In the 1990s, the late and lamented Byte magazine occasionally published articles about software bloat. The theory went that, as computers became faster and faster, developers didn’t bother to optimize their apps as they packed on feature after feature to fuel upgrade sales. At the end of the day, the actual performance achieved didn’t change all that much, simply because the software became less efficient to essentially the same degree as processor power improved.
That seems to hold true to this very day. Despite dual-core and quad-core powerhouses inside every single Mac in Apple’s current lineup, do you see any of your applications really running all that much faster? Does Adobe Photoshop take fewer seconds to launch? What about Microsoft Word and even Apple’s Pages?
Why should you have to wait more than a second to open a word processor anyway, when you have a supercomputer on your desktop or in your lap? Does that make any sense to you?
That takes us to last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where Rob Pegoraro, Consumer Technology Columnist for The Washington Post, was the first guest, providing his unfiltered impressions of Windows 7 versus Snow Leopard.
Columnist Peter Cohen, from The Loop, discussed not only the CEO of the decade (you know who that is), but some of the issues of software bloat that I raised above.
We then entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent discusses the Verizon Droid versus the iPhone, his dreadful experiences with a certain Internet telephone provider and one of his favorite digital accessories for his guitar.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, we feature veteran UFO researcher Jim Moseley, editor of Saucer Smear, and contactee/abductee David Huggins, who is featured in the book “Love in an Alien Purgatory: The Life and Fantastic Art of David Huggins.” Please note:Although there will be no explicit language used during this interview, please expect a frank discussion of Huggins’ claims of having intimate relationships with otherworldly beings.
Coming November 22: James Carrion, International Director of MUFON, talks about the organization’s 40-year history of UFO research, focusing on key cases, including the controversy over the claims of contactee Stan Romanek.
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.
As I consider some of the absurd comments from so-called tech writers that I routinely disprove, I have to wonder what they are thinking about. I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that maybe they are drinking too much of the “sauce” or inhaling mind-altering substances.
But it doesn’t seem to make sense that, with all the facts out there about Apple, Microsoft and other prominent tech companies, they continue to get so many basic facts completely incorrect, and then engage in totally wrongheaded speculation as the result.
One theory with which most of you no doubt agree is that lurid headlines and inflammatory text attract lots and lots of readers, particularly from Mac users and others who hold opposing views and are upset over the incorrect statements. Indeed, if you check out the online versions of some of the most offensive stories, you’ll see a rich selection of responses correcting the most egregious mistakes.
At the same time, the authors rarely, if ever, back down and admit they made a mistake. If they respond to the corrections, it’s often non-responsive or they just repeat the same misleading information. They must be masochists, you’d think, since they are so willing to simply sit back and take all that abuse.
On the other hand, it may well be that they don’t care what anyone thinks. Being provocative has its own rewards, particularly if the writer in question generates lots of traffic for a publisher. That often means more writing assignments, and perhaps more money for each article. I suspect some of the worst offenders want to emulate the ever-controversial John Dvorak, a long-time agent provocateur who actually once wrote for a Macintosh publication.
The script is predictable. Take a tidbit of information, one possibly accurate to some degree, or representative of a common myth, and then expand upon that muth as much as necessary to prove a point, however erroneous it might be. So, for example, there’s that pathetic article written by the “Fake Steve Jobs” in his civilian guise, Daniel Lyons, suggesting that Apple destroyed its prospects for success largely because they refused to allow Mac OS cloning early on.
Indeed, lots of tech writers said the very same thing in the days following the introduction of the first Mac in 1984. Even Microsoft’s Bill Gates told Steve Jobs to license the OS. Apple decided to restrict their crown jewels to their own hardware, while Microsoft was happy to allow all comers license MS/DOS so long as the checks didn’t bounce.
But if you actually examine Apple’s history, you’ll see that they made a large number of serious strategic errors early on, such as pricing Macs too high, trying to enter too many product segments, and engaging in far too many fruitless development projects. By the mid-1990s, there were so many separate Mac models that it was near impossible for anyone to figure out what they were, let alone how one differs from another.
When Apple finally got around to cloning, the contract allowed the licensees to compete with Apple’s most profitable products head on, by offering cheaper prices and faster uptake of speedier processors. In other words, they almost killed Apple.
Then there was the operating system. The aging Mac OS still looked pretty and all, but it multitasked poorly, and lacked the state-of-the-art features, such as preemptive multitasking and protected memory. But that was before they bought NeXT, Inc. and Steve Jobs returned to the company. Things sure have chanced since then.
