• Newsletter Issue #448

    June 29th, 2008

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    You know, I’m very much into precision. That’s why, as much as possible, each episode is as close to two hours as possible (with the exception of several extended episodes of the paranormal show). As a result, sometimes, a segment has to be cut short, and that happened on  this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    We entered “The David Biedny Zone,” as our Special Correspondent held forth on a number of subjects. Alas, time ran out, so what to cut? Well, David and I did a brief riff on mobile phones, of which I have three for my family, and David has none. He said he was tempted and might consider replacing his trusty landline with an iPhone 3G. That is, until he considered the rates for AT&T’s unlimited calling plan, plus the requisite addition of a data plan at extra cost. It didn’t make sense to him, and I feel his pain. Now if those flat-rate plans were $49 per month rather than twice that amount, well”¦

    In the portion of the interview that you did year, David talked about the future of Mac magazines, and HP’s new on-demand magazine publishing service. He concluded the session covering and some great and not-so-great graphic apps.

    Author and ace troubleshooter Ted Landau was on hand to discuss his expectations for iPhone 2.0 and the iPhone 3G, and to tell you about some things you didn’t know about Mac OS X Leopard. Most of these special features were in the power user category, but nonetheless fascinating.

    You’ll also heard from Don Mayer, CEO of Small Dog Electronics, a long-time Apple reseller, about how he got involved selling Macs, and how dealers have survived working with Apple through good times and bad.

    Moving to another front, on The Paracast this week, we welcome back Stanton T. Friedman, who visits The Paracast to talk about his new book, “Flying Saucers and Science: A Scientist Investigates the Mysteries of UFOs.”

    This is going to be one of the most fascinating sessions we’ve had with Stanton. You won’t hear the latest scuttlebutt about Roswell, nor an update on those controversial MJ-12 documents that purport to represent a secret government group probing UFOs. Instead, you’ll get the insights of a highly-skilled scientist about his long-time investigation into UFO mystery.

    YES, MANY BUSINESSES ARE USING MACS!

    One common objection to Macs might be called the “McDonalds argument,” which posits that, since Windows occupies more than 90% of the world’s personal computers, they have to be the best. The public says so.

    While I won’t say McDonalds is necessarily bad as fast food establishments go, the food is a far cry from gourmet level. But Microsoft didn’t necessarily get to the head of the pack by delivering better products. As Bill Gates leaves his full-time job at Microsoft, history shows that he used bait and switch, misleading claims, false promises and other questionable tactics to own the operating system market.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t threats on the horizon that Microsoft’s new leadership will have to confront. In fact, that threat will come, in large part, from Apple.

    For years, it was claimed that Macs were not intended to be business computers. They were for home users, perhaps small business, and certainly those ever-eccentric content creators. But no large business would be caught dead buying them in quantity.

    That was then, this is now.

    This week, the news came out that 80% of American businesses were now using Macs. Sound a little unbelievable? Well, the survery comes from the Yankee Research Group Inc., and involved more than 700 senior IT administrators and C-level executives. So it does sound pretty substantial, and seems to go against the conventional wisdom.

    No, we’re not talking of having maybe a handful of Macs for a few road warriors in a company, or that seldom appreciated art department. The survey showed, in fact, that 21% of this group had more than 50 Macs in service. That may not sound like a large number considering that the very same companies may have thousands of PCs installed, but it’s a decent beachhead, and it was all done, apparently, with very little enterprise promotion on Apple’s part.

    Even more interesting is the fact that 28% of the companies are running Windows on their Macs using one of the popular virtual machine programs, and another 22% are choosing the Boot Camp dual-boot method. This clearly demonstrates that Apple was right on to move to Intel, because it basically put Macs into a whole new category, one that makes them quite unique.

    Sure, a small number of people have hacked their PCs to run Mac OS X, and there’s even a commercial enterprise that’s selling those boxes. However, Apple is providing an officially-sanctioned method of having the best of both worlds, and it’s clear that people in the business world are coming to appreciate the advantages.

