• Newsletter Issue #531

    January 31st, 2010

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL LIVE RADIO UPDATE

    As sales of brand new Macs consistently exceed three million each quarter, the question of security rears its ugly head from time to time. When Apple was selling a quarter of that amount, the critics said it was inevitable that large-scale outbreaks would hit the platform as soon as market share improved. Well, that’s happened. Indeed, September will mark ten years since the release of the original Mac OS X Public Beta, but malware outbreaks have been few and far between.

    Indeed, the most severe malware discovered so far fit into the Trojan Horse category, involving infected copies of pirated Mac apps available from illegal file sharing sites. If you want to do something that’s not kosher, you may pay the consequences, although it appears that Snow Leopard will detect their presence, as will updates to the Mac security packages from Intego and other companies.

    The question, though, is whether this is anything Mac users should be worried about. That and the entire security question, including cyber-espionage and even Windows security, was a featured topic on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE.

    Security guru Rich Mogull joined us to cover not just security in Snow Leopard and Windows 7, but the increasing use of computers to engage in espionage among various countries, including the recent exploits of China against the U.S.

    Mac networking pioneer Alan Oppenheimer, of Open Door Networks, continued the discussion of Mac security, with the focus on the state of the Mac OS X firewall.

    We then entered “The David Biedny Zone,” where our Special Correspondent focused razor sharp on the good points of Apple’s iPad and some of the significant features that it’s lacking. As usual, David offered an out-of-the-box approach. Why, for example, do the eyes of those Apple executives featured in videos during the iPad product presentation strike him as so, well, strange? Maybe drinking too much of the Steve Jobs Kool-Aid?

    This week on our other show, The Paracast, physicist Chet Sapalio, author of “Sworn to Secrecy — The 1947 Roswell Incident,” discusses his on site research into the Roswell UFO incident, some of his own UFO sightings, and what the government may or may not know about the phenomenon.

    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.

    THE iPAD REPORT: THE QUESTIONS KEEP ON COMING

    As expected, the iPad consumed much of the chatter about Apple this past week, but it didn’t stop there. As most of you know, few tech pundits talked about anything else in the weeks leading up to the introduction of Apple’s latest and greatest.

    At the same time, the official Apple responses to various and sundry questions from the media left lots of gaping holes that will only be filled over time. Indeed, in reading the text of an interview between Steve Jobs and the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, I wondered yet again whether the dean of tech journalists is losing his edge.

    Consider a major concern about the iPad. You create a document in iWork, or see some material in a Web site that you want to preserve. So you click the Print button and — wait — there is no Print button! Well, at least no such capability has been confirmed, nor did Mossberg address it in his first impression piece on the iPad.

    Now this isn’t to say you can’t print on such devices. There are several print apps for the iPhone and iPod touch that will no doubt run perfectly well on the iPad. All right. you don’t really expect robust printing functions on a smartphone. But when you’re using a gadget that supposedly bridges many of the functions between Apple’s handheld mobile devices and regular Mac note-books, you have to wonder whether someone was asleep at the wheel.

    In the old days when the first Apple Macintosh arrived, the savior of the platform was PostScript and the LaserWriter. Of course everything is digitized these days, and supposedly hard copies on paper aren’t needed near as much. But tell that to the paper and print manufacturers that still sell loads of product.

    In all fairness to Apple, the iPad you saw in the presentation and examined by journalists is a product that is still two months from release. There may indeed be a handful of functions that just weren’t suited to the demonstration that will be added, or at least fleshed out, by the time the product goes on sale. Maybe I’m being too generous here, but I’ll go with that, or maybe Apple expects third parties to just enhance their print apps and that will be it.

    When it comes to the file system, there are also questions. Based on reports at the scene and from third parties, it appears you’ll be able to exchange documents with the iPad without much difficulty, by mounting it wirelessly on your Mac and probably your PC. All well and good.

    It’s also true that the file setup of the typical Mac or PC is usually a mess, since every user has their own unique approach to organization or lack thereof. With the iPad, Apple has reined in file management in big time, apparently by putting the documents you create in the same folder as the app that created it.

    This means that all your Pages stuff goes in one place, and your Numbers stuff in another, even though they may all be related to the same work project. However, what happens should you delete the app by deliberate intent or by accident, perhaps by checking the wrong box in iTunes and not paying attention when you OKayed the process?

