• Newsletter Issue #615

    September 12th, 2011


    So how does yet another social networking service grab you? At one time MySpace was king of the hill, but has since been sold for a song (an estimated $35 million) to a group of investors, which include singer/actor Justin Timberlake. But there’s also Google Plus, which hopes to beat segment leader Face-book with a set of similar features, plus integration with Gmail and other popular services. And then there’s Twitter, which also has a tremendous global influence, but hasn’t yet demonstrated the capability of generating lots of income for its founders.

    When you add it all together, unless you have time on your hands, I wonder how many people aside from power users will experiment with Google Plus. I know I have, more or less, though I haven’t spent much time attempting to adjust to the lay of the land.

    Well, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, explored the value of social networking, particularly with Face-book and Twitter, along with his reactions to the resignation of Steve Jobs as Apple CEO, and some observations about OS X Lion.

    Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, offered his impressions of Google Plus. He also discussed the plans for Windows 8, Microsoft’s effort to integrate a venerable desktop OS with the mobile universe, along with Intel’s Ultrabook initiative, designed to provide reference designs for thin and light note-books, similar to the MacBook Air, to other PC makers, and HP’s WebOS and PC woes.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris discuss the incredible discoveries of strangely advanced artifacts around the world with Lamont Wood, author of “Out of Place in Time and Space: Inventions, Beliefs, and Artistic Anomalies That Were Impossibly Ahead of Their Time.” Ancient astronauts, advanced civilizations on Earth — what do these amazing objects represent?

    Coming September 18: Gene and Chris present a return appearance from Peter Robbins, a founding member and Advisory Board member of Budd Hopkins’ Intruders Foundation, and author of “Left at East Gate: A First-Hand Account of the Rendlesham Forest UFO Incident, Its Cover-up, and Investigation,” which was co-authored by Larry Warren.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt — Now with New Design! 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.


    While Apple doles out information about future operating systems in carefully crafted media events (including the annual WWDC) and press releases, news about the next great OS from Microsoft seems to leak like a sieve. So even though you’ll actually learn how Windows 8 will run on tablets at Microsoft’s Build conference on September 13th, there’s already a pretty decent amount of information available as to what it’s all about.

    So, for example, Windows 8 will work not just on traditional PCs, using x86 chips from Intel, but on the ARM-based processors that power tablets. Basically, it’s all going to be the same operating system, running the same software when it arrives in 2012. This means those tablets should, once software is made compatible with the lower power chips, run Microsoft Office and all the rest of your favorite Windows apps, assuming you have any favorites.

    The basic interface elements appear to have already been mapped out. You’ll boot to a tiled screen, rather than the traditional Windows desktop and Start menu. This is reminiscent of Windows Phone 7 which, by the way, has “borrowed” the concept from traditional app launching docks, such as the Launcher in the Classic Mac OS.

    Yes, you’ll be able to return to the Start menu if you like, I gather. But another key feature will be the widespread use of Microsoft’s controversial ribbons, that dreadful mass of icons that’s supposed to replace traditional menu bars.

    Now I don’t know just how many Windows users actually prefer ribbons. Certainly Microsoft won’t give them up, and they’ve expanded them to the Mac version of Office. But at least the menu bars are still there on Macs, although some of the functions you normally expect in those menus are now confined to ribbons. I also wonder whether any user surveys have have ever demonstrated that massive toolbars somehow make it easier for you to discover an application’s features when compared to menu bars that have served graphical operating systems well for over 25 years. But that’s just me.

    Windows 8 is also supposed to offer speedier boot times, with Microsoft boasting about getting up to speed in eight seconds, though that performance level likely depends on using solid state storage rather than traditional mechanical hard drives.

    Regardless, Microsoft clearly wants to make a huge departure from existing versions of Windows, although the same basic interface elements will evidently be around if you prefer the old ways of doing things. Even in Lion, if some of Apple’s mobile-friendly excesses seem too much for you, you can still reverse the scrolling direction, make the scrollbars appear 24/7, and avoid use of such apps as Launchpad.

    While the mind meld of mobile and desktop operating systems seems understandable, I suppose, what with Apple doing some of that with Lion and the iOS, it may well be that Microsoft has overshot the mark here. The functions that work well on a touchscreen may not necessarily translate to a physical keyboard and mouse. I think Apple knows that, even if the separation has been blurred. Microsoft has yet to demonstrate that, as a corporation, they have any taste.

    Besides, tablets that run the traditional version of Windows have already been shown to be abject failures in the marketplace. Microsoft pushed them for years, so even if the OS has been updated to work well within the narrow constraints of a mobile processor, with limited memory and storage, that doesn’t mean customers will flock to those tablets and ditch their iPads.

    Unfortunately, once Microsoft invests in a concept, they seldom give up. It might be relabeled, with a modified interface, but it will never, ever die even if it doesn’t sell and loads of money is being wasted in further development. Yes, there is the failed Kin smartphone, but that was one of the few exceptions.

    There’s also a question whether the corporate world will be wowed by Windows 8 and be willing to migrate their traditional PCs next year. After all, many just completed costly updates to Windows 7, after avoiding Windows Vista. Does the promise of an OS with concessions to the mobile world tempt them at all, or will they sit it out and hope for something better with Windows 9, or whatever Microsoft chooses to call the successor OS?

    Now don’t get me wrong. Windows 8 may truly be a game changer for Microsoft. They have really needed one, since they have failed miserably in the mobile space so far, and the market share of Windows, while still above 90% worldwide, is slowly eroding. PC sales are flat. Customers are choosing Macs or dedicated mobile hardware, such as the iPad. Microsoft’s future rests in being able to leave the 1990s behind and embrace the world of mobile computing. Whether Windows 8 will take them there is anyone’s guess.

