As more and more companies decide to go Mac, all or in part, the anticipation is growing about the arrival of Mac OS X Lion. So that formed the lead interview on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where author Joe Kissell delivered common sense guidance for Mac users to prepare for the Mac OS X Lion upgrade. It’s not just having enough RAM, and making sure your apps are compatible, but also having a current backup before you take the plunge. So in this segment, you learned what you need to install Mac OS 10.7, and what problems you’re apt to encounter along the way.
PCMag.com’s Lance Ulanoff discussed the winding down of the space shuttle program and the fading dreams about future exploration. He also covered the curious decision by Netflix to sharply increase monthly subscription rates. And, by the way, this is Lance’s last appearance as Editor-in-Chief of the online tech magazine. He is moving on to other pursuits, but will remain a friend of the show.
Macworld Senior Editor Dan Moren was also on hand to talk about the Netflix controversy, the promise of the new Google Plus social networking service, and the arrival of the European music streaming service, Spotify, in the U.S.
I will be discussing Netflix in another article. As to the latest and greatest Mac OS, you can bet I’ll have it installed and running from the very first day of its official release.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present veteran UFO researcher Dennis Balthaser, who has become extremely disenchanted with the state of UFO research, and is seriously considering whether to leave the field. He’ll deliver an update about the legendary 1947 Roswell UFO crash, and will also discuss his long-time interest in the mysteries of the Great Pyramid.
Coming July 24: Gene and Chris present long-time investigative UFO journalist Don Ecker, a forum moderator for The Paracast, and host of theDark Matters radio show. Ecker will focus mostly on the frauds he has exposed in the UFO field, but he will also bring you up to date on all sorts of incredible lunar mysteries.
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 a recent iTunes review and forum thread, one of the listeners of my tech show dismisses me as just another “Apple fanboy,” simply because I favor that company’s products. But you’ve got to examine the actual definition of the phrase to see whether I fit that description. For that I am relying on a Wikipedia paragraph:
“A fan, sometimes also called aficionado or supporter, is a person with a liking and enthusiasm for something, such as a band or a sports team. Fans of a particular thing or person constitute its fanbase or fandom. They may show their enthusiasm by being a member of a fan club, holding fan conventions, creating fanzines, writing fan mail, or by promoting the object of their interest and attention.”
Well, I am not involved in any of those pursuits. I do have a Web site and a radio show covering personal technology, with an emphasis on Apple, but I am far from blind as to the company’s flaws. It’s all a matter of preference, not fandom. Since I’ve owned two Hondas, does that make me a Honda fanboy? But wait a minute, I’ve owned two VWs as well, not to mention three Buicks over the years. My position is not fandom, but expressing one’s preferences in the marketplace, and buying the best tools for the job at hand. For example, my router is a Cisco, not an Apple AirPort, simply because the latter doesn’t transmit an acceptable signal in my apartment.
At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with being a fan of something, and if the subject of your admiration, be it a company, a single product, or a person, makes a positive contribution to your life, that’s even better.
Now in addition to Mac fans, there are Windows fans, those who prefer Microsoft’s products. That’s fine too, and I’m curious to see how Windows users will react to Mac OS X Lion. A case in point is Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows, and you just know what side he’s on from that title. At the same time, Thurrott also uses Macs, perhaps to see just how the other half is doing, although that’s a pretty expensive way to test the waters, don’t you think?
So I wasn’t surprised to discover that Thurrott is reviewing Lion. In fact, he has quite an extensive article on the subject, which is definitely worth a link, since he seems to be making at least some effort to be fair and balanced on the topic. But the article has a few curious logical and factual fallacies along the way.
Understand that his review was written ahead of the official Lion release, meaning that Thurrott is probably relying on developer previews, no doubt that “Golden Master Seed” reportedly released recently. While that situation may not seriously impact the accuracy of the article, any last minute changes on Apple’s part could render some conclusions moot. Notice I say “could,” since it’s possible that seed will be the final release.
To be sure, Thurrott clearly favors Lion over Windows 7, the current Microsoft release, with tremendous reluctance. So he can’t help but express a few curious criticisms in a lame attempt to add a veneer of objectivity. Indeed some of his statements take the word outrageous to a new level.
So Thurrott claims: “Apple has a long-established–and mostly undeserved–reputation for making an OS that is supposedly ‘ease to use,’ when in fact OS X had always targeted computer experts, not beginners, offering up an obtuse and inscrutable UI.”
That claim stands at the polar opposite of the usual anti-Apple meme, which is that Apple only cares about consumers, and doesn’t pay attention to the needs of businesses. More to the point, Windows is the OS that is usually branded with the “obtuse and inscrutable UI” label. Over the years, I recall numerous comparisons showing how you can accomplish a task on a Mac with far fewer steps than performing the same operation on a Windows PC. Sure, Microsoft has gotten better at it, but the gap has far from closed.
