• Newsletter Issue #428

    February 10th, 2008


    One problem you encounter when you do a talk radio or TV show is a guest cancellation. Now usually it doesn’t happen because a guest is chickening out, or thought better of the idea of coming n the program. Quite often, it’s due to something beyond their control.

    Take the representative from Microsoft’s Mac BU, who was booked to record a segment on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week. Several hours before the scheduled interview, one of Microsoft’s public relations people wrote me to report that the guest had a family emergency and would not be able to participate. I do hope everything is all right now, as we postponed the session for a week.

    Meantime, we were able to get another guest in time for the broadcast. But you can bet there was some tension in these parts for a while, but everything turned out all right in the end.

    On this week’s episode, the Night Owl covered the uproar over Microsoft’s planned hostile takeover of Yahoo We presented the reactions and important insights on this startling announcement from Joe Wilcox, Editor of eWeek’s Microsoft Watch and Galen Gruman, Executive Editor of InfoWorld.

    During my session with Wilcox, he expanded on his revelation, first voiced a few months back, that he had sold his iPhone because he was angry at Apple. Why? Well, because they released a firmware update that bricked unlocked phones. As you probably gathered from my response on the show, I found it difficult to accept his logic — and I suspect most of you would agree with me. But I’ll expand on that subject in the next article.

    As a special added attraction, Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith was on hand to let you in on the magazine’s latest benchmarks for the MacBook Air, Mac Pro and even Microsoft Office 2008. Indeed, the performance results for the first two aren’t terribly surprising. But as you’ve already heard, it seems that Office 2008 suffers from some performance bottlenecks on a PowerPC Mac, although it runs at a fairly decent clip, except for application launch times, on the Intel models.

    Coming February 14: Now that Microsoft Office 2008 for the Mac has been shipping for several weeks, the company’s Mac Business Unit joins the Night Owl to talk about the the suite’s spiffy new Mac-only features.

    On The Paracast this week, Gene and David spend an evening with anthropologist C. Scott Littleton, Ph.D. discusses the “Battle of Los Angeles” UFO case of 1942, plus UFOs and the paranormal in Japan and similar incredible events throughout human history.

    Coming February 17: The inimitable James W. Moseley, editor of Saucer Smear and his designated replacement, investigator Christopher Roth. This is going to be one rollicking session.


    Imagine if you were one of the hundreds of thousands of people who waited for the iPhone to be released, and you ended up buying one. Although you were pretty satisfied with the product, you got upset with Apple, and sold it a few months later.

    Despite the fact that the iPhone has extremely high levels of customer satisfaction, no product is perfect. But why would someone who likes their iPhone decide to give it up?

    That’s the question I asked on the tech show this week, when I talked with former industry analyst Joe Wilcox. Although he covers Microsoft these days, Wilcox owns Macs, and has always had a soft spot in his heart for Apple. But they did something that rubbed him the wrong way, so he sold his iPhone in protest.

    So what did Apple do? Well, it seems that one of the iPhone updates had the side-effect of bricking — or disabling — units that were unlocked through one of those third-party jailbreaking programs. Now, if you bought a hot-selling gadget for $599 or even the reduced price of $399, I can understand being upset of it’s turned into a door stop.

    But what if your phone was never affected?

    That, indeed, applies to Wilcox. He remained a loyal customer of AT&T, and never applied that jailbreaking software to remove the ties that bound him to a single carrier.

    Wilcox says he believes that Apple did the wrong thing by releasing an update that would disable certain phones, even though they were not used in the approved fashion.

    Of course, this raises a whole can of worms and, to be blunt, I think Wilcox, though no doubt well-meaning, has this all wrong. I do not think that breaking iPhones was the intent of recent firmware upgrades, even if they had that side effect.

    You see, when someone jailbreaks an iPhone, that particular hack succeeds strictly by exploiting a security hole. That’s the same sort of security hole that can be used to spread malware, or just take control for all sorts of nefarious purposes.

