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  • Newsletter Issue #643

    March 26th, 2012

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    When I hear “hot and juicy,” I usually think of the ads for a fast-food burger. But this past week, that phrase almost seemed to apply to Apple’s new iPad, largely because of complaints that it ran too hot under some circumstances. Ever in search of attention, Consumer Reports made a big deal of their test; that is until they determined that the iPad 3 wasn’t unduly hot and that the results wouldn’t influence their rating. We’ll see.

    So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we are polling our guest experts to see whether the new iPad is really hot in ways other than record sales. Our guest list includes Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine, who also discusses the seven deadly sins committed by wireless carriers and handset makers.

    Now when it comes to those “seven” sins, a fair amount of the complaints concern both the iPhone and other smartphones. Personally, I’m really down on handset makers and carriers who just won’t bother feeding you needed software updates. While not having a snazzy new feature probably won’t hurt your lifestyle, a needed security update can have consequences. Apple figured this out — why can’t the rest of the industry?

    In the next segment, John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, talks about his decision to ditch his landline phone once and for all, and some of his observations about Tim Cook and his initial acts as Apple CEO.

    When it comes to landlines, I did that several years ago. My home/office telephone service is managed by Phone Power, a VoIP (Internet phone service) provider, and the faxing is strictly online, although I can still send a fax from my all-in-one printer.

    With veteran Mac author and troubleshooting expert Ted Landau, we cover the Mac press, and whether these journalists are getting just a little too cozy with Apple, along with the next OS X upgrade, Mountain Lion, and the improved integration of iOS features.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: It’s 2012 and the world is supposed to end sometime in December, right? Earthquakes, tsunamis and weird weather events escalate, the poles are shifting and it appears we are on “a bumpy ride” toward uncertainty. So Gene and Chris explore incredible Mayan mysteries with Brendon O’Brien and Jonnie Channell of the Maya Sites Travel Services and Clifford Mahooty, an elder for the Zuni tribe.

    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’S QUIET OS ANNIVERSARY

    Apple traditionally doesn’t get involved in reliving at the past. You no longer have anniversary edition Macs, or similar specialty products to observe one significant event or another. Apple is looking at the future, and the next great product that will revolutionize a market and grow the bottom line.

    So you probably haven’t heard about a certain eleventh anniversary that went mostly uncelebrated on March 23, 2012. But that singular event signaled a sea change at Apple, one that has affected most of their products, including the new iPad.

    What am I talking about? Well, Mac OS X of course — or OS X, as it’s generally known these days. But for me it actually started in August of 2000, when I was summoned to the San Francisco headquarters of CNET to meet with an Apple PR representative to discuss the forthcoming release of a Public Beta version of the new OS. The official release of 10.0 occurred on March 23, 2001.

    It wasn’t a terribly momentous meeting. I was ushered into a meeting room where a PR person, someone no longer with Apple, went through a brief demonstration of the long-awaited release on a Power Mac G4 Cube. I was actually offered the unit as a loaner, but having reviewed the product and being underwhelmed, I decided I didn’t want to bother with an extra piece of luggage for the flight back to Arizona, so I just took the installer CD with me.

    To be sure, the Public Beta was very unfinished, and essentially the same as the version demonstrated by Steve Jobs earlier that year at a Macworld Expo keynote. The Aqua interface, grafted onto the OS to make it seem more Mac-like, was sluggish, and it seemed as if the OS designers focused too much on eye candy than functionality.

    The Dock was especially controversial. One CNET editor called it “cartoonish, goofy,” but it hasn’t changed all that much over the years. Yes, the Dock’s shelf has more of a dimensional feel these days, rather than having the icons stuck in a light blue banner that spread across the bottom of your desktop (or whoever you wanted to pin it). But it works just about the same.

    Now I ran Mac OS X in those days not because it was so great an OS — it was feature-limited and buggy — but because it was the future of the Mac and I wanted to be a part of it. I also had a couple of book contracts to write consumer-level titles about the new OS. But it took several revisions before it was good enough for prime time, although to this day, some people still lament the loss of cherished features from the original Mac OS.

    But Apple went in a different direction. Since Mac OS X was portable, they were already building a version to run on Intel processors in an almost parallel development project. It was rumored for several years, until Steve Jobs confirmed the truth during the 2005 WWDC keynote. That’s where he also announced that Macs would be running on Intel beginning in 2006.

    The Intel transition went well and, in fact, was completed months ahead of schedule, although some app developers took years to make their products compatible. So Intuit took five years to update Quicken 2007 to make it run natively on Intel Macs, and only after Apple ditched the Rosetta compatibility feature that allowed you to run PowerPC apps when Lion was released.

