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Newsletter Issue #761

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

While it is natural, I suppose, for the name of the next version of Android to use the letter “L,” the very concept brought to mind my childhood in New York City, where I road the elevated trains, the El. It’s “L” to residents of Chicago.

The real question, though, is whether the next version of Android, which is likely to be version 5, is a compelling if late upgrade to the most popular mobile OS on the planet. The answer appears to be a mixed bag, since the number of features is seriously dwarfed by iOS 8. The new Material interface — and that name is worse than Microsoft’s Metro if that’s possible — may also be an acquired taste. But it’s not as if the huge changes wrought in iOS 7 got a lot of love at the beginning either.

But that wasn’t the sole topic dealt with on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we presented prolific tech author Joe Kissell, author of “Take Control of Automating Your Mac,” who gave you some useful suggestions on how to perform complex tasks with just one or two keystrokes. He also delivered advice on how to choose the right broadband provider, and whether one of those multiple service bundles make any sense.

You also heard from Avram Piltch, the Online Editorial Director for Laptop magazine, who offered his early opinions about Amazon’s forthcoming Fire Phone smartphone, and detailed some of the key features of Android L, the forthcoming version of Google’s mobile OS. So is Amazon’s first mobile handset a winner? What about the first major Android update in recent years?

Based on early reports, I’m not terribly impressed with the Amazon Fire, though I might make the effort to review one and see if I can be proven wrong. It happens. As to Android L, the new interface and the promise of better performance seems promising, but we’ll see how it turns out when it’s actually released.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present a special episode featuring Ryan Skinner, who has spent a number of years investigating the strange events that have been reported in and around the Skinwalker Ranch in Utah. He has co-authored “Skinwalker Ranch: No Trespassing: True Stories And Secret Files” with D.L. Wallace. You’ll learn more amazing facts about possible portal or cross-dimensaional areas in and around the ranch and the entire Four Corners region. We’ll also be joined by two of our regular listeners, Goggs Mackay and RyGyWA (Shane) for a listener roundtable.

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.

THE YOSEMITE REPORT: A MAC IS STILL A MAC

One of my long-time support clients sent me an email while the WWDC keynote was being streamed around the world. Her reaction to the first demonstration of OS X Yosemite? “Yuk!” To her, the Mac would no longer be a Mac, but some offshoot of an iPad, and she didn’t want any part of it.

Now to be fair, you can’t tell the book by the cover and all, so a new face doesn’t necessarily mean that the world has come to an end. But some people are resistant to change, and OS X Yosemite has more changes than just about any Mac operating system in memory. And my memory of Macs goes back to the 1980s.

Yes, I suppose you can brand the original OS X release as a sea change. The Aqua interface was different all right, but the new OS was bare of features, and, until apps became compatible, I didn’t use it all that much at first after the books and magazine articles were written. It took several releases before I went to it full time.

Apple did change the game with OS X in other ways, offering a Public Beta for $29 six months before the official release of 10.0. With Yosemite, Apple is offering free beta access for the first million users who sign up, and the prerelease seeds are expected this summer once more of the kinks have been ironed out.

But some journalists and any member of Apple’s $99 per year developer program have been able to download a Yosemite Developer Preview since June 2. Apple has also loosened the NDA so developers can talk and write about it, but they cannot write reviews or post screenshots, and I will do neither.

Typical of a beta OS, the first two developer releases are supremely buggy with lengthy lists of things that don’t work, partly work, or can cause screen glitches and crashes. I expect the list will be considerably shortened before regular Mac users who signed up for the beta program can have a crack at it.

I’ve seen enough, however, to be assured that my client’s fears are unfounded. While the interface, inspired by iOS 7, is the first major change since 10.0, it’s still a Mac through and through. If you’ve used OS X Mavericks, you won’t have any difficulty getting used to the lay of the land. Sure there are differences here and there, but the basic point and click functionality is present and accounted for. System Preferences are enhanced and settings are redone and reorganized, but there’s little there that will be confusing to anyone who has become accustomed to previous versions of OS X.

Indeed, the Finder is still the Finder, Mail is still Mail and Safari, although it more closely resembles the iOS version with minimized menus to enhance the space to display actual content, is still the browser with which you are familiar. Only it seems to work a lot faster, as pages seem to virtually fly onto the screen. Indeed, for an early beta release (or is that alpha?) OS X Yosemite is mostly fluid and fast. Mail, for example, doesn’t lag near as much as before in downloading thousands of messages from an IMAP account.

