So we’re just a few months away from the arrival of Windows 7, but does anyone rarely care? You read extremely positive reviews about how much faster it actually is, but the one set of benchmarks I read, on CNET, a known Microsoft supporter, showed very little measurable difference when compared with Vista. The one significant advantage was in shut down speed, which simply means you can get rid of its trashy interface faster. That’s the ticket!
Staying on topic, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we had a return visit from cutting-edge commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine. He talked about the dimming prospects for Windows 7, netbooks, the possibilities for an Apple-based tablet computer and lots more.
We then entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent holds forth on a variety of topics in his inimitable fashion. First on the agenda was the fate of Moore’s Law, and what chip makers had to do when increasing gigahertz ratings ran out of steam. David also discussed Microsoft’s failing prospects, the possibilities for an iTablet computer from Apple, the iPhone, and he also delivered a preliminary analysis of Apple’s new Logic Studio recording studio software.
This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, we remember noted UFO researcher Richard H. Hall, who died recently. Featured guests include some of the esteemed investigators in the UFO field who knew him well, including Jerome Clark, Don Ecker, Paul Kimball, Dr. Bruce Maccabee and Kevin D. Randle.
Coming August 9: Learn about the amazing life story of writer, producer and modern mystic Walter Starcke.
Coming August 16: Paranormal talk show hosts, investigators and experiencers Paul and Ben Eno discuss their ongoing research.
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.
I have to think that the PowerPC never really attained its true potential, but that’s not Apple’s fault. First Motorola and then IBM failed to deliver the speedier chips Apple needed to keep up with the rapidly-advancing X86 platform. Both AMD and Intel kept moving ahead, whereas Apple’s chip partners languished and failed to deliver the right chips at the right time.
Take the original announcement of the G5. Steve Jobs introduced an on-screen presentation featuring IBM’s state-of-the-art processor fabrication plant, and how they had developed technology that would blow the competitors from Intel away. He even had the temerity to promise that, a year hence, there would be a 3GHz version. Outstanding!
But the G5 had some serious deficiencies, most notable of which is that they ran real hot. So the most powerful Power Mac G5 required multiple fans and liquid cooling to keep the box at a safe operating temperature. Some folks actually suffered coolant leaks, which meant that their Mac towers were “toast,” as far as repairs were concerned.
Unfortunately, IBM couldn’t tame the G5 sufficiently to reduce the massive cooling requirements, which pretty much put a serious damper on the prospects that there’d ever be a note-book version. So what was Apple to do?
Although it had long been rumored, Jobs didn’t reveal until is keynote at the 2005 WWDC that there was, in fact, a secret Apple project in place to develop a version of Mac OS X that would run on x86 processors from AMD and Intel. Although the essential details had already been published by the mainstream media ahead of the official announcement, it was now official. Apple had made a deal with Intel to move the entire Mac line to their processors by 2007.
It’s really smart to promise less and deliver more. Apple does that routinely with their conservative financial guidance for future quarters. But with the Intel transition there was the danger that Mac sales would stall as customers waited for the new chips. Beginning in January 2006 and ending in August of that year, the switchover was handled in record time, way ahead of even the most optimistic estimates.
Sure, there were some growing pains. The early Intel-based Mac note-books tended to run hot, though subsequent updates to improve cooling fan efficiency eradicated some of the worst of the ills. Subsequent models took advantage of improvements in Intel’s processors, which routinely operated at even lower temperatures. My early 2008 17-inch MacBook Pro never seems to get more than warm to the touch, even here in the blazing hot southwest.
Performance proved to be a revelation, and as Intel added cores and greater processing efficiencies, it only got better. Finally, Apple had a processor roadmap they could depend upon.
At first, compatibility with PowerPC software was enabled with Rosetta, essentially an emulation tool, but new applications were Universal, which meant they would run on both the PowerPC and Intel. However, you could see the handwriting on the wall as more and more apps became Intel-only.
Consider the return of Adobe Premiere Pro, which departed the Mac platform after Final Cut Pro gained ascendency in the film and TV industries, and also dominated sales. That and a few other Adobe apps would only run on x86 computers, either Mac or Windows. Some games were readily ported to Mac OS X, but not the PowerPC version.
