• Newsletter Issue #606

    July 11th, 2011


    As usual with forthcoming Apple products, there are always loads of unanswered questions. By the day of release, we’ll usually know most of the story, but the entire picture might not emerge until regular users have had the chance to look things over and fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.

    With iTunes Match, an optional feature of iCloud, you know the basics. For $25 a year, Apple will scan the portion of your music library not ordered by iTunes, and provide equivalents in 256K AAC format from the millions of selections offered online. I expect this will work just fine for most of you, although there are going to be notable exceptions.

    The limit is 25,000 tracks, but some of you have more. Will Apple offer and upgrade? But there are larger questions that cry out for answers.

    Say, for example, you have the first set of Beatles CDs, released in the 1980s, as I do. The versions offered by Apple are based on a more recent digital remix. Would Apple regard them as equivalent? But the real concern from some is, what if you have songs that may have been acquired from sources that are not regarded as necessarily legal by the music industry? Would the presence of those songs trigger an RIAA lawsuit? Or would the music industry’s share of that $25 be considered enough to make it all acceptable? Or maybe it won’t mean anything.

    As you might expect, this was one of the key topics discussed this week on The Tech Night Owl LIVE, as author and commentator Kirk McElhearn discussed the forthcoming iTunes Match service. He also wondered how his collection, with 75,000 tracks, will fare when scanned. It seems he has a lot of music that is, for one reason or another, not in the iTunes music catalog.

    Laptop magazine’s Online Editorial Director, Avram Piltch, introduced you to the new Google Plus social networking service, and compared it to Face-book. He also covered the promise and the possible downsides of Microsoft’s Windows 8, due in 2012. and, putting on his critic’s hat, Avram also speculated about whether people really need a tablet computer.

    By the way, I got my Google Plus invite, so I’ll be exploring the possibilities over the next few weeks.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris are joined by the irrepressible Jim Moseley, Editor/Publisher of Saucer Smear, who will discuss the fakes and the outright frauds he has discovered, and sometimes exposed, in the UFO field since the 1950s.

    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 latest set of rumors have it that Mac OS X Lion will land in the Mac App Store during the coming week, perhaps on July 14th. Within days, they say, you’ll also be able to order refreshed versions of the MacBook Air, and perhaps some other Macs in need of an upgrade.

    Obviously, Apple hasn’t said so yet. There is just the promise of a July 2011 arrival, and the recent report that a Golden Master seed has become available to registered Apple developers. Even then, there’s no certainty that version will be the one to ship. Last minute problems might result in a revision, if Apple doesn’t decide to just wait for a 10.7.1 to address any lingering bugs.

    At the same time, it’s a sad fact that a fair number of Mac users will not be able to upgrade to Lion, and therein lies a tale.

    According to Apple’s published information on the system requirements for Lion, “Your Mac must have an Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7, or Xeon processor to run Lion.” That’s a simple requirement that any Intel-based Mac shipped since the latter part of 2006 can meet. Apple doesn’t specify a minimum RAM requirement, but all of the listed models have at least 2GB of RAM. Where possible — and it’s not with a MacBook Air, because the memory is soldered in — upgrading to 4GB might be a good idea, although performance on the minimum system won’t be known until customers get their copies and do a little real world testing.

    This set of requirements also means that a fair number of original Intel-based Macs, shipping earlier in 2006, are excluded. PowerPC Macs went off the radar long ago. And it’s not something you can fix with a processor transplant, even if you could perform one. There are logic board considerations.

    Obviously, Apple would prefer that you just buy a new Mac. That’s from where the lion’s share (forgive the pun) of profits are derived. If you have a new Mac on your shopping list, maybe wait a short while to allow Apple to preload Lion on all the new Macs. Yes, today’s new Mac is eligible for a free upgrade, but why not just have it installed at the factory?

    But perhaps the larger question is whether your apps will continue to run on Lion. A quick solution would be to check with the author or publisher of that app to see what the Lion compatibility issues might be. One thing is certain, however, and that is that PowerPC apps are history, kaput.

    It’s an open secret that Lion will not support the Rosetta PowerPC translation app. That was the method used to allow you to continue to use your older software on previous generations of Intel Macs. It’s the modern-day equivalent of what Apple did when they transitioned to the original PowerPC processors back in the 1990s, using a built-in emulator. Yes, apps ran slower, but they ran.

    Of course, the impending loss of Rosetta was obvious when it was made an optional installation for Snow Leopard. The first time you launched a PowerPC app, you were presented with a system message offering the required installation. That’s what happened to a client recently, when he tried to open Microsoft Word 2004 on his spanking new 27-inch iMac. I made it clear to him then and there that, unless or until he abandoned that “ancient” version of Word, he would never be able to upgrade to Lion, assuming Apple doesn’t suffer from enough complaints to restore Rosetta support.

    This also presents a dilemma for users of some versions of Intuit’s Quicken, the popular personal finance app. According to Intuit, “Quicken for Mac 2005, 2006 and 2007 were originally built for the older PowerPC architecture, and were able to run on newer Intel-based Macs due to an Apple technology called Rosetta. As of Mac OS X 10.7, Apple has discontinued support for Rosetta.”

