On this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl presented Macworld Editorial Director Jason Snell to discuss the iPhone 3.0 SDK, the prospects for an Apple netbook and, as usual, his fearless reviews of current TV shows.
On the long-simmering netbook subject, it’s clear that Jason loves tiny note-books, and so he was hopeful Apple would somehow enter that market. As to TV, well, Jason is a long-time TV columnist as well, and he presented his unvarnished observations on such topics as the “strange” finale for the U.S. version of “Live on Mars” and other science fiction-themed shows.
Dan Frakes, also from Macworld, was on hand to discuss the best keyboards for your Mac and the possibilities — or lack thereof — for a midrange Mac minitower.
When it comes to keyboards, we have long been of the opinion that there is no correct model for everyone. These days, Apple builds short-throw, scissor type keyboards for Macs, which provide essentially the same typing response as the ones you find on the MacBook and MacBook Pro. But not everyone is comfortable with that design. I have long explored other alternatives that are more suited to my style, and if you are equally unenthusiastic about Apple’s current keyboard lineup, I think you’ll find this particular session extremely informative.
Now just how is the tech industry faring so far this year? For some insightful comments on current sales and future prospects for netbooks, high definition TVs and more, you heard from noted industry analyst Ross Rubin of the NPD Group.
On The Paracast this week, we present investigators and experiencers Ed and Kris Sherwood, who will 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.
The other day, in responding to less-than-serious email from me on the subject, an acquaintance reminded me how hundreds of millions of people use Windows around the planet. To his way of thinking, that’s because they preferred that operating system over the Mac OS or Linux.
Well, that may be true in part. But history shows that Microsoft has not dominated a market by building superior products. In large part, they used bait and switch and other deceptive tactics to push their mediocre imitations to customers.
In the early 1990s, for example, when several advanced operating systems were available or being developed, Microsoft said that they were working on their own, Cairo, which would be far superior, so there was no reason to choose an alternative to Windows.
Cairo, however, eventually vanished from Microsoft’s talking points, simply because it was all an illusion. Maybe they did at one time have hopes for such a thing, just as they actually planned to add an advanced file system to Windows Vista. But neither ever saw release. In the case of Vista’s Win FS file system, it appeared in beta versions, but was pulled for further development. No, it won’t be in Windows 7 either.
When it comes to Vista, it wasn’t simply lacking some of the promised features, it took years longer to release than originally intended. Worse, adoption rate in the business community is way less than Microsoft planned, and this represents possibly the largest push back by their customers in the company’s history. Indeed, millions of users who did acquire PCs with Vista preloaded simply downgraded to Windows XP.
In fact, those who will buy PCs with Vista’s forthcoming successor, a warmed over update called Windows 7, will also be allowed to downgrade to XP. That has to be an especially embarrassing development.
Meantime, Microsoft is busy squandering hundreds of millions of dollars in failed attempts to make Vista seem warm and fuzzy. You’ve already seen the pathetic campaign featuring Bill Gates and 1990’s sitcom icon Jerry Seinfeld, which lasted some two episodes before being pulled from the airwaves.
More recently, Microsoft has taken to selecting actors and handing them money to buy new PCs, in order to demonstrate that Macs are way overpriced and underpowered, and you can get precisely what you want in a PC running Windows.
In one of the ads, still being shown on network TV as I write this issue, the protagonist in this little play is presented with a budget of $1,500. He explains that he wants a note-book with great battery life and performance. He bypasses the MacBook which provides both and acquires an HP that is notorious for inferior benchmarks and poor battery longevity.
So, in the end, Microsoft demonstrates that its customers also reserve the right to make poor decisions about what products to buy. More important, Microsoft ends up once again looking foolish by promoting stupidity on national TV, although they’re probably not aware of what they really accomplished.
More recently, consider this wrongheaded survey that Microsoft commissioned from industry analyst Roger Kay of Endpoint Technologies. The goal? To demonstrate the existence of an Apple Tax, the alleged higher price people pay when buying a Mac instead of a PC.
Unfortunately, it appears that Kay went so far beyond logic and reason to reach the result he was paid to achieve that the media has been having a ball tearing his conclusions apart.
The conclusion is that it would cost some $3,367 more to purchase and maintain three desktop Macs compared to three allegedly equivalent PCs over a five year period. The facts, as is often the case in such arbitrary comparisons, are otherwise.
One significant flaw in such surveys is that consumer PCs usually come with Windows Vista Home Premium, rather than the full-featured “Ultimate” version. Since all Macs include the full-featured (and only version) of Mac OS X, such comparisons are faulty. However, getting the high-end version only adds roughly $100 to $150 to the price of each PC, so the difference isn’t terribly significant.