    So when Apple released an update that closed that security link, it was a good thing. It wasn’t necessarily done to hurt iPhone users who unlocked their phones. It was done in large part for your protection. For that, they should be praised, not condemned.

    More to the point, the consequences of running these upgrades on an unlocked phone should have come as no surprise. As the tech press reported at the time, Apple made it very clear what might happen. Indeed, when you downloaded the upgrade via iTunes, you received the same warning, which was repeated after you began the process.

    I don’t see where they could have made any of this more obvious, except to people who just don’t read instructions.

    But it’s not fair to say that it just serves them right for daring to use their iPhones in an unauthorized fashion. After all, when you pay hard-earned money for something, you should have the freedom to use it for just about any lawful purpose, even crushing it to pieces, if that’s your thing.

    While I don’t agree with Wilcox, I do think Apple might have made the consequences of unlocking your iPhone less-than-fatal. Now I don’t pretend to know whether such a thing is possible, but wouldn’t it make sense for Apple to provide a way to restore your bricked iPhone?

    I would not suggest that this should be done free. Instead, I would think that Apple should charge an appropriate penalty, say $99, to restore your disabled iPhone if it was unlocked. The restoration should be performed on a one-time basis, no second chances possible.

    To be sure, third parties would step in to handle repeat offenders. I think that would have been a proper solution.

    These days, though, bricked iPhones are no longer in the news. Today the lion’s share of attention is devoted to whether sales are tanking. Of that, I’m skeptical. People still look with wonderment on my iPhone, and I’ve met many people who either own one, or know someone who does.

    As to Joe Wilcox: My friend, I think you made a big mistake. But you’re entitled to your opinion, wrong-headed or not.


    After being a loyal subscriber to XM Satellite Radio for a couple of years, I finally had a chance to spend an extended amount of time using Sirius.

    Now as most of you know, Sirius is in the process of merging — make that acquiring — XM. But this is no easy process, as the U.S. government is taking a long and hard look at the process. You see, back when the satellite system was first approved, the two companies basically agreed to remain competitors.

    Of course things change, and it seems as if agreements don’t always apply when corporations and governments are involved. But it’s also true that when Sirius and XM first went into business, you didn’t have Podcasts, HD radio and other alternatives to compete with.

    So it may well be that the two satellite companies have the right idea here. They continue to bleed red ink in huge drops, and, with a recent decline in sales, it’s not altogether clear when and if they will ever be profitable businesses staying separate.

    If and when the merger is consummated, the two services will be combined, with various packages offering all or part of the programming lineup. However, except for a few high-profile entertainers, such as shock jocks Howard Stern and Opie and Anthony, plus different sporting events selections, many of the programming choices are pretty much the same.

    Both, for example, offer commercial free music of various genres and eras. The cable news networks, such as CNN and Fox, are also represented, and there are similar lineups of talk shows. You’ll also find near-identical channels offering classic radio programs.

    In terms of the end product, I’ve listened to both Sirius and XM in high-end automobiles for an extended period; both had top-of-the-line audio systems. Well I’d prefer a more direct comparison, I felt the compressed audio from XM seemed superior. Voices sounded more natural, although I didn’t hear all that much of a difference with music.

    In my office, I’ve not been able to get a decent signal from Sirius. It may be the equipment, but until I have a better handle on the situation, I won’t blame it on a specific product.

    With XM, I was able to get a good, reliable signal in just a few minutes, simply by pointing the satellite antenna in the appropriate northeast position from my location. The Sirius antenna is similar, and it is supposed to be positioned in pretty much the same direction. However, try as I might, I could never get a listenable signal for more than a few minutes at the time. I even positioned the antenna on a window sill, with little if any improvement.

    It may just be my location, though the two automobiles with which I experimented had essentially similar reception capability, with only rare drop-outs.

    As far as I’m concerned, I don’t really think that I will lose anything in the way of broadcast entertainment if XM and Sirius became one. But I also believe that an agreement is an agreement, and the FCC should exact appropriate concessions if they allow this deal to go through.

    I would, however, hate to see both die if the merger doesn’t come to pass, simply because they can’t go it alone.


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

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