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Newsletter Issue #422

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

I suppose doing year-end wraps is normal, not to mention traditional, and it doesn’t always make sense to be different for the sake of being different. So we did our share, too, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week. First, we brought on board industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group, who said, based on industry reports, that the iPod remains the market leader, and that the Zune remains essentially stagnant. He also talked about the ongoing success of HDTV, and if you didn’t get a high definition set for the holidays, maybe you should check out the after-Christmas sales and save a bundle.

You also heard a choice selection of pithy comments about the year’s tech developments with our own Special Correspondent David Biedny and Macworld’s Jason Snell.

When it comes to David, of course, everything he says will be frank and to the point and, indeed, in this particular session, he had lots to say about the fact that software just hasn’t kept up with the huge increases in PC processing power in recent years. Other than a handful of high-end rendering applications, for example, just how have you benefited from the dual-core Intel chips that are at the heart of every single Mac, except for the twin quad-cores on a high-end custom configured Mac Pro?

As usual, applications simply add more bloat to compensate, so you are left with few benefits. I suppose you can easily blame Adobe and Microsoft — particularly the latter — as chronic offenders. Time will tell. But I will hold off on ragging on Microsoft again until I’m ready to talk in detail about the forthcoming Office 2008 for the Mac.

In Jason’s segment, he also added some commentary about the state of the writer’s strike and how it is affecting the current TV season. Since this walkout appears to have no immediate conclusion, Jason feels that the entire TV paradigm of seasons beginning in September and January (with the exception of the cable networks) may fall by the wayside. You may, instead, see shows premiering all through the year, as they are ready to be inserted into the schedules.

And Denis Motova joined me to present our new “Tech Junkies” segment. First, we talked about how Linux fares as a desktop operating system, followed by our experiences with the newest 24-inch and 30-inch LCD displays from none other than Dell.

On The Paracast this week, paranormal expert and best-selling author Joel Martin returns with more incredible stories about our strange world and the implications.

ARE CHRONIC LEOPARD BUGS GETTING A FAIR HEARING?

The other day I heard from a long-time friend, a former member of a forum I managed on AOL way back when. He has an engineering degree, and worked for many years as the chief sound engineer for a famous singer (now deceased), so he definitely knows his hardware.

He’s also a Mac loyalist, and has earned his stripes by working with Apple’s hardware and software from the earliest days. In all fairness, some of his experiences are stellar, which is why he continues to use Macs. But he’s had his share of problems too, and lately he’s been keeping tags on Leopard’s rough edges.

Rough edges?

Didn’t I say in an earlier column that my experiences with Leopard have been terrific? Indeed I have. And, despite the fact that Apple’s own discussion forums and those Mac troubleshooting sites are littered with hundreds of reports of anomalous behavior, system crashes, and performance issues covering a host of setups, little has been nailed down so far.

So what are we to suppose here? I have been suggesting that many of the problems may be traced to third-party products, both hardware and software, and their interactions with Leopard. Either way, application and driver updates ought to set things right, assuming that Apple doesn’t have to do its part as well.

Unfortunately, two months into the Leopard era, and some products still lack proper updates. Apple, however, got its 10.5.1 update out within weeks, and there are hot rumors of a sprawling 10.5.2 release expected early in January. I don’t know about that, but I know that a 10.5.2, a 10.5.3 and other updates are inevitable over the coming months. Just look at Apple’s history and you’ll see what I mean. Assuming Leopard has a shelf life of two years before 10.6 arrives, you can expect a bunch, mostly arriving at one to two-month intervals.

After all is said and done, you may remember Leopard as the best Mac OS of all, in the same fashion that Tiger gets similar high praise now. But that doesn’t mean some of you still aren’t suffering massive migraines from the problems you’re experiencing.

I want to tell you that I really do feel your pain. I am concerned whenever Mac users cannot get the most from their computers. I’m also troubled by the prospect that recent Mac switchers may try a Mac for size, and give up simply because they got a configuration that doesn’t just work as they expected it to do.

Sure, I regard the Windows platform as far worse, and Windows Vista as a significant sore point for Microsoft. Now maybe the forthcoming Vista Service Pack, now available to the public as a release candidate, will fix the worst ills. But businesses remain exceedingly cautious and most are sticking with Windows 2000 and Windows XP for their mission-critical services, such as bank transactions and other key functions.

But that doesn’t mean a bad first impression on a Mac won’t set the recent convert scurrying back to the devil they know rather than the one that remains unfathomable to them.

In the meantime, I have managed to solve the minor issues I have had with Leopard in rather a roundabout way. One involved the ATI Radeon X1900 graphics card on my Power Mac G5 Quad. You see, I had to switch to the low-powered NVIDIA card that shipped with the computer after installing Leopard, because it wouldn’t complete the boot process with the Radeon inside.

I contacted both ATI (now owned by AMD) and Apple about it, and they engaged in pointing fingers at each other. ATI said it was up to Apple to provide Leopard-compatible drivers for their products, whereas Apple said it’s all ATI’s fault. In the end, they were both guilty, because I found a workable solution without their advise and counsel.

You see, all I did was reinstall the original ATI drivers, shut down and restart with the X1900 card installed. Everything worked fine. The software comes with the ATI Displays preference panel and a few other kernel extensions, but doesn’t seem to replace the more recent ATI files Apple provides. The combo runs perfectly. In fact, startup and shut-down times are much faster than with NVIDIA’s card, and the G5 can drop into sleep mode almost instantaneously, with just a minimal pause.

So I’m a happy camper, but I wonder why ATI couldn’t figure out this simple solution, not to mention Apple.

The other oddity I’ve had is with Microsoft Word 2004. I could not get it to print with the software for my Lexmark C780 color laser installed, even if I used a totally different printer with totally different drivers. If I reset the print system, which apparently removes the Lexmark drivers, it’s fine, but the generic PostScript drivers don’t support the Lexmark’s unique features.

My solution, a result of desperation rather than inspiration, was to pick an older Lexmark product, the C770, from Apple’s default printer profiles. The printers are similar enough not to make any apparent difference in output quality. Now Word 2004 works fine. As for Word 2008, I’ll have more to say on that early in the New Year.

Meantime, I want to assure all of you loyal and long-suffering readers that I take those reports of trouble with Leopard extremely seriously. If you have a problem, feel free to post a comment here with as much information as you can. We plan on following up on these ongoing issues on a regular basis, and if you have as solution, share it with us, please.

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

Last week, I gave you my experiences with four products that have managed to withstand the test of time after lots of use and perhaps abuse at my hands, and the hands of my family.

But that was only the beginning. I have lots more information to share, so consider this the very first sequel:

There you have it: A list of my favorite products, all of which have survived on the long haul. There are others that I’ll mention from time to time, and I certainly welcome your experiences, good or bad.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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