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Newsletter Issue #472

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

When you do a weekly radio show, not all the interviews are formal and structured. With some of our guests, I try to just riff and see happens. Most of the time, we get away with it, and there’s an entertaining discussion.

So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVEBob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus returned not just to talk about his latest books or magazine articles. Instead, he started the segment discussing snow day in Austin, Texas, a rare development in that state. But we soon went on to subjects that were more closely related to the show’s focus. In this case, Bob talked about those frivolous lawsuits against Apple Inc. and went on to talk about fascinating matters.

Philip Gronvold, US Manager Business Development for Opera Software, came onboard to talk about the history of the Opera browser. He also spent a fair amount of time detailing ongoing Web standards development — including the Acid3 test — and how it impacts the upcoming version of their desktop application.

Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith closed out the show to detail that publication’s recent tests of Apple’s 24-inch LED display, the newest generation of MacBooks and MacBook Pros, along with the MacBook Air.

During this session, he delivered a fairly thorough explanation of their testing procedures, and why they concentrate heavily on real world applications, and not just canned benchmarks.

On The Paracast this week, get set for another one of our highly-informative UFO and Paranormal Roundtables, featuring T. Allen GreenfieldJeff Ritzmann and Jeremy Vaeni.

This time, Greenfield is asked about a claim he made during his previous appearance on The Paracast, about a possible major UFO-related event would occur last summer in or near Houston. Did it really happen after all? You’ll be surprised at his response.

THE THINGS THAT CONTINUE TO GO WRONG

It’s fair to say that even the most successful companies on the planet make things that don’t quite behave as well as they should. Their management also makes their share of bad decisions, sometimes in subtle ways that aren’t so obvious.

Certainly, few dedicated Mac users will lack large lists of features that they don’t like, or features they’d like to see added as soon as possible. Wherever you go, whatever product you pick, you’ll find a rich selection of decisions you just know weren’t thought out quite right.

You have to wonder that, with all those brilliant designers and engineers, why can’t Apple figure out a way to avoid these mistakes? All right, I understand, it’s just a bunch of human beings, and we all make our share of screw-ups.

On the other hand, that won’t stop us from complaining and complaining yet again, with the hope that the right people at Apple are going to listen and eventually make the proper changes.

It’s fair to say that Apple probably needs constant reminders, which is the reason for this column. But bear in mind that my individual pet peeves may seem trivial, while you may have other priorities. So be it.

When you consider the hallmark of the Mac OS, the Finder, you wonder how, with 25 years of experience under their belts, Apple can’t solve of the basic problems that still impact Mac OS X. Some are just so trivial, you have to wonder why it’s taking so long.

Consider the Finder’s Sidebar, which has tiny type that just can’t be made larger. If your eyes are far younger than mine, maybe it doesn’t make a difference. I do find it reasonably tolerable, but I can see where many of you don’t. Mrs. Steinberg, for example, has certain issues with her beautiful brown eyes that make reading small text a chore, so I’m making this request on her behalf.

When it comes to interface inconsistencies, it’s a sure thing that Apple made great strides in tamping the clashing window designs of Tiger when it built Leopard. But just to demonstrate there is no such thing as perfection, look at the labels in the Help menu and explain to me why they are much smaller in size than other menus.

In the hardware segment, Steve Jobs cannot possibly expect us to believe that all or most of the people who bought those snazzy new unibody MacBooks have no earthly use for FireWire. He’s right that most camcorders these days support USB. But what about the one you bought a few years back, which is still making great family videos? How about the external hard drive that you bought last year, which suddenly has no place to connect to on your new portable computer?

Before I get ahead of myself, I can almost believe that someone out there is even now considering a class action lawsuit to force Apple to restore FireWire on Late 2008 MacBooks, and recall the ones sold so they can be retrofitted.

