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  • Newsletter Issue #444

    June 1st, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    With new product announcements lacking from Apple, Inc. in recent weeks, speculation reigns supreme. Certainly, there are things about the forthcoming WWDC that you can readily anticipate with possessing any mystic powers, such as the 3G iPhone and the iPhone 2.0 software. While there are apt to be some unexpected new features and marketing plans, and perhaps a real killer app or two from third parties, none of this should come as a surprise.

    The real question is whether Apple plans to move beyond that realm and deliver other announcements, such as major redesigns for its note-books and perhaps — just perhaps — an early preview of Mac OS 10.6, although I suspect most of you regard the latter as highly unlikely.

    So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we called upon Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS to deliver his fearless predictions about what Apple might deliver in June at the WWDC. I should add that Adam came on the show with exactly two minutes notice. He is a thorough pro, and he knew what I wanted in terms of information and was really to roll.

    In another segment of the show, we asked Macworld’s Jim Dalrymple to give us an update on his efforts to record a rock album with his band, “Full Throttle,” and sell it on iTunes. It sounds as if he’s working real hard to produce a thoroughly professional album, one that will compare favorably with “name” artists. Of course, that’s for the music fans to decide.

    In addition, spokesperson Andy Marken discussed the latest update of a backup application, NTI Shadow, which works on-the-fly, as you create and save documents. Julian Miller, of Script Software, joined us to talk about the latest update to his multiple clipboard “essential” utility, CopyPaste Pro.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, explore the frontiers of reality and the universal consciousness with Dr. Bernard Haisch, author of “The God Theory.” Does science accept the reality of God? And what form might a supreme being take? You’ll discover lots of intriguing information to consider in this special episode.

    WILL APPLE LOSE ITS CULT FOLLOWING?

    One common definition of a cult is, “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.” Some might feel that Apple’s customers, particularly the ones that have been around for a decade or two, can be considered a cult.

    Now I don’t know that I’m a cult member, although I have used Macs since the 1980s. However, it clearly required a high degree of devotion to the platform to stay with it during the dark days.

    At one time, just buying Mac software was difficult. You couldn’t just go online to buy the titles you wanted, and a visit to a local computer store would often be an exercise in frustration. If you found a Mac product at all, the box would be dusty, and it would likely contain an older or even obsolete version. The store clerks would just tell you that there wasn’t much software for Macs, and that, as far as they were concerned, would be that.

    Yes, there were exceptions, in the form of real Apple dealers who would sometimes provide a decent selection. If you went to the catalog houses and got a printed booklet listing their inventory, you’d find a rich variety of Mac products, but that took a little time and effort, and I can see where some people just gave up in frustration and returned to DOS.

    You can’t say that Apple didn’t do its best to encourage people to ditch the platform. On the heels of a huge marketing push by Microsoft, many ultimately came to the conclusion that Windows 95 matched the Mac OS closely enough that the difference wasn’t significant.

    Not that this was true then, or even later, as Apple’s sales and financial fortunes took it to the brink of oblivion. But, as more and more Mac developers decided enough was enough, sometimes you just didn’t have a choice. In certain fields, you had to switch to Windows to get the latest and greatest version of the vertical application you needed to run your office.

    I recall one case where a dentist in my area struggled mightily to get the new PowerPC version of his office management application to function properly, and it kept failing him. Even the publisher wasn’t too keen on the rushed PowerPC port, and kept urging him to go PC, and so he did a few months later.

    However, the Apple of 2008 is so different you can hardly recognize the company. Yes, there is a Mac OS, but the similarities are just window dressing. Deep down, it’s rock solid Unix, with all the commensurate command line capabilities, and a host of open source components.

    When Apple removed the word “Computer” from its corporate name last year, you almost felt that they had relegated the personal computer to end-of-life status. They’d continue to maintain the Mac lineup as long as the demand existed, but would devote the lion’s share of their attention to the iPod, the iPhone and other consumer electronics initiatives.

    Of course, the fact that Mac sales are roughly three times what they were even a few years ago says it all. More and more mainstream PC users are giving up on Windows and realizing they don’t have to cope with daily bouts of viruses and other chronic irritants. If anything, Windows Vista, regarded by almost everyone but Microsoft as a massive misfire, sealed the deal.

