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  • Newsletter Issue #492

    May 3rd, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Rob Pegoraro, consumer technology columnist for the Washington Post, brought you up to date on the goings on in the tech universe. His comments covered such issues as whether Time Warner will, at last, spin off its failing AOL division.

    In retrospect, I find it fascinating how AOL leveraged the run up of its stock price to engage in a land grab of Time Warner. Of course, that particular maneuver was fated to fail, as it did, and the latest move on the part of the company would finally end this unfortunate era. In any case, maybe another firm will find that a marriage with AOL is just the perfect fit. I’d hate to see it disappear.

    Macworld’s Peter Cohen, proprietor of their “Game Room,” discussed the impact of Apple’s unexpectedly-positive financial report, the possibilities for a netbook from the company, the form it might take, and, of course, some of his favorite iPhone games.

    You also heard from David Randall, editor of MacRevu.com, who discussed the past, present and the possible future of Mac magazines. Will print magazines survive, and if they do what form will they take? David’s feeling is that it would have to be some sort of e-book setup, one similar to the Amazon Kindall but with support for color.

    This week on The Paracast, 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.

    Coming May 17: The Paracast presents a special “Listener Roundtable,” featuring five loyal listeners and avid participants in our forums, known to their friends as BrandonD, Dusty, Fahrusha, Schuyler and Skunkape, will sit back, relax, and discuss the strange and unknown.

    Coming May 24: UFO investigators Robert Hastings and Don Ecker (who considers himself retired from the field) discuss UFOs and disinformation.

    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 STILL BELIEVES IT CAN FOOL ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME

    Well, folks, get ready to suspend your disbelief. Microsoft has done it again. There’s a new ad campaign in which someone is given money and asked to go into a consumer electronics store and buy a note-book. Once again, Microsoft demonstrates that they require suspension of disbelief to get their point across.

    In this particular instance, the victim of this wrongheaded scheme is tasked with finding the right product for two grand. The entry-level MacBook Pro, which happens to list for that price, is rejected because it only has 2GB of RAM, whereas the HP model selected instead has 4GB.

    Alas, what Microsoft doesn’t show you is that the Mac note-book has a speedier processor and uses faster memory than the HP, so it is in fact a better buy. No doubt equipping the latter with a heftier processor would raise its purchase price to the point where it is similar to the MacBook if it were updated with same memory complement. But that’s not something Microsoft wants you to know.

    The other peculiar element to this campaign is the fact that the selected PCs are inevitably from HP. That sounds, to me, far too coincidental, since the consumer electronics outlets visited all have several brands from which to select. More to the point, HP is not known as a value brand. So what sort of collusion is going on here anyway? This is far too suspicious to be simply coincidental.

    Or does it mean that HP is, in fact, paying a portion of the bill for this campaign? I’m curious. Aren’t you?

    Now I realize some of you are going to remind me that Apple may also, from time to time, stretch the truth in some of its ads, or at least convey a somewhat misleading impression. I don’t need any examples, thank you. I’m sure they do, but I do not think they work quite as hard as Microsoft to convey false impressions.

    You see, Microsoft is hell bent on showing you that there is indeed an Apple Tax, and they’re using these faked shopping sprees to drive home such illusions. Regardless of the intent, the question is whether these ads are sufficiently compelling enough in production values to actually attract attention, beyond the tech media of course.

    In an age where more and more people simply fast forward TV ads on their DVRs, I do not think so. You have to watch Microsoft’s ads closely to understand the point, and I don’t think the average consumer really cares, what with far better content to watch and that includes ads from other companies.

    Then again, mediocrity is part and parcel of the Microsoft image, so I suppose their ad campaigns would reflect a similar strategy, assuming that the company’s executives, particularly CEO Steve Ballmer, can think in such abstract terms.

    To me, the campaign reeks of desperation. More to the point, how much footage showing someone picking the Mac instead, or a brand other than HP, ended up on the cutting room floor? You know with the Apple Mac versus PC ads that it’s all play-acting, although the point they make is serious. There are clearly multiple takes, and perhaps complete productions that didn’t pass muster and were subsequently sent to videotape and/or digital heaven. So be it.

    In the real world, of course, the successful ad campaign is the one that sells the product or service. The production values are secondary to such commercial considerations. So if Microsoft saw its share of the PC market go up, and Apple’s going down on a sustained basis, no doubt it would run a focus group to see what might have caused the turnaround. That, of course, assumes it’s not just the state of the economy.

