• Newsletter Issue #517

    October 25th, 2009


    We’ve published over 500 issues of this newsletter and that, to me, is a surprising achievement, since I had no long-range plan when this site was established in 1999. But that doesn’t quite hold a candle to what Adam and Tanya Engst have accomplished with their weekly newsletter, TidBITS, which recently published issue number 1,000. I don’t think it started off with the intention of going as far as it did, but now I look forward to reading issue number 2,000.

    Now on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. we focused directly on Apple’s stellar earnings report and the latest and greatest Mac hardware. Along for the ride were Macworld’s Jason Snell, Adam Engst, Editor/Publisher of TidBITS and author and commentator Kirk McElhearn.

    In addition, Jason, who moonlights as a TV writer, discussed what he likes and doesn’t like about the current season. He was less enthusiastic, for example, on the highly-promoted ABC series, “Flash Forward,” and surprisingly upbeat about the SyFy Channel’s latest entry in a long-term franchise, “Stargate Universe.”

    In another segment on the show, Kirk explained why he finally bought a Kindle and his hopes about Apple’s new Magic Mouse. Adam presented his feelings about publishing 1,000 issues of TidBITS, along with his sage observations about the recent failure of Microsoft’s Sidekick smartphone network and what it means for cloud-based services.

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, the government of Brazil has released a wealth of UFO documents. A. J. Gevaerd, Editor, Brazilian UFO Magazine, returns to The Paracast to sort things out and talk about some of the most compelling sightings.

    Coming November 1: Getting the goods on claims of life-after-death communication with Dr. Stephen Rorke. You’ll also hear some actual audio clips so you can decide whether it’s real or fake.

    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.” We’ve also added a selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show.


    A couple of weeks back, when David Biedny joined me on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we were laughing up a storm about Microsoft’s pathetic house parties campaign to boost the launch of Windows 7. It seemed a pathetic or desperate act to want to promote an operating system upgrade with a series of events that had, at best, only a peripheral connection with personal computers.

    Indeed, this wasn’t just a case of a couple of Mac fans ranting about Microsoft. Even the tech publications that you just know would be on Microsoft’s side were busy attacking most of the promotional efforts, and the house parties were just a small part of their objections.

    Consider most everything Microsoft has done to make Windows warm and fuzzy. There were those meaningless ads featuring Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld, for example. The latter reportedly received $10 million for his miniscule efforts and the campaign was halted when everyone realized they made no sense whatever.

    More recently, there are the TV spots in which a little girl, maybe six years of age, is trying to show you just how easy it is for her to edit and upload photos on her PC. All right, she’s cute and all, but does that make anyone want to buy a Windows PC? Really?

    Now don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Windows 7 is necessarily a bad product. But Microsoft made some really foolish tactical decisions about packaging the product that make no sense, particularly in light of their vast financial reserves.

    Consider the plight of the XP user. Now Microsoft surely knows that millions of people sat out Windows Vista because it was slow, bloated and buggy. It presented no real world advantage for most companies, so they stuck with XP. So what does Microsoft do to encourage upgrades? It requires a “clean” installation to go to Windows 7.

    But don’t take my word for it. Read what Microsoft says in their official statement about installing that upgrade: To upgrade your PC from Windows XP to Windows 7, you’ll need to select the Custom option during Windows 7 installation. A custom installation doesn’t preserve your programs, files, or settings. It’s sometimes called a ‘clean’ installation for that reason.”

    It also requires having a second hard drive on hand on which to back up your stuff when you perform the Windows 7 upgrade. Yes, there happens to be a third-party alternative or two that will supposedly make the process less burdensome, but you have to wonder how on Earth can an independent developer, one apparently fairly small, devise a solution, while Microsoft can’t?

    The other example of poor planning is the foolish decision on Microsoft’s part to eliminate such apps as email, an address book and a calendar from the default installation. So even the novice user, who is already challenged finding and setting up new software, is forced to download the file from Microsoft’s site and run an installer just to be able to take advantage of fundamental features that almost everyone needs even on a new PC. Where’s the logic in that? If Microsoft wants to give you a choice, they could always provide a ballot box, just as they are expected to do with browser selection in Europe. But either way the decision doesn’t make sense, since nobody is cracking down on the company for dominating the email client marketplace, let alone that of address books and desktop calendars.

    Now in the end, it may well be that Microsoft caved to the PC makers and opted to make the XP to 7 upgrade process so draconian that people would just buy a new PC and be done with it. Indeed, one of the main problems Microsoft confronted during the Vista cycle was with customers who downgraded new boxes to XP. If that’s no longer a problem — and this is by no means certain — maybe they are right in wanting to mandate clean installs for current XP users.

