It may be time to move away from the ever-present chatter about the iPad, although that’s not an easy task now that the 3G version is on sale. But on last week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we kept the discussion to a minimum. First off, Macworld Lab Director Jim Galbraith presented the results of their tests of the iPad, essentially focused on the unit’s battery life, and then went on to evaluate the newest generation MacBook Pros.
This proved of tremendous interest to me, since I have begun to evaluate a brand new 17-inch MacBook Pro, courtesy of Small Dog Electronics. Without going into detail, the enhanced battery life of the recent models with the extended life battery, the one not easily replaced, is a revelation. It takes an awful lot to get that battery percentage indicator to drop rapidly, but I’ll have more to report soon.
In another segment, Opera Software’s Thomas Ford gave you the details about the final release of the Mac version of Opera, reputed to be the fastest browser on the planet! In addition, Gordon Bell, an old friend from Prosoft Engineering, discussed the company’s newest hard drive maintenance utility, Drive Genius 3, which is also used by Apple at their Genius Bars. Gordon also detailed some of the company’s other storage-related products.
Macworld’s Dan Moren presented a detailed account of the strange affair involving the discovery of a “misplaced” iPhone prototype, the convoluted aftermath and the potential legal complications. This is the first time Dan has been on the show, and it won’t be the last. I think you’ll agree he was a great guest.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Christopher O’Brien joins us as we explore the incredible flurry of paranormal events in Pennsylvania with investigator Stan Gordon, author of “Really Mysterious Pennsylvania: UFOs, Bigfoot & Other Weird Encounters Case-book One.”
Coming May 9th: Co-host Nicholas Redfern, author of “Contactees: A History of Alien-human Interaction,” and Jim Moseley, editor of “Saucer Smear,” discuss the amazing claims over the years of contacts between humans and alleged alien beings.
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.
In the next few weeks, some Mac sites will slobber over the fact that Consumer Reports once again gave high ratings to Macs in their latest computer reviews. You’ll get the impression that Apple’s products are, at last, getting their just due in a magazine that has long ignored the Macs, or just presented them as overpriced PCs.
Well, my friends, it hasn’t happened. Indeed, it’s fair to say that nobody who wants to understand the vast differences between a Mac and a PC will find any help in CR’s pages, even though the Macs they did review in their tests of “119 laptops, desktops, and netbooks” got expectedly high ratings.
The problem is that CR fails to understand that it’s the operating system stupid! They look at the hardware in terms of specs and bullet points on a spreadsheet chart, and never explain that a PC is more than the sum of its parts. This is particularly true in their section entitled “How to choose a computer,” which focuses on “type and size,” “ergonomics” and “reliability.”
Now it would seem that superior ergonomics would present a category that’s tailor made for the Mac OS. But CR is concentrating on physical controls, keyboard feel, trackpads and transportability. Nothing is mentioned on how the user interacts with the operating system, or why Mac OS X or Windows treat you differently.
The main problem is, to be charitable, that CR is dumbing down content in order to reach a general audience that isn’t necessarily well versed in arcane technical issues. You don’t see the fine details of processor clock speeds, although memory size, hard drive storage and other basic specs are listed.
When it comes to judgment calls, CR never explains what they mean by “versatility,” though you presume it might be the number of available ports with which to connect accessories. They also fail to comprehend the fact that “ergonomics” is not just the position or feel of buttons or the layout of the trackpad, but how the OS interacts with the customer, or why one might prefer the Mac to the PC — and vice versa.
What you do see, however, is that the Mac is generally priced higher than the PC, without any indication of why, except, perhaps, that battery life is longer on Apple’s portables. CR’s conclusions are also curiously convoluted. A 17-inch Dell Inspiron is third in the ratings, but is still somehow regarded as the “Best 17-inch laptop,” even though a MacBook Pro is rated five points higher and Apple’s tech support is far superior (86 versus 56 for Dell).
The long and short of it is that the eternal battle between the Mac and Windows doesn’t exist in CR’s corner of the world. It’s out of sight and out of mind, and thus the reader is fooled into believing that those distinctions just don’t matter. Just buy the product they call “Best” and depend on CR to concern themselves with the fine distinctions.
To add to the confusion engendered by the magazine’s coverage of tech products, there’s a two-page feature on “Security software,” to accompany the cover story on Internet security. In the latter, CR does a decent job of alerting you to the hazards of exposing too much of yourself on a social network, with a few frightening case histories of people who found their identities stolen. But when it comes to evaluating security software, again there’s something missing.
The reviews of protective software predictably focus on Windows products, since that’s where most of the malware action is concentrated. Ever concerned about your pocketbooks and wallets, CR even touts some free anti-malware software is suitable for most of you, which is a good thing, so long as you keep your protection up to date.
