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  • Newsletter Issue #446

    June 15th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    You’d think with all the expensive gear we use for our radio shows, we’d be able to deliver superlative audio quality on a consistent basis, but that’s not always possible. Sure, locally-originated interviews sound pretty good, almost on a par with FM radio, despite the heavy compression we use to keep the file sizes down. But we have to depend on the quality of the equipment on the other end of the conversation, and that’s where things get dicey.

    Some of our guests use a Skype connection with a quality mic, and get audio quality that comes close to that of a live interview. Others use cheap headset/mic combos, and the results show. On occasion, the guest only has a mobile phone handy in their location, and that’s the worst of the lot.

    With all the billions of dollars mobile phone carriers have spent improving and expanding their networks, we have a right to expect audio quality that’s close to a landline. That can happen on occasion, but not very often. Whether it’s a bad handset, or a busy tower that’s compressing the living hell out of a signal, some guests can sound almost as if they were phoning in from a space shuttle.

    I wish things were better, but we’re doing the best we can. Apple, by the way, is promising improved audio quality for the iPhone 3G, but is that going to improve the quality of phone calls? I’ll believe it when I hear it.

    As to this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, delivered his fearless impressions of the WWDC, the iPhone and other hot topics in an on-location report. Yes, audio quality could have been better.

    Security guru Rich Mogull addressed Apple’s enhanced support for the enterprise, beginning with the iPhone 3G (he was reached on his iPhone). You also learned about a popular Mac OS X maintenance utility, Leopard Cache Cleaner, from John Lowry of Northern Softworks, who spoke with us from his landline.

    In a special segment, my one and only son and our co-host emeritus, Grayson Steinberg, recently graduated from college, returned to talk about a terrific new Mac accessory he acquired while on a recent European adventure. He was, by the way, seated in the studio with me when we recorded this part of the show.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, you’ll discover the very latest news and views on Martian mysteries and new frontiers of paranormal research with cutting-edge investigator Mac Tonnies.

    APPLE LOOKS AHEAD, WHILE MICROSOFT LOOKS BACK

    Apple has a long history of spinning on a dime. A couple of years back, for example, they tossed out a best-selling design for the iPod nano and introduced an all-new version. Almost any other company on the planet would have pushed the existing configuration until well past its prime and even beyond.

    Upgrades over the years to the iMac line have thrown away the mold, and delivered very different and often unexpected case designs. Take a look at the pear-shaped original, its successor with the articulated arm and lamp-style base, and the current iteration, which is basically a slimline computer display that just happens to have a powerful personal computer inside.

    Whatever you thought about the Cube, it was surely a pace-setting product that I said, at the time, belonged in a museum. Today, it is considered a failed product, but one where Apple tested and prodded and tried to deliver something that was as much a work of art as a functional computing appliance.

    No, I haven’t forgotten how the Cube resembles its NeXT-based forebear.

    Even after the Cube died, Apple couldn’t let go. The Mac mini is essentially regarded as resembling half a Cube, and its slim rectangular case was also extended to the AirPort Extreme, Time Capsule, and even Apple TV.

    So if the mini does indeed disappear some day soon, as many expect, its influences may indeed survive for a number of years.

    When it comes to the iPhone, Apple pioneered a unique wireless phone activation scheme. In the past, you’d have to go to a dealer, or have the carrier activate it before it was shipped from their online store to your home or office.

    In contrast, you’d buy the iPhone as any other retail product, and you only needed to sync it with your copy of iTunes, and go through a simple setup routine to make it work. That assumes, of course, that your credit rating was good enough to qualify for a contract, although you could prepay.

    This marketing and activation scheme, however, had its downsides. For one thing, far too many customers bought the phones, unlocked them, and used them with other carriers, which didn’t set too well with the companies who signed exclusive deals with Apple.

    For version two, the iPhone 3G, Apple realized that its unique strategy was perhaps a little too unique. Besides, the price barrier without doubt lost them a lot of sales to the BlackBerry. So they found a way to cut the price in half, in part by cutting manufacturing costs in some respects, such as ditching the metal casing, and making the charging dock an optional accessory.

    They also returned to the traditional wireless phone marketing arrangement where, at least in the U.S., the carrier subsidizes the purchase price in exchange for your agreement to sign a two year contract. You also have to submit to in-store activation.

