Over the past couple of weeks, it does appear that I have spent more time and space covering Microsoft than usual, simply because the company’s focus on integrating PC and mobile operating systems has become so polarized. While some people, and even Consumer Reports magazine, have praised Windows 8 and the controversial Modern UI touch interface, others sharply disagree. To them, Windows 8 is a disaster in the making, and a huge mistake. Microsoft’s hubris on wanting the same interface for traditional PCs, tablets, and smartphones may cause no end of grief when it comes to the company’s bottom line.
It may take until the holiday season passes before it’s possible to assess how Windows 8 might fare going forward. While it might seem logical to PC makers that lots of gear will be sold in the next few weeks, there are already sharp discounts designed to move hardware quickly. A fire sale, or just the hedging of bets? Microsoft is obviously hoping for the latter.
Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we focused on the latest tech news and views from Apple and other companies with a special emphasis on Windows 8, and the tepid early reaction to Microsoft’s efforts to establish what they call the PC+ era.
You heard from veteran tech columnist Ted Landau, who writes for The Mac Observer and Macworld, usability guru Jakob Nielsen, who has actually put Windows 8 through a series of intense tests with a panel of experienced PC users, and Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director of Laptop magazine.
During our session with Avram, he spent a fair amount of time describing his reactions to Nielsen’s survey and how it very much vindicated his opinions about Windows 8. And, remember, Avram tends to be favorably disposed towards Microsoft
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris remember Jim Moseley, the UFO field’s court jester and editor of “Saucer Smear,” who died on November 16. His close friends join us with their anecdotes about Jim’s amazing life, including Tim Beckley, Jerome Clark, T. Allen Greenfield, Geneva Hagen, and Bob Zanotti.
Now I realize most of you never heard of Jim Moseley, but he was one of my closest friends, someone I knew from a very early age and, indeed, my first employer before I entered broadcasting. For that and other reasons, I felt he deserved special treatment and respect on our “other” radio show.
Special Sci-Fi Update! Earlier this month, our second sci-fi novel, “Rockoids II: The Coming of the Protectors” was released. The novel continues the exciting adventures of the unique characters introduced in the first novel in the series, “Attack of the Rockoids.” Rather than retread the same ground as some sequels do, the story moves forward in unique directions. My son, Grayson, and I had lots of fun writing the story, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. It’s available in both print and Amazon Kindle editions. Why Amazon? Well, since Kindle software is available on various platforms, we only had to make one version to satisfy as many readers as possible.
On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present author PMH Atwater, who has engaged in an extensive study, spanning four decades, of near-death experiences. The discussion will include her three near-death experiences dating back to the 1970s, how her life changed as a result. We’ll also cover some of her books, including “Near-Death Experiences, The Rest of the Story,” and “The Big Book of Near Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die.”
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.
Conspiracy theories are often entertaining. The conventional explanation about an episode, usually a tragedy, is really a cover-up. There are actually other reasons why things happen that don’t necessary depend on a lone gunman, or some haphazard event over which we have no control.
Certainly in our unique corner of the world, we wonder why Microsoft and Windows chief Steve Sinofsky parted company. Maybe he really just wanted to get out of the rat race, after 23 years at the company, and enjoy his life. Sure, being a high pressure executive can take its toll on a person, and perhaps his family life suffered as a result. Since he is also a very rich man, perhaps it all made sense.
That’s the optimistic way to look at the situation, but maybe Microsoft simply got tired of dealing with an abrasive personality, and used the completion of a key assignment, the release of Windows 8 and the Surface tablet, as an excuse to send Sinofsky packing. It’s not as if he needs to worry about getting an unemployment check.
Another theory has it that Sinofsky was shown the door because of the perceived massive failure of Windows 8. Even avid Microsoft fans have been highly critical. Perhaps, but there’s also the theory that Sinofsky had been groomed as, or expected to be,the successor to CEO Steve Ballmer. So it could have been a case of bad timing and office politics.
Regardless, it’s fair to expect that Microsoft will continue to sell and support Windows 7 for a number of years yet. It’s very questionable that the enterprise will want to risk potential productivity losses and high retraining expenses by adopting Windows 8. Considering that the forthcoming Office 2013 actually exists in the desktop layer of Windows 8, and pays scant lip service to touch, why should anyone bother with the new interface when a perfectly serviceable OS is still available? And that assumes a company isn’t just going to stick with Windows XP.
Now when it comes to the Apple universe, you sort of expect that an older version of OS X will disappear quickly after a successor appears. That was certainly true of Lion with the arrival of Mountain Lion in July.
