• Newsletter Issue #488

    April 5th, 2009


    On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl called on Macworld’s Peter Cohen to talk about the future of Macworld Expo and the significance of the iPhone 3.0 SDK for gaming and expanded business use.

    When it comes to the Expo, I wasn’t surprised that Peter felt positive about the event’s ongoing progress, even in light of Apple’s decision to stop participating. When it comes to games and other functions for the updated iPhone, he agreed with me about its incredible potential. No wonder Apple’s stock price has risen ahead of the market, while Microsoft’s stock price hasn’t benefited so much from the recent market rally.

    During the middle segment of the show, Paul Kent, Vice President and General Manager for Macworld Expo, was on hand to talk about the future of the trade show. You can bet that he put a positive spin on the matter, and I hope, for his sake, he’s on track with his optimism.

    You’ll also heard from author and security expert Kirk McElhearn on the rumors and reality of the Conficker worm that was scheduled to trigger itself on April 1st. As most of you realize, the world didn’t end on that day, although it appeared the infection mutated or changed, and that may simply pave the way for more grief for Windows users.

    In addition Kirk talked about the ongoing email spam problem, one that has evidently worsened after a few months of relief in the wake of the closing of a server that evidently was a major source of bogus messages.

    On The Paracast this week, we present Dr. Richard F. Haines, Chief Scientist for the National Aviation Reporting Center on Anomalous Phenomena (NARCAP), who discusses airline sightings, airline safety, and his extensive research into these strange aerial mysteries.

    Coming April 12: Ed and Kris Sherwood bring you up to date on the mysterious crop circles. Are they pranks, messages from a universal consciousness, or manifestations of ET? Or all of the above?

    Coming April 19: Paul Kimball and Holly Stevens, paranormal TV hosts and investigators, who are also known as Mully and Sculder, recount their ongoing ghost hunting encounters.

    Now Shipping! 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.


    Fourteen years ago, when Microsoft unleashed Windows 95 upon the world and cemented its position as the developer of the number one PC operating system on the planet, they presented a set of smart TV ads featuring The Rolling Stones.

    But that was then and this is now, and things haven’t gone so well for the former 800-pound gorilla.

    First, they attempted to sell the failed Windows Vista by running spots depicting a silly survey where some apparently ignorant people where shown a relabeled version of Vista on souped up PCs, to demonstrate it really wasn’t so bad after all. Well in plain fact, that’s probably true. But it didn’t revolutionize PC computing either, and its tremendous resource needs and early incompatibilities made it a difficult sell in the upgrade segment.

    In any case, not achieving miracles, Microsoft hoped that the star of a popular 1990’s TV show about nothing would somehow — with Bill Gates in tow — do something to help Vista gain some traction. But as most of you know, that campaign failed after just two spots, and Microsoft decided to somehow satirize Apple’s Mac versus PC spots instead.

    This time, someone imitating John Hodgman’s portrayal of the PC, complained that he felt discriminated against. There’s nothing wrong with wearing an ill-featuring suit and being perennially overwhelmed by the ongoing troubles with his PC.

    Well, Microsoft didn’t go into that part of it, but rather than trying to be innovative, they delivered a poorly-executed response to the ads they would really prefer you forget.

    Now there is actually one Vista ad that I like, featuring a small girl performing basic photo editing chores on her PC. She’s smart and cute, and the spot does make you feel a little bit warm and fuzzy about the possibilities of Vista. Too bad Microsoft’s online marketing isn’t so clever.

    You’ve heard about the first attempt, featuring someone named “Lauren,” who is tasked with trying to purchase a note-book at an Apple store with a 17-inch screen for less than $1,000. Of course, anyone who can read at a grade school level knows Apple has no such product and surely someone with basic skills at buying a computer would understand that screen size is but one spec to consider in making such a purchase.

    The spot allegedly shows Lauren entering an Apple Store to attempt to buy the product they do not sell and then departing soon thereafter in failure. However, I gather that this is basic trick photography, in which the same scene of her preparing to enter the store is reversed to show her leaving. Talk about cheap! While it’s understandable that Apple wouldn’t permit taping or filming inside the store without their permission, surely there was enough cash in the budget to provide a genuine scene of her departure.

    Talk about cheap! Well, that’s what the spot is all about. Quality and reliability never enter the picture.

    That, too, appears to be true about the sequel, an ad featuring a guy named “Giampaolo” who is given $1,500 and asked to buy a PC note-book. Now most of you know that Apple has several models below that price point. Worse, as AppleInsider points out, the Apple equivalent of the HP note-book the victim of this misguided exercise purchased actually provided a superior computing experience for pretty much the same price.

    Talk about lame!