    Based on what I have read — and this is basically how the iPhone works — when you delete the app the documents you made with that app are also deleted. Whatever happened to the concept of a monolithic Documents folder, to keep everything in one place?

    All right, maybe I’m jumping the gun here. After all, developers are still poring over the documentation for the newly-released iPhone 3.2 SDK, which supports the iPad, and it may be that there are various and sundry methods to handle files in a less-restrictive fashion.

    Of course, Apple’s tight control over the entire widget continues to irk the techie types. As with the iPhone, you will still be tethered to the App Store for the software you want, unless new jailbreaking schemes are devised — and I have little doubt they will be. More to the point, the apparent lack of robust multitasking is going to hit you much harder on the iPad than the iPhone.

    With the iPhone, I have managed to survive quite comfortably by not being able to run more than one app at a time, except for the telephone feature and, say, Mail and Safari, which support multitasking. On a tiny device with limited memory and processing power, Apple made a strategic decision that makes sense for most people. Indeed, having unbridled multitasking capability on, say, an Android smartphone, may present problems if you suddenly have loads of apps running and sucking resources and you need to quit a bunch without, say, just restarting the device.

    As soon as you begin to work with productivity apps, though, multitasking becomes the norm. You may be working in a Pages document, say, and then need to grab something from a Numbers spreadsheet, or use both as concepts for a Keynote presentation. The iPad’s screen is larger than that of the original compact Macs, and indeed the legendary PowerBook 100. Yet handling multiple documents in multiple applications is a given on a Mac.

    Certainly the memory allotment and processor power of the iPad is far more robust than all those earlier Macs and Mac note-books, so it stands to reason that multitasking should be taken seriously. This can present a problem when iPad owners move from consumption to creation.

    Sure, Apple can argue that battery life might be impaired to some degree, but I expect proper power management will make it a non-issue, so long as each app is coded to consume minimal resources when not frontmost. We accept that as normal with Mac OS X or any Unix-based operating system.

    Again, I might be premature in carping about any of this stuff. The iPad is a 1.0 product, and it’s quite possible the right answers to these and other questions and concerns will be answered before Apple ships the very first unit to customers. Or perhaps some f the limitations will be addressed in the next major software update, iPhone 4.0.

    But that discussion must wait for anther time.

    REVISITING THE MAGIC MOUSE

    In my original first look at Apple’s Magic Mouse, I had a negative reaction, largely because I found it somewhat uncomfortable to use over a long period. My aching wrist told the tale, and so I returned to the larger, thicker MX-family rodents from Logitech.

    One of the biggest complaints about the Magic Mouse is the fact that Apple set the tracking speed far too slow for comfortable movement across a large screen, such as the new 27-inch iMac. That itself can cause a few aches and pains after a long work session, forgetting any issues using a low profile mouse.

    I can’t do anything about the latter, but certainly the former was easily remedied. There are a handful of mouse accelerator methods available. Some might play with Terminal commands, but I settled on More Magic, a simple preference pane that does nothing more than enhance tracking speed. The Fastest setting is several times speedier than the maximum setting in the Mouse preference pane, but just about perfect for my needs.

    Indeed, after working with the Magic Mouse for several weeks with speedier cursor movement, the aches and pains have been pretty much vanquished as I’ve grown more and more accustomed to the device. But this isn’t to say the Magic Mouse is a perfect solution.

    Let me be specific: Apple is sometimes too smart for itself by trying to make a single button assume the capability of a two-button mouse. The software and internal sensors are supposed to be able to detect whether you’re engaging a standard mouse click, or a right-click. It can also be a left-click for southpaws who prefer the secondary click to be prefermed that way.

    However, if you happen to move your finger a bit too much in the wrong direction for a primary click, you get the right-click instead. This can be infuriating and you just have to observe a little extra control over the process.

    Another issue I’ve encountered may be more the responsibility of a third-party publisher than Apple.

    Regular readers know that a hefty portion of the post-production for our radio shows is done in Bias Peak Pro 6.1.1, a tool widely used in mastering studios. Now maybe it’s Peak Pro’s window management arrangement, a Magic Mouse quirk, or a combination of both, but sometimes when I click on an audio waveform and start to select a segment, the entire document window is moved instead. Curious.

