- The Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Cutting-Edge Tech Commentary - https://www.technightowl.com/newsletter -

Newsletter Issue #510


When Apple introduced Snow Leopard earlier than most of you expected, I’m sure a lot of journalists rushed to get their reviews completed. That may explain why some were lacking facts or presented illogical conclusions. But I’ll get to that in more detail a bit later on in this issue.

In any case, on The Tech Night Owl LIVE this week, Snow Leopard was front and center again, but we also give Windows 7 its due, since we’re trying to be fair and balanced and all that stuff.

Our featured guests included prolific author Joe Kissell, author of “Take Control of Upgrading to Snow Leopard,” who discussed the simplified, yet absolutely brilliant, installation process and lots lots more. Why do I say “absolutely brilliant”? Well consider that it anticipates enough potential setup issues to make clean installs a rarity. When you compare that to the grief you’d usually undergo with Windows even on a PC that’s not been heavily modified, you’ll see what I mean. And, no, it’s not because of all those pseudo-DOS startups and other flashes of typical Microsoft inelegance.

You’ll also heard a take on the subject from Rob Pegoraro, consumer technology columnist for the Washington Post, who did  a short preliminary comparison between Snow Leopard and a late beta– perhaps the final release candidate — of Windows 7. Rob also covered the recent Google Gmail outage, one that has some folks wondering if the promised freedom of putting your stuff in the cloud will be itself clouded by ongoing reliability issues.

On the security front, noted expert Rich Mogull detailed the new security features in Snow Leopard and whether they will help keep Mac OS X off the malware map. He also provided his brief overview of the security changes in Windows 7.

This week on our other show, The Paracast, we bring onboard veteran paranormal researcher Curt Sutherly, author of “UFO Mysteries: A Reporter Seeks the Truth,” who 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.

Coming September 13: Paranormal researcher Jason Offutt, author of “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to the Show-Me-State’s Most Spirited Spots.”

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.


Let’s be totally fair about this folks. Microsoft is notorious for not playing fair with its competitors and potential competitors. It appears the hardball marketers have been so deeply entrenched in managing the company’s affairs for so long that they’ve lost perspective, about what it means to compete fairly in the marketplace.

Sure being a tough competitor is actually a good thing, and if the company happens to have a superior product, that’s even better. But when a company spends too much time living in gray areas where matters of ethics are often forgotten, you have to wonder just how far Microsoft is willing to go in order to win the ballgame.

This is not to say there are no umpires around, which is supposedly the function of the U.S. government’s antitrust people. However, it took years before the complaints against Microsoft for using deceit and illegal actions to beat down Netscape in the early days of the browser wars resulted in an antitrust action. Even then, some feel that the Bush administration was less concerned about competitive extremes than the Clinton administration, and thus they took half a loaf in settlement rather than go all the way.

The rest was evidently left, in part, to the European Union that has ended up forcing Microsoft to pay huge fines for unethical business practices. Indeed, you’d think that Microsoft will, in the future, be forced to play good guy because they have no choice, but that doesn’t mean they can’t skirt around the edges from time to time.

Take the alleged operating system competition between Microsoft and Apple. Does that situation not present itself a few opportunities with which to bend the rules?

Now I don’t dispute the fact that Apple can embellish facts with the best of them. That goes without saying. But at the same time, they seem to have a far greater respect for truth in their advertising campaigns. I mean, when specific claims are made that one can actually measure, they do provide information as to how those measurements were taken so you can at least try to duplicate them yourself. Indeed, when you do, you’ll see they are right far more often than they are wrong.

When it comes to Microsoft, it’s all about making the sale and the hell with the facts. Many of you, for example, recall the misleading comparisons in their recent Laptop Hunters ad campaign, which featured actresses pretending to be customers who were utterly clueless as to how one goes about comparing and purchasing note-book computers. The goal was simply to buttress Steve Ballmer’s contention that there was an Apple Tax, without regard to the real tax, which replaces the first word in that expression with Microsoft.

More recently, there have been glowing testimonials as to how great Windows 7 is, particularly in comparison with Mac OS X Snow Leopard. These statements are made despite the fact that, as most of you know, the new version of Microsoft’s operating system is not yet officially for sale and won’t be available for the consumer market until October. Between now and then, PC makers are supposedly testing and configuring Windows 7 disk images for their various products.

The illusion Microsoft wants to create is that Windows 7  is substantially different from Vista. That’s why it’s not called Vista 2, and also because Microsoft doesn’t want the foul stench of that name to adorn any new products. But those who want to be fair will tell you that Microsoft worked hard to clean up as many of Vista’s loose ends as they could, while adding some interface changes to add credibility to the name change. Whether they are improvements is debatable. Some seem to like the reinvented taskbar that emulates some of the functions of Mac OS X’s Dock, but it’s hard to say that it’s necessarily better. It’s surely not original.

As to the attacks on Snow Leopard, some are downright silly, and you wonder if the people who wrote them are truly that lame, or they have been encouraged, one way or the other, by Microsoft. I’m not saying they were necessarily bribed to favor Windows, although I wonder how many might have gotten Windows 7 preloaded onto a spanking new PC desktop or note-book that they could actually keep.

Am I serious?

Well, certainly it’s quite possible that such Windows fanboys as Paul Thurrott may actually believe the nonsense they are regurgitating when they try to compare the Mac and Windows. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, and there’s surely no accounting for taste.