    All this comes at an opportune time for Apple. Although they’re still earning great profits, Microsoft has been relatively stagnant in recent years. Windows Vista didn’t take off like a firecracker, and is largely regarded as buggy, bloated, and, in short, a tremendous underachiever. It’s not at all certain whether it’s successor, currently known as Windows 7, will fare any better since there’s no indication that Microsoft will do away with the bad things of Vista. Instead, it’ll apparently be built upon the current code bases.

    In contrast, Snow Leopard demonstrates that Apple is going to be extremely busy cleaning up Mac OS X. By 2009, when 10.6 is supposed to be available, it will be roughly eight years since 10.0 debuted, and no doubt there’s a lot of crud in the code that can be cleaned out and a lot of things that can be done more efficiently. That, and improved support for multithreading, 64-bit and being able to offload heavy-duty tasks to the graphics processor, promise to make Snow Leopard a lean and mean fighting machine.

    And it will apparently also occupy less disk space.

    Another key feature of Snow Leopard is native Exchange support, a compelling option for businesses that use Microsoft’s email server software in their back offices. Putting the identical level of support in the forthcoming iPhone 2.0 software will certainly help make Macs more welcome in the enterprise. It’ll also lessen the objections on the part of hard-nosed IT people who have previously protested anything more than a limited presence for Macs in a company.

    Of course the big question is to what extent Apple is going to expand its enterprise sales initiative. Will they just put the products out there, and hope that business customers will respond in huge number? No, it doesn’t work that way. While it’s quite certain business owners will add Macs and iPhones after positive experiences with these gadgets, it’s by no means certain they’ll deploy them through a company without a carefully delineated strategy and no doubt some serious guidance from Apple.

    The other large question looming is that, if Apple intends to move in this direction, will they also produce models that are better suited to a large corporate environment? While I can see where banks and banks of Mac minis might suit for record keeping and such, what about the infamous midrange minitower that some of us have talked about in recent years?

    How about a special desktop computer, sitting above the Mac mini in the lineup, which would provide some level of expandability, such as the ability to contain an extra internal drive and perhaps additional RAM storage options? It would also have to be as easy to upgrade as a Mac Pro, since I can’t imagine IT people succumbing to endless sessions with putty knives to crack open the Mac mini.

    A few months ago, I would have seriously doubted that Apple would ever consider such a thing. Then came iPhone 2.0 and news of Snow Leopard with their built-in support for Microsoft Exchange. When it comes to Apple, the unpredictable is indeed predictable.

    PLASMA TV: TWO YEARS ON

    I have to say that my long-term experience with a VIZIO P50 HDM flat-panel monitor has been quite enjoyable. Aside from a small degree of burn-in because we watch too much 24-hour cable TV news with a stationary black bar on the bottom of the screen, I was very impressed with that product, particularly in light of its relatively low cost. Obviously customers are too, witness the fact that VIZIO’s sales are at or near the top of the heap when it comes to plasma and LCD.

    Getting a top quality picture only required modicum of adjustments aided by a calibration DVD. This is not to sy the VIZIO didn’t have a few shortcomings. Aside from only adequate burn-in protection, resolution is just 720p, good enough for genuine high definition, but certainly not the state of the art.

    Many of today’s plasma TVs have a resolution of 1080p, which lets you watch a Blu-ray DVD at full resolution. But up till now I’ve been pretty skeptical of he advantage of the added pixels, mostly because it’s claimed you need a very large screen to see much of a benefit at a normal viewing distance. So it’s better spending your hard-earned money on other things, even if the price difference is only a few hundred dollars.

    Well, I believed that until I had an extended degree of face time with a mainstream plasma TV, the Panasonic VIERA TH50PZ80U, an ordinary, garden-variety 50-inch model that sells for anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000, depending on which dealer you choose.

    When I say mainstream, I mean that the TH50PZ80U sits near the bottom of Panasonic’s plasma lineup, although specs are pretty good. And yes, it’s 1080p. The more expensive panels get you higher contrast and, at the top-of-the-line, a sophisticated internal calibration system. As a practical matter, you probably won’t notice a large difference in a home setting, so save your money.

