• Newsletter Issue #421

    December 23rd, 2007

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    In an ideal world, we’d invite all our guests to appear in a single, professionally-equipped studio, so they’d all sound perfect, or as close to perfection as they could, in the fashion of a major network broadcast. But that’s just not possible, not even for the most popular talk shows on the planet.

    Many of our guests, for example, talk to us with their telephones, and sometimes it’s a mediocre wireless connection. Others use their headsets on Skype, but the sound quality you get from the dime-store variety hardware doesn’t sound exactly professional either.

    Sure, we compensate a little with the appropriate application of an audio filter during post-production, but, in the end, not everyone we talk to can provide broadcast-quality audio, so we just do our best to make it listenable. But, again, the largest network talk shows must confront many of the same issues.

    Now about The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week: We explored Google’s “knol,” their plans for a new online encyclopedia, and how Wikipedia might be impacted, with Adam Engst, Publisher of TidBITS. He also discussed claims that Leopard is one of 2007’s disappointments, and like me, he felt those claims are absolutely bogus.

    What about Apple and big business? Should Apple ignore the enterprise and continue its emphasis on home and small business users? Well, that’s the viewpoint of developer Alykhan Jetha, CEO of Marketcircle Inc.

    You also heard from Jon Gotow of St. Clair Software on the release of version 4 of his popular (and indispensable) Open/Save dialog box enhancer, Default Folder X. And Denis Motova joined me for a conversation about Google, Microsoft and online privacy.

    On The Paracast this week, we introduce paranormal researcher Dr. Richard Sauder, who explores government conspiracies and underground bases.

    You will hear discussions about such matters as why trillions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money cannot be accounted for, what these funds might be used for, the purposes for those mysterious bases and their possible connection to the UFO mystery and other strange phenomena.

    Coming December 30: Paranormal expert and best-selling author Joel Martin returns with more incredible stories about our strange world and the implications.

    THE BROWSER WARS: TAKE THE ACID2 TEST AND CALL ME IN THE MORNING

    The alleged holy grail of a properly-coded browser is full adherence to prevailing Web standards. The developers of these applications all tout their performance and rendering accuracy, but we all know it’s not necessarily true.

    Internet Explorer, for example, has long been regarded as a major and chronic offender. In large part, this is attributed to Microsoft’s purported desire to dominate the tech industry via its proprietary technology, as much as it can. But in the real world, the end result can be utterly chaotic.

    You have a popular site, for example, grabbing visitors from all computing platforms. But making it look good on all or most browsers can be one huge headache, simply because there are different roads to perfection, or alleged perfection.

    That means that the source code has to have little entries to accommodate, say, the needs of Internet Explorer as opposed to Firefox or Safari.Worse, in making a site fully functional with Microsoft’s browser, there’s the risk of having it become inaccessible when other browsers are used. That, of course, wasn’t the issue if you wanted to ignore Macs and the site was built when Internet Explorer held over 90% of the market.

    With the rise of Firefox and Safari, and Internet Explorer’s steady decline, the world has turned upside down, for the better.

    Even Microsoft has been forced to respond to this new competition. Would Internet Explorer 7 have been pushed with major feature enhancements had Firefox not been successful?

    And now, even Microsoft is claiming that its forthcoming Internet Explorer 8, promised as a public beta some time in the first half of 2008, will actually pass the infamous Acid2 rendering test.

    What’s that?

    Well, according to the folks at the Web Standards Project, who created this exceedingly rigorous test of a browser’s display performance: “Acid2 is a test page for web browsers published by The Web Standards Project (WaSP). It has been written to help browser vendors make sure their products correctly support features that Web designers would like to use. These features are part of existing standards but haven’t been interoperably supported by major browsers. Acid2 tries to change this by challenging browsers to render Acid2 correctly before shipping.”

    The test is easily accessed and takes no more than a second or two to complete. If your browser is up to stuff, you’ll simply see a smiley face. If support is lacking in some fashion, the face will be distorted and maybe even covered partly or completely in red.

    True to form, Firefox 3.0b2, the latest prerelease, passes the test appropriately, as does Safari 3 and Opera 9.25. As far as Internet Explorer 7 is concerned, well, what can I say? It was a mixture of a broken smiley and a large red banner extending across the page.

    If you think I’m just a Mac fanboy (well, I’m way too old to be categorized as a “boy” in any case), go ahead and check it for yourself. Today’s Internet Explorer is sadly broken and I hope, for everyone’s sake, that their development team isn’t making just another false promise for a product that will never see the light of day, or will be released extremely late and in a severely crippled form.

    Understand that passing Acid2 doesn’t mean that all your HTML and other content will look the same in every single browser. There’s still lots and lots of room for mischief, and plenty of variations that will require you to make a few compromises on a complex site. But at least it’s possible to strike a balance that should work reasonably well — except for Internet Explorer of course.

    Now when it comes to playing the blame game for the browser mess, I put it squarely on the shoulders of Microsoft and its efforts to say it’s my way or the highway. You see, Microsoft probably never really prepared for the Internet early on. When they decided to bamboozle Netscape and take over the market, they acquired Spyglass, a pioneering browser, and modified it rather than build such an application themselves from scratch.

