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Newsletter Issue #419

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

Are we too negative on The Tech Night Owl LIVE? I suppose that’s a fair question, and, in fact, one of our loyal listeners said he had enough of the ongoing complaints about an Apple product or feature or another from one of our regular guests. Certainly, the listener is entitled to his opinion, and there’s nothing to stop any of you from fast forwarding past a segment you don’t like, but we do hope you’ll find plenty worth listening to.

This week, we did spend quite a bit of time looking at the positives rather than the negatives. For example, we explored Leopard’s new iChat application and other cool stuff with Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus. It has been a while since Bob joined us. He has been deeply immersed in a number of book projects, and is only just now coming up for air, so to speak.

You also heard from commentator Andy Ihnatko, who came onboard to discuss the iPhone and the new Amazon e-book reader, known as Kindle. In addition, Andy, a well-known movie expert, will also suggested which flicks might be considered “Oscar bait.” But he also took time to mention one popcorn thriller, the latest Die Hard film from Bruce Willis, which he found particularly enjoyable, and I have to agree. Even the fellow who plays the Mac on those TV spots, Justin Long, came across as quite a decent actor in his turn as a computer nerd who plays straight man to Willis’ action-oriented antics.

If you are curious as to how Leopard’s performance compares with Tiger, you’ll be interested in the comprehensive tests performed by Bill Fox at his Macs Only site. Despite the general feeling that Leopard is faster, not all the benchmarks bear this out.

And Denis Motova joined us to explain how to legally send bulk email messages to your customers.

On our “other” show, The Paracast,  we present the episode you asked for! Two fascinating hours with Gene and David, as we just hang out and talk shop.

During this session David will reveal details about another UFO sighting he had as a child, in New Jersey, an encounter he has never before discussed on the show.

Coming December 16: A special look at the state of paranormal research, featuring cutting-edge commentaries from Mac Tonnies and Jeff Ritzmann.

COMPUSA SELF-DESTRUCTS

I used to joke how few people knew anything over at CompUSA, except, perhaps, how to overcharge. This isn’t to say that the Apple “store-within-a-store” was necessarily bad, though. As it was, some of the CompUSA outlets actually had Mac fans on their staff who made a game effort to understand the products they were selling. More recently, they even had Apple reps on board to make sure that the sales environment met corporate standards.

Indeed, it did, as the local Apple person at the CompUSA outlet in Scottsdale, AZ was a wealth of solid information, even extending beyond the company’s core product line. The latest hardware from the “Mother Ship” was always on display, and there was even a small selection of peripherals and software. So you didn’t have to hope you’d accidently run across a cross-platform box or a product elsewhere with the famous Mac OS logo on it.

However CompUSA’s management evidently failed to take heed of the rise of such big box outlets as Best Buy and Circuit City, which also sold personal computers. Add to the list such discounters as Wal-Mart, and you could see the handwriting on the wall.

In fact, there came a time where I pretty much gave up on making a purchase at CompUSA. You could buy the very same products elsewhere for less money, and even their own house brands failed to yield the appropriate discounts.

I suppose, then, that I wasn’t surprised when the fateful decision was made earlier this year to close down more than half of the chain’s stores, including most of the branches in Arizona. Yes, I suppose I did benefit, because I caught a great fire sale price on a second internal SATA drive for my Power Mac G5 Quad.

It’s not that CompUSA didn’t make what I’d regard as a feeble effort to keep up with the times. They experimented with more general consumer electronics, such as flat-panel TVs, DVDs and so forth and so on.

But why, or why, did they stick with a name that didn’t truly represent their products? I mean, would you go to a place named CompUSA to buy a new TV? It’s not that they had a bad selection. I suppose it was all right; that is, until you went to the neighborhood Best Buy and found a far greater variety from which to choose.

Oh sure, you could find a few shelves full of larger laser printers, which are primarily suited towards the business market, but I can’t imagine how many enterprise customers would actually go to a store like that to kick the tires. Merchandise of that sort is usually purchased via direct sales or online.

The real problem, however, is that CompUSA was stuck in the wrong decade; in fact, in the wrong century, and its efforts to modernize were just too little and too late.

I don’t pretend to be an expert about saving a fading retail business, but it’s clear to me that CompUSA had a serious identity problem. Most computer-only stores these days have been supplanted by those large consumer electronics chains, the big box retailers that sell lots of everything. Sure, customer service, despite what the ads claim, is largely non-existent. But you usually go to places like that not to get answers to your questions, but to buy the merchandise you want at a reasonably good price.

