I’ve known Bob LeVitus for years, probably even before he acquired the “Dr. Mac” moniker. But he’s been busy of late, so he hasn’t had a chance to appear on The Tech Night Owl LIVE as much as he used to.
That changed this past week, though, as Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus returned to regale us with tips and tricks and news and views about the expansive Apple universe. As usual, my quick-witted friend was a joy to talk to, and he’ll be back in late August with more great stuff.
We also welcomed Macworld Senior Editor Rob Griffiths, who brought us up to date on his “FrankenMac” project, where he actually built his own home-made Mac from the spare parts he bought from several computer supply houses. After Macworld finished the testing and photography, which required a couple of back and forth trips between the magazine’s San Francisco headquarters and Rob’s home office in Oregon, the poor FrankenMac suffered some shipping damage, but it doesn’t seem too serious.
In other parts of the interview, Rob expanded his thoughts on the Mac cloning equation, the promise of Snow Leopard and his hopes for the iPhone 3G.
The Night Owl also welcomed Intel’s Dan Snyder, who will not only traced the history of the world’s largest chip maker, but provided insights into their relationship with Apple and their next generation of powerful processors.
Unlike most people who work for a company in a PR capacity, Dan didn’t begin his career in corporate communications. Instead, he got his start at Intel’s fab plant in Chandler, Arizona as an engineer. So he understands the technology well, and, rather than an interview, this session turned into a fascinating discussion that really illuminates how Intel operates, and you also got some fascinating insights about the company that you probably didn’t expect. Dan’s a great guy, and I was happy to welcome him as a new friend.
Although Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at least pretend in public to have a friendly relationship of several decades, you know that Apple and Microsoft have been fierce competitors for years. Of course, in the business world, you may have to make a deal with the devil to survive.
So, indeed, Apple has also worked hand-in-glove with Microsoft on some projects. It’s also noteworthy to recall that Microsoft Excel and Word actually debuted on the Mac platform a long, long time ago, before they went to Windows. Sometimes, when you look at these programs, you can easily believe it was really the other way around.
These days, Apple needs Microsoft Office as much as they ever did. Despite its girth and glitches, the world’s number one office suite is a requirement for companies to take Macs seriously. They need files to be all or mostly compatible with the Windows counterparts, and it also gives Apple credibility as a maker of business computers.
Certainly a major enterprise initiative seems to be behind Apple’s decision to license ActiveSync from Microsoft for the iPhone, and provide full support for Exchange servers beginning with the iPhone 2.0 update and Snow Leopard.
Indeed, when you watch the Mac versus PC spots, you might never have believed it possible.
Certainly the stars are really aligned in Apple’s favor these days. Take that report I discussed last week, that 80% of businesses have at least some Macs installed. Consider how Apple’s growth rate exceeds that of the overall PC market by several times, and you can see the tremendous potential.
Surely, when Apple calls upon a business these days, they can deliver some really cogent arguments in their favor. Macs can run Windows either in a virtual machine or, via rebooting, using Boot Camp. So, if you must run Windows in your office environment, the Mac is a great Windows computer too. All that is the result of moving the line to Intel processes back in 2006. In retrospect, that was not just an act of necessity, but a master stroke that really opened up the platform big time.
At the same time, there is a credible Mac version of Office, although the loss of support for Visual Basic for Applications seems like a huge blunder on Microsoft’s part. That is, if you’re skeptical of their claim that it would have delayed the arrival of Office 2008 until 2010, making it Office 2010. Then again, Microsoft’s Mac Business Unit says they’re bringing it back for the next version of Office, and, at the same time, they’re hiring more people to build Mac products. So at least Microsoft can see the profit possibilities, for they would otherwise just make token efforts for the Mac platform and be done with it.
Then again, I expect some of you believe Microsoft has continued to build Mac products strictly to prevent further unwanted retaliation by antitrust regulators. And they’re having enough troubles as it is, particularly in Europe.
However, this doesn’t mean Apple is kowtowing to Microsoft by any means. The two companies will work together when it’s appropriate from the standpoint of making great profits. At the same time, Apple wants to sell more hardware, and already two of its key product lines, the iPhone and the iPhone, actually earn higher profits from the Windows market than Mac users.
Not too many years ago, that prospect would have been unthinkable.
Naturally, when a Windows user is exposed to Apple’s technology, it’s hoped that Macs might also be placed on far more shopping lists. Indeed, lest we forget, when you use your iPhone, you are working in the OS X environment, using Mail for your email and Safari for browsing.
When it comes to MobileMe, I expect the new name and logo are very much oriented towards Windows users, who would not be caught dead having a mac.com email address. Of course, I’m not sanguine about me.com either, but at least it’s a choice, not a requirement.
