• Newsletter Issue #501

    July 5th, 2009


    You can probably bet that all or most of the longtime Mac journalists have probably held several jobs at different publications over the years. It doesn’t matter why it happens. Sometimes they get a better job offer, or suffer because of a layoff at their current employer.

    Take former Macworld writer Jim Dalrymple, who is now a reporter at CNET. He keeps on keeping on even in his new duds. On last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Jim  about his initial experiences with a brand new iPhone 3GS, and the new 3.0 software. He also delivered an update about the album he and his band have been working on.

    We also explored one of the best ways for Mac companies to announce and beta test their new products with Ray Barber of prmac.com. Ray has been doing this for a while now, and he’s offered a low cost service that allows even the tiniest software companies to better compete in the fast-growing Mac and iPhone marketplace.

    Direct from Macworld’s famous test labs, we featured the director of the facility, Jim Galbraith,who came onboard to explain the strange test results they’ve obtained from the latest version of the MacBook Air. Seems the models with faster processors are, in some tests, running no faster than the less-capable models. Strange, and, as Jim explained, they’ve been in touch with Apple about about the inconsistencies. You also learned all about the highly-regarded Speedmark benchmarking system they employ to measure the capabilities of new Macs.

    This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, veteran photographer and UFO researcher Jim Delittosso pays a visit to discuss some of the most compelling cases he’s investigated and some of the controversies he’s been dragged into.

    Among those controversies is the always-polarizing Billy Meier affair, where Jim and his company arranged for analysis of some of the photos. During this discussion, David and Jim will talk about the intricacies of image analysis, at times in a technical fashion. But you are bound to come away with some very interesting impressions from the wealth of information that’s being presented.

    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.


    Hardly a week passes where I don’t have reason to deal with Microsoft’s disreputable behavior. Just the other day, one of the conservative TV pundits was ranting about a stimulus package provision that allows the folks in the state of Washington to build a bridge that connects two campuses at Microsoft’s main headquarters. You’d think the company could afford to pay the multimillion dollar cost themselves, because with their resources it’s chump change.

    But somehow this $11 million earmark got stuck in the bill anyway, no doubt due to Microsoft’s intense lobbying of the appropriate politicians. In any case, some are calling it “Microsoft’s bridge to nowhere,” just where some feel their operating system strategy is going. Well, not financially of course, since I don’t think that anyone will disagree that Windows 7 will probably fare better in the marketplace than Vista.

    I say that despite the fact that Vista’s replacement is probably closer to a Service Pack 3 in concept, since most of the changes are designed to make it a leaner, meaner operating system. There is some extra eye candy, of course, the better to entice customers to pay up to hundreds of dollars for a copy. Contrast that with Snow Leopard, which Apple is offering for $29 to those who already have Leopard — and that’s a heavy proportion of the Mac user base.

    Believe it or not, a heavy proportion of Windows users, particularly the enterprise, are sticking with Windows XP, circa 2001, because Vista was such a mess. While that probably didn’t hurt MIcrosoft’s bottom line all that much, it wasn’t so good from a PR standpoint.

    Microsoft’s solution, such as it is, was to earmark $300 million of their own money to squander on several pathetic advertising campaigns. Most notable in ineptitude were the two ads featuring Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld, which you might regard as short, amateurish skits about nothing.

    The Laptop Hunter campaign continues without letup, and with the same erroneous comparisons with Mac note-books that are supposedly too expensive for the penny-pinching customers, who are actually portrayed by professional actors who couldn’t land a job in a school play. When Apple cut the price of their note-book line, Microsoft didn’t miss a beat and kept the campaign going unaltered.

    I suppose they believe the new ads are gaining traction and bringing people back to Windows, but they are not really about operating systems at all. They are about hardware, and most likely are funded, in part, by the companies whose products are allegedly purchased, such as HP and Sony. So maybe they aren’t going away so soon, particularly if there are long-term contracts involved.

    But a lie is a lie, and you just know that Microsoft never lets an inconvenient thing such as the truth get in the way of their complaints about the alleged Apple Tax, and their objections to employees bringing iPhones to work. It’s not that Microsoft builds smartphones, and the market share of their Windows Mobile operating system appears to actually be going down.

    These days, the online chatter is not just about the iPhone, but the Palm Pre, Google’s Android mobile operating system and the various BlackBerry models. None, of course, use any Microsoft software, although some do offer support for Exchange email, no doubt obtained under license.

    Looking at Microsoft’s future, perhaps Bing — the latest of many iterations of their search strategy — will do a little better compared to Google and Yahoo!, but don’t forget that early market share gains aren’t so important. A lot of Bing users are simply trying it out. The real proof of its potential success will probably be known in a few months, particularly when we know whether most people just go back to their regular online search routines.

    You have to wonder, though, just how long Microsoft will keep funding failures before they give up and move on to something else. While I suppose Microsoft’s employees — except for the 5,000 who got their pink slips of course — ought to be delighted they have work to do, even if the products of their labor don’t really catch on. But I just wonder when stockholders will decide, en masse, to complain about the constant squandering of development money on projects that have little or no profit potential.