    Microsoft, however, should be looking closer at the ongoing erosion of its own market share, even in the face of somewhat slow sales of new Macs. It would seem to me that they have some real problems to confront that silly and misleading ads won’t fix.

    You see, as I’ve said before, Microsoft is living in the wrong decade. They still believe that the tech media hangs on every syllable of their press releases, and that they are ready to give big thumbs up ratings to Windows 7 on the day of its actual release.

    This isn’t to say that Windows 7 won’t be a decent operating system. Indeed, reports from beta testers claim that the performance and reliability shortcomings of Vista have been tamed substantially. Of course, there’s a different level of comparison now, since PC hardware is obviously more powerful nowadays, so all things being equal, Windows 7 would surely seem snappier.

    The real test will come when tech reviewers compare Windows 7 to both Vista and XP, and we see where the improvements truly exist and where they might be illusory. The other issue is whether the PC users who failed to commit to Vista will accept its successor and abandon XP. Obviously, Microsoft hopes they will, and that they can chalk up Vista as just an unfortunate aberration.

    Apple, naturally, isn’t going to be sitting still while all this is going on. Only the most pessimistic observer expects Snow Leopard to appear in the fall. Some believe it’ll go on sale for the WWDC in early June, though the consensus has it that it’ll be a month or two later. I’ve already weighed in on the last Friday in August as the most suitable release date, although I reserve the right to be absolutely wrong.

    Another issue is the level of Microsoft’s greed in setting upgrade pricing for Windows 7. They will probably depend mostly on PC sales — and hope that the economy will be on the uptick — to earn most of their profits. But if they try to overcharge customers for installation kits, they will deservedly suffer.

    When it comes to Snow Leopard, I firmly believe it won’t sell for the full $129 price, because of the fashion in which it’s presented, as fundamentally a slimmer, trimmer and faster version of Leopard with a limited number of visible new features. Instead, I think Apple will offer it at a substantial discount, if not free. What might prevent the latter is Apple’s need to adhere to accounting rules.

    But I won’t have any problems with a price of $19 or even $49 for that matter. Meantime, Microsoft’s long decline will continue, slowly, inexorably, until they are at last just a footnote in history.

    SO ARE YOU GETTING ALL OF YOUR MEGABITS?

    Whenever a broadband ISP delivers a claim about the speed you’ll receive from one of their services, it is always delivered with a singular phrase, “up to,” which gives them the excuse not to fulfill their promise.

    Of course there are perfectly valid reasons why you might not attain the maximum speeds touted in your ISP’s ads. With DSL for example, it depends on your distance from the carrier’s nearest facility. For cable broadband, having too many people on a specific node would conspire to hurt your speeds.

    Last year, for example, I noticed considerably slower download speeds, and a little benchmarking confirmed that, indeed, performance was but a fraction of what it used to be. After a few Cox Communications tech people checked into the situation, they confirmed that I was on a crowded node. Perhaps some of the younger residents in the neighborhood had finally discovered how to use torrent apps to download illegal multimedia files.

    Regardless of the cause, a lead tech assured me that the problem would be corrected in a few weeks when they planned to expand capacity, and it was. Nowadays, I actually do achieve the promised 20 megabits download speeds and then some; upload speeds almost always exceed the two megabit spec.

    However, the real troubles on the horizon concern bandwidth, the amount of data you actually retrieve during your online visits. Now this didn’t mean much until more and more content providers discovered high definition video. Whether Apple, Amazon or one of the other companies who offer such content, suddenly millions of people are going to be downloading multi-gigabyte files on a regular basis. That costs money for the ISP’s to support, because they need to invest in bigger “pipes,” so their number crunchers soon decided that it would be right and proper to charge you extra should you use too much of it.

    But not so fast! Already one provider’s efforts have been met with protests, and you can also bet that capping bandwidth is going to be a difficult sell after the ISP makes all sorts of promises to customers about the speeds they’ll achieve. Then again, a slower, limited bandwidth service might be just the ticket at the lower end of the market to entice customers who still use dial up.

    That assumes, of course, that the millions of remaining dial up users are able to get broadband in their neighborhoods, or that they have any interest whatever in speedy Internet if it is available. You see, some people are perfectly content to wait a little longer for email to be sent and received, or to check their favorite sites. They don’t care about downloading movies — or even music for that matter — and they are perfectly happy with their DVRs and Netflix.

    This potential audience may be the hardest sell of all, and it may be the biggest remaining impediment, other than availability of course, to the dream of universal broadband in the U.S.