    A year after the Intel transition began, Apple completed the port of Mac OS X to yet another processor family — ARM, for the first iPhone. As you know, the interface was highly simplified and altered to work fluidly with a touch screen. You tapped instead of clicked, and I dare say most people didn’t then realize how much OS X and the iOS shared under the hood. But it also made it easy for Apple to migrate iOS features to the Mac, beginning with Lion and continuing in full force with the forthcoming Mountain Lion.

    This core uniformity is what Microsoft is trying to accomplish in an extreme fashion with Windows 8. Supposedly it’ll be the same OS on Intel and ARM, but Microsoft believes that the look and feel should be identical between mobile and desktop, that there aren’t significant usability reasons to keep them separate.

    Apple is playing the long ball approach. As CEO Tim Cook said in an interview for the Wall Street Journal’s AllThingsDigital: “We see that people are in love with a lot of apps and functionality [on the iPhone]. Anywhere where that makes sense, we are going to move that over to Mac.”

    That, however, doesn’t mean a merger. You still approach desktop and mobile computing devices differently. But it also means the mental transition when moving from one device to the other, and back again, will be eased as features converge over time.

    But you have to wonder how many people realized where Mac OS X would go when the Public Beta was first released. That it worked at all seemed almost a miracle at the time, and the ultra-simple interface shielded you from the highly sophisticated and complicated OS that lurked beneath the surface. In those days, however, people were still claiming that Apple was beleaguered, and there was a whole lot of skepticism that Mac OS X would truly take off, particularly after the company failed for so many years to build an industrial-grade operating system.

    How things have changed.

    THERE’S NO SHAME IN HAVING AN ORPHANED MAC

    If your Mac is four or five years old, you can feel reasonably assured that Apple no longer cares about supporting your computer. As the OS matures, more and more older models are being left behind. This is somewhat unlike Windows, where most computers running Windows XP will be able to safely migrate to Windows 8 when it arrives later this year, at least in theory. That means a PC with a 1GHz CPU, 1GB of RAM, and a graphics card that supports DirectX 9 would be sufficient. Of course that doesn’t mean one of those older PCs will run especially well with those minimal specs, but that’s besides the point. At least they’ll boot.

    For Mountain Lion, the system requirements are unofficial, and based strictly on what developers are reporting. Apple hasn’t announced a final verdict, but it’s pretty certain at this late stage that things won’t change.

    At the core, Mountain Lion requires a Mac with a 64-bit processor, such as the Intel Core 2 Duo or better, along with the ability to boot into the 64-bit kernel, and an “advanced GPU chipset,” for graphics. But that is apt to sound like Greek to you until we define it further.

    Specific models include iMacs from mid-2007 and newer, the Mac Mini from early 2009 and newer, The MacBook from 2008 and newer, the MacBook Pro from 2007 to 2009 and later, depending on the screen size and graphics chip, the MacBook Air from late 2008 and newer, and the Mac Pro from early 2008 and newer.

    That’s an approximation, and, as I said, you’ll want to check the exact system requirements when Mountain Lion goes on sale this summer. Things could change, but the possibility for that is probably slim to none.

    However, from this list it does appear that those who have a Mac mini will be the most impacted, although the price of a new one isn’t horrendous. The older model, despite being left behind in the next OS X upgrade, might yield a decent down payment if you sell the thing on eBay.

    Yet even if your Mac is on the endangered species list, it doesn’t mean it’ll stop working when 10.8 is out, obviously. So long as software continues to be developed that will support your computer, you can get the latest and greatest apps that you need, although it is certain that developers will want to focus on Lion and Mountain Lion for compatibility and performance. Over time, backwards compatibility will be more and more limited.

    But I also have a client who continues to use a PowerPC Mac as his main tool for a graphics business, with little incentive to upgrade. Sure, buying a much faster Mac, say an iMac, isn’t such a horrendous investment. But he’d also have to spend a bundle to upgrade all his critical apps, and he has other priorities. Besides, some of the newer features on those apps may not even be necessary for his workflow.

    I also have a relative with a first-generation 17-inch PowerBook, and he isn’t complaining about the fact that he can’t get the very newest apps on the planet. He’s content with an older version of iWork, Apple Mail, Firefox and Safari. It’s perfect for his needs.

    There is, I suppose, the psychological factor. Once a Mac can no longer be upgraded to the latest OS, its age begins to show, even if the computer is otherwise perfectly functional. But Apple isn’t betraying anyone. They never promised how long they would continue to support older Macs. After all, most of their revenue comes from selling you newer hardware. At the present cheap upgrade price, the latest OS X is surely not a profit center.

    In fact, I’m willing to suggest that Apple might even consider a true return to the past, when the Mac OS was a free upgrade, when Mountain Lion arrives. It will be one huge incentive for folks to upgrade, particularly those for whom Lion was a disappointment. And it’s not as if Apple isn’t doing that already, since iOS upgrades are free. Why shouldn’t Mac users get the very same benefits?

