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  • Newsletter Issue #779

    November 3rd, 2014

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    Just last week, I received the final print edition of Macworld, along with instructions on how to activate a subscription to the digital version. I had expected I’d be offered, for the remainder of my subscription, the option of receiving another magazine. But evidently there are no magazines to be offered. It’s not as if IDG would send customers Mac|Life.

    It was clear from the articles in the magazine that, other than Jason Snell’s editorial, the writers and editors didn’t knew the print magazine wasn’t long for this world when they were written. I suppose they should have seen the handwriting on the wall, particularly in light of last year’s decision to fold the print version of PCWorld, and I hope they had their resumes in the Outbox ready to go. I also hope they’ll find new gigs shortly, if they haven’t already.

    Meantime, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we welcomed Susie Ochs, Executive Editor of the all-digital version of Macworld. She was on hand to talk about the changes at the magazine, and the decision to put Macworld|iWorld Expo on a more or less permanent “hiatus.” Susie also brought you up to date on the latest developments at Apple Inc.

    The last time I interviewed Susie, she held the top editorial position at Mac|Life, which remains in print. But I continue to be concerned with the serious factual errors that pop up in that publication, such as a recent piece explaining how to fix the system’s icons for the latest iWork (2013) for OS 10.4 and earlier, and for 10.5 and later. Evidently the troubleshooter didn’t realize that the latest components of iWork, Pages, Keynote and Numbers, require OS 10.9 Mavericks or later.

    You also heard from John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer and a columnist for The Street, whose bill of fare included Tim Cook’s decision to come out as gay and why it’s a huge deal for civil rights, his reactions to Apple Pay, why he wonders how he lived with the small display of an iPhone 5s now that he has an iPhone 6, positive sales prospects for the iPad Air 2, and his “quintessential” review of OS X Yosemite.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: If it’s paranormal, Micah Hanks is covering it on his various blogs and his radio show, The Gralien Report. So you’ll hear about his fundamental philosophy not just on UFOs, but about hauntings and the like. He’ll also cover the latest scuttlebutt in the UFO field, such as the renewed MJ-12 debate with Stanton Friedman and Robert Hastings (with Stanton in for, Robert against), Mirage Men, sightings, disclosure, and lots more. We are joined by one of our friendly forum moderators and guest co-host, Goggs Mackay.

    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.

    MEET THE NEW OUTLOOK, SAME AS THE OLD OUTLOOK

    Amid speculation that Microsoft was poised to release a new version of Office for the Mac soon came the final word. Yes, there will be a new Mac Office in 2015, with a public beta during the first half of the year and a final version during the second half. Curiously, the next Windows version will probably arrive at roughly the same time. In the past, the other platform received its upgrade first.

    Microsoft’s excuse for not releasing a new version of Office for Mac, aside from service packs, since 2010 is the growing emphasis on mobile platforms. They somehow managed to release Office 2013 for the Windows in the interim, though it was a pretty tepid release. It barely supported touch PCs, even on ARM-based Surface tablets.

    At the same time, Microsoft is heavily marketing the Office 365 cloud-subscription program, where you pay a monthly or annual fee and can be assured you’ll get all the updates without charge, Mac, Windows, iOS, etc. It’s actually quite a deal if you opt for the Office 365 Home package. It’s $10 a month or $100 per year, and you can install the suite on up to five Macs and/or PCs, and five iPad and/or Windows tables. You also get 1TB One Drive cloud storage per user. That price would be reasonable just for the cloud storage, even if you don’t really care so much about installing Office on more than a single computer.

    To demonstrate that Microsoft means business with Mac support, they released a beta of the newest Outlook. Office 365 users can download a copy from their online dashboard. But the question is whether the new version tackles the very serious shortcomings of previous versions.

    You see, Outlook for the Mac began life as Encourage, an email client that also served as a decent contact manager. But it’s history goes back even farther. At one time, Apple’s Claris division had a pretty nifty email client known as Emailer. When the app was discontinued, some of the developers went to Microsoft to work on Outlook Express for Mac, where they certainly were influenced by Emailer in one key respect, which was the unfortunate decision to put everything in a single monolithic database.

    There’s still a database, but messages are being stored separately.

    Though heavily-laden with power user email features, the app formerly known as Outlook Express never shed its serious performance problems when it acquired contact management features and morphed into Entourage. Whether receiving or sending email, and especially when loading up on downloaded messages after you set up a new account, it was dreadfully slow.

    Over the years, it got a tad snappier overall, but never seemed to catch up with the ongoing improvements in OS X and Mac hardware performance. So it seemed as if a new version simply became more bloated, even though the number of new features from version to version was spare. In changing from Entourage to Outlook, Microsoft promised a closer match with Outlook for Windows features, but the main improvement, aside from the controversial ribbon toolbar, was enhanced support for Exchange email servers.

    As a practical matter, Outlook 2011 for Mac was a slug. I found the original version and the first few updates to be unusable. Whether it was constant stalls, or frequent crashes, my efforts to use the app were fruitless. The most recent version, 14.4.5, was finally usable but remained ponderous.

