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Newsletter Issue #439

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

Several books have been written about what makes Steve Jobs tick, at least according to authors who never actually viewed their subject, and they probably focus as much on his personal foibles as his business life. In writing “Inside Steve’s Brain,” author Leander Kahney, who also brought us “The Cult of Mac,” the reader learns a whole lot more about what makes Apple tick.

How, for example, does Apple manage to excel among most other tech companies and build one iconic product after another? On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Kahney said that Steve Jobs is no one-man-band. He has assembled a team of brilliant designers and engineers, working in small teams, who have somehow managed to make miracles.

During this episode, you also heard from InfoWorld Executive Editor Galen Gruman on the increasing acceptance of Macs in the enterprise. I cover this a little more in this issue’s featured commentary. The crux of this is that, after rejecting Macs year after year as not having enough software and too hard to integrate, businesses are fast changing their tune.

Gruman is also a noted desktop publishing guru and he also covered the status of the great desktop publishing wars involving Adobe InDesign and QuarkXPress.

Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith was on hand to tell you what enhancements can make the Mac Pro workstation even more powerful. And Denis Motova explained what the phrase “managed hosting” really means.

Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, join us for a special uncensored “X-Conference 2008” episode, where we break the mold. Stay tuned for the unexpected, as David, Dr. Sue, Jeff Ritzmann and Jeremy Vaeni encounter such controversial paranormal personalities as Jim Diletosso and talk show host Rob Simone in a bar and famed UFO photo analyst Dr. Bruce Maccabee in an impromptu roundtable discussion.

Caution! The bar room segment has a lot of background noise, and some of the conversation may be difficult to understand. In addition, this special episode will only have limited commercial inturruptions and explicit language will not be censored!

APPLE GOES UP, MICROSOFT GOES DOWN

Although couched in an expected and extremely positive spin about future earnings, Microsoft didn’t have an awful lot to crow about this past quarter. Income from Windows was rather lackluster, even though sales of new PCs are on the increase around the world.

So what’s at work here, and why the disparity?

Well, one alleged reason is that a large portion of the increase in PC sales are in the third world, where computers are sold without Microsoft’s operating system and, they tell us, Windows and Office are often pirated.

But worse for Microsoft is the fact that the sales of new Macs continue to exceed analyst expectations, and are going through the roof. However, Microsoft has so far not chosen to address that troubling issue.

Worse for Microsoft, nobody is suggesting that situation is going to change anytime soon, and the fact that a reported 50% of Mac buyers at Apple’s retail stores are new to the platform — and I’ll take the figures as accurate even if it’s an open question how they were compiled — clearly means that Microsoft has something to fear.

Indeed, what’s even more telling is the fact that a growing number of businesses are more readily taking Macs seriously than ever before. On this week’s tech show, for example, InfoWorld’s Executive Editor, Galen Gruman, discussed the growing number of positive experiences companies have reported adding Macs to their offices.

It’s a rare, rare thing to encounter the reverse, where company that transitioned to Macs chose to go back to Windows. Where it does happen, according to Gruman, the IT people evidently rushed things too quickly and didn’t take the time to consider all the possible pitfalls of such a major migration. You see, it’s never a matter of just turning off the PCs and turning on the Macs, and a company that thinks it’s so seamless is going to be asking for trouble.

Bear in mind, though, that not all sales of new Macs mean a lost sale of a Windows user license. The news that Parallels has sold a million copies of its Mac virtualization software also indicates that a fair number of new Mac users are buying Windows too, and living on a cross-platform world on a single computer. It may be a crutch, or at may be because they need to run software that isn’t available on the Mac, or where there’s no suitable replacement.

Indeed, I continue to run Parallels Desktop on my Mac Pro to check the compatibility of our sites with Internet Explorer. Otherwise, there’s nothing compelling about Windows Vista to keep the sessions in that platform from being extremely short.

To be sure, the ease of virtualization on an Intel-based Mac must be a saving grace for Microsoft. They clearly earn a whole lot more money on a single user license than with several OEM licenses to PC makers, where they get roughly $50 for each box.

