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  • Newsletter Issue #632

    January 9th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    It makes sense for an entertainment or publishing company to protect their copyrights. Producers and artists may spend years making the perfect album or movie, only to have the fruits of their labors stolen and distributed free around the world. You can consider the moguls in these industries as greedy so and sos, but it’s perfectly true the most artists do not make the big bucks. Only a few strike it rich.

    Also consider the plight of the small publisher, having all their money invested in their books, and how they can cope with piracy. According to Adam Engst, from TidBITS and Take Control Books, who appeared on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, existing laws, such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), make the process of sending “take down” orders to possible infringing sites a slow, awkward, ungainly process.

    That takes us to the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), proposed legislation in the U.S. House that some say puts draconian controls on efforts to remove alleged pirated content from Web sites, although the main targets appear to be foreign domains. Adam offered his concerns about the legislation and a similar version in the U.S. Senate. With reports that the law may actually pass in a matter of a few weeks, time may be short for both sides to get their views across to legislators who are largely ignorant of the way the online world really operates.

    You also heard from Sean Brown, Vice President, Sonic Foundry, about an update to their Mediasite software that makes it possible for, as an example, students with iPhones and iPads to watch online lectures from educators.

    Macworld’s Dan Moren joined Gene to brainstorm about the possibilities for an iTV, or Apple connected TV, and whether such a product will ever see the light of day. The long and short of it is that it just may happen, although maybe we’ll just see a spruced up version of today’s Apple TV.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present veteran paranormal writer Nicholas Redfern, author of “Keep Out!: Top Secret Places Governments Don’t Want You to Know About.” This highly readable book is not just about UFOs, secret alien bases and so on, but about many of the mysteries and legends that surround a number of unusual places, often underground, around the world.

    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 huge selection of additional special custom-imprinted merchandise for fans of our show, along with a redesigned storefront.

    APPLE CONTINUES TO CAST A HUGE SHADOW OVER THE TECH INDUSTRY

    Look for Apple Inc. to come to the rescue of markets that need to be rescued. In 2001, when the digital music player business wasn’t going anywhere, with gadgets that underperformed and were hard to use, Apple arrived with the iPod.
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    In fact, we didn’t believe we needed an iPod. Maybe it was just an expensive indulgence. After all, why spend $399 for a music player anyway? What’s the sense in that? Oh, 5,000 songs in my pocket, and fast transfers via FireWire from my Mac? And the thing’s easy to use? Wait a minute!

    The iPod began a miracle, confounding the experts to quickly turn around the digital music player business, and, in fact, the entire music industry stung by the rise of pirated songs hosted on sites around the world. Apple offered a convenient method for the industry to embrace the digital revolution in a way that made it easy and inexpensive for consumers to buy the songs they wanted online without running afoul of the law.

    The competition’s efforts to send Apple and the iPod to the back of the bus were abject failures. First Microsoft tried to tie up other companies in their PlaysForSure initiative, their proprietary DRM scheme, and that didn’t work. So Microsoft double-crossed their partners and built their own walled garden, repurposed a failed Toshiba music player, and delivered the Zune to collective yawns. Well, except for a few members of the media, who still believed Microsoft could do anything.

    Now the mobile phone industry supposedly didn’t need saving. We were comfortable with feature phones, with obtuse interfaces, but our kids managed to embrace texting anyway. The RIM BlackBerry owned the smartphone universe with their physical keyboards and secure email system; well, at least when the network didn’t fail. Wireless carriers were happily counting their profits, as most anyone who wanted a mobile phone had one. The market had reached saturation, at least for feature phones.

    When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007, the pundits laughed yet again. Sure, the iPod was successful, Macs were doing better, but where did Apple get the temerity to believe they could build a smartphone? A virtual keyboard? Get real! The true smartphone was a BlackBerry, so get over it. And when Steve Jobs suggested Apple would sell a modest ten million copies by the end of the following year, some wondered what drug he might be taking.

    Within a year, most of the competition was rushing to attempt to build products that were, to all intents and purposes, imitation iPhones. Of course, Apple didn’t just sit back and let it happen. They launched waves and waves of lawsuits against companies for patent infringement. They lost a few, won a few, and the Cold War continues without letup. But few dispute the incredible success of the iPhone. Although the latest model, the 4S, was dismissed for being at best a modest update, the Siri dictation assistant has become a pop culture icon, and orders remain backlogged.

