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Newsletter Issue #601


All right so the sky is falling. Or at least that’s what the fear mongers want to say now that there’s a genuine Mac malware outbreak that appears to have impacted a number of Mac users, even though the figures are low compared to the total user base. But MAC Defender, and its siblings, succeed as social engineering rather than viruses. They fall into a category known as scareware, in which the prospective buyer is made to believe there’s a problem, and this product will fix that problem.

In this case, these bogus apps want you to believe your Mac has become infected with a computer virus, and they can provide the solution, for a price of course. Removal is fairly simple, and it appears Apple is going to continue to update Mac OS 10.6, Snow Leopard, as variants appear. It’s going to be a cat and mouse game folks, but the best solution is just to turn off Safari’s option to “Open ‘Safe’ files after downloading.” Also, you’ll want to make doubly sure that any installer you do find on your Mac is something you really wanted, and not something you never heard of. The Internet criminals who are responsible for this outbreak are banking, in more ways than one, that most Mac users will just go on auto-pilot and install anything that comes their way without a second look.

On our latest episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we did discuss Apple’s growing malware problem, which begin with MAC Defender, an app that provides fake virus protection after taking your money, possible announcements about Apple’s iCloud, Mac OS X Lion, and iOS 5 at next week’s WWDC conference, and Microsoft’s ongoing problems being taken seriously about their mobile platform.

Our guests include author and commentator Kirk McElhearn and Macworld writer Lex Friedman.

Now in doing a show of this sort, I downplayed speculation about Apple’s WWDC announcements, simply because they would be largely obsolete as of June 6. No sense in looking more foolish than we already do.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris reintroduce noted parapolitics author Kenneth F. Thomas, publisher of Steamshovel Press, who will discuss the new revision of his famous book about the curious events surrounding the Maury Island UFO incident. He’ll also cover the classic conspiracies, such as the Kennedy assassination.

Coming June 12: Gene and Chris explore the early history of UFO research with author Colin Bennett, author of a new edition of “Flying Saucers over the White House: The Inside Story of Captain Edward J. Ruppelt and His Official U.S. Airforce Investigation of UFOs.”

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.


So a report is published this week indicating that the companies that are trying to beat the iPad with their own tablets are cutting back on production. At a time when Apple still can’t keep up with demand for the iPad 2, this clearly means that those other gadgets from the likes of Motorola, RIM, Samsung and other companies, aren’t doing very well in the market.

We still have Best Buy proclaiming their intention to set up a special tablet section, but why bother if most customers are only after one product? Besides, most Best Buy stores already have a dedicated Apple section, with iPads, or the small numbers that are available, are under lock and key. The rest of the products might as well be in the storage room, ready for the few people who request them, since there’s no sense taking up expensive shelf space for gear that isn’t moving.

Now I know stores that do not carry the iPad are busily touting the rivals. The nearby Staples business supply outlet has huge signs proclaiming the availability of the Motorola Xoom and the RIM BlackBerry PlayBook. At the same time, I don’t see near as many TV ads for either. Maybe the makers of those failed products are cutting back on the campaigns, since they’re a waste of money.

I suppose Microsoft might be credited with trying something a little different. The Windows Phone 7 interface looks nice enough, although there aren’t many apps for it. But it appears that Microsoft wants to ape Apple to some degree and migrate the features from the mobile platform to regular PCs beginning with Windows 8. But they also hope to do Apple one better by adding all sorts of nearly incomprehensible gestures.

Now understand that Apple offers more than even power users would recall without calling upon an actor’s skills to to learn their stuff. Aside from the simple swiping and pinching, most of which become obvious on simple experimentation, asking anyone to recite the remaining functions would present serious difficulty.

But Microsoft appears to live on a planet where more features are better, however senseless they might seem. I can imagine they have a PowerPoint presentation with bullet points listing every conceivable finger gesture they can devise — except for the ones that aren’t family friendly — and add some sort of matching function. Once they do that, their developers are exhorted to update the desktop and mobile OS to include them, all of them.

If you have doubts about what I’m saying, consider the standard Windows user interface, and the control panel options to change things. Some of you might suggest they are more comprehensive, more granular than the ones Apple offers in Mac OS X. Granted that’s true, but most users don’t need them. Adding useless features isn’t going to make the operating system better. It’s just going to create complexity that few require to get their work done efficiently.

The power users on the Mac platform simply master the command line, via Terminal or a more full-featured app. Once that’s accomplished, a little searching (Google or otherwise) will yield a treasure trove of options with which to fine-tune the OS. If you’d rather have someone do the heavy lifting for you, just look at one of the third-party utilities that puts many of these commands within a simple graphical interface. So long as there’s a way to revert the system to default, I suppose there’s no danger in having fun, if that’s what you want.