It’s also been pointed out that, in large part, the Macs evaluated are last year’s models, not the current generation introduced in early March. This means that performance comparisons are doomed to be out of date. Worse, the “Performance” PC, with an Intel Core 2 Quad processor, is rated against an Early 2008 Mac Pro equipped with a pair of quad-core Intel Xeons. Talk about fraudulent match-ups. However, if Kay bothered to equip the PC with the same processors as the Mac Pro, the price difference, more than $1,600, would quickly vanish.
But it doesn’t end there. Kay factors in the price of buying Microsoft Office and Quicken for the Mac, but fails to do so for the PCs. Does this mean that he assumes that PC owners simply go to their favorite torrent sites and pirate copies? Just as bad, Kay assumes the purchase of a one-time upgrade of iLife over the five-year timeframe, but makes no effort to equip the PCs with a similar set of consumer apps. Just more blatant fakery, to be sure.
When all is said and done, when the price matches are done properly, that $3,367 price differential is rapidly reduced to, at worst, a modest advantage for the PCs. Indeed, if you actually made an effort to closely match the Macs and PC configurations under test, as I’ve done on many occasions, you’ll probably find no significant price difference at all.
However there is yet one more factor about the cost of ownership that Kay neglects, also to his peril. Just as you do with an auto, the proper way to arrive at these figures is to assess the value of the products at the end of the test period. Indeed, you’ll find that five-year-old Macs can still reclaim a fairly decent percentage of their original purchase price when put on sale. PCs of that vintage are usually best consigned to the recycling center. However, if you were to factor in expected income received in selling those Macs at the conclusion of the test period, you’ll likely find that it’s actually cheaper to own a Mac.
But Kay doesn’t want you to know that, and his patron, Microsoft, doesn’t either. Indeed, this particular survey is not just badly done, but reaches faulty conclusions. Kay thus emerges as nothing more than an incompetent hack, whereas Microsoft has demonstrated, once again, that there are no facts it can’t distort beyond reason. They should both be ashamed!
In the world of television, both broadcast and cable networks depend on the Nielsen ratings as evidence as to how many people are tuned in to their programming. Not that the figures are perfect, of course. Only recently have surveys been done of viewers who time-shift programs on their DVRs for later viewing, as I do.
There is also an Audit Bureau of Circulations that provides information on how many copies a magazine or newspaper sells on the newsstands or via subscription. Again, the results aren’t perfect, and there have been reports of some papers fudging the submitted figures in order to get more advertising revenue.
On the Internet, things are far murkier. When you read about what percentage a particular browser possesses of the worldwide market, you’ll often see figures from such firms as Net Applications quoted. Now this California-based company earns its income by providing statistical measurement packages. Unfortunately, a busy site must pay hundreds or thousands of dollars per month to get statistics from this company to deliver to potential advertisers.
Some sites will also tout their popularity rankings from such firms as the Alexa Internet, a division of Amazon, and Compete, Inc. In both cases, the ways in which they compute their ratings are questionable. According to Alexa, for example, their “traffic rankings are based on the usage patterns of Alexa Toolbar users and data collected from other, diverse sources over a rolling 3 month period.”
Compete uses essentially the same methods. Unfortunately, these results are evidently not based on anything made available to them or retrieved from the surveyed sites themselves. So, as you might expect, our rankings from these survey companies are severely undercounted and represent but a fraction of our actual traffic.
Recently, I wrote to Compete, asking them to either work with me to fix the stats, or remove them from their rankings. They refused to do so, and a spokesperson told me, “One of the ways you can help us provide accurate traffic data to your site and others you visit is to become part of Compete’s clickstream sharing community. If you wish to have your internet activity included in our data, please go to and download the toolbar or plug-in and choose to share your clicks.”
Unfortunately, their software requires either Windows or Firefox. The large percentage of our readers who use Safari on both the Mac and PC platforms will never be included in Compete’s figures, and thus the results are no more accurate than Robert Key’s analysis of Mac versus PC expenses.
This is extremely unfortunate, because it means that medium-sized sites like ours are being unfairly treated by these two services and perhaps others that use similarly flawed technology. Maybe if they were forced to compensate sites for the income they lose because of their faulty figures, they might find a way to devise more accurate methods for ranking a site.
But I’m not hoping for a solution of that sort anytime soon. Meantime, we do make available information from the statistical software we have installed on our sites to prospective advertisers so they can get a reasonably accurate picture of our traffic.
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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