• Newsletter Issue #467

    November 9th, 2008


    I have a fairly large collection of keyboards and other input devices, mostly mice of various configurations, which I’ve accumulated over the years. Whenever I feel tempted to sell them, or simply pass them off to a family member or friend, I begin to wonder whether I might actually need them. So I hold off.

    You see, unlike some of you, I don’t just stick with the same keyboard and mouse year after year. I change from time to time, sometimes just to test a new product, but most often because I decide I’d rather try a new approach. That’s just me.

    However, I’ve never been enamored of trackballs, even though I tried early on to become accustomed to the venerable Kensington TurboMouse. After I persevered for nearly a year, I decided that I had better things to do than force myself to endure ongoing discomfort, and so I returned to a standard mouse. These days, I don’t use Apple’s standard accessories at all. I will detail my current preferences a little later.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVEMacworld Editorial Director Jason Snell joined us to talk about choosing the best keyboard and mouse for your computer. You also heard his views on the features Apple dropped from the new MacBook, such as FireWire, and the fact that you can only get the latest Mac note-books with glossy screens.

    A long-time TV aficionado, Jason also delivered his fearless views on questionable the state of the current TV season and about some standout shows. Indeed, though ratings continue to slide, there are actually some pretty decent programs to be found, if you’re willing to take the time to sample them. Just check your TV listings and be open minded.

    Prolific author and commentator Joe Kissell was on hand to talk about the good, bad and ugly aspects of Apple’s MobileMe Web services. You’ll then heard his latest insights on choosing the best backup solution for your Mac.

    On The Paracast this week, Bill Birnes, from The History Channel’s “UFO Hunters” TV series and “UFO Magazine,” delivers new information about Philip Corso, insights into UFOs from time and space, and revelations about ongoing government conspiracy theories. And discover why David walked out in anger during the episode.

    Coming November 16: Meet an authentic Roswell witness and American hero, Dr. Jesse Marcel Jr., author of “The Roswell Legacy,” where he tells you how he handled materials from the fabled crash when he was a child. You’ll also hear from listener Mike Clelland, a UFO experiencer, who will recount some of his weird close encounters of the UFO kind.


    For better or worse, Apple is often way ahead of the curve when it comes to anticipating industry trends. Sometimes it’s even responsible for those new directions.

    Take the AirPort, which arrived at the very beginning of the wireless networking revolution. Today, pretty much every note-book computer has Wi-Fi capability, and it’s also available on many desktops, although sometimes strictly as an option.

    Even though Apple invented FireWire, they were also responsible for taking the nascent USB format and giving it credibility beginning with the iMac. Although they originally got plenty of lumps for ditching ADB for input devices and LocalTalk for printers and such, readily-available adapters came out to handle legacy devices. The rest of us quickly adapted.

    These days, some suggest that the desktop computer itself is probably an endangered species. Indeed, over 50% of the new personal computers sold are portable. Apple, however, anticipated that trend, too, and the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, together, amount for over 60% of Mac hardware sales.

    In a sense, Apple has been in the forefront of all-in-one personal computers from the get-go. The first Mac had this form factor, although it was hardly a portable, and you still needed a separate keyboard and mouse. It’s present-day successor, the iMac, continues that tradition, and continues to deliver great profits for the company.

    But the real action is in the note-book sector. That’s where Apple seems to have placed the lion’s share of its product development cash, what with the unibody that has taken over the entire line, except for the legacy white MacBook and the 17-inch MacBook Pro. But the latter will probably get a major upgrade in the not-too-distant future, perhaps at Macworld 2009 in January.

    Portables also influence most of today’s Mac desktops. The Mac mini was always based on parts from the MacBook, although now they’re from a much older version, because the mini line hasn’t been refreshed since 2007. The iMac more closely resembled the MacBook Pro, and will likely incorporate chipsets similar to the current model in the next revision.

    Only the Mac Pro, which is actually regarded as a workstation rather than a personal computer, exists in a world by itself, with parts exclusive to the line.

    So where does Apple take us next? Well, today’s note-book computer is a powerful beast, with performance that closely matches desktops. It’s more than enough for most of you. Indeed, a MacBook Pro is a regular visitor on a movie set, often used for sound capture and final video editing chores.

    If you must have a bigger display, no problem. Just connect the one you want, even the 30-inch “dual link” variety typified by the best displays from Apple and even Dell, and nothing prevents you from using a separate keyboard and mouse. So why do you even need a second computer?

