- The Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com/newsletter -

Newsletter Issue #429

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

When you get a representative from the world’s largest software company on a radio show, just what do you ask her, and what sort of answers can you expect?

Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we talked to Microsoft’s Amanda Lefebvre of the company’s Mac Business Unit. Her topic was, as you might gather, Office 2008 for the Mac. Amanda is a personable woman, a great interview, and she has her facts down straight. But don’t expect an official spokesperson to stray from the company line. You don’t do that and keep your job, after all.

So I didn’t talk to her about side issues, such as Microsoft’s attempt to swallow Yahoo whole. That has nothing to do with Microsoft’s Mac software division, and it really doesn’t matter whether the company’s employees like the idea or not. That’s a decision made at the very top of the executive ladder, and only the company’s leadership can speak to the viability of the merger and the consequences. And that assumes they are even fully aware of the potential for disaster if the deal comes to pass.

In another segment, we introduced Matt Mullenweg, the co-founder of the world-famous blogging tool, WordPress. Although Matt is just 24 years of age, he and his colleagues have built WordPress into a world-class application that has been embraced not just by individual bloggers, but by The New York Times and other major publications.

Speaking with Denis Motova and me, Matt delivered a preview of the forthcoming version 2.5 of WordPress, which will support a number of significant changes that are supposed to address ease of use, performance and security.

In another show segment, Intego’s Victor Bishop was on hand to deliver a Mac security update, and Macworld’s Rob Griffiths held forth on the final portion of the show to talk about the recently released Leopard 10.5.2 update, the revised “Take 2” software for Apple TV and other hot tickets on the Mac platform.

On The Paracast this week, Gene and David spend an evening with the inimitable James W. Moseley, editor of Saucer Smear and his designated replacement, cultural anthropologist and UFO researcher Christopher Roth. This is going to be one rollicking session that will focus on UFOs in popular culture and other curious aspects of the phenomenon.

THE MAC IS ON TOP AGAIN!

That tired cliché states that little things mean a lot and when Apple removed the word “Computer” from the corporate name, many people understandably believed that Macs were going to be set on the backburner, letting them fend for itself, more or less.

Certainly you had to believe the critics when Apple failed to give the Mac much play at the 2007 Macworld Expo, at least during the Steve Jobs keynote. Certainly the products were well in evidence over at their display booths. But no new models appeared.

Surely something is going on here, and it can’t be good, or at least that’s what some of you no doubt thought at the time.

Through much of 2007, Mac upgrades were incremental, to take advantage of new processors. Only the fall introduction of an updated iMac with a spiffy, aluminum case reminiscent of the Apple displays revealed any Mac focus on the part of the company’s crack design teams.

So what happened next? Well, iPod unit sales were relatively flat in the final quarter of the year in terms of unit sales, but Macs starred big time, recording over 2.3 million unit sales, which was a company record. Yes, more and more people bought MacBooks and MacBook Pros, but the star of the show was, you guessed it, the iMac!

Come 2008, and the major Mac product announcement, so far, is the MacBook Air. However, unlike other Apple note-books, a thin and light model isn’t going to set the world afire in terms of sales, except,  perhaps, compared to PC note-books in the same category.

After all, a note-book computer of this sort represents a significant compromise in terms of lost features, such as an internal optical drive, wired Ethernet, FireWire and even digital audio. Forgetting the understandably higher price tag, you have to be a dedicated road warrior — or adore high fashion — to consider such a device. The tradeoffs, even then, may be too much to accept.

Forget about using the MacBook Air as a desktop replacement. This is a true second computer that lives inside your note-book bag or overnight suitcase when it’s not being used.

But does that really matter? After all, the Air has its place, and, in fact, it’s priced at a very competitive point compared to the competition on the Windows platform. No, it’s not a second-generation Cube in any respect.

More important, it signifies that Apple hasn’t forgotten its core business. Even though the iPod and iPhone are going to remain significant money generators for years to come, the hub of your digital lifestyle remains the personal computer. There Apple has, after so many years of total frustration, begun to make genuine inroads into the Windows universe, and Microsoft is ending up second best.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt matters that Microsoft shot itself in the foot with a large bullet in developing Windows Vista. First it was delayed over and over again, then significant features were shed. That doesn’t look too great when it comes to marketing the product.

In comparison, just how much got lost in Leopard between the time it was first announced at the 2006 WWDC and its final release in October of last year? Take your time. Oh yes, the ability to use Time Machine to perform a wireless backup, and that’s a feature that may indeed return, and not just on the forthcoming Time Capsule backup device.

Aside from the usual growing pains, Leopard has been an unparalleled success for Apple. At the same time, there is a petition afoot begging Microsoft to keep Windows XP in the product catalog past the current June 2008 deadline. That doesn’t auger well for the public’s true reception to Vista.