    It was time to embrace the future and go Mac!

    As you know, Apple has only recently taken control of roughly two thirds of the U.S. retail PC market in the higher-end segment, involving models that cost over a grand. That means that Apple has come of age, and if they don’t screw up big time, the frontiers are unlimited in terms of continued sales growth.

    However, where does that leave the long-time Mac user, who remain glued to the platform through thick and thin. Some of you, I’m sure, were regarded as almost fanatical about your Macs, and I say that in a good way. As far as I’m concerned, I do use Windows on occasion to test my sites for compatibility and to observe how the other half lives, but I cannot imagine spending the lion’s share of my working life over there.

    On the other hand, Apple is not going to do anything to reward you for your devotion, other than stay in business and continue to produce products for you to buy. To them, that ought to be enough. I think the missing elements of Mac OS X, such as a configurable Apple menu, are clear indications that Apple may pay lip service to your needs, but they clearly have bigger fish to fry.

    When you realize that Apple is, first and foremost, a profit-making multinational corporation, this makes a whole lot of sense. After all, they have tens of millions of customers for their products, and they cannot allow a small segment to influence them as much as they used to.

    Then again, did Apple really ever listen to you or me? I mean, from Mac OS 1.0 until version 9, the fundamentals really didn’t change all that much. Aside from the revisions in System 7, the rest of the alterations were mostly bug fixes, a few appearance updates, and, for the most part, a frustrating attempt to patch together the aging underpinnings of a creaking operating system so that it wouldn’t fall apart.

    That was then, this is now. Whether you like it or not, Apple is a different company, and the Mac cult simply isn’t part of the picture.

    MY OFFICIAL INTRODUCTION TO APPLE’S ALUMINUM KEYBOARD

    In recent years, whenever I acquire a new desktop Mac, I tend to leave the keyboard and mouse in the box. I was never enthusiastic about the former, and the latter, Mighty Mouse or not, just causes me wrist pain.

    As a result of my dissatisfaction with Apple’s input devices, ‘ve flirted with a number of products from the big players in the business, which include Kensington, Logitech and Microsoft. The flat mouse embraced by Apple hasn’t suited me for a number of years. Call it age, call it worn muscles, but the more ergonomic form factors in a typical third-party mouse impresses me as being far more comfortable.

    Now I’ve never been a fan of trackballs. I tried the original TurboMouse, now known as ExpertMouse, which adopts the original name on the Windows platform, but it never felt near as flexible as a regular mouse. But that’s just me.

    Right now, I’m using the Logitech MX Revolution, which remains one of the most comfortable, form-fitting mouse variations on the market. As for keyboards, I have recently used the so-called ergonomic keyboards from Logitech and Microsoft. They are supposedly designed to be less stressful of wrist muscles, by spreading the keys, sometimes adding a wave feature, and sometimes literally splitting the mechanism in two.

    Sure, I found it reasonably easy to acclimate to these styles, and they didn’t produce any undue wrist aches, but whenever I returned to my MacBook Pro, I found myself having to spend a few minutes relearning the traditional layout.

    Just the other day, I decided to confront my growing suspicion that the best possible solution was to revert to a standard keyboard, and thus I unpacked Apple’s aluminum keyboard, the one that ships with today’s iMac and the Mac Pro.

    I suppose there’s madness to Apple’s method. Aside from the sleek, thin elegance, the keys are laid out in almost the identical fashion to the latest Mac note-book, with the standard numeric keypad appended at its normal right-end position. In contrast, the wireless version eschews the numeric keypad for reasons only know to Apple’s marketing team.

    Indeed, the aluminum keyboard has the smooth, short-travel key switches that provide a feel comparable to a MacBook, and close to that of the MacBook Pro. That, plus the near-identical layout, means you can deftly switch from one to the other without suffering a relearning process.

    I know that Apple’s latest keyboard has its detractors, and I can understand that some prefer deeper key travel with solid clicks, in the fashion of the original Extended Keyboard. On the other hand, I just like my keyboards to be smooth, flexible, and quietly springy. It’s also important that my wrists not suffer unduly after a long typing session, and Apple’s keyboard seems to suit, at least from my limited vantage point.