    Frankly, earlier versions of Internet Explorer weren’t bad. The Mac version, for example, was reasonably fast and light, and had some features that were innovative for their time, such as automatically scaling a site’s content to fit the printed page.

    Netscape, in contrast, made serious strategic blunders, such as folding in an email client and other unnecessary add-ons and combining it al into a slow, buggy, bloated mess of an application. They lost the market, and deservedly so, even though Microsoft didn’t always play by the rules.

    Microsoft, on the other hand, deserved to get a spanking from the U.S. Department of Justice and the European Union for their shady marketing tactics. They have the money and the staff to build state-of-the-art products every single time, but they chose to dominate by stealth and deceit and strong-arm tactics.

    With Microsoft finding itself in the dilemma of suffering falling market shares, and with Bill Gates no longer at the top planning their latest marketing schemes, maybe they’ll learn something new. Maybe they’ll learn that, in the 21st century, they have to build the best product to stay on top. That, it and of itself, will be a huge revolution.

    THE TECH NIGHT OWL: LONG-TERM TESTS: LATE 2007 EDITION

    Most of the time, when a reviewer probes a new product, the encounter is going to be short. Apple, for example, even gives its prime-time reviewers, such as my friend David Pogue of The New York Times, and Wall Mossberg of The Wall Street Journal, a limited advanced view of a new product before it has to be returned.

    Regular people also get a brief period of face time with the product before Apple requires its return. No exceptions, my friends, and, no, you can’t buy the product at a reduced price, as you can with some companies.

    Regardless, that makes it difficult to see if an iPhone, iPod, or Mac will survive the rigors of regular use and abuse without suffering damage. Contrast that to the long-term tests you see in auto magazines, where they buy a car, hold onto it for a year or two, and print ongoing reports of its performance and reliability.

    You never see that with Macs, and even software gets short shrift on the long haul, so I’m going to list just a few products that I’ve been exposed to for at least a year or more, just to let you in on my personal experiences. Understand this information is very much anecdotal and subjective, and thus may be at total odds with your experiences with the very same products.

    • Apple 17-inch MacBook Pro: This note-book was acquired in May 2006, within days of its official release. I installed a second 1GB RAM stick before putting it into service, and it’s had what you might regard as significant changes since then. The stock 120GB hard drive was upgraded to 160GB, and the standard 802.11g AirPort card was replaced with an 802.11n version. It’s also had one repair. You see, an audio plug was somehow broken, and the tip embedded itself in the MacBook Pro’s analog/digital audio port. Getting it loose proved difficult, so I opted to replace the left I/O board, at a cost of $67 plus labor. My special thanks to the folks at Re-Mac, an authorized Apple reseller in Scottsdale, AZ, for a great job at a fair price.
    • Power Mac G5 Quad: Knowing that an Intel-based version was probably just a few months away, I acquired this computer in March 2006, and stuffed it with 4.5GB of RAM. It also sports two internal 500GB drives, and, with great persistence, I finally got an ATI Radeon X1900 graphic card to function under Leopard, so I’m happy. That is, until the next Mac Pro upgrade, when I might take the plunge. My Power Mac has been a happy camper, with no complaints. Even Tiger worked just about perfectly, but Leopard is even better. And ignore those claims that Leopard performs poorly on a PowerPC-based Mac. This particular model demonstrates that isn’t always the case. So what else can I say?
    • LG VX8600: This is the clamshell and user-friendly (so to speak) version of Verizon’s “Chocolate” phone. No, I don’t bother with Verizon’s overpriced music downloads. Strictly as a wireless handset, it’s quite good in terms of signal reliability and sound. It comes pretty close to a landline, they tell me, and it’s easily paired with Bluetooth headsets and hands-free car audio setups. I’ve had it over a year now, and I’m reasonably pleased with it. Forget the hideous user interface, lame Web access, and convoluted contact list configuration process. This phone is designed to make and receive phone calls without calling attention to itself, and that’s where LG succeeds admirably. But I still want an iPhone, assuming I can rely on AT&T to deliver decent wireless service, and I’m not yet certain about that.
    • Canon PIXMA MP830 All-In-One: I’ve gone through several multifunction printers, all with copying, faxing, printing and scanning. By far, this is the best. Sure, it lacks an Ethernet adapter, but Mac OS X’s printer sharing is a worthy substitute. It sends and receives black and white and color faxes as rapidly as the state of the art allows. Scanning and copying both rate well, and it’s the only multifunction I’ve seen that offers output speeds and print quality to match a standalone. Canon’s ink tanks cost less than $15 each (it requires five), and thus the cost per copy is as good as an inkjet can be. Even better, Canon still lists it in their current lineup, at $249.99. It’s a steal at that price, and if you can get one at a discount and/or with a rebate, get one for your home or office.

    I had considered listing my recent automotive experiences, but I’ll await until I have the patience to cover the auto industry again. But it won’t be long. I also have some other products that have survived extended use in good shape, and I’ll have more to say about that in next week’s issue.

    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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