I’ve already said my piece about the Mac OS X Public Beta, released a decade ago. At the time, it was a sort of requiem for Apple, proof that they could, after years of failure, build an industrial strength operating system. It was also a mighty shaky release, and dreadfully slow, even on the fastest Macs.
But by chipping away at the problems, adding many missing features, and optimizing performance over the ensuing years, Apple demonstrated they were a force to be reckoned with.
In light of that anniversary, on Saturday night’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Macworld Senior Editor Dan Frakes joined us to discuss the tenth anniversary of the original Mac OS X Public Beta, how it changed Apple, along with lots of other Apple Inc. news.
Avram Piltch, Online Editor for Laptop magazine, brought with him suggestions on buying the best note-book computer, suggesting that the popular 15-inch form factor may be the wrong size. He also talked about possible competitors for the iPad.
When it comes to his complaints about 15-inch note-books, it seems he is concerned about the fact that the resolution of far too many models ends up being too low for that screen size, depriving you of extra screen real estate. Of course, one huge reason for that is the fact that most PC makers offer cheap products with cheap screens that display fewer pixels. The effort to keep the price down has resulted in severe compromises. Unfortunately, far too many people buy personal computers based on price not value, and the PC companies, with the exception of Apple, continue to battle each other to sell as much cheap gear as possible, without regard to how good that gear actually is.
In the final segment, Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief of PCMag.com, explained why Windows users need to get with the program, give up on Windows XP, and upgrade to Windows 7 as soon as possible. It’s not that Microsoft helped matters what with the requirement of a clean install to upgrade from XP to 7, but Lance said Microsoft confronted insurmountable obstacles in allowing for an “in place” upgrade, because of the vast architectural differences between the two operating systems.
This week on our other show, The Paracast, co-host Nicholas Redfern takes us on a fascinating journey of UFO information and disinformation with Mark Pilkington, author of “Mirage Men: An Adventure into Paranoia, Espionage, Psychological Warfare, and UFOs.”
Coming October 3: Co-host Christopher O’Brien presents co-host Nicholas Redfern, who joins us to talk about his controversial new book, “Final Events and the Secret Government Group on Demonic UFOs and the Afterlife.”
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 recent weeks, Apple has decided to mend some broken fences and get the authorities off their backs. One recent example involves a loosening of App Store requirements and, at long last, release of a set of guidelines written in plain — and often very frank — English.
There are clear reasons for this change. One is that the policy that forces developers to use Apple’s own developer tools for iOS product is too restrictive and doesn’t recognize reality. The major gaming companies that Apple wants to support the platform often use cross-platform engines that allow them to write once, and easily deploy to different operating systems. Clearly it would be unrealistic to expect them to build an exclusive iOS version of many of their products.
Of course, most people focused on Adobe Flash, simply because Adobe’s spin machine was working overtime declaring that the big, bad Apple was being anticompetitive in denying them the right to port apps from Flash. That tool, by the way, is available in the latest version of the Adobe Creative Suite software bundle.
Apple’s posture was rather more technical, that such apps often catered to the lowest common denominator and would be late to support the best new iOS features. Substandard apps bring down the platform, and make it less competitive. How can you dispute that?
Greed aside, Apple was also the subject of investigations by the European Union and U.S. government over several issues, and an easy exit is to be preferred. Apple doesn’t need to confront any more negative publicity, after Antenngate and Adobe’s ongoing efforts to cry crocodile tears about the refusal to allow you to install a buggy plugin on the iOS.
So in the wake of the decision to change the App Store requirements, the European Union has announced it’s giving Apple a pass. There was one other issue that was being probed, and that was a policy that prevented you from servicing an iPhone purchased from a carrier in one country if you went to another country. Imagine the complications in Europe, where another country may be but a short trip distant, so it’s good to know Apple has expanded the product warranty to allow for service away from home.
In the states, Apple joined Adobe, Google, Intel, Intuit, and Pixar in making a settlement with the Department of Justice where they agree not to make “no solicitation agreements,” which were designed to prevent one of these companies from attempting to recruit employees from another.
In agreeing not to pursue a “no poaching” pact, the companies involved evidently do not actually admit to any wrongdoing. They just agree not do it anymore. Such is the silliness of consent decrees.
It’s doubtful, however, that this settlement will suddenly cause a land grab, where any one of these companies will go after the other’s employees. But if that happens, so be it. Maybe it will encourage them to improve the deals they offer their most valued staff members so they don’t jump ship. But isn’t it also true that nobody is supposed to be indispensable?