    Now the problem with this exercise in futility is that Microsoft clearly has no understanding of why people buy Macs, and thus they seem fated to make wrongheaded attempts to retain market share. Forget about restoring it to previous levels. That doesn’t seem possible right now unless Apple — with or without Steve Jobs — screws up badly.

    Even more bad news is coming: Microsoft has placed great hopes and dreams upon the successor to Windows Vista, known as Windows 7. But they also admit that their forthcoming upgrade is really just a warmed over Vista with improved performance and some interface refinements. Of course they’ll also expect you to pay the usual excessive upgrade price if you want a copy.

    There is a report this weekend that HP has made a deal with Microsoft that will allow the world’s largest PC maker to sell a Windows 7 computer with the ability to downgrade to XP. That’s the very calamity that Microsoft wanted to avoid, and it appears that it may not happen. Indeed, you can bet that Dell and other PC companies will want to get into the act too, particularly to have product to sell to business customers that are apt to find the latest Windows iteration to be little better than Vista for their work.

    I haven’t even touched to the netbook segment yet, where ultimate success is still a question mark, despite recent sales gains. These days, PC vendors are either bundling Windows XP or a version of Linux on these stripped down note-books. Microsoft claims they’ll be able to tame Windows 7 to work on them too, but that really remains to be seen. In fact, if the effort fails — or the possibility of such an upgrade is no longer mentioned after the product’s release — what will Microsoft do then?

    They can’t sell Windows XP forever, right? They make far less income from that product, and they are desperate to dump it, despite attempts from their OEM partners to keep it going. Imagine, on the Mac side of the fence, if Apple was being forced to sell, say, Panther or Tiger as a downgrade to Leopard and you’ll see what I mean.

    In short, I continue to believe that Microsoft is destined to continue its fall from grace. Five or ten years from now, maybe they’ll be begging the government to give them bailout money “to preserve the innovative spirit of the PC industry.”


    Although my old friend David Pogue, of The New York Times, said it wouldn’t happen, TV stations had been ordered to discontinue their analog signals as of February 19th. At the urging of the Obama administration, Congress gave them a nearly four-month reprieve, to June 12th, largely because of the poor efforts to get the word out, and the fact that discount coupons for digital to analog TV converters were used up.

    Now I should mention in retrospect that these coupons provided a $40 discount. The converters themselves, however, generally sell for between $55 and $60. I won’t comment at length why Congress settled on a lower figure, particularly since most people who need those converters fall into the lower-income segments of the populace.

    Aside from the lack of sufficient numbers of coupons, it also appeared that the efforts to inform the public about the changeover had been badly executed. Worse, some cable TV operations decided to use the situation as a way to move more of their basic analog channels into the higher-cost digital spectrum. Understand that, when receiving a signal over cable, it doesn’t matter if it’s analog or digital in terms of your ability to get a usable signal.

    However, analog requires more bandwidth, and there’s only so much to go around on a traditional cable TV network. What’s more, there’s a growing demand to expand high definition availability to stay competitive with the satellite TV providers. So it makes sense to move analog to digital for this reason alone, since it provides more HDTV capacity.

    Indeed, it probably doesn’t matter to the end user on basic cable, so long as they get a free converter box from the cable company, although asking people to pay additional money just smacks of greed. Oh well, this may enable the sale of more satellite TV contracts in some locales. After all, if there’s competition, you can often save money if you shop around. Alas, that’s not true everywhere, and that’s where you can see how cable TV companies might be taking unfair advantage of their long-time customers in some situations.

    In any case, the conversion process is being made somewhat more complicated by the fact that some stations had already ditched analog ahead of the original deadline. Others will be doing the same between now and June 12th. Does that make sense to you?

    Well, I suppose if you live in one of those cities and awaken one day to find your analog TV signal has vanished ahead of the deadline you read about, at least you’ll know why. Then you can make the decision whether to get a digital TV converter from your TV provider, or go to your favorite consumer electronics to buy one of their converters instead.

    Forgetting whether the phase out of analog TV was a good or bad decision, they sure could have handled it in a far better fashion. But I suppose that’s what you have to expect when governments get into the act.


    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #488”

    1. Mark says:

      Huh? The changeover has nothing to do with cable, analog or digital. It only affects over-the-air broadcasts.

    2. Mark wrote:

      Huh? The changeover has nothing to do with cable, analog or digital. It only affects over-the-air broadcasts.

      Exactly. My point being that cable TV providers are trying to take advantage of the situation.


    3. Mark says:

      True, I think both cable and satellite providers have been running ads trying to cash in on the confusion. (I’m a DISH customer myself.) Sorry I missed the point you were making there. However, as clarification, this switch won’t affect cable viewers, whether they have a set-top box or not.

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