    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



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    9 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #492”

    1. Adam says:

      I think that Snow Leopard will be no less than $99.00. Why? Because it will be worth it and we will pay it. Apple will have a lot of R&D money to re-coup and 10.7 (assuming it is already in the early development stages – an assumption we have to make) will have been “delayed” by 10.6. I hope you are correct and I am wring, but I know that regardless of the cost, I’ll buy it. I have a Mac Pro at home and the benefits to that machine will be too great to ignore.

      As for internet speeds, you miss one other important point. My provider has “power-boost” which is supposed to provide up to twice their previous download speeds. That’s great, except that it truly is a “boost” lasting for only a bout the first 20 seconds of a given download. Video from Apple, for instance, is barely helped out by this. Over-priced, under-powered, and the only game in town!

    2. admin says:

      @ Adam: We have PowerBoost with Cox too, but it seems to sustain itself for a reasonable amount of time. My benchmark this morning showed download speeds of 24.7 megabits, compared to a promise of up to 20 megabits. It will decend to the 14 to 16 megabit level during so-called “peak” hours, though.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. gopher says:

      Internet speed is quite variable, and for different reasons. See the user tip here for accurate measurements:

      http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=613271&#613271

      Next, realize this:

      1. If you have a cable internet connection your speed will always be “up to”, because it is a shared network
      connection based on multiple people sharing one neighborhood node. It can really slow down if
      someone is running a P2P server, or gaming site. Many internet service providers have restrictions on this, and
      if sufficient complaints come in they can try and trace who is doing this, and shut them down. Call
      them and ask them to investigate if you find that your speed suddenly slowed down and you are in a shared environment.

      2. If you have a DSL connection, and want the same speed all the time, request SDSL. Only then can you ensure
      you are getting a full dedicated line. ADSL lines frequently are really RaDSL, which is a shared line like with cable connections. ADSL also like cable, is a significant percentage slower uploads than downloads. SDSL is the same speed down as up.

      3. FIOS connections are much like ADSL, but because of Fiber, usually does not suffer as significant slowdown because the technology can allow literally thousands of simultaneous connections. If you are getting slowdowns it means Verizon has set you up like a cable connection in your neighborhood, and you should complain.

      4. Satellite connections are like cable, with one big caveat, latency! The speed to send a signal up to the satellite and back caps the actual speeds you can get. This can yield big delays in live video and gaming events.

    4. Adam says:

      @gopher

      Everything you say is true. My problem comes from the misleading language of advertising. No I don’t expect 20 Mb/sec all the time. Having said that, my provider is constantly advertising that their internet system “with power boost” provides 20 Mb/sec as though that were a constant speed. It’s not even constant (or close to it) in the space of a single OS update. A single download frequently goes from 22Mb/sec at the start to less than 1/2 of that in 10 to 20 seconds. It’s not what they are advertising. I don’t expect what they are advertising, but my neighbors probably do.

      Above and beyond that, I ran into well over a dozen cases this past weekend where I had to re-download legally purchased media files as well as freely available (but large) PDFs because part way through the transfer my modem simply stopped receiving data! If I connected to another website, or refreshed my mailbox I got that data just fine, but trying to download files >100Mb and I consistently had to re-start the download up to 3 times each. I find this pattern to be highly suspicious to say the least. Of course, when called about it the techs assured me that this was an isolated incident (more like a dozen isolated incidents) and that “everything leading up to your modem is fine so it must be your LAN”. This is the same LAN that has given me no trouble at all with their service for the last 2 years. I call BS.

    5. Just_Some_Human says:

      “More to the point, how much footage showing someone picking the Mac instead, or a brand other than HP, ended up on the cutting room floor?”

      I would say there is no footage on the cutting room floor. As has been discussed before, the people shown in the ads are actors working from scripts.

    6. admin says:

      @ Just_Some_Human: There is always footage on the cutting room floor, or in digital video heaven. There’s stuff excised from a production and not used.

      Peace,
      Gene

    7. Tenacious MC says:

      @ admin: I think he meant to say, “There’s no such footage…”

    8. John says:

      Based on my experience and background in advertising, IMHO, HP is either paying for some portion of these ads or, more likely, receiving some kind of consideration from MS.

      Probably in the form of a lower “MS tax”. This would also explain why other PC makers aren’t being promoted in the MS ads. MS is unlikely to want to spread around such “consideration” to other PC makers.

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