    Indeed, just as more and more people are abandoning their landlines for wireless phones, I expect that many of you rely on a note-book for all your personal computing chores. I know my son does. His black MacBook, of Early 2008 vintage, has traveled with him not only throughout the U.S., but to his current home in Spain. He finds it perfect for every task for which he depends on a computer, and has never once considered a desktop alternative, or even a larger display for that matter.

    I would not be surprised to see the portable segment exceed 75% of the market and desktops become consigned more and more to specific niche functions. They will continue to serve duty in dedicated office environments and for high-end content creators. Even then, as quad-core processors become commonplace on note-books, I expect that Mac Pro customers might similarly diminish in number.

    For me, I suppose I’d be disappointed, because I actually prefer desktops, large screens — the whole nine yards! Of course, my MacBook Pro is faster than anything I’ve ever used before, except for the Mac Pro that sits below my main computer desktop. On the other hand, the next great processor revision will perhaps eliminate my need for a desktop computer altogether.

    Despite my reservations, that time is close at hand, and it may indeed happen in the next year or two.

    For the rest of you, I expect the transition might be a whole lot quicker. You see, some habits are hard to break. The first Mac I brought into my home office was an expandable desktop model (I used the all-in-one versions at the office). While the facts are otherwise, I still have that emotional commitment to the way things used to be. But I am not rigid in my beliefs — not by a long shot.


    I know that most of you probably don’t care a whit about the hardware I use for my daily work. Some of you might, however, find it useful in the event your requirements are similar to mind. Rest assured, I don’t think I necessarily have anything to boast about.

    As I you know, I produce two online radio shows every week, so audio hardware is of paramount importance. So it rates at the forefront of my equipment collection.

    First comes microphones. True, my MacBook Pro has a built-on mic, but it’s definitely not suitable for professional broadcasting, although it’ll work in a pinch. Instead, I continue to use a pair of Shure SM58s, which are rugged dynamic mics tailored for both speech and vocal use. For my purposes, they are both mounted on regular tabletop stands, and I use large windscreens to reduce popping effects.

    The main audio mixer is a Mackie DFX-6, which replaces the Yamaha I previously used for no reason other than it seems to sound better, and appears more rugged. It has four standard inputs, plus a few studio effects that I seldom use. As with the previous mixer, it has slider switches, which ensure quiet operation. When we stream the shows, the output from the Mackie passes through a Behringer Model MDX2600 audio processor, which cleans up sound from sometimes inferior sources, such as a mobile phone, and delivers maximum talk power. This may be a simple arrangement compared to a traditional radio station, but it gets the job done.

    I still have a JK Audio digital hybrid processor, which is designed to handle phone calls, but these days, I can do as well or better with Skype.

    For remote recording, I continue to use that Native Instruments Audio Kontrol 1 USB mixer, plus a Blue Snow mic.

    There is yet another piece of hardware that’s critical to this company’s operations, and that’s a SuperMicro server, running a version of Linux known as CentOS Enterprise, which is located at a datacenter in Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Site management comes courtesy of two related applications, known as WHM and cPanel. I stream the audio with Apple’s Darwin Streaming Server 6.0.3, the open source version of QuickTime Streaming Server. The live broadcast is fed to the server across a broadband Internet connection from my Mac Pro, courtesy of QuickTime Broadcaster.

    You may wonder why the server isn’t a Mac, and that’s a good question. However, the easy answer is that Linux servers are still less expensive in most hosting environments, largely because of heavy competition and a rich selection of lower cost hardware. While the Apple Xserve is a powerful product that is fully competitive with servers from other makers of equal specs, there is a far smaller selection of Web hosts that are Mac-specific. Hence there is less price competition. Maybe that’ll change, and we’ll change too when that happens.

    On to the software side, original audio is captured by Ambrosia Software’s WireTap Studio 1.0.6. Although it has its own waveform editor, I actually prefer Bias Peak Pro 6.0.3, which is a great two-channel audio application. For multiple channel mixdowns, I generally use a shareware product, Amadeus Pro.

    Our Web sites are built and maintained with several tools. This site is mostly done with WordPress, perhaps the most popular blogging tool on the planet. The text editor in Transmit, my favorite FTP application, serves duty for basic editing, and I also use Adobe Dreamweaver CS4.

