• Newsletter Issue #507

    August 16th, 2009

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    It was probably more a curse than a blessing when software publishers began to put network licenses on their products. The goal was simple — to reduce piracy. If you attempt to run a second copy of the app having the same license number, it won’t run. Usually you’ll get a nice (or not so nice) message about the problem, so you’re forced to either get a second license for the product or find some other way, not always legal, to run those two copies at the same time.

    Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, author Kirk McElhearn was in heavy-duty rant mode when he talked about the difficulties getting an English license for Adobe’s Creative Suite software in France, and expanded the discussion to include the licensing policies of other companies, including Apple.

    As the industry goes, Apple tens to be rather lenient with its low-cost products, not so with the more expensive apps. They seem to be making plenty of money, so maybe Microsoft can learn a few lessons that having anti-piracy policies that are too draconian may accomplish something other than intended.

    In another segment, Matthew Dornquast, of code fortytwo software, discussed the company’s CrashPlan automatic backup solution for both homes and businesses. Right after speaking with Matthew, I configured our Web server to backup data to CrashPlan’s servers; the product works on Linux in addition to Mac OS X and Windows, providing extensive flexibility. If it succeeds, we’ll be able to save some of the fees we pay for offside backups.

    You also heard from TidBITS Editor/Publisher Adam Engst, who alerted our listeners to the possibility that Microsoft might have to stop selling some versions of Word for Windows because of their defeat in a recent patent rights lawsuit. We also presented Adam’s fearless comments about the recent search deal between Microsoft and Yahoo! and lots more.

    This week on our other radio show, The Paracast, learn about the amazing inspirational life story of writer, producer and modern mystic Walter Starcke.

    Coming August 23: Paranormal talk show hosts, investigators and experiencers Paul and Ben Eno discuss their ongoing research.

    Coming August 30: Karl Mamer, of The Conspiracy Skeptic, confronts Gene and David with his disbelief in the strange and unknown. You’ll also hear a reality check from long-time researcher Jim Delittoso with regard to his comments about a photo allegedly featuring former Vice President Dick Cheney observing a UFO at a secret military base.

    Coming September 6: Veteran paranormal researcher Curt Sutherly, author of “UFO Mysteries: A Reporter Seeks the Truth,” discusses the progression of UFO evidence and belief systems. He’ll also tell a few anecdotes about his longtime friendship with our co-host, Gene Steinberg.

    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 CONTINUES TO BELIEVE CHANGING NAMES MEANS SOMETHING

    Now consider that the email component of Office for the Mac, Entourage, is a direct descendant of the free version, Outlook Express. Without considering the source code itself, I expect that the changes were evolutionary until Microsoft changed their app to Universal to run naive on Intel-based Macs.

    Now on the surface, Entourage seemed largely meant to serve as the Mac equivalent of Outlook, the email component of Office for Windows that’s also used as a contact manager, and communicates with Microsoft’s Exchange Server.

    Alas, Microsoft gets the well-deserved rap of crippling its Mac products, at least when it doesn’t discontinue them. So there were always features in Outlook for Exchange that never seemed to become available on Entourage, though it got better over the years.

    Now you’d think that the world’s largest software company, with thousands and thousands of skilled programmers, would figure how to make a Mac version of every nook and cranny of its Windows email software. In fact, I’m willing to suggest that any excuse they offer for not doing so is a load of nonsense. And, my friends, I find it difficult to believe that they couldn’t graft Visual Basic for Applications onto Office 2008.

    Sure, they gave the excuse that it would have taken at least an extra year to produce Office 2008, thus making it Office 2009 I suppose. Or maybe they figured they could get away with it, since the customers who really needed VBA might just go out and buy the Windows version and give up this doomed relationship with Macs.

    Now in all fairness to Microsoft, I did read the blogs from the Mac Business Unit on the subject when the issue first arose. Their excuses sure sounded logical enough to someone like me who is not a skilled programmer. They may have been telling the truth but it’s also possible the top executives simply didn’t give them the resources to get the job done in a timely fashion.

    In any case, this shortcoming will supposedly be remedied in time for Office 2010, where Entourage fades and is replaced by Outlook.

    Now Microsoft will want you to think that Outlook for the Mac will be a 100% brand new application, but that’s quite improbable. They claim it’ll be built from scratch in Apple’s Cocoa environment, and that’s possible to some extent, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be pulling code in from the Windows version or even Entourage. Sure, they might want you to believe what’s old is new again, but I find it as credible as the prospect that Windows Vista was built from the ground up, without reliance of anything from earlier versions of Windows.