    On the other hand, for people who aren’t ready to buy a new PC, this is just one more obstacle that threatens to reduce Windows 7’s chances for fast success, since it means fewer upgrade boxes will be sold. Indeed, the PC industry is now depending on Microsoft to deliver a solid upgrade that will help boost sales prospects for the holiday season.

    Certainly Microsoft’s timing was good enough, but it still comes down to the fact that the vast majority of PC users don’t buy a computer for a particular operating system, but mostly to replace aging systems. These days, however, many of the new purchases are concentrated on netbooks. Sure, Microsoft has a version of Windows 7 that is supposedly sufficient to power those cheap, underpowered gadgets, but profits to the PC makers are meager. They are only selling such gear because many people can’t afford to buy something decent.

    On the other side of the tracks, we all know that Apple is mostly unaffected by price swings. They demonstrated that in the most recent quarter, where their sales hit record levels, while those at Microsoft declined. Unfortunately, Wall Street gave Microsoft a pass, because the sales dip wasn’t as bad as they expected. That’s damning with faint praise.

    In the end, I don’t want to see anyone lose their job, be it at Microsoft or a PC maker. They have families to support, and a successful employer means raises and improved benefits.

    But when Microsoft makes more and more stupid decisions about building and selling its products, their employees and partners will continue to suffer. Good or bad, Windows 7 surely deserves better.


    Most of you know that the Obama administration is evidently at war with the Fox News channel over receiving all that nasty coverage from the popular conservative cable TV network. Well, that sort of thing is really nothing new. Presidents have, for years, fought reporters and their employers over a variety of issues. Nixon, as you might recall, even kept an enemy’s list that included The New York Times and other members of the Fourth Estate.

    Nowadays, there’s so much coverage, particularly in the online universe, you have to wonder whether the quality of reporting has declined. Or perhaps priorities have changed.

    Actually, so-called “yellow journalism” has always existed, as soon as publishers discovered that sensationalism sells. One of my old radio station managers often repeated the popular catch phrase, “If it bleeds, it leads” and you can bet that violence in any form, even if verbal, will sell papers, get great ratings and lots and lots of hits.

    You also have to also wonder whether members of the press are bought and paid for from time to time. With a print or broadcast outlet, does the editorial department keep tabs on the bottom line before deciding whether to publish a story criticizing a major advertiser? What about small online publishers who depend on banner ads to pay the rent? Are any of them willing to sacrifice their morality in the quest to earn a profit?

    As you know, I’ve written a number of commentaries that take certain colleagues to task because they publish articles that lack basic logic and factual content. It is also easy to speculate on the possibility that some have hidden agendas that do not include basic honesty.

    Now being honest doesn’t mean being perfect. One can disagree without being disagreeable, and more than one viewpoint may have an essential validity. While I don’t make any claims of being perfect, or close to it, I don’t look at my bottom line, such as it is, when I write an article or reach a specific conclusion.

    Indeed, I reserve the right to be wrong and when it comes to speculating about any tech company, the chances of actually being correct are often slim to none. That, however, doesn’t stop some media pundits from claiming that, for example, Apple is fundamentally clueless and if they don’t follow the admonitions of the pundit in question, they are doomed to failure.

    Apple, on the other hand, marches to another beat, and thus succeeds on its own terms. When it comes to Microsoft, you wonder how a company that seems to do so little right manages to nonetheless earn huge profits from its products. Well, at least the ones related to personal computing. They haven’t done nearly as well with anything else. Even the Xbox manages to do all right, but the consoles have extremely poor reliability records.

    At the end of the day, it’s hard to say whether the press is losing its edge or whether so-called “citizen journalists” that don’t have the experience or education about the fundamentals of reporting are becoming more dominant. Besides, sometimes good intentions and dedication can go a long way towards compensating for what may be lacking in other areas.


    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #517”

    1. Kaleberg says:

      I’m always surprised Microsoft marketing doesn’t press its actual advantages.

      Why not have an ad with a boasting Mac user suddenly stopping in mid-brag to ask sheepishly if he can use his friend’s PC to access some particular site or application? Why not have someone running some obvious Windows program and have it crash, then zoom back to show that it had been running emulated on a Mac? Why not have some Mac hooked up to some device with a whole chain of adapters, and have a PC user unplug just the gadget and plug that into his computer without adapters and show that it works? The tagline: Why not get the real thing? If you want to go for the ego, try: Get a machine for grownups.

      I’m not a PC fan, but there is still a lot of software, particularly work related software, that is only available for a PC. Microsoft does have an advantage. They worked hard for it. All those lawyers in their big antitrust case and all those lobbyists who managed to get that case shut down were working for a reason. The least Microsoft can do is use that advantage while it lasts.