    The iPad’s success is still too recent a development to be fully digested. Besides, it’s not at all certain if sales growth will maintain a torrid pace in light of the performance of the first credible competitor, the Amazon Kindle Fire. The open question is whether customers are buying the them in decent quantities because they’re cheap and the iPad is a little too expensive, or whether they are willing to accept the Fire as a credible alternative regardless of price. Since a Kindle Fire is, like the other models in the lineup, intended to serve as gateways to Amazon’s profitable storefront, the appeal may be limited over time. It doesn’t help that performance isn’t quite as good as it ought to be to deliver a serviceable alternative to the iPad on the long haul.

    Will the Kindle Fire be a holiday flash in the pan? And how will Apple react? Can you expect Apple to deliver lower cost iPads, or just provide the 2011 version at a lower price when the 2012 model comes out?

    This week, tech companies are massing in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). As usual, Apple won’t be there, but they will once again cast a huge cloud over the event.

    According to published reports, the CES will feature ultrabooks, the PC industry’s answer to the MacBook Air, and more smartphones and tablets powered by the Android OS and other systems. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be talking about Windows 8 for PCs and tablets, and maybe more vaporware, as if anyone’s listening. But this is also the last time Microsoft will have a public presence at CES. Maybe they’ve come to realize that they are just boring everyone, and I have no idea if the report that CES management disinvited Microsoft as a keynote presenter is true.

    There will also be more efforts by TV makers to force 3D sets laden with online streaming apps, such as Netflix, on us. But that’s just the beginning. You see, the latest and greatest technology is something known as 4K, or “ultra definition.” These new sets, which will cost a bundle, promise twice the resolution of existing high definition models, at 3840×2160 pixels. Today’s sets top out at 1920×1080.

    If you care, that’s precisely the resolution of today’s professional digital cinema cameras, the ones used for making real movies. But it may be overkill, since there is no content with which to exploit that capability, even if you were willing to pay several times the price of a 1080p set to get one.

    While I suppose the Blu-ray DVD standard could be expanded to embrace the higher resolution, it will be extremely difficult for broadcasters and cable companies to get with the program. 4K means an immense amount of bandwidth consumption, meaning that system capacity would have to be expanded or fewer stations offered. And it’s not that high definition is yet fully available. There are still loads of standard definition channels in the cable and satellite packages. I’m still waiting for BBC America in HD on DirecTV, so forget about 4K.

    This doesn’t mean that 4K isn’t in our future, but it’s way too early just yet, and it will take years for the content delivery systems to be get on board. Meantime, the rumors about a forthcoming TV from Apple will no doubt overwhelm TV makers hoping to stand out from the crowd with their 3D and connected TVs. Some companies are already adding voice recognition, hoping to trump the expected Siri interface on Apple’s new set.

    In the end, maybe Apple will restrict their offerings to an all-new Apple TV set top box instead. But by doing nothing at all, Apple once again upstages the CES.

    MICROSOFT CAN’T CATCH A BREAK

    As Microsoft struggles to remain relevant, you have to wonder how many people, other than employees or stockholders, are interested. This year, they will be talking about the arrival of Windows 8, an OS that will supposedly serve the traditional PC market and tablets. They want you to believe it’s something all new, although the Metro interface is just warmed over Zune and Windows Phone. The rest of Windows 8 appears to be same ole, same ole, at least based on the recent public developer release.

    But yet another piece of news has come forth that must really embarrass Microsoft big time. According to the final monthly report from NetApplications in 2011, based on surveys covering 40,000 sites, Windows XP remains the number one OS on the planet!

    Yes, it’s true. According to NetApplications, XP, an OS that’s more than ten years old still has 46.5% of worldwide Web traffic. Can you believe that? XP’s successor, Windows Vista, dropped from 12.6% to 8.4% of the market. What an embarrassment!

    As to Windows 7, it went from 21.7% to 37%, so it’s closing in. Maybe Windows 7 will beat XP next year, assuming Windows 8 arrives too late to make a significant dent.

    In case you’re wondering, OS X Lion has 2% share, compared to 3.1% for Snow Leopard. This appears to indicate that upgrade sales may have plateaued, and that most of the growth from here on will come from the sale of new Macs.

