As some of you know full well, we have several online forums. The most active, as you might expect, is the one for our paranormal radio show, The Paracast. We sometimes get well over 200 messages per day, with a forum that’s probably about 20 months old, and I think that’s pretty damn good. It’ll exceed 300 real soon now.
Well, we’ve been working hard improving all the forums, and we have configured our Quick Theme feature, which you see at the bottom right of a forum page, where you can choose from among six “skins” to make them look and work the way you want. More important, we’ve done what we can to make our forums fast, clean, and easy to navigate, so you can easily find the messages that interest you and post your comments.
Bear in mind, that we don’t censor very much, except for extreme situations. So if the choice of language from some of our forum members is very frank, that’s the reason.
If you haven’t given them a try, what are you waiting for?
Up till now, I have regarded the MacBook Air as rather a specialized product. It is great for the dedicated road warrior who wants something light, but with most of the essential features of a standard-sized note-book. That means, unlike most of the Windows counterparts, a standard keyboard and decent screen size.
However, by abandoning built-in FireWire, gigabit Ethernet networking and an optical drive, I felt that many potential customers wouldn’t buy one. The tradeoffs are just too much, at least for me.
But on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we talked to two MacBook Air users who had extremely positive experiences to offer.
In the case of commentator Kirk McElhearn, the Air is his second computer. He doesn’t travel a whole lot, but it’s easy for him to take it to his bedroom, catch up with writing assignments and email and other light-duty chores. When it comes to Macworld’s Editorial Director, Jason Snell, it’s a totally different story. The Air is his work computer, a true desktop replacement, traveling with him from home to office and back again. While at the office, it’s connected to a 23-inch Apple HD Cinema Display, and he says he’s perfectly delighted with its performance and features. Two sides of the coin, but maybe that’s why the MacBook Air has been selling out since day one.
In another show segment, Benjamin Rudolph of Parallels discussed the latest features of Parallels Desktop and the ongoing development of Parallels Server.
On The Paracast this week, we present a special event we’ve been working hard to deliver: World-class UFO researcher Dr. Jacques Vallee makes his first visit to The Paracast. And, yes, there will be an encore some time in April.
Coming March 16: Pilot and UFO researcher Don Ledger discusses the Stephenville, Texas and Shag Harbor, Nova Scotia UFO cases.
The conventional wisdom has it that Apple doesn’t really care so much about the enterprise. They have made tons of money from consumers, educational users and small businesses, and the sacrifices required to go to big companies hasn’t appealed to Apple.
At least so far.
It’s not that Apple hasn’t been interested in business users. Quite often, though, they enter a company via the back door, through a company executive who tries a Mac or an iPhone and just loves it. Then the IT people are exhorted to add Apple support to the mix.
The other route is a company’s art department, where the majority of content creators still want their Macs, even though most of the software they will ever use comes in a Windows version.
If things had continued in this fashion, I don’t think Apple would have reason to complain. Their sales and profits would continue to rise. However, when it comes to Apple, never say never. Things may be about to change big time.
Several factors appear to be converging, and Microsoft is suffering in one area, while benefiting in another. First of all, businesses have been reluctant to embrace Windows Vista, which they still regard as buggy and slow. Besides, the standard office PCs won’t run it with decent performance, so they stick with XP for now. But when it comes time to buy new PCs, they are increasingly looking towards Macs.
The other factor is the incredible success of the iPhone. Even though Apple designed it with consumers in mind, business owners are preferring it more and more to the BlackBerry and other smartphones.
This week, we saw the first glimpse at Apple’s reinvigorated efforts to embrace the enterprise in a surprisingly orthodox fashion.
At first, there were ubiquitous rumors of enhanced support for Microsoft Exchange email servers, which are quite popular with larger concerns. Up till now, Apple Mail has been able to access some Exchange features, but it required network administrators adding support for IMAP mail. Calendar and event support was half-hearted and hardly worth the bother.
Now Microsoft Entourage 2008 does offer decent Exchange support. But it’s still not complete, which seems odd considering that it shouldn’t be so difficult to make it as friendly to Exchange as Outlook for Windows. But that’s Microsoft for you. It seems they have to be dragged kicking and screaming to improving Exchange support on the Mac.
So what did Apple do as part of the release of its iPhone SDK? As you learned this past week, they went to Microsoft with cash in hand and licensed ActiveSync. This will enable the iPhone, come the 2.0 firmware release in June, to become a fully compliant client for Exchange services. In other words, it’ll work as well or better in such setups as any other smartphone.
