• Newsletter Issue #658

    July 9th, 2012


    Mountain Lion is close, very close. Although Apple hasn’t said exactly when OS 10.8 will be released this month, some are suggesting it’ll happen the day after Apple releases quarterly financials, which will be on July 24th. This is sort of in keeping with last year’s release date for Lion, which occurred the day after financials were announced. But it’s not as if Apple is always predictable. Before February of this year, OS 10.8 wasn’t expected until 2013.

    While I would never presume to suggest what Apple might be planning, it’s also true that developers have yet to report that Mountain Lion has hit the Golden Master stage, which is the build that will ultimately become available for purchase and download.

    Meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, prolific author Bob “Dr. Mac” LeVitus talks about Microsoft’s woes, and gives you an extended preview of the best (and worst) features of OS 10.8 Mountain Lion.

    Author and commentator Ted Landau discusses some of the problems with Apple’s Mac App Store, including the limitations of sandboxing, the inability to get demo software or discounted app upgrades.

    From Jim Galbraith, the Lab Director of Macworld, you’ll get the latest and greatest benchmarks of Apple’s recent MacBook upgrades, including the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Is it time to retire your old Mac note-book?

    What I take from the benchmarks is that, from year to year, speed improvements are relatively modest for the most part. The larger improvement seems to come from using faster solid state drives, which impact almost every aspect of your user experience. Now if they’d only find a way to make the larger flash drives more affordable. One vendor sells a 960GB drive for $1,194.99. Then again, that’s close to what I paid for a 100MB hard drive in 1989. Once solid state drives on the terabyte range get below $500, the revolution will be at hand. Maybe next year.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a return visit by veteran UFO researcher Antonio Huneeus, an editor of Open Minds magazine, who recently wrote an intriguing article about the Mayans, 2012 and UFOs and an update on the official Committee for the Study of Aerial Anomalous Phenomena (CEFAA) documents, from Chile, and the role of CEFAA Director Air Force General (Ret) Ricardo Bermudez, who spoke at this year’s International UFO Congress. Lots of intriguing ground will be covered during this interview.

    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.


    What would you think about a company that, whenever they enter a new market, the media is ready to declare failure? What would you think if that declaration comes despite the fact that, in the past decade, those new products have been amazingly successful? Would you begin to think that too many members of the press need a reality check?

    So just this week, there’s a report that Amazon may build a smartphone to compete with Apple. No doubt they’d follow the Kindle Fire playbook, delivering a product at cost in the hopes that people will use  the gadget to access Amazon’s storefront and buy lots of stuff.

    Since the story comes from Bloomberg, a respected source of business news, you have to take it seriously. Or maybe Amazon is floating a trial balloon. The assumption is that it would go up against the iPhone in the same way that the Kindle Fire went up against the iPad. Only the Kindle Fire mostly grabbed market share from small Android tablets. It doesn’t look as if iPad sales actually suffered.

    Now it’s not as if Amazon demonstrated any powers of innovation with the Kindle Fire. It appears as if they went to the same parts bin that Research In Motion used for the failed BlackBerry Playbook. At least there wasn’t a whole lot of R&D involved. So it is possible that, if Amazon decides to get involved in building smartphones, they will again look to some existing product and modify it for their needs.

    That sort of approach isn’t unusual for Apple’s competitors. When Microsoft built the first Zune music player, it was simply a rebadged Toshiba Gigabeat. The Google Nexus 7 comes from Asus. Yes, I suppose Google could have gone to their own hardware subsidiary, Motorola Mobility, but imagine how Android licensees would react to that move.

    The point is that Apple isn’t in the business of taking someone else’s product and putting their brand name on it. Well, I suppose they did that in the old days, and even had big name manufacturers build their stuff. Consider the 1997 StyleWriter 4100 inkjet printer, built by HP and not all that different from some of HP’s own printers. But that was then, this is now.

    Yes, Apple’s hardware is built by contract factories, often the same ones who build gear for other tech companies, but the products are still original designs, with many custom parts. And I suppose you could say that the Microsoft Surface appears to be an original product, but it’s not yet even certain if it will actually go on sale. It’s not that Microsoft can be trusted about such matters.

    But it’s also true that, when the Surface was announced, some members of the media felt Apple had a fight on their hands. This in spite of the fact that Microsoft wouldn’t let the media spend more than a few seconds face time with a supposedly functioning unit. There are still loads of questions about pricing, actual release dates, and key specs still need to be fleshed out.

    Despite the dearth of real information, it’s clear that the Surface lacks focus. The Intel version, using Windows 8 Pro, apparently will even come with a stylus for touch input, just like all those failed Windows tablets. But that assumes it will actually be released.

    My larger concern, though, is that some of these alleged media pundits seem to have a really low opinion of Apple. They want to you to believe that Apple is destined to be trounced by Google, and that Microsoft will magically exit their Windows/Office tunnel and embrace reality. It doesn’t matter if product after product is barely competitive, or downright junk. It’s an iPad killer, it’s an iPhone killer.