    So there’s your official confirmation, although Apple has yet to comment on the topic.

    Intuit suggests upgrading to Quicken Essentials for Mac, which has been roundly criticized for dropping two key features that were standard issue in older versions: tracking stocks and paying bills. You have to wonder why a multibillion dollar corporation can’t simply hire programmers who are capable of figuring out how to restore those features. There is also a mint.com service, which puts your financial information in the cloud, if you’re willing to make that move, and accept the potential risk of transferring your personal information to a computer that you do not personally manage.

    The other choices are less compelling. You can avoid Lion, until or unless Intuit resolves the problem by delivering a more fleshed out version of Quicken, or somehow embedding Rosetta into Quicken, so you can continue to run a modified version of the app. If you have a second drive, or set up a second partition, you might keep Snow Leopard installed, and reboot your Mac when you have to launch Quicken. Or, as Intuit suggests — I trust without cynicism — you get the Windows version, and set up Boot Camp or a Windows virtual machine on your Mac.

    But Quicken is just one notable example of the issues Mac users might confront. You may be running software for which there is no Universal or pure Intel equivalent. Apple probably doesn’t care, since they did make the decision to ditch Rosetta. But if enough of you clamor for a change — or threaten not to buy a new Mac with Lion until there’s a resolution — I suppose Apple could deliver a 10.7 compatible version.

    Or perhaps a third party could license the technology, if Apple makes it available, and do the job for you at a modest fee. That might be a tremendous opportunity for an enterprising developer, again assuming Apple would give permission to do so.

    But if only a tiny percentage of Mac users require PowerPC support, you can bet Apple won’t bother.


    With the news this week that a sequel to the “Transformers” franchise, which pits good shape-shifting robots against evil shape-shifting robots more or less, is the top box office hit for 2011 (so far at least), you have to wonder just how the industry is faring. It does appear that even supposedly sure-fire blockbusters based on your favorite, or not-so-favorite, comic book heroes doesn’t guarantee success.

    Sure, one of Marvel’s lesser heroes, “Thor,” did well enough. The movie, starring Australian actor Chris Hemsworth (who also played Captain Kirk’s dad in the opening scenes in the reimagined “Star Trek” movie from J.J. Abrams in 2009), did well enough. Wordwide box office gross exceeds $440 million. Maybe it was comic book overload, but “X-Men: First Class,” about the early days of that eager band of crime-fighting mutants, has tallied less than $340 million so far.

    Now those figures may seem incredibly high, but don’t forget that it costs upwards of $150 million to produce a special effects filled 3D movie spectacle. Add to that the cost of promotion, the cut the movie theater owners take, and they have to earn back over $300 million just to begin to break even. Most films never recover the original investments during a theatrical run. Often it’s returned via DVD sales, and licensing to pay cable, and even that’s not guaranteed.

    When “Green Lantern,” starring Ryan Reynolds (best known for romantic comedies) came along, it got a critical drubbing and a ho-hum audience response. Estimates of the production cost are as high as $200 million, but the worldwide gross is less than $143 million so far. Maybe Warner Bros. will get their investment back on the long haul, but this minor DC Comics character probably won’t return in a sequel, although one is supposedly planned.

    But the real problem with movies these days is that audiences are down. Sure box office tallies can reach stratospheric levels, but that’s mostly the result of higher ticket prices. Add the 3D premium, and you can pay twice as much for a ticket as you used to not so many years ago. Besides, it’s still an open question how much 3D really means on the long haul. Except for a handful of budget busters, most films are 2D, and some of them, such as “Bridesmaids,” managed to succeed without the eye-popping and ear-shattering frills.

    This isn’t to say that Hollywood is giving up on super heroes. Soon you’ll see yet another Marvel character, “Captain America: The First Avenger,” about a proverbial 97-pound weakling with a stout heart who undergoes a super soldier experiment and is transformed into a mighty warrior. Since Marvel has played the super hero game better than DC, except for the new Batman series of course, you expect Captain America will fare well, and pave the way for more. They are even recreating The Amazing Spiderman, with a new director, writers, and stars.

    And, yes, DC isn’t giving up. There’s talk that Wonder Woman will be featured in a forthcoming movie, even though an attempt to create a new TV series featuring that character failed. But most attention is focused on “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third (and possibly final) installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, starring Christian Bale as the caped crusader. Certainly there’s good reason, as the first trailers emerging from Warner Bros. seem awfully compelling.

    But the biggest hope is for “Man of Steel,” Christopher Nolan’s recreation of Superman, featuring an all-new cast, headed by the UK’s Henry Cavill as the title character, and Russell Crowe as his Kryptonian father, Jor-El. The last attempt to bring back the world’s most famous super hero, 2006’s “Superman Returns,” as directed by Brian Singer, was, at best, a middling success. Nolan is known for darker, meatier treatments, and one wonders how that will impact the character, and, of course, the audience’s response.

    I mean, we know Batman’s origins are steeped in sadness and the need to exact vengeance against evildoers, but how will the traditionally sunny disposition of Superman be altered? More to the point, can Hollywood continue to depend on super heroes to entice you to pay higher and higher ticket prices? The jury is still out on that one.


    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: Sharon Jarvis

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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #606”

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