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Newsletter Issue #468

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

Last week, I wrote yet another piece about possible CEO succession plans at Apple. Certainly there are such things, although Apple isn’t saying just what they are or who might be considered as a replacement for Steve Jobs.

In keeping with the topic, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we returned to “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent held forth on the topic. But his real passion is music making, and he’s always on the lookout for affordable gear that performs surprisingly well. Indeed, that was the topic of the larger portion of this segment.

With the introduction of Parallels Desktop 4.0, the popular virtualization software for the Mac, we called on product evangelist Rawee Kambhiranond to detail the new features. It’s been a case of leapfrog between Parallels and its main rival, VMWare Fusion. It seems as soon as one gains an advantage, the other quickly comes up with a way to level the playing field and then some.

In addition, noted industry analyst Ross Rubin, of the NPD Group, discussed the ongoing success of the iPhone, and the fact that U.S. sales reveal that Apple’s super-popular smartphone has surpassed the Motorola RAZR in unit sales. This is especially surprising when you consider that the RAZR is usually given away or sold for just a modest price in exchange for the standard two-year wireless contract

Ross also talked about prospects for the tech industry this holiday quarter in light of the ongoing economic slowdown. In short, it’s expected cheaper gear will sell better, but it’s always possible that, if credit loosens before the holiday season is over, pent up demand might change that depressing picture. Or at least that’s what manufacturers and retailers are hoping.

On The Paracast this week, 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.

A CASUAL LOOK AT SNOW LEOPARD VERSUS WINDOWS 7

It’s not unusual to think that there’s never been a Mac OS feature that Microsoft didn’t try to imitate. Of course, this is not to say that Apple is above cribbing a few features from others when it’s appropriate.

Take the the Mac’s Help menu or, for that matter, the application switching technique, both of which didn’t originate with Apple. But that’s beside the point. You see, the next great operating system war will be between Mac OS 10.6, known as Snow Leopard and Windows 7. The former is due to arrive next summer, the latter by 2010.

May the best product win.

For Apple, Snow Leopard will supposedly be a step back, the better to fix the plumbing and clean up the dead wood. Although system requirements haven’t been officially announced, it has been reported unofficially that it’s Intel only, which seems to make sense since the planned improvements would seem to impact the x86 processor architecture to a far greater extent.

It certainly is a good idea to offload processor tasks to the graphics chips, which is one key reason why the new MacBooks are using NVIDIA parts rather than the pathetic integrated graphics from Intel. Since all recent Macs other than the original entry-level Intel-based Mac mini use processors with two or four cores, making the operating system more aware of such things is a huge plus.

I suppose you might consider the enhanced support for Microsoft Exchange to be a significant feature, particularly in some businesses. But it’s something that will otherwise go unnoticed.

Indeed, other than the features that promise enhanced performance, it appears that Apple will concentrate largely on cleaning up the dead wood in Mac OS X. Supposedly this will pave the way for future improvements for the systems that follow Snow Leopard. Or perhaps it’ll make it easier to deploy the system for multiple uses, in addition, of course, to Macs, the iPhone, iPod touch and Apple TV.

There are also reports of late that the Finder — still one of the more controversial features of Mac OS X — is being rewritten as a Cocoa application. That might mean something if you care about programming matters, but it may otherwise mean absolutely nothing, unless some of its lingering irritants are resolved, and there’s no guarantee of that.

I realize that some of the developers in our audience might want to lecture me about the age-old advantages of Carbon versus Cocoa, but I really don’t care all that much. The most important thing is how well things work.

While Apple isn’t promising any spiffy new features, I’m skeptical. There’s always room for “one more thing” or maybe two or three and that might make Snow Leopard a more salable product.

That assumes, of course, that Mac OS 10.6 will be sold at retail for the same $129 as previous versions. While I suppose that’s possible, I do have a sneaking suspicion that Apple might just want to reward Mac users for their loyalty and simply give it away!

I expect some of you doubt what I’m suggesting and I’m happy to admit I may be wrong. But I don’t think so.

As far as Microsoft as concerned, I have little doubt that Windows 7 will exact the same exorbitant purchase price as Vista. It is also supposed to be largely a refinement of its predecessor rather than a major revision.

That doesn’t mean Microsoft hasn’t announced some interesting new features, but right now, with only pre-betas available, things are apt to change. One thing that’s clear, though, is that Windows 7 will likely have a taskbar that closely resembles Mac OS X’s Dock. That may be their interpretation of “innovation,” but to me it only makes Vista’s replacement even less interesting.

Oh yes, they will also graft Multi-Touch capabilities onto Windows 7 as well, and certainly they have lots of good influences already, in the form of the iPhone and the new MacBook lineup. And, apparently, Microsoft’s overgrown, overpriced coffee table, the Surface.

Well, I suppose folks who decided to pass on Vista might hope that Windows 7 will be available at a big discount. That would really be innovative.

THE PRINTER BUSINESS — NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED

I can’t remember when there was a major new development in the printing business. I mean, printers are largely regarded as commodities, and it’s a sure thing that the choices are ubiquitous, with little differentiation from one model to the next.

That, I suppose, makes them very much like home theater sound systems and, in fact, personal computers, with certain rare exceptions that we all know about.

What it means is that, for $100 or so, you can buy an inkjet that delivers decent text quality and near-excellent reproduction of color photos. A black and white laser, which affords ultra-cheap prints, can be found for less than $200; double that for color.

For $200 or so, you can buy an all-in-one or multifunction, which bundles a printer, copier, scanner and fax machine in a single unit. These says, the relative quality of each component is at least decent, and sometimes the equivalent of separates.

The printer lineup that I’ve preferred, however, is neither inkjet nor laser, though it has some of the best qualities of both. In the past, I’ve given high marks for the Xerox Phaser 8550DN, a model now discontinued. However, after extended face time with a review sample, it developed an unexplained hardware defect and it was soon returned to the manufacturer.

The Xerox uses solid wax-based ink, supplied in tiny sticks in each of four primary colors. The technology was acquired some years back from its inventor, Tektronix, and hasn’t been duplicated by other printer makers, at least in recent years.

Well, after considering the latest and greatest, I opted for two. I use a Canon PIXMA MX850 all-in-one for copying, faxing and an occasional glossy color photo. I acquired the 8550’s successor, an 8560DN, for everything else.

When it comes to text, the 8560DN delivers print quality that is extremely close to laser. If you examine the letterforms under a loupe, you will probably catch a little raggedness around the edges with solid ink. But I don’t think most of you will care.

Color photos are sharp and brilliant, with a slight dithering pattern, even at the maximum resolution setting of 2400 dpi. But for all practical purposes, it’s close enough to an inkjet not to make a significant different for most purposes. That might explain why Phaser solid ink printers are quite popular in the real estate industry.

In terms of print speed, the 8560DN is comparable to a midrange laser, but it has a singular advantage. The first copy from most print jobs outputs within less than the advertised five seconds. I’ve never seen a laser do near as well, and that actually makes the 8560DN seem a whole lot faster.

Consumable pricing varies from vendor to vendor, but usually ranges at the low end of laser, and it’s far less expensive than any inkjet I know of. In fact, the price difference will largely vanish if your output level is high.

With a street price of roughly $800, the 8560DN is actually quite a bargain. Now, it hasn’t been trouble free. A tiny SIM or personality card failed, which made the printer inoperable. But it was repaired by Xerox under warranty, which includes on-site service, which is generally available no later than the next business day. Since the tech told me that he’s planning to buy a Mac soon for video editing, he gets a top rating in my book — and so does the printer.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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