    In other words, the probability is zip.

    I also wonder about the point of Microsoft’s penchant for musical names. Consider that their first email app on the Mac was named, as with its Windows counterpart, Outlook Express. Excel, PowerPoint and Word may have somewhat different features on the Mac and Windows platform, but the names were never altered. So what is the justification for Entourage not being Outlook in the first place? That is except for the fact that a different name gives Microsoft an excuse not to infuse it with the same or at least most of the features as its Windows counterpart.

    Of course, this isn’t the first time Microsoft has played the name game, nor is it the last. I suppose it’s a reasonable excuse when there is some justification to give a product a new identity. On the surface, the aluminum-bodied PowerBooks weren’t always easy to distinguish from the first-generation MacBook Pros. But, aside from some surface changes, the internal workings were very different, owing to the presence of Intel processors and supporting circuitry.

    But having the word Mac affixed to all of Apple’s personal computers wasn’t a bad thing to do. At least the change made sense. Did it make any sense to use the name Entourage in the first place? Does it make sense to revert to Outlook for 2010, or is Microsoft simply doing its best to generate some interest for a product that really isn’t all that exciting to begin with?

    This isn’t to say that Microsoft Office is necessarily a bad product. It has certainly generated billions of dollars in profits for its publisher, and there’s no denying the need for an industrial-strength suite consisting of word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and contact management. Not very sexy from a marketing point of view, but they do get the job done.

    Now it may just be that, despite my skepticism, Outlook for the Mac will be one extraordinary application, one that is sets the standard for that product category. Maybe it’ll be good enough for me to ditch Mail for good, but I am not setting my hopes terribly high.

    SO WHERE’S THE AUTO RESUME?

    In the old days, when I stopped a DVD on any player I’ve ever used, I could resume play where I left off the next hour, the next day, the net week so long as the unit was receiving its tiny dose of standby power. How could it be otherwise?

    Well, then I bought an entry-level Blu-ray player, a Panasonic DMP-BD30, figuring that, other than BD-Live, all of the important features of the new high definition DVD format and the standard DVD were present and accounted for. As Blu-ray gets more popular, and prices are approaching the magic $100 to $150 levels, you can bet that a surprising number of people will be acquiring them in the years to come.

    Indeed, Blu-ray, and high definition TVs for that matter, are among the few true success stories in today’s troubling economic climate. After all, what’s there not to like? There’s hardly a bad product in the bunch. Whatever your budget, you can get a superb picture.

    To be sure, that Panasonic player has in large part acquitted itself well. Even at a respectful viewing distance, Blu-ray bests regular high definition by a fairly-decent margin. Whether the movie is new or old, there’s are always extra details that you just failed to notice with regular DVD, even the upconverted version.

    However my DMP-BD30 doesn’t do so well when it comes to automatically resuming playback. It seems that almost every time, I have to scan through the disc from scratch to return to the point where I left off. Occasionally I run into a movie where I don’t have to put up with that irritating process, such as the Blu-ray version of Brian De Palma’s exciting 1987 flick, “The Untouchables.”

    So, for example, Barbara and had lunch this weekend, and caught a little over a half hour of the 119 minute movie. We switched back to regular TV and, a few hours later, decided to pick up where we left off. It didn’t miss a beat, resuming at the precise second where we halted playback earlier that day. The previous day, another movie, one rented from Netflix, also resumed at the appropriate stopping point.

    But these are exceptions that are few and far between. Yes, I have telephoned Panasonic support about the matter, and they tell me that auto-resume is very much part of how the DVD is authored in the first place; it has nothing to do with their product. I didn’t bother to ask for a more detailed explanation, and I did not think the support representative really expected to offer one.

    However, the problem is evidently not one confined to a low-end Panasonic Blu-ray player. If you examine the online chatter on the subject, you’ll find the Panasonic representative was right on. This is a feature that appears to have somehow been mostly neglected in the industry’s efforts to push out as many Blu-ray discs as they can.

    Now I don’t pretend know the nitty-gritty of the Blu-ray format and why problems exist on some discs but not on others. I realize that, as the still-mediocre disc reading speeds improve in the years to come, scanning to where you left off will not be such a big deal.

    But for now, it’s an annoyance, and one I hope the industry will overcome even if they don’t think it’s all that important.

    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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