    That doesn’t mean, of course, that all of Apple’s competition is necessarily inferior in every single respect. Some of the hardware used on Android smartphones and tablets seems decent enough. The OS is getting better, but Google still hasn’t figured a way to deploy updates to most customers, who continue to be stuck with Android versions at least a year old and possibly older.

    Microsoft, having written off over six billion dollars because they couldn’t make an online ad company deliver profits, has few excuses. Google did well in buying another ad company for half as much. What’s Microsoft’s explanation for such a serious miscalculation?

    Indeed, even the name of their search engine, Bing, makes little sense. The TV ads promoting the alleged virtues of Bing are just plain awful. It doesn’t mean Bing is bad. It is certainly competitive to Google in at least some respects. But just being competitive isn’t enough. Bing has to be provably better, and convince users it’s provably better to have the potential to gain traction against Google.

    The same problem afflicts all those other tablets and smartphones. They might match or even beat Apple gear in some respects, but, overall, they just don’t match Apple’s almost seamless integration and superior reliability. Being almost good doesn’t count.

    Unfortunately some members of the media figured that, since almost as good worked with Windows, it must work elsewhere. That’s Microsoft’s mistake, too, as they tout features that either have no proven value, such as the Metro interface, or barely approach the competition of a year or two back. But Microsoft, having taken a bath on search, doesn’t seem to have learned anything.


    As Mountain Lion gets closer and closer to release, once again it’s time to take stock of whether your Mac is ready. Or even if you want to bother, if it is compatible. You see, for reasons best known to themselves, Apple has again removed a number of older Macs in preparing the compatibility list for Mountain Lion. But it’s not just to models four or five years old, where you might expect that time will pass them by.

    Here, for example, is the official Apple compatibility listing for Mountain Lion:

    • iMac (Mid 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook (Late 2008 Aluminum, or Early 2009 or newer)
    • MacBook Pro (Mid/Late 2007 or newer)
    • MacBook Air (Late 2008 or newer)
    • Mac mini (Early 2009 or newer)
    • Mac Pro (Early 2008 or newer)
    • Xserve (Early 2009)

    Now you’re in pretty good shape with an iMac or even a MacBook Pro. Only the earliest Intel versions of both are sent out to pasture. But the Mac mini compatibility list is as recent as 2009, which means that the one you bought before that is obsolete. My soon’s 2008 graduation present, a Black MacBook, is not compatible with 10.8, nor is the discontinued Xserve, but Apple never took that model as seriously as it deserved and it died a premature death.

    There are technical reasons, of course. Such obtuse issues as being able to boot in a 64-bit kernel, and possessing the right graphic chips. It’s not as if Apple is necessarily making arbitrary decisions. Even if you could somehow induce Mountain Lion to install on older Macs, you might expect performance to be subpar. It’s not the same as in the Windows world, where Microsoft placed entry-level older PCs on the compatibility list for Windows 8, even though they are barely up to the task. Microsoft cares about selling OS licenses, not new hardware, and they’ll fight for every Windows upgrade they can get, even if you are miserable with the result.

    At the same time, it’s certainly true that Apple would prefer you buy a new Mac rather than upgrade to Mountain Lion. At $19.99, Apple can’t expect huge profits. But if Apple cuts off too many older Macs without at least the semblance of a reason, you can expect lots of upset Mac users. Even then, Apple can’t help but cause problems with the customer base.

    Take Lion, the first OS for Intel-based Macs without Rosetta. No Rosetta means that PowerPC apps don’t run. That’s not something that most Mac users are concerned about, since the larger portion of the user base came to the platform after the 2006 switch to Intel. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t loads of apps that never made it to Intel, and some that never will. Remember what happened with Quicken 2007 until Intuit got around to figuring out a way to update their personal finance app to be compatible with Lion. Of course, they also charged an upgrade fee, even though the only real changes were to support Intel processors, six years late. They really should have offered that upgrade free, and even sent out a discount coupon to customers to apologize.

    In any case, Mountain Lion may be a more worthy upgrade than Lion, which worked well enough for most of you, but came across as a mite unfinished. Mountain Lion enhances further integration with the iOS in a largely sensible fashion. It’s mostly about renaming and redesigning a few apps to smooth the transition from OS X to iOS and back again. The Notification Center, something already on the iOS, owes something to Growl, an app that has offered similar functions for a number of years.

    Certainly, Apple has made the upgrade appear as smooth as possible. Users of Snow Leopard (circa 2009) and Lion can purchase and download Mountain Lion from the Mac App Store once it becomes available. If you have an eligible Mac that’s still running Leopard, which amounts to a relatively small percentage of Mac users, Apple did offer a free upgrade to MobileMe users before the service died. So it doesn’t seem as if a lot of Mac users will have problems with the upgrade situation, which would otherwise mean buying and installing Snow Leopard first before you can get Mountain Lion.

    Now the official reviews won’t be out until Mountain Lion’s release. But the early word from the developer community appears to be extremely positive. I’ll have a lot more to say about OS 10.8 when it’s officially released.


    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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