Although the press seemed to ignore the issue, it appears that Microsoft was desperate enough to actually attempt to bribe people to show up at the opening of its new retail store in Scottsdale, Arizona. No, I didn’t go, although I don’t live very far from the shopping center. I just wondered what would encourage people to want to visit a store that’s nothing more than an imitation of the real thing.
Later, I discovered the answer: Microsoft offered early visitors a chance to sign up for free concert tickets, free Zune music players and other goodies. No wonder! Microsoft, you see, has no confidence that they store itself was good enough to attract a crowd, even though it was their very first retail outlet. In the end, though, it’s all about sales. If people don’t return and buy gear, there’s no point in what appears to be a substantial investment.
In Apple’s case, despite the skeptics, they turned their retail chain into a fast-growing, highly profitable enterprise. If Microsoft can come even close, that’s great. If not, it’ll just be more money down the drain, and that has to mean something to the company’s stockholders. Or do they just prefer to sit back and take more abuse?
Now on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE. cutting-edge tech commentator Daniel Eran Dilger, of Roughly Drafted Magazine, returned to talk about Microsoft’s feeble attempts to make Windows 7 warm and fuzzy. He also addressed a long-held belief on the part of some people — one utterly preposterous — that Windows NT and its successors actually contained Unix in some form.
In other segments on the show, we presented Ryan Griggs, of FileMaker, to discuss their Bento database app, which puts a human face on database software. Elgato’s Mike Evangelist was on hand to discuss the company’s current product line. He also explained why their iPhone app had to be quickly updated because it contained one feature too many.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, we remember the late Mac Tonnies, author, futurist and Fortean, with a special tribute episode featuring his close friends and colleagues, including Greg Bishop, Patrick Huyghe, Paul Kimball and Nicholas Redfern.
Coming November 8 (Rescheduled): 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.
I have to tell you that I’ve long held a love/hate relationship with Apple’s input devices. Although my very first Mac used the standard Apple mouse, I continued to flirt with replacements. Indeed, this is a quest that continues to this very day.
First there was the legendary Kensington TurboMouse, now known as the ExpertMouse. In theory, it should have freed me from the discomfort of the traditional mouse, but in practice, it proved awkward and ultimately uncomfortable. I also experimented with smaller trackballs without success.
Apple’s Ergonomic Mouse was actually fairly decent, but the ready availability of multibutton mice encouraged me to switch to products from Logitech and even Microsoft. In both cases, I found something that came closer to the ideal.
In recent years, I have used Logitech’s MX Revolution, which seems to fit my right hand perfectly. A newly-refined version, the Performance Mouse MX, is still undergoing testing, but if you’re a southpaw, as I am in other respects, you’re out of luck with either alternative.
Apple’s first multibutton mouse, the Mighty Mouse, suffered from a form factor that was too thin, and that wasn’t quite suited to my particular comfort requirements. I prefer a mouse more suited to a curved palm rather than a flat one, so a week with the Mighty Mouse left me with a sore wrist. For better or worse, the word “Mighty” has since been removed from the name, the result of copyright issues, so it’s now the Apple Mouse.
The newly-released Magic Mouse is thinner, sleeker, and lacks that foolish dirt-prone scroll button. Instead, Apple has devised a slightly curved top that’s designed for multi-touch use. The finger motions are similar to that of the latest generation of Mac note-books, so a vertical movement of a finger can scroll through your document. You would use a side swipe to move backwards and forwards in your browser, but the feature seems mostly suited to Firefox and Safari. Opera protested and attempted to give me some sort of “gesture” setup screen instead.
If you buy one of the new iMacs, the Magic Mouse is standard issue, and it has now been added to the customize columns for other Apple products. As a standalone gadget, it’s $69, and comes strictly in a Bluetooth wireless version.
Should you want to try one, you may have to upgrade your Mac’s OS, if it isn’t running 10.5.8 or later. That’s the minimum operating system required by Apple. You’ll also have to download the Apple Wireless Mouse Software Update to make it run on anything other than the new iMac, although there are published reports that the next Snow Leopard fixer-upper, to be called 10.6.2, will provide built-in Magic Mouse support.
I received a Magic Mouse on Friday morning, and promptly set it up on my Mac Pro, which uses a 30-inch display. I mention that particular factor for reasons that’ll become clear in a moment.
Even before I installed the new driver update for the Magic Mouse, it was readily recognized by the Mac Pro’s Bluetooth hardware and I quickly got it to function as an ordinary single button mouse. Once the software was installed, and the Mac restarted, the rest of the functionality was available.
The Mouse preference pane gained a limited number of settings, such as whether I want to use the left or right side of the Magic Mouse for the right-click function. Finger scrolling can be selected with or without “Momentum” (or acceleration actually), and you can also choose which optional keystroke, such as Control, to select for zooming.