In the end, though, the long-term outlook isn’t really so favorable to Microsoft. As time goes by, assuming Apple can continue to break records selling new Macs, they will continue to chip away at Microsoft’s huge market share advantage. Of course, with a worldwide share of an estimated 3.3%, Apple can double sales and still not make a meaningful dent in Microsoft’s PC dominance.

However, time is not on Microsoft’s side. Windows Vista, late and bereft of several key promised features, such as a new file system, was a huge strategic mistake. Thousands of software engineers spent five years starting, stopping, restarting and then building what is generally regarded as a bloated, buggy system that never realized its promise.

Sure, Microsoft has made far more modest predictions for Vista’s successor, known as Windows 7. But it’s still a year or two away, which gives Apple plenty of elbow room to continue to push Macs into the hands of consumers and, to a growing extent, small businesses, without any new competition.

As to larger businesses, the simple act of a key executive buying  a Mac and insisting the IT people cope with that purchase may be sufficient to gradually move more of Apple’s products into the enterprise.

Indeed, it’s quite possible that Apple’s decision to license Microsoft’s ActiveSync for seamless Exchange mail access on the iPhone is part of their stealth marketing to get more Macs into the enterprise as well. It wasn’t simply part of a strategy to take away sales from the BlackBerry.

Despite all the rosy projections, it’s still very possible for Apple to release a few mediocre products, such as the Cube, and stumble in other meaningful ways. All this, combined, can stop its stellar growth in its tracks.

Worse, the vultures continue to circle, and Apple is under severe pressure to hit a home run every single time — or at least a triple.

RETURN WITH US NOW TO THE MINISTRY OF FOOLISH DECISIONS

In the past, before I bought an iPhone, any time I wanted to recharge my wireless phone, I had to hunt through a drawer stuffed with incompatible charging devices to ferret out the correct power brick. The power needs of these phones are family similar, yet it never seemed to occur to these companies to simply establish a single standard for a power adapter.

This would have meant that you’d only have to buy one to handle many. Sure there are some brands of so-called “universal” adapters that promise support for a number of models. But why should they be necessary?

Why indeed!

While saddled by the limitations of the pathetic user interfaces enforced, in part, by the wireless carriers, Motorola actually had a better idea when it built its once hot-selling RAZR. They are equipped with standard mini-USB jacks, so, basically, the very same adapter you use to download photos from your digital camera to your computer can be used to recharge the RAZR.

Motorola’s excellent Bluetooth headsets, for the most part, use the same power adapter. But some of their wireless products don’t and that’s just another foolish decision.

Apple pretty much had a better idea with a unified recharging scheme and sync cable that works for most recent iPods and the iPhone. But I can’t leave Apple alone as a source for my wrath.

What about the batteries in iPods, iPhones and, now, the MacBook Air? In each case, they are not regarded as user replaceable, at least not without specialized tools, lots of patience, and your willingness to risk damaging the case or internal workings if you make a mistake.

If you need to replace the batteries without suffering the indignity and uncertainties of doing it yourself, you take them to a dealer to handle the task. To be fair, though, the MacBook Air’s battery is a fairly trivial replacement, requiring the removal of tiny screws at the bottom of the unit. But it’s still an awkward process and represents a questionable design decision.

So does this mean that Apple’s rock star CEO, their number one focus group, wants things simple, except when it comes to battery replacements? Without going into the nitty-gritty of a process that has never been fully disclosed, I would assume it was largely a form above function decision. Jobs and the Apple design crew wanted something sleek and seamless, and having a break in the smooth case and perhaps a slider for opening a battery compartment went against the grain.

But does that really make sense? I mean, how many of you end up taking your iPods and iPhones and placing them in protective cases anyway? It may well be that millions upon millions of the owners of these devices can’t see the backs of these gadgets without sliding off the cases. So what’s the big deal about making it possible to easily replace the batteries?

As far as I’m concerned, despite Apple’s incredible success in moving these products, this is a boneheaded decision. It was boneheaded then, and it is boneheaded now. The same goes for the foolish decision not to have a single plug-and-play standard for recharging low-power devices. 

THE FINAL WORD

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

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