Suddenly, the folks at RIM, creator of the BlackBerry, have a lot to fear, since Apple has become a full-time competitor right on their turf. Exchange support, Cicsco VPN and other features will make it easy for IT people to configure iPhones en masse and also wipe them clean of data when a phone is stolen or an employee is told to find a job elsewhere.
That, and the expected iPhone upgrade to support AT&T’s speedier 3G network this summer, may indeed mean that the 10 million sales goal will not just be attained, but might be exceeded by a healthy margin. And it’ll come very much at the expense of the rest of the smartphone market.
But where does that leave Macs? If Apple has no compunctions about licensing Microsoft technology when appropriate — and Microsoft never refuses a check — will we start seeing a greater push to market Macs to the enterprise as well?
That won’t be easy. They might even have to be ready to handle production runs of thousands of Macs that eschew certain features, such as built-in Web cams and remote sensors, in order to be acceptable in a working environment where people are expected to be productive, not use their computers for their entertainment value.
It would also mean that Apple would have to set up a large sales staff or contract with more independent resellers, in order to make the regular sales calls and otherwise entice businesses to go Mac. I would also think they’d have to set up an expanded team of trainers to help IT people convert systems from Windows to Macs, and provide appropriate retraining for employees. You see, just shutting down your PC one day, and booting a Mac the next can be confusing to folks who never used them before.
Is this something Apple is, after all these years, willing to do? Well, if the iPhone’s upcoming enterprise support is any indication, the answer, my friends, is yes with a bullet.
Several years ago, I had my first exposure to VoIP telephone service as a result of an interview with a Vonage Vice President. They gave me a short trial, and I soon signed up as a regular member. It was great being able to pay less than $25 for unlimited calling to the U.S. and Canada, but the system wasn’t perfect. Occasionally there would be outages, but Vonage lets you have your calls automatically forwarded in the event the network was unavailable. Support for full 911 service, in case of an emergency, was hit or miss until the FCC stepped in and mandated it.
So I kept my landline.
Vonage, unfortunately, had its share of growing pains, customer service deteriorated, and I ran into peculiar problems, such as the inability to navigate a company’s phone menus via a handset’s touch tones. Finally I tried a pair of other companies, the latest being VoIPYourLife, which had the added benefit of superior audio quality.
Alas, VoIPYourLife had a few downsides during the time I used their service. Occasionally connection quality would become perfectly awful, although hanging up and calling again would often fix the problem. Well, usually.
Worse, their router, which was installed behind my AirPort Extreme base station so it wouldn’t reduce connection speeds, would lose its static IP settings and would have to be reset. Customer service began to deteriorate. Two weeks ago, I called about the IP number change phenomenon, and, after 50 minutes on hold, got a downright rude service person who proceeded to tell me I could not get administrator access to my own router. Then he gave me the incorrect access info at first, although I finally did make it work.
For a while.
But, now that Vonage has apparently overcome some of its most serious difficulties by settling with the companies that sued them over patent infringement, I decided to give them another whirl. This time, I opted for a slightly more expensive plan that included flat-rate calling to 17 countries.
The new Vonage router is no longer a rebranded and slightly modified conventional Internet router, and the hookup process benefits. Whether you connect it directly to your cable or DSL modem, or behind a regular router, it configures itself automatically in a matter of minutes.
Even better, I no longer have problems navigating phone menus on my office phone, and customer service seems a whole lot better. I do have a minor issue, where the Caller ID display places two number ones ahead of the area code instead of just one. It may be an incompatibility with my AT&T 974 business phone, because the symptom isn’t visible on my regular Panasonic cordless phones.
I contacted Vonage tech support, which is clearly in an overseas location, but the support person I reached had a good understanding of English, and spent well over 30 minutes trying to solve the problem, including making several callbacks for testing. Finally he passed it off to Level 2 support for a resolution, but I really appreciated his dedication. That’s how you keep customers.
In the end, of course, the independent Internet phone providers might be supplanted — or acquired by — the traditional telecom or cable companies. For now, things are working just fine.
I’m also in my third month using AT&T wireless. Signal quality has improved somewhat, possibly because of the recent iPhone 1.1.4 update that reportedly improved reception in areas where the signal was somewhat weaker. Regardless, connection quality is, in this area at least, on a par with Verizon, and audio quality is noticeably better. I haven’t run into any tech support horror stories yet. Maybe I’m just lucky, but I really dig my iPhone and I hope I’ll have no regrets when contract renewal time nears.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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