    Now the Peak Pro quirk isn’t a deal breaker, and, as I said, I don’t know where the blame truly lies, but I’ve managed to make things function more or less normally by slowing down my keyboard and mouse movements somewhat, which seems to have substantially reduced that weird symptom.

    The other oddity is more difficult to understand. On a couple of occasions, the Swipe feature, useful for, say, navigating back and forth among Web pages, has stopped working. Each time it happened, I verified that the option was checked in the Mouse preference pane, but it took a restart to set things right.

    On the long haul, I’m pleased that, after eschewing Apple input devices for a number of years, I’m finally able to settle on the Magic Mouse as a suitable input device.

    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #531”

    1. dfs says:

      The Magic Mouse strikes me as an odd kind of compromise. In a sense it’s a touchpad, but you have to move it around to manipulate the cursor. Why? Consider, in effect, what would happen if you took a trackpad out of a laptop and mounted in a nice-looking case with wireless connectivity, so that it rested right next to your keyboard, so it would be used to control the cursor as well as handling hand gestures? Maybe it could be made a good deal larger than a laptop’s touchpad, about the size of a jewel box or a paperback book. Or why not make a wireless keyboard with a trackpad build in? If hand gestures are the Big New Thing in computer interfacing, there are a lot of alternatives to the Magc Mouse which might work out better (and it’s surprising that no third-party manufacturers are playing around with alternative approaches, maybe during the next few months we’ll start seeing some). But all of this is probably an intermediate step. A couple of years from now we’ll probably start getting touchscreen monitors which will eliminate the need for any peripheral device at all.

      • @dfs, There have been portable trackpads over the years that are designed to mimic the functions of the one you have on a notebook. Apple is testing the hybrid approach. Time will tell how it fares. It depends on how many iMac buyers opt for third-party solutions, and whether separate sales of the Magic Mouse hold.

        Peace,
        Gene

    2. Kaleberg says:

      It sounds like the iPad file system is like the old Palm Pilot file system in which each application has its own database, but otherwise, there are no documents. How well that scales, I’m not sure. I tend to organize files by project, but project management might be a function for another app on the iPad. It could scoop up newly created files and ask you to file them with tags or in folders, then provide a mechanism for searching and browsing. In fact, it would look a lot like the original Finder.

      As for multitasking, Apple may be banking on a zippy processor and a fast solid state disk drive to hide application switching. The problem with the original Mac Finder was that it took a long time to start up a word processor or drawing program, so it was painful to switch back and forth if you wanted illustrations for your document. If it takes only a second or so, and the iPad caches screen images like the iPhone, then it becomes less of an issue. The current interface only shows the top application anyway. With a zippy system you could cycle between applications and barely notice the start up times.

    3. Bill Garrett says:

      I’m on my second Magic Mouse, and it’s going back to the store tomorrow. Both of mine seemed to sporadically send unwanted clicks, sometimes dozens at a time. When I’m working in Filemaker, this usually results in records and layouts being swapped around without my intention. This has even happened in the middle of a print dialog.

      So… what mouse to get? I’m tired of unclogging the Mighty Mouse track-pea. Gene, you seem to like the Logitech MX series. Any particular recommendations? I’m not committed to wireless, but I would like a clog-free trackball.

      –Bill G

    4. BC says:

      The iPad is, for me, the lowest common denominator for productivity + fun. I am not bothered by the lack of multi-tasking or the lack of a camera, plus this is not an iPhone. Ordinarily Apple must worry about a dearth of applications but this will not be the case with the iPad. (They were obliged to throw in a real keyboard option in case the public can’t adjust to the new paradigm.) This is minimalism at its best … assuming it works as advertised. My only question is which version to order? Do I really need the 3G (not near to a metropolitan area), and will 32GB suffice?

      I can see this replacing machines, especially laptop machines. 9 lbs are gone, 6 lbs are gone, 3 lbs will disappear, Apple just ‘lowered’ the bar. Would you want to be seen lugging around a conventional laptop on the road if all you are doing is emailing and performing a little lite spreadsheet work? Apple has just made it uncool (pardon my old word here) … to use a laptop.

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