    2. Bill Burkholder says:

      Gene, you wrote an interesting commentary on the state of modern journalism. My guess is that we are in a transitional phase in the evolution of media. We are headed away from a world in which a small group of powerful media outlets controlled most of what we would learn about any situation. We are now living in an age when people are discovering their individual voices, and their abilities to make them heard. It’s also an age in which alternative viewpoints have become more prevalent in the media, and the pack journalism culture of the traditional media outlets has become less influential and less profitable.

      Presidents lament their inability to control the press and the news cycle, because they fear their inability to be reelected as much as their inability to lead through control of the message. Imagine trying to fight World War II with the sort of media we have today reporting it instantly! It is likely that it would not be possible to marshall the resources of the country with the sort of focus that was achievable in 1941.

      The best advice I have for politicians and the special interests who “advise” them is to play it straight. If you want to last a long time in the game, you had best say what you mean, mean what you say, play fairly, and hope that wins respect. In the world of the ‘Net, unfair, unjust, immoral, illegal, and even fattening behavior will soon be outed. Like it or not, your behavior is now under scrutiny at all hours of the day and night. Act like it.

      The best advice I have for journalists is something I got from my old classmate at Davidson, the late Tony Snow. He said this in 2002 at our class reunion. “Journalists have to be aware of the difference between commentary and hard news. There are always at least two sides to a news story, and when you’re reporting the news, you have to present all of them you can find. If you report less than the full story, you have to live with the harm that causes. When you are a commentator, you are clearly an advocate. There should always be a clear line between reportage and advocacy, and it shouldn’t be blurred by what you leave out of the news.”

      Would that more people understood that ideal… Tony was about equally good at reportage and advocacy in his career. I still remember him as a rabid debater in college. He was equally at home as press secretary to Bush 43, and as a sub for Rush Limbaugh, and he was one of the most even-handed reporters Fox News ever had. His strength was always that he understood two or more sides to an issue or an argument, and could articulate them all. In fact, he preferred to remain silent until he could do that.

      Many modern journalists have moved away from that sort of ideal. They went to J-school to “change the world” in the wave that followed Watergate. They carried their political banners with them, and learned an entirely or mostly advocacy-based method of reportage. They followed the herd of (mostly liberal) reporters at the AP, The NY Times, and the old network TV organizations. It’s no wonder, then, that they are referred to as the “Main Stream State-Controlled Media” by those on the right, because they practice inevitable groupthink.

      Say what you will about conservative talk radio, Fox News, and similar conservative news organizations. They are serving a need and filling a void, and must be respected for doing so. That the “pack news” orgs decided to stand with them last week and boycott a meeting that excluded Fox speaks volumes. Ultimately, advocacy journalists on all sides know that freedom of the press is a Constitutional right worth preserving, and that not even a President should be tolerated threatening that.

    3. MichaelT says:


      Re: Windows 7 parties, if you’re looking for a vote between “pathetic” and “desperate act”, I’ll go with pathetic.

      And for the upgrade, a little anecdote. I was riding the bus to work today talking about my upgrade to the 27 in. iMac (after a death of a 24″—RIP). I mentioned how easily I upgraded simply by plugging in my Time Machine backup and telling it to transfer all the info to the new computer. The guy I was talking to said, “Well, that’s one thing Microsoft has never done right.” True.

      Also you failed to mention the cost of these upgrades. Apple disguised a major upgrade (under the hood, anyway, and of course this is IMHO) as a minor bump and priced it accordingly. Microsoft disguised a bug-fix and cleanup as a major upgrade and priced it accordingly. Apple got it right, Microsoft got it wrong.

      • @MichaelT, The intent wasn’t to compare upgrade scenarios, other than to mention the questionable choices Microsoft made. I think we all know that Snow Leopard is super smooth in most every respect.


        • MichaelT says:

          @Gene Steinberg, Ah, yes, but you got me started when you talked about upgrading from XP to 7, which is what my friend has to do. So tedious! And yet for me to upgrade from Leopard on one computer to Snow Leopard on a completely different computer was so easy it even impressed ME, and I EXPECT good things from Apple! 🙂

    4. Neurotic Nomad says:

      By leaving out even the most fundamental utilities and applications, Microsoft has an excellent opportunity to get all their customers accustomed to using the Microsoft App Store, built-in to every copy of Windows 7, and to take a percentage of every sale.

      It also gets the EU off their backs and gives the appearance of changing their monopolistic ways.

      The MS Stores are improving the experience for PC customers and I hear that the machines they sell are crapware-free, further improving PC customer experience. Apple hitting 10% market share has finally given MS some competition in the OS space and that helps everyone. Next time you’re forced to using a PC, the experience will be less horrible because of it.

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