Sure, Best Buy has its Geek Squad and Circuit City has its Firedog traveling service facilities, so maybe I’m going overboard a little when I suggest that you can’t get good help these days. However, I have no direct experience with these services, and, even then, they are largely oriented towards the Windows PC and home theater installations. But I do welcome your comments as to how well they do when they make on-site visits.

Returning to CompUSA’s woes, however, other than the pathetic efforts to provide more general-purpose consumer electronics gear, they did absolutely nothing to change their image in any discernible way.

And then, ten months ago, ailing CompUSA closed 125 of their outlets, in the fruitless hope that a leaner, meaner operation would allow them to save the chain. The remaining 106 stores are running huge closeout or fire sales as we speak, and they are expected to be shuttered by the end of the year.

Now in the retail business, it’s a dog-eat-dog environment, and only the fittest survive for the long haul. CompUSA had its chance and failed. I feel, however, for the thousands of employees who will have to seek new jobs in 2008 because they worked for a company that betrayed both its workers and its customers.

THE TECH NIGHT OWL: LIVING LARGE WITH THE DELL 3007WFP-HC 30-INCH LCD DISPLAY

Night Owl Rating: ★★★★★
Pros:
Superb picture, easy setup, built-in card reader, great price.
Cons: Industrial look doesn’t make a fashion statement.

When my wife, Barbara, first heard me suggest that I needed a 30-inch display on my office desk, her eyes glazed over. She thought that a 24-inch was a little too big, but I emphasized to her how I could get my work done more efficiently, and have more time to spend with her. That may have been a threat, and not a promise, I thought, but she said I should go for it.

So why did I consider Dell, when Apple has a perfectly good 30-inch monitor and much snazzier looks? Well, for one thing, Dell happens to make great displays, even if the looks are somewhat industrial. More to the point, they are priced far more affordably, and this is the one significant area where Apple is not competitive, despite occasional price reductions. In fact, as I write this, Dell is offering a $210 “Instant Savings” from their usual $1399.00 price tag on the 2007WFP-HC. In contrast, Apple wants $1799.00 for their comparable product, with no discernible discounts, except for a small figure from a few aggressive third-party resellers.

Now, I’m the practical Virgo through-and-through, and I look at screen, not the casing, so you can tell where my loyalties lie. Besides, Dell  was eager to send me one to test, so I jumped at the chance. My initial comments, a few months back, were extremely favorable, and my feelings haven’t changed one bit.

For those who care about specs, here are the basics: The 3007WFP-HC provides a maximum resolution of 2560 x 1600, contract radio of 1000:1 and a response time of 12 ms. In comparison, the Apple variant provides the same resolution, but with lesser specs otherwise, such as a 700:1 contrast ratio and 16 ms response time.

Understand that the lower the response time, the better fast-motion images appear. Now I did see the advantages of the higher contrast ratio when I compared Dell’s 24-inch model with Apple’s 23-inch, where the former delivered better reproduction of mid-tones. Assuming both Apple and Dell are measuring the same things — and that’s never certain — you can expect the larger display to also afford a noticeable advantage to the same degree.

The “HC” designation, by the way, promises to reproduce a larger color gamut than the previous versions, and that could be a huge advantage to content creators.

In the real world, where I try to live most of the time, everything on the Dell 30-inch is sharp and smooth, with wonderful colors. All of Leopard’s controversial eye-candy is clearly delineated, and movie trailers are equally dazzling.

Setup is little different from an Apple display, and basic color calibration through the Displays preference panel was equally effective at the Dell’s highest brightness setting. About the only change you might want to make is to make sure that the “Font smoothing style” in Mac OS X’s Appearance preference panel is placed on the the “Medium” rather than “Automatic” setting for the best presentation of text.

Aside from the more fashionable looks, the Apple only has a FireWire port, which the Dell lacks, to recommend it, and that’s not a deal-breaker by any means. I have all the FireWire I require on the computer itself. Dell also gives you a built-in card reader, by the way.

Now it may well be that Apple will reinvigorate its moribund display line come 2008, perhaps as early as Macworld. But if you need a superb display at an affordable price — and don’t require the utmost in fashion statements — point your browser in the direction of Dell’s site and have a closer look at their displays. Yes, even the most loyal Mac users will be amazed.

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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