: Tiger’s version of Spotlight was justly criticized for being a tad slow at times, and dumbed down. For Leopard, Spotlight overcomes the performance hangups, adds sophisticated search requests, and such capabilities as application launching, basic calculations and dictionary lookups to the mix. What can I say? It just works!
    • Lesser-known Features: Leopard offers hundreds of features that don’t sound terribly sexy, but provide lots of reassurance and peace of mind, plus loads of functional enhancements. For example, the new Font Book can print out samples of your library and activate fonts on-the-fly when you open applications require them. When you click on the AirPort menu, secured and unsecured Wi-Fi base stations will appear in separate listings. I could go on and on, but the best thing about Leopard is that you can use your Mac in almost precisely the same fashion as you do know, and discover the vast number of changes and enhancements over time. A learning curve is almost nonexistent. Again, take a look at Windows Vista where they changed interface elements for no discernible reason, or perhaps the focus group was on drugs that day.
    • Performance: This isn’t being mentioned too often, but the souped-up Finder conveys the impression of upgrading to a more powerful Mac. Startups seem as quick or quicker than Tiger, and application launches and quits are snappier too. Such applications of Mail and Safari benefit greatly from lots and lots of behind-the-scenes system optimizations. It doesn’t hurt that Apple is offloading more and more processes to your Mac’s graphic card. Let me tell you that it definitely shows. As a matter of fact, the improvement in Mail is so telling that I’ve abandoned the ever-poky Entourage 2004 and have adopted Mail instead as my desktop email client of choice.

    The Bad, But Not So Ugly

    You expect a release as major as Leopard to have some teething pains shortly after leaving the starting gate. Indeed, as this review was written, Apple posted the “Login & Keychain Update 1.0,” designed to address issues when you create passwords of more than eight characters if your Mac ran 10.1 or earlier, connecting to some 802.11b/g Wi-Fi networks, and changing the password of an account protected with FileVault.

    Earlier, there were widespread and lurid reports about alleged blue screens of death following standard Upgrade installations. But the cause has been attributed to be a third-party utility, Unsanity’s Application Enhancer, which is used to provide system access with some utilities. In my case, I encountered the reverse on my PowerMac G5 Quad. I tried to restart, and the screen just hung. After forcing a restart, I discovered the Application Enhancer preference pane, and found an Uninstaller lurking in the Troubleshooting section.

    After the software was zapped, I logged out and in again, and the problem was history. In fact, restarts were noticeably quicker. So here’s a word to the wise: Even if you don’t think you installed Application Enhancer or some other third-party system enhancer, you need to check System Preferences, under “Other,” to see what might be lurking there.

    However, the issue isn’t so clear-cut. Unsanity is claiming that the current version of Application Enhancer seemly disables itself if Leopard is present on your Mac, but older versions might be problematic. The watchword is this: Uninstall system enhancements if you’re not certain they are compatible with Leopard. If you’re not certain you’ve eliminated such “toys,” do not perform an Upgrade install.

    Among other notable issues, some critics are claiming that the see-through menu bar may make the labels hard to see. I suppose that might be true for some desktop designs. But the default Time Machine layout and the standard “blue ocean” motif are perfectly suited to the new semi-transparent look, so this is probably much ado about nothing for most of you. Besides, changing one desktop pattern to another, with a more visible menu bar, is no big deal, unless you must have a particular design.

    Otherwise, my experience with Leopard — so far at least — has been entirely uneventful. If that holds true for the next few weeks, I’ll be able to declare Leopard a totally successful upgrade. That doesn’t, of course, mean there’s no need for a 10.5.1. But I’m not going to lose sleep over it.

    To my way of thinking, Apple has once again shown up Microsoft. Based on the sum of the parts, Leopard is a simply magnificent upgrade. Indeed, it’ll make your older Mac, so long as it’s compatible, feel new again. It’s that good!

    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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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #413”

    1. Jeff Barlow says:

      I’ve had some annoying problems since my original update and install, including sluggish performance, indexing that goes on far too long, and disappearing sound output. I had made some minor system changes in the past and them removed them, so that could have been the culprit.

      Going back and doing a clean installation and importing my user accounts from an external backup created with SuperDuper seems to have helped with the indexing and performance issues, but the speaker icon occasionally disappears from the menu bar and System Preferences claims I have no output device.

      Others have remarked about the changes to the dock far better than I could.

    2. I’ve had some annoying problems since my original update and install, including sluggish performance, indexing that goes on far too long, and disappearing sound output. I had made some minor system changes in the past and them removed them, so that could have been the culprit.

      Going back and doing a clean installation and importing my user accounts from an external backup created with SuperDuper seems to have helped with the indexing and performance issues, but the speaker icon occasionally disappears from the menu bar and System Preferences claims I have no output device.

      Others have remarked about the changes to the dock far better than I could.

      I’m sorry to hear things haven’t gone so smoothly for you.

      What kind of Mac do you have? How much RAM, etc.?

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Jeff Barlow says:

      I’ve got a 1.67 GHz G4 Powerbook with 1.5GB of RAM.

      This are much snappier since I did the clean installation, though. Who knows what was lurking in my system folder?

      Other than the blue blob in the dock, the grey folder icons, and the poor implementation of stacks in the dock, I’m pretty happy with Leopard. I hope the next bug fix includes options for those of us that can’t see as well anymore.

    4. Arch Riker says:

      Hey Gene:

      For years you have been complaining about poor performance with the Finder. Even with the newest and fastest Macs you found that copying and moving files would significantly slow down your system.

      So, is Leopard an improvement in this regard or not??

      arch riker

    5. Hey Gene:

      For years you have been complaining about poor performance with the Finder. Even with the newest and fastest Macs you found that copying and moving files would significantly slow down your system.

      So, is Leopard an improvement in this regard or not??

      arch riker

      I think I said as much in the section, above, entitled “Revitalized Finder.” 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

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