Consider what happens when the Windows user accesses MobileMe from their browser, even if it’s the dreaded Internet Explorer. They will suddenly be transported into the Mac universe, with Address Book managing their contacts, and an online version of Mail handling their messages.
As I said before, that’s a brilliant effort at stealth marketing on Apple’s part. But it also raises the larger question, which is whether Apple should take off the gloves in dealing with Microsoft, now that the world’s largest software maker is stagnant and losing credibility by the minute, or just keep to its present approach.
Certainly, those famous Mac versus PC ads handle the competition with sly humor, and you kind of feel that the two antagonists were actually college buddies who still genuinely like each other but just took different career paths.
Now if Apple did get more aggressive in its approach, Microsoft wouldn’t be so cooperative when it comes to such things as producing Mac software or licensing Exchange technology. That might work against Apple’s interests.
However, if Microsoft can make a ton of money as a result of their relationship with Apple, losing a few points of Windows market share may not be all that important. And isn’t that what it’s all about anyway in the business world?
Those of you who visit The Paracast and The Tech Night Owl LIVE regularly know we have a link to our “Discussion Forums,” online communities where you can share you views about all the subjects we talk about on these two radio shows.
In 2007, I switched from a paid system for The Paracast, vBulletin, from a UK-based company known as Jelsoft, to a free system, MyBB. A key reason for this is the fact that I wanted all our forums to be consistent, but the others didn’t have the traffic to warrant buying separate user licenses. At least not then.
Also, I had a few unpleasant encounters with Jelsoft’s tech support and felt I couldn’t do any worse if I selected a free option. For a while, I thought we had it down pat, although converting from vBulletin to MyBB wasn’t an easy process. Migration tools for message board systems tend to be inconsistent, and I had to call upon some Web programmers to do some serious back-end fixes in the database that stores the contents of the forum to make sure the messages didn’t have extraneous characters and other glitches.
In the end, MyBB turned out to be a total disappointment, although it seemed to have an awesome feature set for a forum script that came without cost. But I soon learned that some things didn’t work properly. The event calendar, for example, suddenly became inaccurate; it was consistently a day off. The young programming team said this would be fixed in version 1.4, whose arrival remains uncertain, although it’s been beta tested for quite a while.
MyBB also had a problem recording read messages, so the home or index page would always show unread messages awaiting anyway. That, too, was a promised fix for 1.4’s eventual arrival. But the worst problem was that members who signed up to be notified by email of new posts or topic threads didn’t always get those messages. That, too, was inconsistent and I suppose that bug also supposed to be fixed in version 1.4.
They are sounding more and more like Microsoft.
At the same time I had become a beta tester for version 1.4, during which time I encountered the main programmer, a 15-year-old with an attitude problem. Well, I survived my son’s teenaged years so I figured I could cope with another’s temperamental behavior. Without going into detail, I ran into serious ongoing issues with the beta, and it seemed as if the release version was forever moving farther into the future, though it has since been deployed on their own forums.
In any case, I want things to just work, and I want to make things easy on our online communities so our members can concentrate on posting messages rather than coping with glitches.
Over a period of several weeks, I set up test forums with a number of other forum systems, some of which can be easily installed by many Web hosts, such as phpBB and SMF. But they had even fewer features than MyBB, and the available plugins or mods didn’t compensate.
Chastened, I decided I was better off returning to vBulletin, so I renewed the support for my licensed copy and returned The Paracast to its previous forum system. Although vBulletin has a robust translation system, known as Impex, you still have to do some manual labor to clean things up after the conversion is complete.
After a few days, though, things were 99% functional. I also had our server people at HostGator install XCache, a PHP script accelerator that’s supposed to take heavy-duty products such as vBulletin and make them sing and dance. As a result, all our sites now load twice as fast, and I want to thank one of HostGator’s friendly Linux gurus, Ford Merrill, for being so helpful in making everything work properly.
I also had lots of help from some of the people who build add-ons for vBulletin, along with Steve Machol and Jake Bunce, from vBulletin’s support team. And I even got a little assistance from Rob Griffiths to resolve a particularly irksome problem with the style configuration for our forums.
Linux, you see, is as far from a plug and play system as you can get.
With the migration at The Paracast completed, I acquired a second license (yes, it’s one per board) from Jelsoft, and set up The Tech Night Owl LIVE’s online community, using the identical style for consistency. Again, there were a few conversion glitches, owing to the fact that MyBB installed that forum’s database with a slightly different prefix in MySQL, the database software all these products use. So instead of “MyBB_,” the standard method, it used “mybb_.” That, my friends, represented a significant difference, but once I made proper adjustments, everything proceeded in good order.
Now maybe none of this concerns you. If you are a visitor to our forums, you just want things to work. Now they do, and that makes the investments and the time absolutely worthwhile.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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