Doesn’t make sense to you? It doesn’t to me either, and I don’t want to give anyone any fancy ideas, but I don’t think they need my help to come up with a silly scheme. And, please, don’t mention the controversial issue of glossy screens; I’ve already gone there.

When it comes to the iPhone, now that version 2.2 of the firmware has fixed most of the genuine defects, what about a certain missing feature that Apple has evidently placed on the back burner for far too long?

Yes, I’m talking about cut, copy and paste. You know that the BlackBerry Storm has it, so why not the iPhone? Does a feature of that sort so elude Apple that it will take years to accomplish? Are the more skeptical members of the tech media right that Apple is gradually turning itself into its worst enemy (so to speak) — Microsoft?

I just think it’s a case of priorities and resources, and Apple will get around to it. It’s quite possible that Macworld 2009 will bring news of yet another iPhone software update that will deliver this feature, not to mention native voice dialing and other capabilities that are long overdue.

Indeed, with reports that netbooks are doing pretty well, thank you, if only because too many customers can’t afford anything better, is such a beast on Apple’s agenda? Frankly, I’m interested as far as a news story is concerned, but I have no actual use for one, and I don’t think Apple will bother unless they can make a difference.

Think about the tablet PC. It will take off some day, right, and expand beyond niche markets. Or maybe it won’t, but that doesn’t stop the PC world from building nearly everything they can regardless of design merit, hoping, against hope, that they’ll be able to raise the sales figures somehow.

As far as my little list of Apple product shortcomings is concerned, well I’ve barely scratched the surface. But I’ll let you readers take over in the Comments section — at least for now.

THE ROAD TO HELL IS PAVED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS

When the Mac first arrived, many of you were convinced that you had abandoned those dreaded command lines for good. I know I was.

Of course, it took a lot longer for the rest of the personal computing world to get that message, and I suppose it’s unfortunate that Microsoft had to show them the way, although it was a way that they simply copied from you-know-who.

When Apple ditched the original Mac OS, and joined the wonderful world of Unix, they basically put a very attractive face on that venerable command line operating system. Indeed, if you pore through the underpinnings of Mac OS X, you’ll find lots of things that are readily accessed by Terminal along with the appropriate text-based directions.

In the early days of Mac OS X, you even had to use Terminal to repair certain problems, but the need for that sort of retro behavior is no longer required in most cases. Besides, there are plenty of maintenance utilities that attach a graphical interface to those procedures, so you can concentrate on being a Mac user and not a Unix maven.

Our Web server is, however, all-Linux. It’s not that there isn’t a real Mac alternative, an Xserve, but they cost a whole lot more than those mass-production servers and the hosting companies who manage them exact the appropriate penalty in your monthly bills. Besides, Linux has been tested and proven for years in the Web server universe, and there’s a rich selection of options.

So I went the Linux route, hoping that the graphical utilities used to manage sites, cPanel and Parallels Plesk Control Panel, ought to be sufficient to handle most of the heavy lifting.

I wish that were true, but it’s not.

However hard I try, I find that I have to invoke the SSH function in Terminal to login to my server and perform various and sundry maintenance and update functions. Just the other day, for example, I was switching our email server software to one that supposedly provided better performance and flexibility. What ought to have been a simple checkbox in the Plesk Control Panel required a trip to the command line.

As I observed the progress screens in Terminal, I began to think I had been taken back through time, to the late 1970s, as I clicked N plus Return to move through the information screens and engage the switchover function.

When it comes to these sites, I use WordPress and Adobe Dreamweaver to get most of the work done. Transmit, an FTP utility I use to transfer files, also can edit text files, and sometimes I find myself going through Linux-style configuration screens and PHP code to make things happen. Sometimes I get the feeling I even know what I’m doing, but then when things get really rough, I email our new, highly skilled server administrator, Anoop Alias, to do the really difficult stuff.

It’s not that I planned it that way, but I remain optimistic that things will eventually change for the better, and I can give up on the command line for once and for all.

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
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