But I rather suspect the number of users who download these utilities are rather small in the scheme of things. Apple knows that, which is why you don’t see System Preferences being fleshed out to any great degree. Yes, I suppose there will be changes in Lion that you’ve probably already read about, but the core preference panes shouldn’t look that much different beyond the actual interface refinements Apple has devised for 10.7.

What Microsoft ought to consider is the user experience, not how many foolish features they can add. Since they claim to maintain focus groups on such matters, surely they can measure how long it takes for a typical user with various skill sets to master a feature, and how easily they add it to their workflow. Doesn’t simple count for anything?

When it comes to tablets versus traditional desktop PCs, surely Microsoft understands that they have to be different. You can’t make them equivalent, for if you do, you end up with the same conundrum Microsoft has confronted for the past decade, which is the poor sales of tablets.

Besides, that Microsoft has demonstrated a new product or service doesn’t mean it will ever show up, or even if it does, that the features will work as claimed. Although the press seems to continue to report what the company is up to, they rarely explain that Microsoft is a notorious practitioner of vaporware. They will continue to tout forthcoming stuff long in advance of the actual release date, hoping to get a leg up on the competition.

These days, I hope the media is more skeptical. I rather suspect that Windows 8 demonstration was concocted largely in an attempt to steal the thunder from Apple and the forthcoming WWDC announcements about Lion and iOS 5. By the same token, the recent introduction of cloud-based services from Amazon and Google was designed to head off the threat of iCloud at the pass, not that it’s necessarily going to succeed. There’s also a rumor that Microsoft’s planning to join the fray.

But remember, being first is not the same as being best.


Sometimes you have to wonder how much computing power you really need. I mean, today’s hot-selling iPad 2 has roughly the CPU horsepower of a Power Mac G4 of some years ago. That’s not terribly shabby, since Steve Jobs once boasted the original G4, with a single-core 350MHz processor, brought the power of a super computer to your desktop. That was, of course, after megahertz ratings on Intel Pentiums became higher than the G4, and Apple wanted to boast that Macs were still more powerful.

At the same time, the iOS and all those apps are optimized sufficiently to make an iPad 2 seem blazingly fast, even though the processor is quite a bit slower than the best of the breed on today’s Macs.

But even though processor speeds have again gone above 3GHz once again, the real performance advantages are due to multiple cores, faster memory busses, hyperthreading, and other tricks designed to make the ever-tinier chips do more work per cycle than before. At the same time, they need to use less power, so batteries last longer, and your power bills go down.

Over the past couple of years, Apple has taken the medium-powered iMac all-in-one and made it a true powerhouse. Benchmarks from Macworld and other sources show the fastest iMac falls just behind a Mac Pro selling for twice the price and more. The 2011 MacBook Pro isn’t that much slower.

With the ultra high-speed Thunderbolt port that Apple and Intel created, you’ll soon be able to buy external peripherals, such as hard drives and other devices, that are capable of the same level of performance as the internal options you might acquire for a Mac Pro. Yet they will be able to plug into a MacBook Pro and an iMac.

Imagine putting all that gear on your office desktop, and being able to plug in the Mac note-book you bring from your home. Consider the advantages over lugging a towering Mac Pro into the field.

Well, there’s yet one more Mac that ought to get a similar upgrade, but it’s not so slow right now. That’s the Mac mini, which generally follows the same internal workings as a regular MacBook, which has also not been upgraded for a while.

The last Mac mini upgrade brought with it a new, thinner, spiffier case design and a slight performance improvement, for just $699. I expect the mini is a great second computer, or a perfect one-and-only personal computer for someone who is on a budget, and already has a working set of input devices and a display.

The current specs of the entry-level model include a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, and an NVIDIA GeForce 320M integrated graphics chip. These days, though, Apple has adopted Intel’s Sandy Bridge chipsets, which include a fairly decent integrated graphics capability. They are also far more powerful, without increasing manufacturing costs. So if Apple offered a 2011 Mac mini with, say, a Core i3 processor from the current CPU family, and Thunderbolt, it would be quite a powerhouse indeed.

Sure the internal hard drive, the same sort of pokey device you find on a note-book, might not offer the utmost speed. Maybe Apple would add an SSD option, though the price of admission would take it well over $1,000. But with Thunderbolt, you’d have the option of adding the fastest hard drives on the planet whenever you wanted, once they are available of course, without having to pull apart the case, which remains no easy task beyond adding memory.

I can see lots of mileage left in the mini, and this sort of refresh would seem a given considering that Apple clearly wants to ultimately adopt Thunderbolt across the board. That level of support is what will fuel the expansion of peripherals. Of course, we’ll all still waiting. Maybe in another month or two, and folks who buy one won’t have to apologize one bit.


The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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