You have already heard that a key component of the Continuity feature, which links Macs with iPhones, iPads and the lowly iPod touch, has problems with older Macs. So if you wanted to use the Handoff feature, which lets you start or continue a document or message on your Mac, and move on to an iOS device to continue the tasks, you may find that the feature isn’t supported. The reason is that it requires a Mac with Bluetooth LE, which only debuted on models that were released beginning in 2011 and 2012. While cheap Bluetooth LE USB adapters are readily available, it’s unknown yet whether Apple will support third party solutions. I sort of think it can be done with a kernel extension of some sort, but I wouldn’t presume to second guess Apple’s priorities or the ease with which this can be accomplished.

The long and short of it is that, once you get past the visible changes, you might find Yosemite to be a welcome improvement to what appeared to be an aging OS. It does convey the feeling that what you thought was old is new again, and that’s a tribute to the efforts of Sir Jonathan Ive and his design team.

As the development process continues, I’ll be able to see the new features fully fleshed out with enhanced performance and reliability. There are changes afoot most everywhere you look, but little of it should put off the dedicated Mac user. At the same time, Apple is hoping to offer a familiar environment for Mac switchers who are already invested in Apple’s mobile ecosystem.

But, as I said, Yosemite doesn’t prevent a Mac from being a Mac, and that is surely the best news of all.

iCLOUD EMAIL AND THE MISSING WHITELIST

I have had a mac.com email address dating back to almost the very first day they became available. This means that I have a “plum” username that I will not mention here, but you get the picture.

Through thick and thin, I’ve used Apple’s email account as a backup for messages from my web server, managing the email accounts I have established for my business domains, and for other purposes where I need a level of redundancy. So if the mail host goes down, if the server’s RAID drive system is toast, I still can communicate with people and get things done.

But as you know, today’s iCloud email system is not always reliable. Yet Google and Outlook have failures as well from time to time. Indeed, Microsoft suffered an eight to twelve hour Exchange Server outage this past week, and millions of business customers suddenly found themselves without a working email system.

After trying the top three — and I avoid Yahoo because it refuses to recognize the existence of IMAP even on paid business email packages — I settled on Apple’s mostly because of the simple interface and the fact that the online version was free of ads and efforts to track email text to serve me those ads. Yes, there are paid options from Google and Microsoft, but I pay for quite enough services as it is.

In any case, this past week I returned to Outlook. I could have selected Gmail, but I find the busy interface and obtuse and sprawling feature set to be mostly useless for my needs. But why did I move away from Apple? Because of the lack of a whitelist and its unfathomable spam detection scheme.

In theory, the spam iCloud’s email system detects should end up in your Junk mailbox ,where you should be able flag it as genuine. Well on a Mac, but not online, where you can only manually move it back to the Inbox, although you can flag a message in your Inbox as junk, which sends it to the Junk box. The real problem, however, is that there appears to be a higher level spam detection system that totally blocks suspected messages from your account, and there isn’t much you can do about it, it appears, although Apple support may be able to sometimes be of help.

So I ran into a situation where messages from Namecheap, the registrar I use for most of my domains, couldn’t send me a message to accept the transfer from another registrar. They tried several times, and the messages vanished into thin air . They didn’t turn up in the Junk folder. They just never arrived.

Now before you conclude it was Namecheap’s fault, I actually went to the other registrar — known as the “losing” register — and changed the contact information for the domain in question to another email account. After that change propagated, I used Namecheap’s online dashboard to resend the authorization letter, and it arrived within seconds.

I contacted Apple support, and they were happy to talk to me without asking to pay for a service call. I was passed off to a higher level support person who said he had the power to whitelist. Curiously, the email I sent him from the iCloud account never arrived, but email sent from other accounts did. He said he’d sent it on to the iCloud team to investigate the situation.

As I write this article, there has been no follow up, although some of the missing messages mysteriously turned up the next day. But not all of them. You might assume they just got dislodged in cyberspace, on some errant network somewhere, which isn’t out of the question. I wouldn’t presume to guess.

At the same time, I don’t appreciate having to cope with an inscrutable email system that blocks or delays messages willy nilly without offering the user the most basic of controls. By basic, I mean the ability to flag a message as not spam (though I concede moving the message to the Inbox might actually accomplish that), and to have whitelists and blacklists of acceptable and unacceptable messages. Apple’s efforts to make it simple have only complicated my life.

This doesn’t mean I’ve given up on my mac.com email address, although the messages will be forwarded to my Outlook address for now, despite an ongoing bug involving duplicate messages in the Sent box. It’s also true that Apple continues to enhance its software and services in other ways, as you’ll see when OS X Yosemite and iOS 8 are released. But if Apple hopes to cater to power users or businesses, they will have to offer the features on which we depend. In time, I expect they will do the right thing, but I will do what I have to do until then.

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