    It’s also true that AT&T, for example, will set you up with a more expensive data plan so you’ll end up paying more for your iPhone over the life of the contract, but at least your upfront cost will be less, and that might make it easier for you to swallow.

    For its next great operating system upgrade, Apple has again changed its tune. They’ve apparently eschewed the continuous onslaught of new features in favor of stability and improved performance. Microsoft must be freaking. While not confirmed officially, Snow Leopard may only run on Intel-based Macs, leaving the regular Universal version Leopard as the end of the line for the PowerPC.

    Now only Apple knows whether they plan to charge full price for Snow Leopard, sell it at a discount, or just make it a downloadable upgrade. However, pausing the new feature brigade isn’t a bad idea in the scheme of things. It will give them more time to make the existing features function properly, and give the Mac troubleshooting sites less to write about.

    And that, in the end, will be a really good thing. As to Microsoft, they clearly don’t get Apple, and that’s why they are stagnant, and fated to remain that way.

    Even more confounding to the folks at Redmond, Apple is dealing with Microsoft in rather a complicated fashion. On the one hand, they have licensed Microsoft Exchange technology for both the desktop and iPhone operating systems. On the other hand, they are marketing the revamped .Mac, dubbed MobileMe, as “Exchange for the rest of us.” By “us” they mean consumers and small business users. Additional new features in Snow Leopard Server may actually sharply reduce the need for a Microsoft Exchange to handle office email.

    Now it’s true that many folks buy Office for the Mac because of the Exchange support, such as it is, included in Entourage. So that’s one less program you need, and with iWork’s decent translation of Office documents, you may not need Office, period!

    Consider, then, what might happen if Apple pulled a Google, and delivered its own equivalent of Google Apps on MobileMe, by putting iWork in the cloud. Since we’re talking of a cross-platform service here, even Windows users can join in on the fun.

    I can just see Steve Ballmer’s screaming session when and if he discovers the implications of all of Apple’s maneuvers.

    THE SOLUTION TO THE MULTIPLE MOUSE DILEMMA

    I have to thank Shirt Pocket’s Dave Nanian for this discovery. The other day, I noticed that my copy of their flagship backup application, SuperDuper!, was quitting at the tail end of my daily automatic backup.

    Dave was, as usual, online when I fired up iChat, so I asked him what was going on. He asked if I had been using the latest version of Logitech’s input device drivers (it was version 2.4.0 at the time), and I said I had recently installed it when reattaching my trusty MX Revolution mouse. As with other software of this type, Logitech has had its share of problems.

    While Apple’s built-in drivers will handle the basic two buttons and the scroll wheel, the highly accelerated version of the latter and added buttons that come with the MX Revolution require custom software, so Dave steered me, if you’ll forgive the pun, to SteerMouse.

    Now the author of this shareware utility boasts that “SteerMouse supports USB and Bluetooth mice. It will even work with mice designed for Windows PCs. You can customize your mouse freely even if there is no Macintosh’s driver.”

    Indeed, that’s pretty much my experience. I uninstalled Logitech’s driver, and set up SteerMouse. It recognized mice from both Logitech and Microsoft, at the same time, and delivered essentially proper support for the unique features of each. There is a recommended Terminal command setup for harnessing the “free-spin” mode of the MX Revolution, but I didn’t bother. This wonderful input device worked perfectly fine without that added adjustment.

    Now I can’t promise you that SteerMouse will support every single input device on the planet. The list of recommended devices, however, includes some of the best of the breed from Apple, Kensington, Logitech, of course, and Microsoft. I expect that if the mouse or similar device has the normal number of configurable functions, a scroll wheel and up to 16 buttons, SteerMouse will probably support it almost seamlessly.

    Other than being fully compatible with all my software — and Leopard — without any downsides, there have to be benefits in being able to have one set of mouse drivers for all your input devices. You may even find some features that you didn’t have before, such as the cursor automatically jumping to the default button when you open a dialog box. Neat.

    As shareware, the publisher, Plentycom Systems, only asks for $20, if you use PayPal. While you may balk at paying for something when input device makers give you their software for free, next time you run into a problem due to incompatible drivers, you might just change your tune.

    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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