    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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    9 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #643”

    1. […] Continue Reading… Related Posts: Newsletter Issue #609: Say So Long to the Optical Drive […]

    2. dfs says:

      “Once a Mac can no longer be upgraded to the latest OS, its age begins to show, even if the computer is otherwise perfectly functional. But Apple isn’t betraying anyone. They never promised how long they would continue to support older Macs.“ Regarding OS upgrades, it’s impossible to argue with Gene’s logic. But what about cases where Apple could easily provide upgrades for legacy Macs, if it chose to do so, but fails to do it? A flagrant case in point is the situation of those Mac users who own Macs which can’t be upgraded beyond Snow Leopard, or who decline to do so because they depend on items of Rosetta-based software. Such users who have been subscribing to MobileMe and using it to synch with other Apple devices they own are evidently going to be SOL as of June 20, when MobileMe is scheduled to be terminated, but they at least officially won’t be able to subscribe to iCloud, which requires Lion. Sure, there are workarounds, some involving hooking up to an iCloud account by manually setting up a connection (this works for mail and calendars, but not for contacts), some involving rather fancy Terminal work, and some involving the purchase of third-party substitute applications. But Apple could very easily help these folks make the transition if it wanted to. I don’t see why this would involve putting out a new iteration of Snow Leopard. At most it would require release of new versions of Address Book, Calendar, and Mail, but maybe just patches would do the job.. And yet Apple shows no signs of doing anything of the kind. Why? Just because they hope to buffalo such users into buying new Macs they otherwise don’t need?? One can tell from the Web that there is a certain amount of consternation and resentment in the Mac community because, rightly or wrongly, some users think precisely that. At the very least, by not giving these users a forward path to iCloud Apple is unnecessarily inviting a public relations black eye.

    3. gopher says:

      “In fact, I’m willing to suggest that Apple might even consider a true return to the past, when the Mac OS was a free upgrade, when Mountain Lion arrives.”

      Apple has technically done this with every new Mac upon the release of a new operating system. Once a Mac lineup is refreshed on or after an operating system release, all Macs in that lineup get the operating system release free that are shipped new after that date. So once the Mac Mini and MacBook Air were released July 20, 2011, they got Lion free. Granted, people who got Macs that didn’t have a hardware or firmware change after that date didn’t get Lion free, but still could get it as part of the up to date program. Apple even made the up to date program available to Macs that shipped three weeks prior to the operating system release with all the up to date programs it has done. And it typically lasted anywhere from one to three months after. So while it wasn’t free always, at least it was discounted. What’s more, once the refresh happened, the new Macs couldn’t be downgraded below the operating system they shipped with.

      • @gopher, I’m not talking about giving you the free OS on the new computer, or a limited-time up-to-date program. I’m talking of free, period, for any Mac that supports the new OS; the way it used to be. That’s how it’s done with the iOS.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • BrianM says:

          @Gene Steinberg,
          the way it used to be?

          before Mac OS 8 as far as I can remember, since then it has been pay-for updates. (That would be around 1997 I think)

          iOS is a good argument for doing the same with the computer though… careful, they might realize they could be charging for the iOS updates 😉

    4. @BrianM, Actually it was free before Mac OS 7.1. In 1992, with the arrival of 7.1, Apple decided to charge for Mac OS upgrades, as loads of Mac users protested to no avail.

      Peace,
      Gene

      • BrianM says:

        @Gene Steinberg,

        ah right, I was thrown off a bit because later they did release 7.5.3 and the 7.5.5 update as downloads on the website. I had forgotten that 7.6 was pay-for (and my 7200 came with 7.5.2)

    5. Ed Eastridge says:

      Actually, and I imaging our vendor would not be happy in the least divulging this information, but there is still a piece of software used in my industry that is *still* PowerPC code dependent. We have not been able to even update the owner’s laptops to Lion or Mountain Lion due to this faux pas. In their defense, they’re supposed to release a new version that will be intel compatible sometime this year, but their comment is if you’d like to run Lion or Mountain Lion, you’ll need to install a Virtualized Windows environment to run the WIndows version of their software.

      Pretty ridiculous.

    6. Thomas Carlson says:

      This was an interesting post to anyone who has ever worked as a techie in a Mac-centric school district. When Apple decided to pull the support plug on OS X Tiger and then Leopard, they obsoleted a lot of G3 and G4 iBooks, iMacs, eMacs, etc. Financially-strapped districts couldn’t just run right out and buy new kit. They looked longingly at districts that had gone with Intel and Windows XP, with its security updates that are still coming out on a regular basis.

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