I still don’t see many — or any — members of the media making much of a deal out of the fact that, while Apple did quite well for the last financial quarter, whereas Microsoft’s sales, while sufficient to generate the usual high profits, were enough to throw their leadership into tailspins. As a result, Microsoft is going to lay off some 5,000 employees over the next 18 months, and no doubt a large amount of contractors.
You can’t, of course, provide answers to questions that nobody asks. But we ask them, So on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl checked out consumer electronics sales and trends for the last quarter and for 2009 with industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group. During the course of the interview, which is worth a careful listen, our old friend gave us the scoop on how various companies fared during a very difficult season, including the well-publicized failure of the Circuit City consumer electronics chain.
With the apparent inability of big telecoms to succeed with Internet phone service, we called upon Timothy Dick, co-founder of VOIPo, a new entrant in this arena, to sort things out. What I didn’t have a chance to mention on the show is that I’ve set up a VOIPo installation here, with one of our business phone numbers. Voice reception is excellent, and pre-release glitches are few and far between. I see a great future for this company if they can keep things as solid as they ramp up their system.
In addition, Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS, came on board to look at the state of the Apple Inc., some fascinating things about Microsoft and other fascinating topics.
Coming February 15: Veteran UFO and paranormal investigatorStan Gordon discusses the classic Kecksburg, Pennsylvania case and ongoing waves of paranormal activity on that state.
Now available! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders on The Paracast home page, where you’ll find a convenient pop-up menu so you can begin the ordering process. They come in white, 100% cotton, and feature The Paracast logo on the front. The rear emblem states: “Separating Signal From Noise.” You can get them for $14.95, each, plus shipping and are available in most popular sizes.
As regular readers know, I’m not one to take Mac troubleshooting sites as seriously as I used to. In one tragic case, one of those sources, which has had a couple of ownership changes, has managed to pretty much lose its hard-won reputation for accuracy.
These days, if they’re not just taking a few random system anomalies and turning them into serious problems of one sort or another, they are mostly regurgitating the material they find at Apple’s own support forums. Unfortunately, those forums are not actually vetted, but just offered as a reasonably open resource for folks to report problems and sometimes even get some answers by regular visitors. Apple doesn’t really make an effort to provide genuine support, though. They mostly provide that service as a place to vent and perhaps locate others who’ve solved the problem you’re having.
In any case, I think the people who conclude that Leopard was one of the buggier Mac OS X releases are just plain wrong. Each and every version has required several maintenance updates before things settled down. Sometimes they even shipped with show-stoppers, such as the tendency to corrupt the directory of a FireWire 800 drive. That was fixed pretty quick, though it sometimes required a firmware update from the drive vendor.
Leopard’s major contender was a Finder bug that might result in lost or corrupted data if something halted the process of moving — rather than just copying — a file from one drive to another. That, too, was fixed really fast, though it’s possible this was an issue of long standing that was only discovered when Leopard came out.
Another bug that annoyed many of you resulted in unreliable Wi-Fi connections. Indeed, I ran into a few early on, though never very serious. But my particular setup is complicated by the fact that reception in the master bedroom is not terribly robust. So I’ve had to configure a second AirPort Extreme (the first is actually a Time Capsule) to better circulate the signal.
However, I haven’t had any notable crashing bugs. Sure, applications do quit from time to time, but the causes appear to be application-related rather than operating system glitches.
But if you can believe what you’ve read here and there, Apple can’t do anything right, and Leopard is an unmitigated disaster. This despite the fact that 10.5 is in the hands of more Mac users than any previous version of Mac OS X. If there were serious defects, they wouldn’t be confined to some scattered and often unverified complaints on a Mac troubleshooting site, or even Apple’s discussion forums.
Perfection, however, is not in the cards. Indeed, the Mac OS X Finder, while better able to handle multithreading than prior versions, can still be brought to its knees from time to time. It still has difficulty retaining position or view settings, and these are problems that can be traced back to the very first release of Mac OS X.
Although developers aren’t speaking about this publicly, it has been reported that Snow Leopard will include a Cocoa Finder. The current version is Carbon. That doesn’t mean that, if true, Apple’s programmers have discovered a holy grail that will miraculously transform the Finder into a super-efficient file navigation and management utility. But maybe it’ll give them a chance to revisit the more serious shortcomings, and finally fix them.
Moreover, having a stable and speedy operating system doesn’t mean there aren’t other things Apple should be addressing in Leopard’s successor. Take the Help menu — please! Why are the labels smaller than in other menus? What about design consistency?
Of course, Snow Leopard isn’t being promoted as a major feature-laden release. While there will be plenty of under-the-hood improvements — or at least the promise of same — the visual look and feel will be essentially the same. Even if the Finder is Cocoa, that’s not something you will be able to actually see, just as you couldn’t see the differences between the PowerPC and Intel versions of Mac OS X.
But as far as Leopard itself is concerned, no doubt there will be more updates in the fashion of 10.5.6. I can’t say when 10.5.7 will be readied, but surely it’ll come eventually, and perhaps there will even be a few more before Apple is finished and, other than security updates, is concentrating strictly on Snow Leopard.
For now, I regard Leopard is supremely reliable, and its shortcomings aren’t serious enough to detract from its benefits. Let’s hope Snow Leopard continues in that tradition, though I hope it’ll fewer require updates to get things to settle down.
1984 represented the introduction of the original Apple Macintosh, and that was certainly an historic development in the world of personal computing. But it was also the year I bought my first VCR, and it was a top-of-the-line model bearing the Zenith label on it (though built by JVC) that set me back $850.
Why so much? Well, I wanted the best-quality audio, and the basic VCR could barely compete with a table radio. Instead, I choose VHS Hi-Fi, which sounded reasonably close to a CD, and that wasn’t too shabby. It certainly made action movies far more enjoyable.
However, a VCR’s picture quality was always merely adequate, and when DVDs came out, you could see the eventual end of the former. This isn’t to say that the VHS crowd didn’t have any further ideas. There was, for example, S-VHS, which was supposed to deliver pictures almost twice as sharp as regular VHS.
In the real world, I sprung for one, but it was largely a waste of money. Despite the claims, picture quality was only slightly better, and no market developed for prerecorded fare. But it was fine for time-shifting TV shows until DVRs became popular.
More recently, our latest S-VHS VCR, a Panasonic, failed, and I sought a replacement. I suppose I could have settled for a regular VHS, but I still had some S-VHS tapes on hand, and I wanted to play them from time to time, but finding such a product in today’s market proved to be an exercise in futility.
In the end, I got a Mitsubishi S-VHS VCR, one of their high-end models of several years ago, on eBay. It cost me a little over $90, and arrived in first-rate condition. The vendor was someone who had gotten near-perfect eBay ratings, so I’m pleased with the purchase.
I also hope it’ll last a few years, but it will not be replaced. I’ve moved on.
You see, I have few feelings of nostalgia when it comes to consumer electronics. My turntable was sold off in the last decade, and all vinyl replaced by CDs. Yes, I know some of you believe that the CD is an inferior sound medium. I’ll only state that I do not agree, so let’s leave it at that.
As far as cassette recorders are concerned, I do have one or two around, though I can’t remember when I last removed any of them from the office closet.
However, there is still a 27-inch analog TV in my son’s room. It’s a CRT model from Sony, purchased in 1994, and has undergone fairly steady use since then. It remains in near-perfect condition, and, yes, it will be replaced when it wears out with a brand new flat panel model. And I won’t feel any pangs of regret either.
THE FINAL WORD
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