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Newsletter Issue #491

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVEBob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus brought you up to date on developments in the Apple universe and reviewed a few of his favorite, and not-to-favorite, iPhone accessories.

When it comes to products that didn’t make the grade, Bob mentioned a couple of Bluetooth car adapters that didn’t generate enough volume for him to hear the callers in his regular mode of transportation, a Mini Cooper. Evidently the designers of those products failed to consider the din of a noisy 4-cylinder engine. As more and more people consider cars with smaller engines, which tend to be louder at high speeds, this can present a potential problem for some hands-free systems.

With Apple confounding Wall Street naysayers yet again and reporting record revenues for a non-holiday quarter, industry analyst Stephen Baker, of the NPD Group, reported on the meaning behind the numbers. You will see when you listen to the interview that there’s growing sentiment that Apple will be doing something in the netbook market segment in the not-too-distant future.

You’ll also heard from Ted Landau, author of “Take Control of Your iPhone,” speaking about the new features in the forthcoming iPhone 3.0 update, and some of the features that are still missing. He also answered the question about whether he might buy a netbook if Apple decides to make one. Then again, maybe we’re talking too much about such possibilities, considering I’d never buy one of those things anyway. Unless, of course, you regard the iPhone as a kind of netbook.

This week on The Paracast, we present Paracast listener Daz Smith, who claims to be a trained remote viewer, discusses his background and ongoing experiences as a psychic.

Coming May 3: Veteran UFO researcher Peter Robbins, co-author of “Left at East Gate,” discusses the classic Rendlesham Forest incident and its strange aftermath.

Coming May 10: The “Super Ultimate UFO Roundtable” busts UFO myths and more. Featured guests include Paul Kimball, Greg Bishop and Nicholas Redfern.

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.

MICROSOFT’S DREADED SECRET: THE MICROSOFT TAX

A clever way to divert attention from your own shortcomings is to talk about someone else’s, real or imagined. In business, you focus on the things your competitor supposedly does wrong, hoping they won’t stop to look more closely at your own failings.

So we have Microsoft making a huge deal about an alleged “Apple Tax,” purported to be the extra price you pay when you choose Apple’s ultra cool Macs instead of an ordinary Windows box. Now regular readers know that I don’t believe there is such a thing. It’s a hype, a false claim from Microsoft and Windows fanboys to stem the ongoing erosion of PC market share.

When it comes to purchase price, a Mac and a PC, almost identically configured in terms of hardware and software, will be priced really close. The PC may have a slight advantage at the low end of the market, while Macs will beat the mainstream workstations by a surprisingly large margin at the high-end, with the Mac Pro.

But the real price you pay is the cost to own, and that’s something Microsoft doesn’t want you to know. They sure tried their best, hiring a hack industry analyst by the name of Roger Kay to deliver a misleading white paper that pretended to show that it costs thousands less for a family to own several Windows PCs instead of Macs over a period of five years.

For the moment, let’s forget about the transparent trick of using alleged equivalent models that were not identically configured. But I will hasten to mention that Mac users were expected to buy legal copies of such products as Office and Quicken, but no comparable costs were shown for the PCs.

Evidently, Kay and Microsoft want us to assume that the PC users somehow already had this software around. So how did they acquire copies? If they didn’t pay for them, did they simply download them from a torrent site? Would they admit to such a thing?

So, of course, we have to add the cost of software, since we assume everyone’s obeying the law.

Another item not dealt with is the cost of protecting the Windows user from malware. While there are free options, the average consumer would be best served to simply order a full protection suite from one of the major security software companies. For roughly $50 or so per computer, you get comprehensive protection, but you have to renew the package annually to keep the protection current. Otherwise, the PC user remains vulnerable to newly-emerging malware. Then again, they’re also vulnerable to infections that the security companies haven’t discovered yet.

In addition to the cost of maintaining that protection, what does it cost you if you are infected? If the PC user isn’t adept at cleaning their computer, they will probably have to take it in to a computer shop and have the technician clean up the drive, or perhaps struggle to back up whatever data was not infected and restore the system. How much will the shop charges for that sort of work? Best Buy’s Geek Squad exacts $149.99 for malware cleanups. But I’ll assume you can get it for less elsewhere.

Indeed, what Microsoft really doesn’t want you to know is how much businesses have lost as a result of computer malware. We’re not just talking about lost data and lost productivity, but how many hours are spent restoring the infected system to usability.

Just the other day, I read a story estimating the cost of the Conficker infection at more than $9 billion. A few years ago, Consumer Reports estimated a similar loss as a result of malware over the previous two years. Back in 2001, one estimate pegged the loss from computer viruses at over $10 billion for that year alone.

Understand that there’s nothing in these figures to indicate that any Mac OS users were impacted, nor folks using another Unix-based operating system. Yes, folks, it’s all or mostly about Windows, although the surveys conveniently fail to  break out the numbers according to operating system.

If we were to assume a $10 billion loss for each of the past ten years, to cite an example that I stress is strictly hypothetical, it means that the Windows platform has cost Microsoft’s customers more than $100 billion because of its vulnerability to malware. That’s just staggering.

Consider, for example, in the current economic climate how many reasonably high-paying jobs can be filled over a period of several years if a company had $100 billion in spare cash around. Indeed, as a result of these expenses, have many people have actually lost their jobs because their employers were forced to cut back?

Now I wouldn’t presume to apply those numbers to each individual PC over its estimated life cycle. Besides, I don’t have to. I think you get the picture. The price of using Windows suddenly becomes considerably higher than Mac OS X.

That’s the dirty secret that Roger Kay, Microsoft and Windows fans in general don’t want you to know about. Sure, no doubt Vista is more secure than its predecessors, and I would hope Windows 7 is even better. But you still need security software.