On the other hand, it’s been reported that millions of Mac users insist on running OS 10.6 Snow Leopard on their computers, even though it was released way back in 2009. That, in the Mac universe, is an eternity. Evidently you can now order an installation DVD at Apple’s online store for $19.99, shipping included. That’s $10 cheaper than the original price, and the same amount Apple charged for the 10.1 update for OS X early adopters in 2001.
At the same time, sales of Mountain Lion reportedly slid quickly after the rush of early adopters had downloaded their copies. So is this a huge Apple misstep, or just a sign that many Mac users have other priorities, or won’t bother with a new OS till they buy new Macs? Is it possible that OS 10.8 isn’t a compelling upgrade compared to Lion, or were so many Mac users jaded by the adoption of some iOS features that they opted to stick with the tried and the true?
After the initial round of maintenance updates, Snow Leopard has emerged as quite a snappy and reliable OS. More to the point, the controversial iOS-inspired changes are nowhere to be found. But the larger issue is the simple fact that you can still run PowerPC apps on Snow Leopard, courtesy of the Rosetta translation software. For reasons known only to themselves, Apple excised Rosetta from 10.7 and 10.8.
This is actually a huge issue for a number of Mac users. I have one client, a textbook author, who continues to require Word 2004, a PowerPC app. His dilemma is nothing unusual. While you can now get an Intel-savvy version of Intuit’s Quicken financial software, for example, there are loads of other important and mission critical apps that will never, ever be upgraded. Snow Leopard remains the only option.
So in the larger scheme of things, keeping Snow Leopard around makes perfect sense for Apple. The sales of OS X aren’t huge cash cows because of the low price of admission. When these customers buy new Macs, they’ll be presented with the latest OS anyway. It’s a situation totally unlike the one Microsoft confronts because of near-endless backwards compatibility of Windows and PC hardware.
So it will probably still take years before Windows XP really fades from view around the world, whereas Snow Leopard’s market share will steadily erode. In short order, only a small number of Mac users with older hardware will continue to use it. By restoring Snow Leopard to the Apple Store, Apple merely made a logical choice, just as they made the logical choice to continue to sell Final Cut Pro 7 when the reinvented Final Cut Pro X met stiff resistance in the marketplace.
One of the huge downsides in building custom manufacturing processes for new products is that Apple will inevitably have problems meeting early demand for a hot selling item. So, there’s still a two-week backlog at Apple’s online store for the iPad mini and the iPhone 5. But if you shop around, you might even get instant gratification on most configurations of either. Indeed, if you don’t object to refurbished hardware, you can save $100 on an iPhone 5 at AT&T, assuming the one you want is available.
On the other hand, you still can’t place an order for the 2012 iMac, either the 21.5-inch version or the 27-inch model. The former was promised for November, and time is running out. The latter was expected in December, and there has been no change in the promised delivery timeframes. I suppose if the smaller iMac ships on November 30, Apple has kept the promise.
Despite claims of delayed delivery because of the complicated manufacturing scheme, Apple recently insisted the iMac was on schedule. So we’ll see. Regardless, shipments will reportedly be constrained for a while, so it’s not expected that the new model will be a huge factor in holiday quarter sales, unless a bunch of them can be shipped before the end of the year. But since 80% of Mac sales are confined to note-books, maybe it won’t be a huge problem. After all, where do customers go if their new iMac isn’t ready? It’s not that they will rush to buy a Dell all-in-one instead.
Some might suggest that Apple should have found some way to ship these products earlier. Maybe it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to seriously revise the iMac right now. Maybe do it next year, with sufficient time for a production ramp that wouldn’t harm holiday sales. On the other hand, the existing iMac came out in the middle of 2011, so sales were likely on the decline anyway. Besides, it’s not always easy to predict how sophisticated manufacturing steps will fare as production quantities increase. That Apple does as well as it does under the circumstances may be considered almost a miracle by some. Besides, why should Apple’s creativity be sidelined because a product is hard to build?
After all, how many of Apple’s competitors are busy perfecting new manufacturing processes and parts configurations? Most take off-the-shelf stuff, make a few visible changes to the case, package it and ship it. I suppose Microsoft used some innovative designs with the Surface tablet, but it’s a larger question whether their design choices made a whole lot of sense. There are even reports that the touch keyboards are fraying for some within a short time. That hardly makes a customer feel warm and fuzzy towards Microsoft, and the Surface may already be a hard sell.
Of course, with the recent severe drop in the stock price (and it’s on an uphill climb once again), it’s been easy to attack Apple for real or imagined purposes. Production bottlenecks would only be a part of the misery factor, assuming there are serious problems yet to be solved. If the iMac’s delivery date is moved off till next year, that development might appear to vindicate the critics who crave doom and gloom for Apple. But that’s a company you shouldn’t bet against.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.
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