    Certainly, Microsoft’s traditional fans among tech writers will be quick to tout the tremendous advantages of Windows 8, and how it’s bound to trounce Apple. As beta copies are distributed, the chosen ones will receive note-books and tablets with which to evaluate the software as it advances towards the final release. No doubt, they’ll praise Windows 8 to the skies, and keep their criticisms to the minimum, for fear that they won’t get free hardware anymore.

    As for me, I’d be happy to see Microsoft really get it when it comes to personal computing in the 21st century. Apple needs a healthy competitor that isn’t in the business of just violating their patents.


    In recent years, Logitech, the large maker of input devices, universal remotes, and other gear, has essentially abandoned the Mac when it came to keyboards. Just about everything has been Windows oriented, even though most would still work on a Mac if you reversed the traditional Windows key with Apple’s Command key.

    Well with the arrival of Logitech’s Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 for the Mac, they’ve not just returned to the platform, but done so in an environmentally friendly fashion. As the name implies, the K750’s battery is kept chugging away with ambient light or sunlight. That’s a great way to live in the wireless world and not have to worry about replacing physical batteries or racing to a charging dock every few weeks, as you do with most other wireless input devices.

    From a style standpoint, the K750 is more Mac-like than traditional Logitech hardware. You can choose from such colors as black, aluminum, plus white with a selection of different colors for the large solar panel at the top. The style is functional, not nearly as elegant as Apple might prefer, but the keyboard layout is essentially the same as the sole wired keyboard in Apple’s lineup, with similar scissor-style keys, offering quiet, comfortable operation. Indeed, the feel is close enough that I was able to switch from my Apple keyboard to the K750 and hardly miss a beat.

    The basic setup process is simple enough. Plug in Logitech’s tiny Unifying USB receiver to an available port on your Mac or USB hub. Turn the power switch on, and, within seconds it should be ready to work. The Mac OS X Keyboard Assistant may launch so you can confirm the position of the keys adjacent to shift and the layout, but that didn’t happen to me. I didn’t even need to use Logitech’s Control Center software, although I already had it installed for my Performance MX mouse, which, by the way, also works with the Unifying receiver, which meant that I didn’t have to connect anything to get this baby to run.

    Now this doesn’t mean that Logitech has hit a home run here. You see evidence of cost-cutting in the cheap brown cardboard packaging, with minimal instructions printed inside. You don’t know, for example, that there’s a Solar App designed to monitor the ambient light and display it’s impact to the light level received by the sensors for keeping the battery charged unless you notice the link to Logitech’s site printed on the box.

    Unfortunately, the information is misleading. Once you go to Logitech’s site and attempt to download Solar App, you discover that it’s actually been posted at the Mac App Store. Now why couldn’t Logitech simply put a note to that effect in the shipping box rather than force you to jump through several hoops to download a copy of this free app?

    A big corporation, no doubt Logitech’s bean counters did what they could to reduce the cost of production, so as to keep the retail price to $60, though I wonder if prospective customers might be willing to pay a little bit more for finer construction materials. There’s not even a light anywhere to indicate that caps lock is engaged, which may make for occasional typos. One critic suggested backlighting might be helpful, but I realize this is also done to keep power requirements as low as possible. But these are also the sort of concessions Apple would never make if they choose to provide a competing keyboard.

    Regardless, the Wireless Solar Keyboard K750 for the Mac is actually a pretty decent value. Even though $60 may seem a mite steep for a keyboard nowadays, don’t forget that you will probably never need to replace the internal battery, nor use any electricity to run a charger. Assuming there’s a reasonable level of light in your work area, this is one keyboard that will just work and keep on working.


    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 #615”

    1. Andrew says:

      I think it goes both ways. There are areas of UI that Apple really gets better than Microsoft, and a few that Microsoft does better than Apple. Snow Leopard and Windows 7 both showed the pinnacle of UI development for their respective platforms, refining customs and conventions built over many years. Lion kept much, but also represents a major shift in the direction of OS X. Some of it is much improved, and other aspects are quite annoying. Time will tell what sticks and what doesn’t when Apple releases 10.8.

      Windows 8 aims to go in much the same direction as Lion did, and I think it is a good move for Microsoft. Unlike you (Gene), I am a fan of Windows 7 (and OS X) and use both OS X (Lion on all machines now) and Windows 7 every day. My business runs entirely in OS X, but I have a Windows computer for my military duties and for gaming. Honestly, I really enjoy both platforms, and every time I use one system, I see features I wish were added to or from the other.

      Lion, in fact, represents the first time that Apple has made the OS less attractive with an upgrade, in my opinion. Yes, I like the new features, but I feel like there is an added complexity to Lion instead of the elegance I enjoyed with Snow Leopard. Microsoft will likely do the same with Windows 8, muddling up the smoothness I enjoy in Windows 7. Will I upgrade to Windows 8? From I’ve read, the tile interface will be just as optional as Apple’s launchpad (which I don’t use). So long as I can keep the Windows desktop as my default, I’ll probably move to 8 for the faster boot times and promised faster response.

      Of course, my opinion of Microsoft is quite different from yours. I saw Vista as a huge improvement over XP and once past some initial driver bugs found it to be a stable, fast and pleasant OS. Windows 7, to me, brought back the days of Windows 2000, which for its time was a revelation compared to the instabliity of Windows 9x or the complexity and lack of features of NT4. Windows 2000 was the first time that Microsoft had a better OS than Apple (then on 8.6), and 7, while not better than Snow Leopard, was in my opinion about equal.

      Lion has been quite stable for me thus far, and I look forward to comparing it head-to-head with Windows 8 sometime late next year. For now, I see little to complain about on either platform.

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