In 2008, when Apple first announced the arrival of Snow Leopard, a major enhancement of Leopard, they didn’t actually specify system requirements. But a few developers leaked the news to the Mac rumor sites that Apple’s prereleases eschewed PowerPC support. The official confirmation came at the 2009 WWDC, when Apple released actual pricing and the final feature-set, along with the fact that, yes, it would only run on Intel-based Mac hardware.
The nail in the coffin for the PowerPC has become clearly visible in recent months. More and more apps don’t support the older processor family. Apple’s newest professional content creation app suites — Final Cut Studio and Logic Studio — are also strictly designed for Intel chips. It’s only a matter of time for the consumer apps to follow.
However, there’s no reason to feel betrayed or upset by these developments. It is over three years — an eternity in the computer business — since Apple built its last PowerPC Mac, the G5 family, and thus it makes perfect sense that they want to concentrate on the future and not prolong past glories.
For those who might feel abandoned, don’t forget that a PowerBook G4 is dog slow compared to even the entry-level MacBook, which retails for $999. Even the $599 Mac mini can deliver performance that exceeds the most powerful Power Mac G5, except, no doubt, for hard drive performance. What this means is that the price of admission for an upgrade to allow you to run current Apple software isn’t terribly high.
I suppose it would have been nice to see Apple continue to support the PowerPC for a year or two longer. However, that’s not a cheap thing to do, and providing products for two incompatible processor families means there are apt to be inefficiencies along the way, including the extra disk space taken up by Universal code.
In the end, I don’t miss the PowerPC all that much. It’s heyday was of relatively short duration. For a while, it even beat the Pentium in those knockdown drag out bake-offs that Apple would stage at press events. But when Apple’s chip partners gave their business lower and lower priority, you could see that Apple really had little choice but to go along with the rest of the PC industry and embrace x86. If you look at the profits and the sales figures, though, it really turned out really well, don’t you think?
I have a few close friends who will probably never buy a cell phone. That might seem awfully retro as more and more young people dump landlines. But I can see the point. You see, a traditional landline phone, connected to a standard packet switching network, sounds pretty decent. Although of a limited frequency range, voice quality is robust and crystal clear.
The various Internet phone (VoIP) providers come awfully close, and the technology is getting far more reliable as well. But when it comes to a strictly wireless connection, voice quality seems to be the last priority for most of the carriers in the U.S. I can’t, of course, speak to the situation in other countries.
Even on the supposedly most robust network in this country, owned by Verizon Wireless, the best connections are frequently overrun by digital haze. Voice quality seems compressed and trashed until it becomes barely understandable. Even when disconnects are few and far between, getting audio that matches that of two tin cans connected by a single stretched wire remains an unfulfilled dream.
I sometimes wonder why more people don’t complain, but I realize that we all have our priorities. Besides, being able to understand a caller on a wireless phone ought to be sufficient. Kids really use them mostly for texting anyway, so sound quality gets shuffled to the bottom of their list of priorities.
I have had service with the top three — AT&T, Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Although voice fidelity varies somewhat among these carriers and from handset to handset, the differences are not significant. I suppose we should be grateful that dropped calls aren’t frequent and be done with it.
Certainly AT&T gets its lumps from iPhone users and deservedly so. They are late to the party with multimedia texting, or MMS, and what about being able to tether your iPhone to a computer, which means using it as a broadband modem? Worse, their 3G coverage in major cities still leaves something to be desired.
But when you read all of the complaints, you seldom see anything about making voice quality as good as a standard phone. Shouldn’t that be a priority? You are certainly paying a lot more money to dispense with the wires, and the hardware — even if it’s offered free of charge — is a whole lot more costly on the long haul. So why shouldn’t you be able to always hear the person at the other end of the line, and be assured voice quality is state of the art?
But I’m no doubt barking up the wrong tree. My priorities certainly don’t resemble that of most other people. Wherever he is now, I wonder what Alexander Graham Bell would think about how his invention turned out.
THE FINAL WORD
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