    I also got fed up with the daily keyboard adaptation process, and thus I’ve opted to continue using the aluminum keyboard.

    For now that is. You see, I reserve the right to change my mind all over again.

    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



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    13 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #444”

    1. Chris Ellis says:

      Hi Gene,

      I’ve read your daily missives (and supported you financially) for years now. If you are having wrist problems, I can recommend the Wacom tablet to alter the movements you use every day. I do computer aided design projects all day long using ArchiCAD 11, which is a 3D architectural program. I’ve found that using the tablet and its included pen for all my tasks completely changed how my wrist and carpal tunnel area felt. I went from feeling it was only a matter of time before I had to seek medical attention to not even noticing anymore. I use multiple monitors, so I opted for the 6×11 Intuos 3 model, but any of them would work and they start at $ 100. With your mighty status in the industry, a review unit should be readily available !

      There is a bit of a learning curve to get used to it, but try to use only the pen and resist the urge to use the included mouse because of it’s familiarity. This slight change in wrist / muscle use made all the difference to me. I also bought the aluminum full sized keyboard with a USB cable and absolutely love it.

      Thanks for all your thoughtful commentary.

      Chris Ellis

    2. With the MX Revolution mouse, and the aluminum keyboard, my wrists are mostly OK. I don’t know that I’m interested in trying a tablet. I also do quite well with my iPhone. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Tim harness says:

      Bought my first Mac shortly before the return of Steve, a IIci with a Daystar Turbo 601, $20, at a garage sale. Was told it was for sale because it crashed too much. In short, they were trying to run 7.5 on a 601/100 with just 12 megs. Upgrading to 32 (Again, garage sale) greatly increased stability, and OS 7.61 made it a joy to use. I wonder if some of the folks you dealt with back then were trying to get by with too little RAM, also. OS 8 and 9’s purpose was to buy time while the roughest edges were being knocked off of 10, but the folks still using it are way better off than the poor souls getting by with WIN98. I recently bought an aluminum keyboard, and I like it, have fun, or a reasonable facsimile of it, Tim.

    4. Thomas says:

      They sell the wireless keyboard without the number pad because some of us don’t want them. I’m a technical writer, so I use mouse and keyboard together quite a bit. My work keyboard (on a PC, alas) is a Happy Hacker keyboard without number pad. I had to get it because the mouse was too far to the right and causing daily shoulder pain. I tried using the mouse on the left but wasn’t able to adapt.

      If I had bought a desktop Mac, you can bet that I would have been using the wireless keyboard. I never use the number pad, so I didn’t miss it.

      What Apple is doing is providing you with choices. Besides, fewer keys also mean slightly less current draw from the batteries.

    5. Adam says:

      Another reason for no numeric keyboard on the bluetooth version is that it is more portable that way. I have never understood it, but some road warriors like to take an external keyboard with them. Although, now that I think of it, greater control over distance from the screen is a good reason.

      I love my thin Apple aluminum keyboard. Being so flat, I find that I can easily hold my wrists straight, which of course angles my hands on the keyboard in such a way as to mimic the “ergonomic” keyboards without having to re-learn anything. Also, I personally find that with the short throw, I type faster, much as I shift faster with the short throw stick in my car.

    6. gopher says:

      Never had difficulty finding Mac software as long as I was willing to be flexible with shippers. At different stages in my life I was closer to an Airborne/DHL facility than a UPS facility. Now it is UPS, and not only that they are nice enough to deliver to my door even when I’m not home. Anyway, mail order for the Mac has always had some mainstays that have never disappeared:

      Macconnection
      Maczone
      Macmall – though I’d never buy a computer from them or anything with a rebate.
      CDW formerly Macwarehouse.

      Between those four I could usually find the software I needed to purchase, and that which I couldn’t, I’d get from one of the public domain authors on Versiontracker, Macupdate, or Sourceforge.

    7. Never had difficulty finding Mac software as long as I was willing to be flexible with shippers. At different stages in my life I was closer to an Airborne/DHL facility than a UPS facility. Now it is UPS, and not only that they are nice enough to deliver to my door even when I’m not home.