Typical of an Apple mouse, the click is loud and slightly distracting if you’re used to the quieter sonic impact of other devices, such as Logitech, Kensington and Microsoft. But my biggest quibble with the Magic Mouse at the outset was the fact that cursor tracking seemed so extremely slow compared to Logitech, even though I had set it to the maximum speed. This may not matter so much with a normal sized display, but when you’re navigating 30 inches, it makes routine movements an extra chore. I do gather some disappointed users have found third-party mouse acceleration utilities to compensate (such as MouseZoom), but this is really Apple’s problem to address.
To be fair, I haven’t tried the Magic Mouse on a new iMac, and perhaps it performs differently on that model, but that’s another review for another day.
On the plus side of the ledger, vertical scrolling was perfect. Having become accustomed to the function on my 17-inch MacBook Pro, it took only a few seconds to perform the same actions on the Magic Mouse. Finger swiping, however, was hit or miss. Yes, I carefully and deliberately made the horizontal movements precisely as illustrated by Apple in an animated movie that appears in the Mouse preference pane. Most of the time it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I longed for the tiny buttons at the left of my Logitech mouse, which work reliably each and every time.
My major complaint, however, is the comfort factor. A software update might fix the slow tracking issue and make finger swipes more reliable. But only a major redesign will keep me from the aching wrist I suffered after a mere two days of use.
I’m back to my Logitech, and the Magic Mouse has been returned to its tiny plastic case. Now maybe it’s all my fault. My mouse technique is perhaps all wrong, but I’d rather think that people are simply built differently. Apple is catering to one class of customer that won’t ever complain, and that’s great. But they ought to consider the plight of the people for whom a flat mouse is unsuitable. Surely they have some better ideas to offer.
I expect that many of you have a mixed reaction to Adobe. You respect their industry-standard software, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, and maybe encounter problems dealing with Flash, which they acquired when they bought rival Macromedia several years ago.
Indeed, it’s fair to say that Apple and Adobe haven’t always seen eye to eye. Flash, for example, is not yet allowed on the iPhone, and although Adobe says it’s developing a new version that they claim will be ideally suited for mobile platforms, Apple’s won’t be supported. At least not immediately.
Because of this situation, I have been working towards removing as much Flash content from our sites as possible. It’s not because of the well-known security and stability issues, but simply because I want to make sure that everyone can view as much of our content as possible, regardless of whether it’s on a personal computer or a smartphone.
One of the things that personally annoys me about Adobe is their draconian software activation scheme, which can sometimes be worse than Microsoft’s. To run most Adobe apps, they have to pass an online validation check upon first launch, and therein lies a tale.
Veteran Mac user Alex Podressoff, the Vice President of the Arizona Macintosh Users Group, is a close family friend. When I acquired a copy of Adobe’s CS4 software a few months ago, I decided to pass my two CS3 packages to Alex. This should have been a trivial issue. All you have to do, according to Adobe, is fax or email license transfer form (which they provide online for your convenience) and within a few days, the new owner of the software will be able to have it activated.
Well, at least that’s the theory. In practice, I ended up having to resend a fax with those license transfer requests several times. I even got one of Adobe’s public relations people involved in this prolonged transaction.
Finally, I rang up Adobe customer support line and made a last-ditch attempt to resolve the issue. I had in hand a ticket number that the PR person had retrieved for me. Unfortunately, Adobe has succumbed to the very same problems that afflict other large companies, and that means reaching a live support person can be a frustrating process.
In this case, I had to endure a 30 minute session of dreadful background music before someone answered. Speaking with a thick foreign accent, the support person identified herself and I went into my spiel. She was able to look up my registration information, but could find no evidence that any of the faxes we received, even the ones containing the support ticket number. In fact, she had the impression that I was the PR rep, and it took a few moments for me to explain to her the actual situation.
Over the next 10 minutes, I repeated each product serial number at least twice before she was able to read all the digits back to me correctly. Since I am a radio broadcaster, I like to think that my “native tongue” is reasonably understandable to people with normal language and hearing acuity.
At the end of this lengthy and frustrating process, Alex got his two user licenses activated. The PR rep said he was glad the problem had been resolved. But I have to wonder just how others would fare in a similar situation, without having someone contracted to Adobe’s corporate communications department ready to intervene.
Among software companies, this is perhaps my worst experience so far. I’ve had to call Microsoft a few times to activate recalcitrant Windows licenses, and it was never this bad. Indeed, I can’t recall ever having a pleasant support encounter with Adobe. That tells me that they are in sad need of fierce competition. Certainly whenever Apple has an alternative to an Adobe product, you know which company will get my business from here on.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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