In any case, that settlement doesn’t mean that the U.S. authorities have stopped looking into Apple’s affairs. There are still issues about the App Store, Adobe Flash and even iAd policies that have attracted attention. But it also appears that the potential threats against Apple are lessened, which comes at a great time. Apple doesn’t need to confront any obstacles to continued growth, and with the stock price continuing to soar ahead of the market, it appears Wall Street remains bullish about the company.
However, none of this means that Apple’s alleged walled garden ecosystem has changed in any meaningful way. Other than having a wider range of tools to employ when building iOS apps, it is still up to the marketplace to decide whether any individual product is worth the download, particularly if there’s a purchase price. If a developer releases subpar apps, they deserve to fail.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks, it appears the curious developments in the Google Android universe are making it extremely evident that having an open source platform threatens to create a horror show not just for Google, but for customers.
A recent review of Verizon’s Fascinate, a new Android OS smartphone, from the Washington Post’s Rob Pegoraro, clearly demonstrates the downsides of giving handset makers and particularly wireless carriers too much freedom to mess with the system.
The Fascinate, in fact, is one of a growing number of Verizon gadgets that eschews Google’s search engine and installs Microsoft Bing. Worse, in the same tradition of the crapware you find on the typical Windows PC, many of those Android smartphones are saddled with loads of garbage apps that you have to hack the phone to remove.
To add insult to injury, the control freaks at Verizon may actually open their own app store to compete — or replace — Google’s. And some people speak of Apple as being run by control freaks.
Indeed, this is one of the key reasons why the iPhone first appeared on AT&T and not Verizon, other than Apple’s desire to have a GSM-based world phone. Verizon reportedly refused to cede control over the device and its interaction with the network to Apple. If you think Apple’s penchant for control is bad, consider the questionable app and interface choices the wireless carriers enforce on the gear they sell you.
Google’s OS licensing affords each manufacturer and carrier the virtually unfettered freedom to screw with the operating system. While loads of these devices are being sold, particularly as the result of Verizon’s ongoing two-for-one sales, where is the brand identity? Is the user experience identical across Android products?
At least with Windows — except for the trash the PC makers might stick on your desktop — the core operating system has a consistent look and feel that you can depend on.
In the end, Google probably doesn’t care, so long as they get more eyeballs for targeted ads. But when companies ditch Google search and replace it with Bing, or perhaps another search service, and remove other Google services, such as mapping, it not only adds insult to injury. It also means Google’s potential income from the sale of that device is seriously reduced.
Maybe Google will discover that, had they instituted a few more controls over the use and abuse of the Android OS, they wouldn’t risk the loss of a key revenue source. Yes, maybe there will some day be more Android wireless handsets than those of any other OS, but some of the hoped for benefits may elude Google. The winner, in the end, may be destined to lose.
Consider a common situation. You own a new or recent high definition flat panel TV, so you would prefer, as much as possible, to watch HD fare. That makes an awful lot of sense, but the cable and satellite companies want to make it difficult for you, by forcing you to buy the most expensive bundles to get all the stations you want.
I’ve checked the order lists for Cox Communications, the local cable provider, along with Dish Network and DirecTV, which is the sum total of what I can get aside from third-party movie and TV streaming, such as Netflix. None of the regular TV providers offers HD except as an add-on to an existing package. That means if I want to have all of the HD channels they offer, I must buy the standard definition version as well, all 250 to 350 stations worth.
In other words, I’m being forced to take packages I do not want to get the one that I need.
Now at one time there actually was an all-HD satellite service, Voom, which failed to survive the marketplace. I won’t presume to address all the reasons for Voom’s failure, beyond suggesting that maybe it was a service well ahead of its time.
To be realistic, many people have more than one TV set, and quite often the second or third sets are standard definition models, and if they want to watch their favorite shows on them too, they are forced to take everything. Indeed, we have a 27-inch Sony, circa 1994, that’s is used on occasion when Mrs. Steinberg and I have different preferences about programming, or our son, Grayson, is home for a visit (he lives in Europe).
There have been ongoing efforts to force cable and satellite systems to provide ala carte programming. Obviously there are complications in delivering custom packages for tens of millions of customers. But since most everyone these days relies on a special set-top box rather than a TV set’s built-in tuner for such fare, it would seem a trivial matter to adjust the service’s computer system to allow for millions of custom configurations at minimal cost, while at the same time providing the standard packages for those who want a little bit of everything.
At the same time, at what cost would ala carte be offered? If you can get 300 channels for $100, would that mean that each individual channel should cost roughly 33 cents? Probably not. I’d think that you’d be offered a discount to choose a large package. At the same time, if the price for individual selections is too high, it would quickly defeat the purpose of letting you pick and choose.
I continue to think about all this every time I look at the channel guide and find loads of stations, but nothing to watch. Under those circumstances, it doesn’t matter how many channels are being offered when the bill comes due.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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