This doesn’t mean Mac OS X is perfect, or close to perfect. But Apple is generally regarded as having a better grasp of consumer friendliness than Microsoft. That Thurrott thinks otherwise is curious. But since I don’t live in the Bizarro dimension, all I can say is that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but not their own facts.
Another curious statement criticizes Apple for failing to provide any guidance into using those enhanced gestures for Lion. He seems oblivious to the well-known fact that the Mouse and Trackpad preference panels have always been quite descriptive of your options in the way you manage your input devices. Besides, what about the Help menu?
It appears that Thurrott must believe Apple should be giving you a thick book to describe the finer points of the Mac OS X user interface, and not allow you to just discover things for yourself. Certainly playing around with a touchpad, flicking your fingers, and seeing what happens when you use one, two, three, or four at once, ought to be sufficient to give you a good grasp of the things you can do. And, no, I doubt your Mac will blow up as the result of this sort of casual experimentation.
You might wonder why Thurrott seems ignorant of the fundamentals of the Mac OS, or that you can change at least some of settings that disturb you. He hates the Dock, for example, although the drab Windows shelf must appeal to him. But he hasn’t figured out that the Dock doesn’t have to remain stuck at the bottom of the screen, that it can be moved to the edges of your display, or disappear altogether unless you mouse over it. And I haven’t begun to consider what third parties offer in their system fixer-upper utilities, such as pinning the Dock at the top of the screen.
Despite the obvious factual failings in his review, it’s clear that, as much as he wishes it were otherwise, Thurrott actually likes Lion and thus likes his Macs. Who would have thought such a thing was possible?
The success of Netflix may have surprised some, but the concept is really simple. You go online to pick a DVD, and they mail it to you from one of a number of shipping facilities in the U.S. Your monthly subscription lets you hold onto one or more DVDs at a time, depending on your member package, and you can keep them just about as long as you want without paying a late fee. But you won’t get a replacement until it’s returned.
This simple business plan ultimately destroyed most of the market for physical video rental stores. Netflix accumulated a catalog of tens of thousands of choices, far more than any retail store could offer. As a result, most of the local rental outlets are gone, and the supermarkets have mostly phased out their rental sections. The giant Blockbuster video chain was thrust into bankruptcy. These days, Dish Network, the chain’s new owner, is struggling to do something with the ashes of that once large business.
But even Netflix is having trouble these days, and it’s all about the growth of video streaming. Whether Amazon, Hulu, and certainly Apple iTunes, you can now have your movies fed to you online. A new generation of devices, such as the Apple TV and connected TVs, let you access these online services and order the movies you want for purchase or rental. The cable and satellite providers in the U.S. are now offering an expanded roster of pay-per-view flicks for your viewing pleasure, some at the same 1080p resolution as Blu-ray, and you can even find a smattering of 3D fare.
In order to remain relevant, Netflix established their own streaming service, but the movie studios would only license older product or relatively unknown current titles that failed at the box office, or never got past the direct-to-video stage. In order to get a chance to offer more recent titles, Netflix made a deal with the devil, agreeing to delay the distribution of new DVDs for up to 28 days.
If you can wait, fine. If you’d rather not, you can always take the ala carte approach and go the PPV or online route to get the content you want, and receive your dose of instant gratification. Suddenly Netflix doesn’t seem so important anymore.
Certainly the company knows full well things have to change, and change they have. Effective in September, the DVD and streaming services will be separated. You can opt for one or the other, or pay a much higher monthly rate for both. Certainly loads of Netflix users are up in arms over the turn of events, but it may also encourage them to examine the package they have and see what they need, and what they don’t need.
Certainly streaming offers Netflix the ability to deliver services in other countries, a huge plus. By exacting a separate fee, the increased income will, they expect, give them enough cash to make better deals with the movie companies, and perhaps be able to deliver new or recent releases far sooner. That’s a good thing. But I don’t think Hollywood is going to embrace a flat-fee model for the latest and greatest blockbusters.
What Netflix ought to consider, in my not-so-humble opinion, is a streaming bundle, where you get unlimited older releases, plus a fixed number of current movies. Your fee would depend on the maximum number you want each month, and that would afford you the best of both worlds, without having to deal ever again with physical media; that is, unless you want to buy a physical disc of your favorite movie for repeated viewing.
Now whether Netflix would consider such a move might depend on the sort of pacts they can sign with the movie studios, who have loads of other options. Can Netflix compete with the cable, satellite companies, not to mention Apple and Amazon? And I haven’t even mentioned those video rental kiosks you see sprouting up in or near convenience stores and supermarkets. Or will the whole concept come crashing down, and will Netflix be just another casualty in a long line of movie rental casualties?
Since I rarely use the streaming service, I’m planning to cut back when the rates go up. I’ll stick with DVDs for now, but the 28-day window troubles me. Maybe I should look at DirecTV’s PPV, or iTunes a little more closely, and that is a decision Netflix hopes most of their subscribers won’t consider. In the end, they might have to seriously rethink this move.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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