      Anyway, mail order for the Mac has always had some mainstays that have never disappeared:

      Macconnection
      Maczone
      Macmall – though I’d never buy a computer from them or anything with a rebate.
      CDW formerly Macwarehouse.

      Between those four I could usually find the software I needed to purchase, and that which I couldn’t, I’d get from one of the public domain authors on Versiontracker, Macupdate, or Sourceforge.

      We’re talking here of the time before we had cheap consumer-level Internet access. Yes, you could buy from MacWarehouse, but there was no versiontracker or any other place of a similar nature where you could discover such things. Instead, you had CompuServe, and later AOL.

      But your local dealer had very, very little to offer the Mac user, with only some exceptions.

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. It’s too bad the Bluetooth keyboard doesn’t work with iPhone – it would be nice to use it when typing in notes and the like.

      I used to be a big fan of the clicky keyboards, but as I got older and my wrists and hands started to age, it became tiring to click the keys as hard as I used to, so the softer touch of the new aluminum keyboard is now perfect for me and I can type faster on it than any other keyboard.

      If you’re a fan of the old ways, give the new aluminum keyboard a shot before tossing it back into the box – you might really grow to like it. It seems to have just enough feedback so I know I’ve typed a key, but not so much that it’s tough to type.

      I think the main reason many hated the soft touch keyboards is that they weren’t /good/ soft touch keyboards – they were of poor quality. The aluminum keyboard is of excellent quality and is well worth a try.

      D

    9. It’s too bad the Bluetooth keyboard doesn’t work with iPhone – it would be nice to use it when typing in notes and the like.

      I used to be a big fan of the clicky keyboards, but as I got older and my wrists and hands started to age, it became tiring to click the keys as hard as I used to, so the softer touch of the new aluminum keyboard is now perfect for me and I can type faster on it than any other keyboard.

      If you’re a fan of the old ways, give the new aluminum keyboard a shot before tossing it back into the box – you might really grow to like it. It seems to have just enough feedback so I know I’ve typed a key, but not so much that it’s tough to type.

      I think the main reason many hated the soft touch keyboards is that they weren’t /good/ soft touch keyboards – they were of poor quality. The aluminum keyboard is of excellent quality and is well worth a try.

      D

      Actually, when I get a new Mac, I tend to always leave a few things in the box, such as the spare connectors with the MacBook Pro. I have several of those already. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    10. Sponge says:

      I recently bought a Mac Pro, and assumed that I would keep using the keyboard from my old G4. But the new aluminum keyboard has surprised me by being the best I can remember owning. I just wish Apple would make one that illuminates in the dark like the MBP. I’d gladly pay extra for that.

    11. I recently bought a Mac Pro, and assumed that I would keep using the keyboard from my old G4. But the new aluminum keyboard has surprised me by being the best I can remember owning. I just wish Apple would make one that illuminates in the dark like the MBP. I’d gladly pay extra for that.

      Please don’t use the “extra” word, because Apple might be listening and take you up on it. 🙂

      Peace,
      Gene

    12. Dana Sutton says:

      I like the aluminum keyboard and I’d use it if it weren’t for one Bad Thing. I’m a real fan of hotkeys, and I use a special utility to assign stuff to them. But although the aluminum keyboard comes with 19 of them, Apple has tied up so many of them for special purposes that there aren’t nearly enough left for the user. If there were some way of disabling a lot of Apple’s assignments (for inst. I don’t really need two f-keys to dim and brighten my screen!) and win these keys back for my own use, I’d be happy to use this keyboard. But right now, for me this is a deal-killer.

    13. gopher says:

      I like the aluminum keyboard and I’d use it if it weren’t for one Bad Thing. I’m a real fan of hotkeys, and I use a special utility to assign stuff to them. But although the aluminum keyboard comes with 19 of them, Apple has tied up so many of them for special purposes that there aren’t nearly enough left for the user. If there were some way of disabling a lot of Apple’s assignments (for inst. I don’t really need two f-keys to dim and brighten my screen!) and win these keys back for my own use, I’d be happy to use this keyboard. But right now, for me this is a deal-killer.

      F1 and F2 or F15 and F16 do screen brightness. For everything else, there is Startly’s QuicKeys.

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