So I readily agree that some people who prefer Windows are making what they feel to be honest comparisons, and that the Mac simply doesn’t fulfill their needs. That’s no problem, and if Microsoft felt that way about the competition in the early days, maybe there’d be a more level playing field in the PC industry today.

However, some of the statements you read are truly off-center if you consider logic, reason and whether or not the hack writers who churned out that stuff really did their homework.

So we have some of them complaining that Snow Leopard lacks new features, even though Apple never offered it as a feature upgrade. Not not, not ever. The closest thing to a new feature, according to Apple, is out-of-the-box support for Exchange Server 2007. That’s something, by the way, that doesn’t come standard with Windows.

There are several significant under-the-hood changes that will, as programmers harness upgraded developers tools, allow applications to run faster. But you will see little evidence of that now, except for somewhat snappier performance from Apple’s own apps, most of which have been converted to 64-bit. Even the 64-bit equation can be somewhat confusing, because only Apple’s servers boot with a 64-bit kernel by default. The rest start in 32-bit mode, but that doesn’t stop an application from harnessing the power of 64-bit computing. It’s all in a single version of the operating system, and that’s something Microsoft simply never learned how to do.

True, there are 100 items that Apple calls refinements, and some of these might have been placed in the feature category with earlier releases of Mac OS X. But Apple was just a little too honest about it, and all told, this explains why the purchase price is just $29, mere chump change as OS upgrades go.

Microsoft is asking a whole lot more for its glorified service pack, and even if you could call Snow Leopard a service pack too — and that would be stretching things — Microsoft has to explain why their upgrade costs so much more.

Yes, my friends, shorn of all the spin and misdirection, when you buy a Windows PC — even if the list price is less than that of a Mac — be prepared to pay the Microsoft Tax, not just for malware software subscriptions, but for the misery to which you subject yourself. That’s where the spin really stops.


One thing I learned long ago, and that is if you don’t buy your own Web server, expect to upgrade the one you rent or lease every so often. So, yes, we’ve done it yet again, but, you may ask, how’d we do it without a service interruption?

Well, in a sense there was one, but it probably went unnoticed by most of you. You may recall that, for several hours on Friday, our community forums were closed for new posts. That’s when it happened. During that period, all the Web files were transferred from one server to another. We then pointed our domains to the new server, which is a fairly trivial process, made easier by the fact that the major registrars, such as 1and1 Internet, Namecheap and others, provide fairly simple point-and-click tools to accommodate the process.

In the real world, however, changes may seem to be in effect, but they take up to 72 hours for the updates to propagate to DNS servers around the planet. It’s not even consistent, as you may see the change in one locale and another half way around the world. But lots of places in the interim remain out of date. That, to me, seems in need of fixing in the 21st century where almost everyone in a civilized country has a super computer on their desktop or laptop bag.

In the interim, it means that some of you saw our sites from the old server for a time, then the new and back again. Fortunately, email got transferred within hours. The rest of the changes took a while to take hold. If you’re reading this newsletter on the site — rather than the copy sent to your mailbox — you are indeed seeing it as sent from our new server.

The migration itself was pretty straightforward, owing to the fact that we use the same Web control panel software on both, from cPanel, which is the most popular product of its type — and the best. It has a built in transfer feature that, behind the scenes, logs into the old server, packages the files in special archives, copies them to the new server and then unpacks them all almost seamlessly. In the end, I spent maybe 15 or 20 minutes going through all the setups to make sure nothing was amiss, and it all went fine.

We moved to the new server for the same reasons that we went to its predecessor last February, which can be summed up as bandwidth, capacity and performance. The previous server used a pair of quad-core AMD Opterons of recent vintage. The new box has the latest quad-core Intel Xeons, using the Nehalem architecture. You can go to Intel’s site for the specifics, but these are the very same chips that Apple installs in the latest Mac Pros.

Both servers offered 1.5TB of storage space, using the RAID 5 system, and 16GB RAM. The basic server setups seem fairly similar, mostly because we wanted to keep the software configurations near identical. Maybe you don’t see a difference yet, but there’s one that can be measured. All of our WordPress powered sites now compile pages over 50% faster.

Of course, when you’re talking about a few tenths of a second here and there, that may not mean so much. However, as the traffic load increases, you won’t feel the impact quite as much as you continue to visit our sites. As we require more and more bandwidth, we won’t have to shell out an arm and a leg for the extra throughput.

You see, most hosts treat extra bandwidth as wireless carriers treat extra minutes. You pay a fair price for the basics, but they gut your credit card on the extras. And, no, don’t get me started on those offers of cheap hosting with “unlimited bandwidth.” There are limits, though you have to read the fine print. If your site gets popular, you end up using too much of the limited resources allotted to you on a crowded server, and suddenly your site slows down or is suspended until things die down. Besides, they figure 99% of their low-end customers will never approach the limits anyway.

You see, Web hosts are fighting hard for every dollar, and the promise of “unmetered” or “unlimited” may be sufficient to get more customers. So that’s how the industry copes with a difficult economy, although some of you may question the efficacy of the claims.

I’ll tell you more about our new hosting environment next issue. In the meantime, while we made a great deal, it’s still an expensive acquisition. To those of you who want to help us cover the costs, we welcome your donations anytime.


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

Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
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