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Newsletter Issue #444

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