• Newsletter Issue #737

    January 13th, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    OK, you have large screen TVs, up to 120 inches or more. You have Ultra HD, which means four times as many pixels as today’s 1080p sets. But are you ready for curved TV? Yes, curved, just as you see in those huge IMAX movie theaters, except scaled down to 55 inches or more.

    You have to wonder about the desperation of the TV makers trying to foist yet another technological scheme upon the unsuspecting public. First you had 3D, which went over like a lead balloon, along with “smart” TV sets, which provide bundled streaming apps, such as Netflix, to entice you to buy one set over another. But since most sets, except for the very cheapest models, offer essentially the same apps, and you can get at least some of the same ones from an Apple TV or a Roku set top box — not to mention a Blu-ray player — why bother to upgrade?

    Ultra HD? Well, maybe, but you have to sit fairly close or have a really large screen to see a real difference, but that hasn’t stopped to rush to make such sets reasonably affordable. You will soon be able to buy a mainstream (rather than extremely low-end) 55-inch Ultra HD set for $1,000, so may as well get with the program.

    But I’m less convinced by the argument for a curved set. Supposedly you get a picture with a more dimensional, more immersive quality. It may work just fine when the screen is many feet in size, as in IMAX, but it hardly seems to make sense in a home setting where few people will have the chance to sit in the “sweet” spot where the layout has any advantage. I suppose if you’ve got enough money to build a theater room with special seats in your home, it might make sense. But not for regular people.

    In any case, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, who provided some color direct from the publication’s on-scene presence at the Consumer Electronics Show. He talked about some of the wacky products being introduced, such as an attachment that allows a paper airplane to become a tiny remote-controlled aircraft. He also commented on the value of the new high resolution TV standard dubbed Ultra HD.

    Back this week was author and commentator Kirk McElhearnMacworld’s “iTunes Guy,” who talked about the products, introduced at the CES, which he would never consider buying. He also discussed the forthcoming 30th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh, and about some of the company’s notable screw-ups over the years, including online services, such as iCloud and its predecessors.

    And it’s a sure thing Kirk is not a potential customer for a curved TV set.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present UFO and Mothman researcher Andrew B. Colvin, who has recently published two volumes of a proposed trilogy of John Keel books, which include various interviews and selected articles by Keel from various stages throughout his career. The are entitled Flying Saucer to the Center of Your Mind and The Outer Limits of the Twilight Zone.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! 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.

    THERE ARE MAC SALES AND THERE ARE MAC SALES

    Once again, Gartner and IDC are playing the PC sales estimate game, and the ultimate question is whom do you trust? As far as Apple is concerned, it would seem they would prefer to believe Gartner, although the real numbers are already known, ready to disclose on January 27.

    But having a hint of what is to come would surely help to satisfy the curiosity of Apple fans, Mac users, investors and, of course, members of the tech and financial media, particularly those who have suggested Apple is on the rocks.

    So in the fourth quarter of 2013, we have those predictable numbers indicating that the PC market is sliding faster than ever. According to Gartner, they were down 7.5% in the U.S., and 6.9% worldwide. Apple, however, bucked the trend with a 28.5% increase.

    As many of you recall, Mac sales didn’t fare so well in the 2012 holiday quarter. Newly redesigned iMacs didn’t ship on schedule, so Apple’s sales declined by hundreds of thousands of units. This helped to validate the meme that the company was in deep trouble, which had begun with false reports of flagging iPhone 5 sales.

    But this year’s iMac revision came in October, with new models shipping almost immediately, except for the heavily customized configurations. The only fly in the ointment was the Mac Pro, which didn’t leave the Austin factory until late December, with most orders pushed to the new year.

    Now Gartner and rival IDC have generally tended to offer slightly different figures. But this time, they are really different. So, in contrast to the former, IDC claimed that Apple sales slid 5.7% compared to last year’s reduced numbers. That doesn’t sound so good.

    Gartner’s survey claims that Apple moved 2,168,212 Macs in the U.S. in the holiday quarter, sufficient to put the company in third place behind HP and Dell. HP had a 10.3% decrease, but reversing the recent trend, Dell managed an increase of 7.4%

    The Gartner numbers are quite specific.

    IDC’s are slightly less so, with the claim that Apple sold a mere 1,592,000 Macs in the U.S. during the same period, putting the company in fourth place behind Lenovo. Indeed, IDC takes the position that Lenovo was the holiday success story.

    Are you with me so far?

    Now I wouldn’t presume to second-guess either company. But if you accept that their sampling and statistical methods have at least some basis in fact, and aren’t rooted in fantasy, this disparity doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We end up with some 576,000 Macs that have vanished from IDC’s calculations. Gone, kaput, or maybe they didn’t exist.

    Remember that these numbers are strictly in the U.S., and Apple sells a lot of hardware overseas. But this is a pretty large disparity, and it would seem both companies have a lot of explaining to do.

    But the reality will become clear this month as various PC makers release actual sales figures. Then it’ll become more apparent just who got it right and who messed up big time. What I really wonder, however, is whether the failing market research firm will admit to error or just continue to release questionable numbers.

    Let me make it clear, though. If I paid for a survey and received results that simply didn’t past muster, I would choose a different market research company the next time, or at least demand a refund.

    Regardless of which company you believe — and it may well be that Apple’s figures are somewhere in between or very much different than these surveys indicate — it’s quite clear that the decline in PC sales is not something that’s a short-term phenomenon. It’s no doubt part of a long-term trend, and that’s a far more troubling issue for Microsoft than Apple.

