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Newsletter Issue #471

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

It was a strange week when it came to Mac security issues. Out of left field comes a technical note from Apple suggesting that Mac users should be installing protective software, listing three well-known choices.

Then it was gone, history. There was no conspiracy, just an apparent misstep from a low-level person who was updating an older support document. So, no, Apple isn’t suddenly anticipating the onset of virus threats against Mac OS X. But it kept folks talking anyway during a week where things were relatively quiet in the Mac universe.

So in keeping with that tradition, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVETidBITS editor/publisher Adam Engst returned to talk about whether Mac users really need to install virus protection software. The answer, he said, was no.

He also spent some time extolling the virtues of his new unibody MacBook and gave us some background information about the ongoing controversy surrounding Apple’s new Mini DisplayPort video connection.

Ian Schray, from Softpress, came on board to talk about the latest versions of their Eddy award-winning Web authoring software, Freeway Express and Freeway Pro.

Michael Lowdermilk, from FastMac, told the story of how the company went from building products for other firms to marketing their own Apple accessories, which include iPhone backup battery packs, Mac note-book batteries, and other gear.

On The Paracast this week, meet noted anomalist and UFO historian Jerome Clark talks of UFOs as possible extraterrestrial visitors and possible expressions of a larger reality that we do not fully understand.

APPLE’S DOESN’T MIND AN OCCASIONAL QUIET REVOLUTION

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Mac’s debut in January 1984, it’s a sure thing that there were lots and lots of changes during that period. Some might even call them revolutionary, since Apple has never objected to making huge changes when they deemed it appropriate.

In some cases, the changes were mostly indirect. Take the advent of the Apple LaserWriter, containing some weird software known as PostScript, which used sophisticated mathematics to generate printed pages. That, and an application known as PageMaker, allowed you to create fully formatted documents with fancy typefaces and and illustrations on your Mac.

At the time I was also involved, in part, in the process of generating those printed pages, although the method was nowhere near as direct. The handwriting was on the wall, and it didn’t take an awful lot of time for those traditional typesetting studios to either go out of business or move to the burgeoning world of desktop publishing.

Now even with the basic Mac hardware, the world had changed in a big way, and that was only the beginning. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Apple’s revolutions weren’t just in using the Mac as a tool to create professional-caliber work in all sorts of businesses, from making music to running a medical office. The hardware itself underwent some pretty significant alterations too, and not just in terms of the case design and the sort of accessories you could buy for it.

In the mid-1990s, Apple realized that the capability of the processors had hit a wall, and so it began its first major processor migration, to the PowerPC. Now, in retrospect, I suppose Apple had no real choice there, although I suppose some of you might argue that they might have gone direct to Intel then and there.

Indeed, the first Power Macs weren’t all that powerful. Most of the software hadn’t been adapted to the new processor, so they had to run in emulation. That meant that the supposedly speedier computer often ran a whole lot slower than its predecessor.

I suppose, at the time, I didn’t appreciate what Apple had done, which was to adapt its operating system to a whole new processor family, yet retain the very same look and feel of its predecessor. This was no mean achievement, and it’s something way beyond anything Microsoft might have accomplished, since they have long strived to make Windows compatible with lots and lots of hardware configurations.

Unfortunately, the PowerPC had its limitations too. A major upgrade, the G5, was released to great fanfare. Soon Apple would hit the magic 3GHz barrier with its super-powerful chips, which were designed and built by IBM.

Of course, it didn’t quite happen the way Apple hoped. Indeed, the G5 had severe limitations, and the speediest models required liquid cooling in order to run efficiently. As far as a note-book version was concerned, it seemed far, far away in neverland.

Well, Intel had apparently been calling on Apple for years, hoping to do some processor business. So one day, they made the sale. In the summer of 2005, Steve Jobs confirmed rampant press reports that Apple was going to abandon the PowerPC and switch to new, powerful, and power-efficient processor families from Intel.

Now this was an extraordinary achievement. Just integrating the new chips into Apple’s existing designs was difficult enough. But imagine the operating system. Fortunately, Mac OS X is Unix-based and sufficiently portable to run on different processor architectures. Indeed, there had already been an Intel-based NeXT operating system, so why not Mac OS X?

Apple’s innovation, Universal, allowed developers to build software that worked on both the PowerPC and Intel, and thus came another revolution.

This one meant a whole new ball game. Coupled with the ability to run Windows at native or near-native speeds, moribund Mac sales began to increase. It wasn’t long before growing numbers of devoted PC users seriously considered switching to Macs.

Through it all,this particular revolution occurred mostly behind the scenes. Put a PowerPC and Intel Mac side by side, and the look and the feel was absolutely the same. Moving to Intel meant improved performance, to be sure, but you didn’t have to learn a new operating system to gain that extra speed.

The Intel revolution took months to accomplish rather than the years that the pundits suggested. In the end, it entailed few sacrifices on the part of Mac users, and those mostly involved the loss of the ability to run older, Classic software without using some untested third-party utilities. All right, I suppose that is an inconvenience, but then again no revolution is ever perfect, even the quiet ones.

APPLE JUST CAN’T STAY OUT OF THE COURTS

I’m sure for most of you, a court action is something to be dreaded. For multinational corporations, however, it almost seems a way of life, particularly if a lot of intellectual property is involved.

These days, Apple is fighting Psystar, a PC assembler who is installing Mac OS X on their products, in clear violation of Apple’s user license. Apple has already won part of the battle by getting its opponent’s counterclaims thrown out in court.

But Apple isn’t always the originator of the legal actions. In a number of cases, they’re on the receiving end, and they often originate from customers who feel they’ve been cheated in some fashion because a product didn’t perform quite the way they expected.

Since the iPhone 3G came out this summer, there have been a small number of lawsuits claiming that Apple had deceived them with its performance claims. The promise of twice the broadband speeds compared to the original is particularly controversial.

Now it happens to be true that this particular boast comes with the usual range of terms of conditions. In Apple’s case, “Throughput depends on the cellular network, location, signal strength, 3G/EDGE connectivity, feature configuration, usage, the Internet, and many other factors.”

In short, what they are saying is that you will get twice the speed, except when you don’t. What’s more, Apple can’t be held responsible for that either, since they are simply connecting to another company’s cellular network over which they have absolutely no control whatever.

It stands to reason that it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense for someone to file legal actions over such matters, particularly in light of the stipulations in the fine print. However, that evidently didn’t stop a number of attorneys from accepting the cases anyway, and some have even moved to convert these actions to class action status.

I suppose most of these cases will end up being summarily dismissed. I can’t see where Apple is being deceptive here. More to the point the iPhone 3G continues in the tradition of the first version, with the vast majority of customers fully satisfied. While 3G connection speeds can vary all over the place, I can tell you that Internet performance on my iPhone is quite good, thank you. Indeed, it’s gotten better over time, no doubt the result of Apple’s ongoing firmware improvements and comparable enhancements to AT&T’s network.

In your city, things may be altogether different. Maybe you won’t see 3G speeds very often, sometimes never. I doubt, however, that filling a lawsuit is going to change things one way or the other. Besides, even if you win, you probably will do little better than getting a discount coupon. Is it really worth the effort?

THE FINAL WORD

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

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