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Newsletter Issue #492


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.


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.


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 Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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