    Now, LCDs own the large-screen market these days, but I still think plasma is superior. They offer deeper blacks, and a wider viewing angle, at the expense of a propensity for screen reflections in a bright room.

    The Panasonic has all the good stuff, such as three HDMI ports, and a rated panel life of 100,000 hours, compared to about 25,000 for the VIZIO, which cost roughly the same price when it was new.

    If it means anything, it’s also about more than 30 pounds lighter, which will certainly carry some weight if you are lifting the unit to place atop a stand. Typical of flat panel displays, the case is shiny black and, fortunately, sufficiently unobtrusive not to draw attention to itself.

    The standard installation process is simple enough. First connect the tables, then invoke the onscreen menu for additional clearly labeled settings. The nondescript remote can be programmed for multiple devices, but, instead, I used my Harmony 890 Universal remote. Yes, it took the usual brand of programming hoops to get all my equipment to work together, but that’s par for the course.

    After giving the Panasonic the requisite 100 hours of break-in time, I ran a simple screen calibration DVD, tweaked a few settings and then got involved in some serious watching with the family. My gut feeling is that 1080p is visibly superior to 720p even on a 50-inch, even when viewed from 10 feet away (our usual viewing distance). Pictures are noticeably sharper, colors brighter, cleaner. Compared to the VIZIO, I also noticed less picture noise, even on highly-compressed digital signals from the local cable provider, Cox.

    When it comes to high definition channels, the picture is simply glorious, as if I removed a veil. The picture from an upconverting DVD player was actually quite close to true high definition, which clearly means that Blu-ray is going to be a hard sell, at least for me. But I certainly hope to try one out in the very near future.

    As flat panel TVs go, Panasonic is certainly the quintessential mass market manufacturer, but they are also noted for building high caliber products that last a good long time. If you are looking to upgrade from an older HDTV, or you’re making your first leap into today’s technology, the TH50PZ80U is, as such things go, reasonably affordable, and the overall quality is just terrific.

    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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    4 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #448”

    1. Jim H. says:

      Gene,

      I think there are several things I’d like to know before I purchase an LCD/Plasma. First what are the power requirements? Which has a lower operating cost? With the cost of electricity about to follow the cost of oil that is not a small factor.

      Second you mentioned the 100K hours for the screen, did any of the manufacturers talk about system MTBF? Should I buy the extended warranty?

      Thanks

      Jim

    2. Gene,

      I think there are several things I’d like to know before I purchase an LCD/Plasma. First what are the power requirements? Which has a lower operating cost? With the cost of electricity about to follow the cost of oil that is not a small factor.

      Second you mentioned the 100K hours for the screen, did any of the manufacturers talk about system MTBF? Should I buy the extended warranty?

      Thanks

      Jim

      This all depends on the make/model set, and you have to check specs. As a matter of course, plasma tends to use more power than LCD, but not as much as it used to.

      As to the MTBF, the rating is for half brightness, meaning the maximum brightness level reduces to have what it was when you got the set.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. Ken Sherman says:

      Plasma TV’s generally use about 3 times the power. That is a big difference. If you live in air conditioning, all that extra heat will cost even more to remove from the house. To me it’s not worth it. Plus the color shifts with time and the burn in problem shift the advantage even more to LCD TVs.
      Make sure triple power consumption is worth the improved contrast. For me it’s not.

      Ken

    4. Plasma TV’s generally use about 3 times the power. That is a big difference. If you live in air conditioning, all that extra heat will cost even more to remove from the house. To me it’s not worth it. Plus the color shifts with time and the burn in problem shift the advantage even more to LCD TVs.
      Make sure triple power consumption is worth the improved contrast. For me it’s not.

      Ken

      That sounds like a lot more than I’ve seen. Care to compare current models with the same screen size?

      Just an update: He did write me back, and I’m waiting for him to post his update here. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

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