• Newsletter Issue #485

    March 15th, 2009


    Of all the controversies that irk Mac users, you would think it highly unlikely that the issue of whether an LCD screen should be glossy or matte would rise to the top. But it’s really a polarizing issue, particularly in light of Apple’s decision to essentially phase out the non-glossy option except for the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus, who gives his observations on the new iPod shuffle, glossy displays and other matters. Now Bob, you see, is a fan of glossy displays.

    Macworld’s Rob Griffiths, on the other hand, explained on the same show why he hates glossy screens and won’t tolerate one on his lap or desktop. Fortunately, there’s now at least one third-party alternative, a company that will install a matte screen on your recent MacBook or MacBook Pro for a mere $200.

    Rob also offered his reactions to the newest generation of Mac desktops. He’s particularly fond of the possibilities for the refreshed Mac mini.

    You’ll also heard from Andrew Donnelly, from Mikogo, who talked about their new — and free — Mac screen sharing software.

    On The Paracast this week, award-winning TV newscaster and UFO author George Knapp describes the weird UFO and secret weapons-related claims surrounding Area 51, and the tales of John Lear, Bob Lazar and others. He’ll also bring you up to date on the 2008 Needles, CA crash of an unusual craft.

    Coming March 22: Experiencer Mike Clelland brings us up to date on his “discovery pilgrimage” to a UFO conference in Nevada, and he also shares additional details about his paranormal encounters in this wide-ranging discussion.

    Now available! The Official Paracast T-Shirt. We’re taking orders direct from our new Official Paracast Store, where you can place your order and pay with a major credit card or PayPal. The shirts 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 you can select from most popular sizes.


    We know Microsoft’s stock price has dipped in recent months to its lowest level in years. We also know that they have begun to lay off several thousand employees to cut costs, citing declining PC sales as the reason.

    Certainly a company has the right to shed workers as it sees fit, particularly when there’s no union contract to be concerned about. However, that’s not the main issue at stake here. It’s whether Microsoft really understands why business is down and what they need to do in order to set things right.

    To my way of thinking it’s highly doubtful, although they will certainly earn high profits from their sales for years to come. You can see some of the problems when you examine the prerelease versions of their future products, as many journalists and individual users have already done.

    Let’s start with Internet Explorer 8, their latest update to what is still the world’s most used browser, although its market share dominance is far below what it used to be.

    On the positive side of the ledger, Internet Explorer 8 will supposedly provide improved adherence to Web standards, rather than insist that designers adhere to Microsoft’s proprietary schemes. That this choice is actually switchable seems destined to confuse people. But Microsoft still hasn’t grasped the meaning of the phrase “keep it simple stupid!”

    Some suggest it’s the fault of having engineers build user interfaces without sufficient feedback from regular people. But Microsoft continues to release public betas and conduct focus group sessions. So why can’t they get the message?

    Maybe they just aren’t asking the right questions. In any case, the real issue with Internet Explorer is the fact that it has, thus far, not demonstrated anything close to decent rendering performance. Recent tests conducted so far, entirely on the Windows platform, reveal MSIE 8 to be dead last in speed trials. Sure, it’s not the final release but it’s doubtful it’ll get much better. Microsoft’s products never do.

    Indeed, Opera, perennially an also-run in market share, though a leader in innovation, has shown itself to be far speedier. To nobody’s surprise, the most recent competitions I’ve read put Apple’s Safari 4 beta at the head of the pack, followed by Google’s Chrome, which, in case you have forgotten, is based on Apple’s Web kit. Next up is Firefox 3.1 now rebadged as 3.5.

    We’re not talking of minor speed variations here. MSIE 8 performs at but a fraction of the speed of every other popular browser on the planet. Microsoft has to be embarrassed big time!

    When it comes to the forthcoming Windows 7, the stakes are extremely high. Vista is demonstrably a large failure, although Microsoft would never admit to any such thing. But rather than start from scratch, the next version of Windows is largely a cleaned up Vista, perhaps with fewer performance bumps and conflicts along the way.

    I suppose Microsoft is also banking on the ongoing speed improvements of PCs, hoping that even modest enhancements will yield a world of difference in the real world. Indeed, the tests I’ve read about so far — and remember Windows 7 may be as much as a year away from completion — appear to reveal noticeably reduced sluggishness compared to Vista.

    However, that doesn’t mean it’ll necessarily match a more compelling benchmark, which is Windows XP. If it did, you know Microsoft would be praising Windows 7’s speed improvements to the skies. Then again, they’d probably do that anyway, regardless of the truth of the matter.

    In contrast, don’t forget that every new version of Mac OS X has been as fast or faster than its predecessor. Things seem to have plateaued with Tiger, but Leopard, for all intents and purposes, performs about the same.

    Snow Leopard promises to be superior simply by virtue of its smaller footprint and reduced RAM requirements, but it would seem that superior support for multicore processors and the ability to offload tasks to the graphics hardware ought to count for substantial improvements in certain respects. While there will no doubt be plenty of hype on Apple’s part, these technological enhancements do appear to make sense from a logical standpoint.

    Microsoft, however, would rather remain oblivious to such minor considerations as facts. But that’s nothing new.


    The bane of the existence for any subscription-based service, such as a wireless carrier or Internet phone service, is customer churn. It costs are fair amount of money to recruit your customers, and you don’t want them to leave, particularly before you recoup your investment and make some profits from their patronage.

    So companies will usually set up a “retention” department, consisting of people who are there to basically convince the customer to stay. Usually they will offer a discounted product, such as a free mobile phone, or a rebate, as an incentive to keep your business. This makes a whole lot of sense, because they will pay far more money to sign up your replacement.

    Recently, I decided to look for a new VoIP carrier, mostly because I wanted to cut expenses, and take advantage of the additional features offered by Vonage’s competitors. Basically, except for their extra-cost variation on visual voicemail, Vonage has basically offered the same service and pricing policy from the very beginning.

    Choosing another provider wasn’t simple. The first company I selected was in a “pre-launch” mode. Connections were reliable, all right and the sound quality was quite good. However, some of the features weren’t fully implemented, so I kept searching.

    Yes, I finally found a suitable candidate. But since I’ve only had 30 days experience with the company, I’d rather hold off expressing an opinion until the data, as they say, is in.

    Quitting Vonage, even after a year of service, wasn’t so simple. In the end I had to call them three times to actually succeed in closing my account. On each occasion, rather than be persuaded to continue service, I was abruptly reminded about how much money I owed them for canceling prematurely.

    How much? Well, it varied from less than $40 to over $100. The second person I talked to abruptly told me he was terminating my account on the spot, but it was still in force several days later when I made the third call.

    Let me put it this way: Although a pioneer in building a VoIP service, Vonage hasn’t had it easy. They had to make multimillion dollar legal settlements with other companies over intellectual property issues, and their initial public offering wasn’t quite as successful as they anticipated.

    It’s also true that some of their competitors have gone out of business, but there are lots of players in this still-fledgling industry, despite early expectations that the large telecoms would quickly take over. Under these circumstances, Vonage can’t afford to rest on its laurels. They need to deliver good service not just to the people who join up, but for those who want to leave as well. It’s too bad their management seems to be ignorant about these fundamentals of success, particularly in a down economy.


    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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    2 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #485”

    1. william says:

      Can you share the name of your Vonage replacement?

    2. william wrote:

      Can you share the name of your Vonage replacement?

      Be happy to, once I have more experience with the company and can give you some definitive information about service quality. Right now, it’s just too premature.


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