But nowhere is it stated that the review is meant to only cover Windows security products. Although the Mac was mentioned in previous articles on these subjects, this time CR omits the “M” word from the review. There’s not even a paragraph, or even a sentence, to explain that there are still no widespread malware outbreaks on the Mac, that the few infections discovered outside of “proofs of concept” in test labs haven’t hurt a large number of users.
Further, CR says nothing about making sure you install the latest security updates from Apple. Then again, to them there is no distinction between operating systems. It’s a non-issue, so why mention the subject? Besides, Macs are so overpriced, nobody will buy them anyway, which is why a Dell got the kudos ahead of a higher-rated MacBook Pro. Go figure.
There is one more thing: In the same issue, the iPad gets a fairly detailed (for CR) first look. Even here, the magazine’s tech editors reach some curious conclusions, such as the fact that “it’s pricey,” even though the basic $499 model, with 16GB of storage, is just a few dollars more expensive than the single-purpose Kindle DX, which is mentioned in a brief e-book comparison.
Did they say pricey?
I would assume that if there were other tablet-based computers on the market that were in direct competition, they’d have point, assuming they were cheaper. Certainly the traditional PC note-book with a tablet screen is far more expensive. What’s more, competitors aren’t quite rushing in to deliver iPad killers. HP has abandoned its tablet concept, though it’s possible they’ll deliver something eventually now that they have acquired Palm. Microsoft’s own prototype will likely never see the light of day.
So to what do you compare the iPad? Well CR writes vaguely about “competing products on the horizon that may offer better value and more features,” but such gadgets don’t exist. To CR, more features may mean support for multitasking — which will be enhanced on the iPad with the fall iPhone 4.0 update — and Flash. But CR isn’t sophisticated enough to understand the Flash controversy or its potential consequences.
Except there is a report this weekend that the majority of Web videos are now encoded in H.264, rather than Flash. No wonder Adobe’s response to Apple’s decision to block Flash from the iPhone mobile platform has become so hysterical.
Some recent commentaries about Windows 7 have criticized some of Microsoft’s feature failures. A case in point is a recent piece in ComputerWorld from writer Ian Paul, where he starts off by saying “it’s fast, it looks great, and it has some cool features.” Alas, he can only find three, after which he provides a long list of serious lapses.
Indeed, he describes them as “minor inefficiencies that grow annoying over time; others [that] truly degrade the user experience through lack of functionality, poor organization, or an overabundance of choice.”
Indeed, aren’t these the problems that have always afflicted Windows?
Yes, you learn about the lapses in Aero Peek, which lets you see, but not click, or switches you to another app without actually making it active. The excessive number of system notifications is rightly attacked, even though the main offender, User Account Control — which forces you to make constant decisions about one thing or another, usually a software installation — has become less obnoxious.
One of Paul’s major criticisms is Microsoft’s lame decision to make Windows Live Essentials a separate installation. You see, those “Essentials” include some of the apps you expect to be standard issue on a new PC, such as email, instant messaging and a simple text editor. Does it make sense to expect you to be forced to download this stuff? Microsoft’s silly excuse is to allow you to get the latest and greatest without depending in the standard Window update mechanism, but there’s nothing in the operating system that prevents them from pushing these updates separately as needed.
But this has always been the problem with Microsoft. Their committee-laden structure delivers a scattershot interface that lacks true integration. So, yes, Windows 7 may have improved plumbing that makes it faster and more reliable. But Microsoft tacks on new features or changes others with abandon, not understanding that the end-user is simply being confused over and over again.
Microsoft’s persistent confusion about what they’re selling is most evident in those pathetic Windows 7 TV ads. You see someone touting, say, the ability to pin desktop windows at the corner of the screen, which is known technically as Aero Snap. Now when did the ability to position document windows become the most important selling point of a computer operating system? Is that what Windows users live for?
When I was busy honing my fiction writing skills in advance of developing a science fiction adventure series with my son, Grayson, my editors always said “show, don’t tell.” Clearly this is a lesson that Microsoft needs to learn. Contrast those Windows 7 ads about Aero Snap to the recent ones about the iPhone. In one typical ad for the latter, someone is looking for a new household pet, so they are shown using an iPhone to check the photos at the local animal shelters. Once the new family member is found, you see the photos they post of “Rover” on the social networks.
It’s good fun, and it brings a smile to your face. More to the point, you are shown, in Apple’s typically clever fashion, how to accomplish something meaningful on your iPhone, which is why sales of that gadget continue to “defy gravity.”
This isn’t to say that Windows 7 is necessarily bad. But when writers who clearly favor Windows find more bad features than good to discuss in their articles, Microsoft clearly has some “splainin'” to do.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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