    For pure writing, Microsoft Word 2008 still tackles the job efficiently. Maybe it’s bloated and prone to occasional crashes, but I got used to Word way back in the late 1980s, and I haven’t seen a compelling reason to switch. That doesn’t man there aren’t equal or superior third-party solutions. But my word processing tasks tend to be fairly basic.

    I still stick with Apple Mail, largely because the alternatives are buggier. My primary browser is Safari, both the Mac and Windows versions, but I still check the sites with Firefox, Opera and, yes, Internet Explorer under Windows Vista. I do my best to make sure that the sites render properly most everywhere.

    The final part of the toolbox is my Mac hardware lineup. The display remains that 30-inch Dell 3007-WFPHC, which delivers brilliant color and excellent sharpness. But now that Apple has resumed display development with the 24-inch LED Cinema Display, I have hopes for a forthcoming 30-inch version that’ll be a standout in the marketplace. Maybe next year.

    My main work computer is an Early 2008 Mac Pro, equipped with the standard pair of 2.8GHz Quad-Core Xeon processors, and 16GB of RAM. Most of the RAM comes from third parties, because Apple’s own chips are way overpriced. Internally, the Mac Pro sports a pair of 500GB Western Digital hard drives (the second used for daily clone backups with Shirt Pocket’s SuperDuper!). The graphics card is the NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT. A second backup regimen, using Time Capsule, goes to a 1TB Time Capsule.

    On the note-book side of the ledger, I use an Early 2008 17-inch MacBook Pro maxed out with 4GB RAM and a 16GB iPhone 3G. While I was originally skeptical about the need for an iPhone, it’s now almost always at my side and indispensable. Yes, I am addicted to the wired generation and it’s hard to imagine life for any period of time without Internet access.

    That is, until today’s Internet is replaced with something better.


    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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    11 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #467”

    1. Paul Keig says:

      I applaud your smart choice of the DELL 30″ S-IPS display. I now use a DELL 2007FP for prepress work. Work colleague has an Apple 22″ ACD. The DELL is equal to, if not superior to the ACD, though not widescreen, of course.
      ACD cost AU$1,360. DELL AU$345, on Outlet.
      IMO, Apple did themselves no favours in not revealing the panel technology in each of their displays. I’m sure they had their reasons, no doubt convenience to them being near the top of the list. By and large, they have got away with it, because most people go weak at the knees at the mention of ACDs. Problem being, most people do not have the patience/time to acquaint themselves with TFT panel technology. It reaps rewards many time over, having that knowledge.
      Say to the majority of people: “But it only has 6-bit colour, not 8-bit/16.7 Mill colours/no dithering, and they look at you as though you are the original Roswell Alien. This is not implying that ACDs have 6-bit colour; am just making a general point. I have come to the belief, though, that S-PVA panels, (and one doesn’t know whether ine has S-PVA or S-IPS in an ACD), are less desirable than S-IPS. The high-end display that has the biggest bang-for-buck; and I have tested it, is the NEC 2090UXi, for just over a grand. leaves ACDs in the dust, but I couldn’t persuade the powers-that-be to fork out. Shame.

      Very much enjoy your newsletter.

      Paul K

    2. mcloki says:

      In a few years you’ll be writing an article about how laptops are a dying breed. Being replaced by the latest 14 inch iphone/imac hybrid.
      The iphone and the iMac will merge in the next few years. The iMac is almost there now. It’s just that carrying around a 24 inch screen is a bit cumbersome. Once large touch screens can be economically built by Apple, we’ll see a 13 inch 1phone/ itouch. That’s enough computer for 80% of the market. Bundle it with Time capsule and you’ve got a wonderful product.

    3. I don’t think I want to be carrying a 14-inch Mac Hybrid in a holster attached to my belt. 🙂


    4. Jim says:

      Were Apple to eliminate desktops, I would leave Apple for the first time since the Apple IIc. I hate trackpads that much. As to the Mac Pro, “a rose by any other name…” (workstation), is still a desktop in my book. As to my iMacs, the genealogy of their components is of much less interest than their form factor. Keep your laptops, for me, the trade-offs aren’t worth it.

    5. hmurchison says:

      I do think desktops will eventually be %30-40 of the mix. Portables give you that freedom to “unchain” you from the desk and move about and that’s a powerful features. Consumers will undoubtedly move to portable computing to get the most bang for their buck. I assume I’ll have both as I do dream about a very fast Mac Pro system for running Final Cut Pro and Logic Studio. In these environments speed is paramount. Most Mac users will not be running these applications though so I can easily see portables as being the primary choice for many of them.