However, by pretending that Apple is just repeating the mistakes of the past, Lyons and other flame throwers can make up any conclusion they want, without regard to whether it makes sense. They forget that, with today’s Apple, there’s nobody around to second guess Steve Jobs. That wasn’t the case when the Mac was first being developed.
They also forget that Jobs has several decades of corporate experience under his belt, and he has a great feel for the bottom line. Today’s Apple is a tight ship, with sharp controls on inventory and the costs of raw materials.
What’s more, Apple is one spectacular money making machine, with consistently high profits, and a line of iconic products that have caught the attention of savvy buyers around the world. Sure Apple comes out with duds from time to time, such as the Cube, but more often than not, customer response is way higher than the critics expect.
How many of those skeptics, for example, predicted that the iPod would attain cult status, and be regarded as a verb for a digital media player. That’s something the competition will not easily overcome, particularly now that this market segment is losing steam compared to smartphones. Indeed, I think most people who really look at the situation would agree that a hefty portion of the decrease in iPod sales is the result of those customers buying an iPhone instead.
So at the end of the day, you wonder why certain tech writers seem to expect Apple to do what they want, in the way they want, even though the company remains incredibly successful by not listening to them. I think you all have to agree that Apple and Microsoft, for example, have very dissimilar market focuses, yet that doesn’t stop some of the skeptics from suggesting that the former needs to become more like the latter.
What is curious, however, is that Microsoft is actually trying to ape Apple in certain notable respects. Consider that recent admission from a Microsoft employee that they actually tried to emulate the Mac look and feel in Windows 7. Even though another company executive denied that imitation was the intent, can anyone truly believe that the faux Dock in Windows wasn’t copied from Mac OS X or that Microsoft has any grasp of the concept of innovation?
I think about another tech columnist who suggested that Windows 7 was the superior operating system, and Mac users must sit up and take notice. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem that many people are listening, but that was to be expected.
Yes, I would like to see some of these fake tech journalists develop a healthy respect for facts, but so long as publishers value entertainment and high profits above journalism, that situation is not about to change.
I’d like to think that my preferences aren’t weird, old fashioned, out of place or what have you. So when I want to buy a certain type of gadget, I have to believe that others share the very same need, and that I’m not a minority of one or two. This very problem was brought home to me when I recently decided to replace a failing two-line portable phone in my home office.
I found a grand total of three or four options generally available, depending on which local outlet I selected. You’d almost think that the management of Best Buy, Office Max and Staples were communicating with each other when choosing which products to carry, but if you look online, you’ll see that choices are surprisingly slim. The ones available, using the DECT 6.0 protocol, usually come from the likes of Panasonic, RCA and Verizon. Yes, THAT Verizon! You might also find a single model from Uniden if you look hard enough.
This is truly unfortunate, considering that one would think that there would be a fair number of potential customers out there who have small businesses, home or office-based, and prefer the convenience of a portable phone but don’t want to go all cellular, at least not yet.
When I asked Steve “Mr. Gadget” Kruschen about this unfortunate situation, he said that the market for such models really didn’t exist much anymore, as more and more people are giving up their landlines for mobile phones. A common small business situation might include one of each, so it makes sense that manufacturers aren’t going to want to build products that people aren’t going to buy.
I ended up trying two contenders before I settled on what will probably be a temporary choice. A conventional-looking RCA worked all right, but the LED lettering for Caller ID was far too small for my wife, a survivor of two major eye surgeries. After returning that unit, I settled on the Verizon, which has a more “digital” form factor and a slightly larger display screen. Staples offered the product with with a $50 rebate, leaving my net cost at less than $130 with two handsets.
Another possibility is a Panasonic, but the second handset is optional, and the net price is $110 higher. But at the end of the day, that may end up being our best choice, because Barbara isn’t so enamored of the display in the Verizon either. The audio quality also bears somewhat of a digital tinge, whereas the best cordless phones sound extremely similar to analog landlines. But in a world where hundreds of millions of people put up with low-grade cellular quality, I suppose this is not a serious concern for most manufacturers. They evidently believe customers only care if the audio is reasonably clear and loud.
I suppose I should have expected this state of affairs. Convenience over quality has totally sabotaged the audio quality of most telephone systems, except perhaps for certain online alternatives, such as Skype and Gizmo, the latter recently acquired by Google.
But if you can get excellent audio on an iPhone when you play music and use a decent set of earphones, surely you can do the same with voice transmissions. That is, if the wireless carriers would cooperate. Or am I just asking too much?
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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