Not that Vista is all that bad, mind you. It does appear to be far more secure than XP, but there are lots of concerns. For one thing, it’s a bloated mess of an operating system that requires hefty hardware to perform all its visual tricks. Was Microsoft in cahoots with PC makers to force you to buy new computers to run Vista, or was that one huge mistake?

Or maybe Microsoft wasn’t able to lean it out and still retain a semblance of its original feature lineup. I don’t pretend to understand all the issues that turned Vista into a near-train wreck, but certainly it couldn’t come at a better time for Apple.

Even though Apple probably isn’t making huge inroads into the enterprise market from the front door, it’s a sure thing they aren’t doing bad in the executive suites. Even better, when a company CEO goes to the IT people and asks them to support their new MacBook Pro or iPhone, they can’t exactly say no. Once they learn how to cope with one Mac, adding more to the network is essentially a no-brainer.

Where the Mac sales will plateau is anyone’s guess. So far Apple has kept its real expectations close to the vest, with very conservative guidances for future financial quarters. But as more and more people acquire new Macs, something’s going to change big time.

Maybe some day soon, Windows won’t seem so inevitable a solution for big business. It couldn’t happen fast enough.

BLU-RAY’S HOLLOW VICTORY

Media formats don’t last forever. Once a market gets saturated, the entertainment industry and consumer electronics makers look to improved ways to deliver content, so you can buy not just new product, but all your favorites one more time.

I remember, for example, the great migration from LP to CD. Yes, I know that some of you think that wasn’t any improvement, but I’m not about to get into an analog versus digital war right now, although you’re welcome to express your views in our Comments section.

In any case, the migration from VHS to DVD was more clear-cut. The new discs, the same size as the CD, provided video quality that was superior to that of broadcast TV. It’s no wonder it took off so fast, and today, you can buy a CD player for $40 that, for the most part, is superior to the $800 models that appeared at the dawn of the DVD era.

But with DVD sales falling, and the hope of high definition on the horizon, the consumer electronics powerhouses came up with a way to put HD movies on a DVD. Unfortunately, as in the Beta versus VHS wars of old, they couldn’t agree on a single standard. Thus you had HD-DVD and Blu-Ray. The former was cheaper, the latter had larger capacity, and the movie industry was forced to choose sides, or just pick both.

As of this week, the war may be over. When the largest movie studio, Warner Bros., said they’d settle on Blu-Ray come this spring, major retailers, such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart, got in lock step, and sales of HD-DVD began to tank. The main company behind HD-DVD, Toshiba, is rumored to be ready to write off the whole mess and give it all up, and they are said to be figuring out the best spin to put on their failure.

In passing, it’s interesting to see Sony end up the victor in this case, considering the defeat they suffered with Beta all those years ago.

So you can bet that there will be more and more Blu-Ray titles for sale and that players will soon become quite affordable, particularly when the second-tier brands get into the act. At the same time, it may be too little and too late as far as high definition content delivery systems are concerned.

You see, movie downloads are destined to take over. As broadband speeds improve, and download systems become more efficient, you can see the trends in the air. Apple has begun to offer a limited selection of HD movies to Apple TV owners. Sure, it’s of a lower resolution than Blu-Ray — 720p compared to 1080p — but you won’t see much of a difference unless you have a TV with a screen larger than 50 inches. Even then, the difference fades unless you look real close, or you’re super critical.

That’s one problem, and it will become ever larger in the months ahead as Apple’s repertoire expands. Right now HD movies are rental only, but you can bet the greedy movie studios are just aching to let you buy them too.

The other problem is that a regular DVD looks pretty good on an HD television set. A high-quality set will do a nice job upconverting the DVD signal to the native high definition resolution the unit supports, which improves the picture somewhat. An upconverting DVD player will accomplish a similar task, perhaps with even better results.

When you look at the “smoothed” DVD picture either way, it still isn’t quite high definition, but it’s good enough not to make the difference all that significant unless you’re blessed with a really large screen and the cherished 1080p resolution.

Forgetting the specs, it is true that Blu-Ray’s picture is superior in nearly all respects. But is it going to be so much better that you’d be willing spring for another player and then spend a bundle to upgrade your video library? The movie industry hopes the answer is yes, but that can take years to accomplish. Meantime, the downloading services will develop more efficient ways to deliver the files to you, and, in time, all will have products of comparable quality, and you won’t need a player or a physical disc.

Is that where the industry is going? Is it possible that the final solution to the high definition DVD format war will come too late to make much of a difference? That might be a sick joke for Sony and other Blu-Ray supporters to swallow, but it may well be true. Then again, having the physical DVD with all the extras, including the director’s cut, special features and all the rest, still makes the medium far superior to the downloadable version.

At least for now. But the clock is ticking.

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