    6. RMac says:

      “…today’s notebook computer is a powerful beast, with performance that closely matches desktops.”


      I happen to be using two closely-matched intel Macs on a daily basis at the moment, and I can tell you that their performance is by no means closely matched. The desktop is noticeably quicker in every way, in spite of the fact that the MacBook Pro is the newer of the two.

      I am comparing a 2006 white 24″ iMac 2.16 GHz with a 2007 MBP 2.2GHz, both with 4 GB of RAM. When tethered, I am using a 20″ CRT as the main screen for the MBP, with an external keyboard and mouse.

      I am aware that many people not only don’t give a damn about speed or convenience, but are wholly unaware of this factor when using a computer. Witness the countless satisfied users of $400 Windows laptops. I am not one of them.

      You are still making a performance sacrifice when choosing a laptop.

      One size does NOT fit all. I want a choice, and I want the choice to be mine, not that of the ignoscenti.

    7. In this case, it’s likely very much the fault of the hard drive, which is faster on the iMac. You can get a 7200 rpm device on the MacBook Pro, which would come closer to matching the desktop computer. But a slow hard drive can take the wind out of an otherwise speedier computer’s sails.


    8. Louis Wheeler says:

      It’s too soon to project this.

      Yes, the consumer market moves increasingly toward the laptops, but what about Apple’s other markets? What will Apple do about the Education market? There are simply too many areas, in life, where you have different people use the same computer–like in a classroom. Will Apple give up those markets? I don’t think so as long as Apple makes money from them.

      Each technological trend that you described was one where Apple could differentiate itself by being better. The question is “what technological advances are coming” which Apple can use to get a leg up with? I can see a few: computers on a chip, flexible screens, ubiquitous wi-fi, etc. Those advances will allow computer configurations which were not possible before.

      What this might mean is that every peripheral is stand alone computer. Thus, the computer fragments, so that any computer can seamlessly contact its peripherals through Bonjour. So, we may have the keyboard always with us, but there are monitors everywhere we can see.

      But, I don’t see that happening yet. But, in several years? Maybe.


    9. David says:

      I think the SSD will eventually save notebooks from their current drive performance problems, but they won’t solve the problem of storing large media files.

      The idea that current notebooks are “fast enough” for most people reminds me of the ads for the Quadra 900 that promised the end of watching progress bars. As computers get more powerful people come up with more complicated tasks for them to perform. Not only that, but basic software gets more and more bloated requiring vast power to do what previous generations did. Word 5.1 running on the aforementioned Quadra is faster than Word 2008 on today’s top MacBook Pro.

      As DVDs are replaced by digital downloads people are going to need enormous amounts of storage. The Time Capsule is barely adequate today because it’s required to do double duty as both a backup device and central media storage location. In the future we’re all going to need home servers with dozens of TB of storage. In order to protect our digital media collections home users will need the RAID6 systems currently only needed by Enterprise.

      I don’t see any point buying both a home server and a notebook, when I can work directly on the server.

      At home I have very little time for computing until the kids are in bed and then the computer has to compete with my wife for attention. We protect our living spaces by keeping the computers in a separate room. Away from home I’m pretty much chained to a desk or squeezed aboard public transit. A notebook computer would have zero advantages for me there, but a handheld could be useful.

      I’d like a more Newton-sized iPhone to complete my computing world. The 3.5″ screen on the current unit is really too small for web content; I spend more time manipulating data on the screen than actually viewing it. A large 16:9 screen would be also be fantastic for video. Add 3G and a BlueTooth headset and you’ve got a super-sized device with go-anywhere connectivity and hands free phone operation.

    10. “I don’t think I want to be carrying a 14-inch Mac Hybrid in a holster attached to my belt.”

      It’ll probably be the thickness of a sheet of paper and fold.

    11. Mister Ron says:

      Well, I regard my MacBook as a peripheral to my Mac Pro, the same as my iPod, and the other Macs in the family. The wonderful thing about a Pro Desktop is the expandability will enable me to keep up with advances for a long time to come. Everything pops right in and out, even the Motherboard, if necessary.

      I’m an old Apple II guy, going from the IIe to the IIgs, then an assortment of expandable Mac towers over the years. Those things are the core of the Mac using experience…

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