True, that need may soon come to the Mac, but as the experts will tell you, Mac OS X is designed to make it more difficult for computer viruses to propagate. Microsoft may want you to believe there’s an Apple Tax. But in fact, the real danger to the computing world is the Microsoft Tax.

Anyone ready for another Tea Party?

NAVIGATING THE CONFUSING WORLD OF WEB HOSTING

On the heels of the news this week that Yahoo! was shuttering its GeoCities division, which provides you with free Web sites, I’m sure many of you are looking for alternatives.

Your ISP, for example, may offer you free personal Web space. =There’s also Apple’s MobileMe, which, combined with iWeb, part of the iLife software suite, affords you a way to build a fairly decent personal site and, if you wish, use your vanity domain, such as genesteinberg.com, to name one with which I’m awfully familiar.

All well and good until you decide that maybe you want to transact business on that site. Then you will, no doubt, start looking at what’s offered by a traditional Web host, and here’s where it gets downright confusing. As a practical matter, most anyone with a few basic networking skills can start a hosting business. All you need to do is buy or rent a few servers, make arrangements to connect (or colocate) the servers at a nearby datacenter, build a fancy-looking site, and you’re ready to roll.

However, this is where many hosts fail. Once they start to grow, the complexities of monitoring and maintaining a stable, reliable environment for customers can be difficult. Some just become resellers, meaning they have an account with a larger host, and parcel out their Web space to their customers.

Regardless of how it’s set up, finding the ideal company to host your site is not always so easy, so let’s look briefly at the kinds of hosting generally offered.

Shared: This is the cheapest package, starting at just a few dollars a month. The host places a number of customers on the same server. The best limit capacity to a few hundred on each server. Some go the whole hog and set up hundreds, and that can get troublesome if your site (or someone else’s site) becomes popular.

The shared hosting business depends on volume, and competition for your dollars can be fierce. So most hosts offer incredible deals, promising hundreds of gigabytes of storage and several terabytes of bandwidth each month. The worst offenders inflate capacity to “unlimited,” but it’s all a hype. You see, buried in the fine print of their Terms of Service are paragraphs referring to the excessive use of resources, meaning the server’s RAM and CPU. Sometimes the levels are spelled out, sometimes they are arbitrary, and depend on what the host’s network people decide is too much. In any case, long before you ever approach the storage or bandwidth limits, you will have exceeded your resource limit, which means the host may slow down your site or suspend it until you stop hitting your resource allotment.

Now the host makes money on the premise that most customers never hit those resource limits. Those who do are urged to upgrade to a plan that can better accommodate their needs. There are some alternate shared plans, such as grid, where resources are spread among a number of servers, which, the theory goes, will give you whatever capacity you need. However, management of such systems is extremely difficult, and that’s why only a few firms offer grid.

That, of course, takes us to the next form of hosting.

VPS: Short for Virtual Private Server (sometimes called Private Server or Virtual Dedicated Server), this is an intermediary step between the standard shared hosting and dedicated. The host parcels out a server into several dozen virtual slices, using special software, from Parallels and other companies, to set up separate environments for customers with their own operating systems and the applications they need to run their sites.

Pricing can range from as little as $10 to well over a hundred each month, putting them almost on a par with a dedicated plan.

The advantage of VPS over shared is, of course, is guaranteed resources. Some hosts also promise a “burst” capability, which means that, if the resources are available on the server, you’ll get more on occasion if your site gets busier. We briefly tried VPS a couple of years back. At the end of the day, it took just just a few months to exceed the hard limits of VPS, and thus we were on our way to having our own server.

Dedicated: Just as the name implies, you are actually renting an entire server, usually on a month-to-month basis. Here you have the hardware reserved strictly for your needs and nobody else’s. You can host as many sites as you like, and you won’t be suspended if your blog suddenly gets a high rating at Digg. There will, of course, be a bandwidth limit, and that depends on the host and the package you select.

I should mention that if you offer a lot of content for download (and it had better be legal, or the host will shut you down real fast), such as we do with our radio shows, higher amounts of bandwidth will be essential.

Dedicated server options are plentiful. You will have to go over your needs with a prospective host to see which package is best. Although a few companies offer Macs, most offer Linux servers and for these I recommend CentOS (the open source version of Red Hat Enterprise) as the best operating system for security and stability.

You may also have a choice of control panel, and the one I prefer is cPanel. It’s flexible, secure, gets regular updates and is reasonably easy for any Mac or PC user to master. Parallels Plesk is also popular. Its interface seems somewhat friendlier, but a number of functions that require pointing and clicking with cPanel require expertise on the command line with Plesk.

More to the point, cPanel takes greater control of your server, and thus you can easily install the latest versions of the critical Web software you require, such as Apache, MySQL (for databases) and PHP (for WordPress, forums and so forth).

There’s a lot more to say, but these are the basics to help you get started.

As most of you know, our main server is currently hosted by 1and1 Internet, a large multinational host that offers a full range of packages for most anyone’s needs. We’ve gotten first rate reliability and knowledgeable, concerned tech support from them.

Our backup server is hosted by Namecheap. They also offer a full range of services, specializing in domain registration. You will also get great results with HostGator, which earned its reputation by offering reseller accounts, which are great if you want to try your hand at the hosting business yourself without a large investment.

There are lots of other choices, too, but these are the ones with which I have enough experience to recommend without hesitation. When it comes to other companies, do a Google search and see what others think about them. Sure, most large companies will get bad reviews too, and some of those are from jealous competitors. But if you do your research, and ask the host’s sales people lots of questions, you’ll soon find the right home for your site.

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
Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
Worldwide Licensing and Marketing: Sharon Jarvis