    After all, with Mac sales taking a lower percentage of total sales, but still producing great profits, Apple can easily manage the ongoing decline in the industry. A lot of these people are, in fact, buying iPads. But with the release of the new Mac Pro, it’s not that power users are being abandoned either. There’s a Mac for just about every class of PC user except for those who want something really cheap regardless of quality.

    But Microsoft, living with the delusion that Windows is still relevant, has a lot to be worried about. And one thing is the fact that it has clearly become very difficult to find a CEO who will take over after Steve Ballmer leaves. The latest casualty is Ford’s Alan Mulally, and it’s clear the financial industry hoped he’d become Microsoft’s caretaker to set things right in his golden years. That Ford’s stock price increased and Microsoft’s decreased, in the wake of that announcement, clearly demonstrates ongoing investor concerns.

    But as long as Bill Gates is involved in the final selection process, it’s very doubtful a candidate will be found who would be willing to butt heads with the existing leadership and make significant changes. It’ll just be the same old thing, and anyone who cares about Microsoft has to consider that an extremely troubling development. As is the possibility that Nokia’s Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft executive, may still be in line as a serious contender to get the CEO spot.

    After all, didn’t Elop run Nokia into the ground so the handset division became a cheap purchase for Microsoft? What sense would it make to give a lucrative and highly important leadership position to someone with a record of abject failure?

    Meantime, when the real PC sales figures are released, I wonder what excuses Gartner or IDC will make if either, or both, are proven wrong.

    REVISITING QUARKXPRESS AND ADOBE INDESIGN

    I got involved with Macs as the result of working for a prepress studio in the 1980s. Migrating from old fashioned phototypesetting workstations, the company bought a small network of Macs along with the key software that would provide the high quality and precision to which they were accustomed.

    In those days, that meant QuarkXPress. The original desktop publishing app, PageMaker (published then by Aldus), offered a virtual artist’s table, where you simply dragged and dropped objects, both text and illustrations, and put them in position. Traditional paste-up artists appeared to be the target audience for PageMaker, but those who were schooled in traditional typography coveted QuarkXPress.

    The main XPress advantage was precision. To add text, you first created a text box that you could specify in precise measurements. The same was true for pictures, and the end result was more closely aligned to what one was accustomed to in the traditional typesetting environment in terms of quality.

    It’s also true that PageMaker was dreadfully slow, while xPress was pretty fast, even on those old fashioned Macs. Sure, Quark wasn’t a company that earned your love, with rigid support policies and some nasty people providing that support. But I was lucky. I was able to befriend some of the original developers after being invited to help beta test some maintenance releases that fixed a few bugs.

    By the late 1990s, however, I had mostly abandoned desktop publishing software. I wrote, and others did the design and layout; that is, until I decided to handle those chores for the two books sci-fi books that my son and I co-write.

    I had allowed myself to believe the conventional wisdom that Adobe’s InDesign, the modern-day reimagining of PageMaker, had stolen Quark’s thunder and had largely become dominant. I did develop PageMaker skills when I wrote product manuals for an audio manufacturer in the early 90s, so I was able to adapt to InDesign fairly quickly. The core text and picture import stage, which appears to load the cursor with the content for placement on a page, seemed very much the same.

    To be sure, the book came out rather well. I avoided any serious design flourishes and just kept things straightforward. But I felt less comfortable manipulating text, ensuring proper line breaks and such. What I could do in minutes in XPress seemed to take hours, but maybe it was just me.

    So when a colleague asked me to help him put his new book together, I decided to switch back to XPress and see if I could regain those old skills. While the feature set, as with InDesign, has vastly expanded over the years, the core capability of putting text and pictures on a page, can be handled in very much the same fashion. And, as you might expect, both apps can export as PDF or in an e-book format.

    Within hours, I was comfortably completing chapters that ballooned to over 70 pages, each, in some cases.

    The publisher made some technical suggestions about hyphenation and justification settings and such, but largely accepted what we presented, pleased that someone else cared to take over the project.

    I know I’ll get comments with chapter and verse about the advantages of Adobe InDesign over QuarkXPress. But in the end it doesn’t matter. It’s very much about personal taste and what makes you more productive. For me, the desktop publishing tool of choice remains QuarkXPress.

    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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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #737”

    1. Peter says:

      One of the interesting things with QuarkXpress versus InDesign was that Adobe jumped into Mac OS X right off, while Quark pretty much said, “We’ll wait to see how it turns it.” So part of the glory of InDesign was that it was a native application right off.

      That’s what got Apple pushing it over QuarkXpress.

    2. Carl L. says:

      Ah, the memories. I did graphic design and typesetting for 18 years before I changed careers into IT. I began while still in college, learning typesetting on the front-end system they had for editorial text that could also format ads and dabbling a little with the Mac SE30 they had running SuperPaint. When I went to work for a large direct mail company, I started out on phototypesetting machines there, but they were already in the process of converting to desktop publishing, using Macs and Quark XPress. I received a thorough training in XPress and they had developed many keyboard shortcuts, even ones to select fonts, all to avoid extra mousing. That helped make XPress a fairly good replacement for the phototypesetter, though some features never carried over from the typesetting that made the typesetting machines very powerful.
      I have been using Quark XPress since version 2.12 and it certainly had its growing pains. I did not really take to liking XPress until version 4, when it finally got faster and had a better interface. I find it second nature to compose projects in it since I have used it for so many years in a production environment. I have used PageMaker a few times to create name tags and dabbled with InDesign, but, like you, having used XPress for so many years, I find it more intuitive, more precise and faster to compose projects. The last version I used extensively was version 6. They have added many more features since then, but I have purchased the upgrade to version 9 and also 10 for use when I purchase my new Mac later this spring.

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