    Consider how much Microsoft has earned in recent years. Now consider how much higher that figure would be if several billion dollars less were wasted on the Zune, search and other doomed initiatives. Of course Microsoft’s response to products that never catch on is to change the name, pour more money into a replacement, and keep on in the vain hope that they will somehow revert the marketplace (or a time warp) to the 1990s, where Microsoft could do no wrong.

    I also wonder how long they will be coddled by financial and media analysts whenever they announce a new or revised product. I mean, is anyone buying Surface coffee tables these days? What about “Bob,” and all the other meaningless garbage that Microsoft attempted to foist on the public over the years? How often does the press ask the difficult questions of Steve Ballmer about such matters? Or are they so intimidated by the person who heads the world’s largest software company that their skills as journalists are lacking?

    Or are they simply concerned about the possible loss of lucrative ad revenue from Microsoft, particularly in a down economy?

    Then again, if Microsoft doesn’t continue to advertise, how will they sell all that garbage anyway? Well, they’ll probably do all right with Windows and Office, since they have captured long-term contracts with big companies. That will feed them for many years, even if the rest of the world has passed them by. But that has probably already happened.


    Several years ago, a noted tech columnist who writes for a major metropolitan newspaper told me that he didn’t expect to see the end of analog TV in the U.S. Well, it really happened last month, and it went off without the major havoc some suggested would occur. In fact, it appears most U.S. residents who still rely on antennas to deliver TV reception were prepared. Most of the calls the FCC received were actually focused on fixing issues with their converter boxes, rather than wondering what was going on.

    In the weeks that followed, things appear to have died down for the most part. So I suppose you might mark this endeavor as a success, and when the government is heavily involved, that’s a huge surprise.

    Indeed, I know I have been ranting about so many things for so long that I thought maybe it’s time to once again discuss some of the services and products that actually work without causing hassles or requiring prayers before you use them to protect yourself from unsavory consequences.

    Here are just a few examples:

    iPhone 3.0 — After last year’s massive upgrade debacle, I bet lots of iPhone users looked with trepidation on the impact of updating their iPhones to the highly-toutted 3.0 software. But it seems to have gone on mostly without a hitch. There are very few problems actually installing the new package, and I suspect some of those can be attributed to people unlocking or otherwise fiddling with their smartphones in ways not officially sanctioned by Apple. Yes, there’s a 3.1 version being tested now to fix a few odds and ends, but mostly it seems to be focused on adding a few features that missed the cut on 3.0, such as support for using a standard Bluetooth headphone with the new Voice Command feature. I’m also annoyed that the likes of Consumer Reports and CNET continue to claim the iPhone’s audio with phone calls is subpar. So long as the network quality is good, the iPhone sounds pretty much the same as any other high-caliber mobile handset.

    Amazon — Do you remember when the financial experts claimed that Amazon would never turn a profit? Founder Jeff Bezos said they were wrong, and he was right on. Today you can not just depend on Amazon to live a long and prosperous life, but they continue to set the standard for delivering a wide range of products in a timely fashion, free of delays and shipping errors. I’m not one of Amazon’s big customers, but I do buy a decent amount of stuff from them. The other day, for example, Mrs. Steinberg suggested we really ought to get a DVD of an older movie we liked. Sure enough, Amazon had the Blu-ray version at the usual great price. A few clicks and, one minute later, we got the order acknowledgement by email.

    Dish Network — Far more dependable than I expected. I originally cancelled my Dish account because of delays in getting local HD stations, something Cox Communications offered. When Cox reneged on its promises of expanding beyond it’s core of less than 50 HD stations, I returned to Dish. It has been a revelation. Their VIP-722 DVR is the best on the market, and high definition and standard definition stations both appear with deeper blacks, less video noise and sharper images. Let’s not forget that Dish was there first with MPEG4 support. Indeed, I hadn’t previously realized how much Cox trashed picture quality to squeeze a few dozen HD channels into their pipes.

    Netflix — I know that the DVD is supposed to be dying and Blu-ray will only extend its lifespan a short time, but that hasn’t stopped the Steinberg family from getting up to three new releases each week of our favorite movies. Now I haven’t tried their on-demand service more than a time or two. I am actually looking into upgrading my Blu-ray player to a model that includes Netflix streaming support, at which time maybe I’ll use that feature more often. But I think it’ll be a few years before the online world begins to take over substantially from physical discs. You just know Netflix will be ready, and Blockbuster is simply living on borrowed time.

    The Apple Store — Whether online or at the nearby retail outlet (which is a mere 10 minutes from our office), you can always expect great service and prompt delivery. Oh yes, there was a screw-up with my iPhone 3GS order, but it was all AT&T’s fault.

    Enough of the good stuff. I’ll be back with more rants by next week.


    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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