    As far as Microsoft is concerned, the company continues to confront the uncomfortable fact that tens and tens of millions of companies are still using older Windows PCs in regular production. The tepid response to Windows Vista forced companies who bought new PCs to just downgrade, over Microsoft’s protests and lame ad campaigns. Although XP had its security issues early on, years and years of hardening have made it robust enough, I suppose.

    Complicating the picture is the fact that Windows 8 will arrive just as Windows 7 is expected to move ahead of XP. But the real question then would be whether businesses will want to take yet another OS leap without real evidence that Windows 8, beneath the questionable graphic layer offered by Metro, will make all that much of a difference to them.

    You have to wonder if, when Windows 8’s successor comes out a few years from now, Microsoft will be struggling to convince customers to upgrade from Windows 7. Will Microsoft be facing the same old problem all over again in a new dress?

    As far as Apple is concerned, remember that Lion has been around less than six months. It’s already taken nearly two thirds the market share of Snow Leopard. Maybe the migration hasn’t occurred quite as quickly as some expected, but it’s clear that Lion will gain the number one spot by summer or perhaps earlier. That’s nothing to be ashamed about, particularly as Microsoft continues to face the specter of an ancient OS still dominating.

    THE FINAL WORD

    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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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #632”

    1. dfs says:

      “Maybe the migration hasn’t occurred quite as quickly as some expected, but it’s clear that Lion will gain the number one spot by summer or perhaps earlier.” But there may be a problem here. The major attraction of Lion is supposed to be iCloud; in fact, for a lot of potential customers there’s no compelling reason to make the upgrade. But there seems to be plenty of customer resistance to iCloud. Which is not entirely irrational: read, for example, Ted Landau’s review at http://www.macobserver.com/tmo/article/icloud_forgets_to_keep_it_simple/

    2. jfutral says:

      Higher resolution does not a better picture make. Bit rate/compression has a greater affect on the picture quality. I can get a better picture at 720 than 1080 if the bit rate is higher. “4K” on TVs won’t help that. Heck many broadcaster are still transmitting SD video content. Current HD is still a waste for most of what broadcasters are offering. And not everyone transmits the same bit rate, even the same programming from the same network. The CBS affiliate in Connecticut I used to watch broadcasts at a higher bit rate than the CBS affiliate here in Atlanta. Higher resolution won’t help the banding I still get, even on BluRay.

      I have no opinion on OS upgrading except at some point this diminishing returns had to happen. I only have one machine upgraded to Lion. None of my other computers need it and they ain’t broken, which is a HUGE reason NOT to upgrade. I still have some important software that can’t run under Lion and I have no reason to upgrade them either. If everything is doing everything I need them to do reliably, that is a good place to be. I am also one of those hold outs with XP for the same reason. I don’t use it to surf the web. It is a work machine that has software that needs backward compatibility and XP was the end of the line for that.

      Joe

      • @jfutral, We’re on the same page here. It’s the combination that counts. If the percentage of compression is the same, the higher resolution picture will obviously look better. But if they add 4K and compress the heck out of it, you’ll see noise, and pixelation and not the magical picture you expected.

        In the Phoenix area, Cox offers a decent HD package, but the visible compression artifacts are clearly worse than on the same stations viewed via DirecTV and Dish Network. Prices are all comparable because of heavy competition, and the satellite providers always give you special one-year or two-year deals to save even more. That’s the reason I went to DirecTV, although it took two installers and a little finger crossing to find a way to configure the satellite dish to get a clear path and great reception.

        Peace,
        Gene

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    4. tz says:

      “OS X Lion has 2% share, compared to 3.1% for Snow Leopard. This appears to indicate that upgrade sales may have plateaued, and that most of the growth from here on will come from the sale of new Macs.”

      IMHO if Apple somehow could enable Rosetta for 10.7 it would earn some significant sales. My four closest friends, & relatives with macs are sticking with 10.6 because of PPC apps they don’t want to spend considerable chunks of money on replacing with 10.7 compatible apps.
      Two of these examples depend on their macs for their living.

      I am ambiguous about 10.7. I would make a few changes to Mission Control. Otherwise, I am just going along to stay current. I really cannot name any user interface changes that I prefer over 10.6. I do appreciate the increase security measures written into system.

      • @tz, I think the Rosetta ship has sailed. Apple believes that software publishers, such as Intuit, who want to remain in the Mac market, will address the problems eventually. There will be a Quicken 2007 update to support Lion, for example. Mac users will eventually buy new computers, and will just have to leave the remaining software behind.

        Peace,
        Gene

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