    So I had hopes for Outlook 15.3, the version number for the beta app. Although there aren’t all that many new features, Microsoft grafted a few elements of its controversial Modern UI from Windows, particularly in the layout and color motif of the bottom navigation bar. It is still sufficiently Mac-like not to evoke bad memories of the likes of Word 6.0 for Mac, a badly designed and extremely slow port of the Windows version from the 1990s.

    Today, Microsoft boasts of interface consistencies across platforms, but it’s not so bad in Outlook 15.3, so you probably won’t be put off by some of the less fortunate choices. The real promise, however, is improved multithreading, and a speedier first launch, where the app’s database is first created.

    I realize this is a public beta, and perhaps Microsoft will continue performance optimizations up through next year’s release. But I’m not impressed. Aside from a more open and attractive look and feel, it seems as if Outlook has shed a few settings, but has gained little or nothing in performance.

    To give Outlook its due, I cleared out all preferences and databases from the previous version, and recreated all my email accounts. Unfortunately it still took hours to download tens of thousands of messages from various IMAP mail servers. Even after the messages were current, performance wasn’t noticeably better than the most recent version of Office 2011. Outlook also still screws with Keychain settings when you store passwords for your email accounts, which means that, when using Keychain First Aid, you’ll still encounter warnings that the email account setting “has unspecified value for port attribute.”

    Just as bad, Microsoft has slimmed out some features, such as the ability to fix problems mapping local folders to IMAP mailboxes. As with the previous version, they only way to view message headers — useful for tracking delivery issues or the source of potential spam — is to View Source. But this isn’t done within the app. The source page continues to open in TextEdit.

    Worse, Microsoft evidently wants you to use its own cloud-system to store your contacts. You aren’t able to integrate your contacts with Apple’s Contacts app, which merely creates another distraction in integrating your data with an iPhone or an iPad. Well, unless you rely on Microsoft’s for everything, which is clearly their intention.

    If Microsoft can fulfill the promises made for Outlook 15.3, or whatever version the final release bears, it’ll be quite a compelling alternative to Apple Mail. For now, however, color me unimpressed.

    IS THE iPAD NOT IMPROVED ENOUGH?

    The launch of the iPad Air 2 was greeted with skepticism by some. Sure it was 18% slimmer and somewhat lighter than the original Air. Sure, the A8x processor promises a substantial performance boost from last year. Sure, the camera received the same eight megabit sensor as the latest iPhone, and isn’t it nice to have Touch ID? Apple also made prices for larger storage more sensible in the fashion of the iPhone 6 series. So the first $100 increase boosts storage from 16GB to 64GB, and another $100 takes you to 128GB. So the largest version is $100 cheaper than last year.

    Yes, the display is less reflective and all too, but the sum total of the changes are only typical of what you might expect for an annual refresh. Well, except for the slimmer form factor, which is not typical of Apple’s usual approach for an annual upgrade. Clearly they wanted to add a little sweetener this time, although fans of the iPac mini got short shrift. Paying $100 more for a newer model with only Touch ID as part of the bill of particulars isn’t going to get Apple any brownie points.

    You’d think, however, that Apple’s critics wanted a kitchen sink too. None of the changes, to them, were sufficient to tempt someone to upgrade from last year’s model. But this very assumption about the typical upgrader is dead wrong. It demonstrates that some of these tech pundits and industry analysts are way out of touch with the way the real world works.

    Apple, you see, is evidently still trying to get a handle on a tablet’s upgrade cycle. Many people are still using the original 2010 iPad, which works pretty well although it’s not able to run iOS 8, nor a fair proportion of the newer apps. But to many customers, maybe it doesn’t matter. As an example, there are millions of Mac users who have also long since been abandoned by current operating systems and apps, but their machines still chug away.

    In short, I doubt that large numbers of people upgrade an iPad every single year, or perhaps even after two years. The upgrade cycle is likely closer to that of a traditional PC rather than a smartphone, where new two-year wireless contracts and incentives to replace your device in 12 or 18 months will keep the speedy upgrade cycles.

    But to someone who bought an iPad in 2010 or 2011, the iPad Air 2, and even the iPad mini 2, will represent amazing values. That’s more Apple’s target audience in doing such product refreshes, but it will take the entire holiday season to see if sales improve over last year. At least supplies appear to be roughly in tune with demand, so you can expect that the model you want can be had on the spot, or within a few days.

    I suppose the larger criticism is that there are so many different iPads in the lineup nowadays, when you include models released a year or two years ago that are still being sold. So if you are more interested in saving money, but still getting a tablet that performs well and is compatible with today’s OS and software, you won’t be disappointed. Maybe confused. But Apple’s model proliferation is nowhere near as blatant as the competition.

    One big hope for the iPad is the enterprise. Both the iPad and the iPhone are part of that huge marketing deal between Apple and IBM that was announced a while back. It won’t be known till next year how well the deal is going and whether Apple will move millions of units as a result. The iPad is also popular in the education market, and it may well be that older models are being kept in production to better cater to cash-starved school systems.

    One key question, still not fully answered, is how well the iPad serves for productivity. In a Macworld article published in the final print edition, for example, the magazine’s editors and contributors basically gave a thumbs down on using an iPad for very much editorial work; it’s best for email and shorter articles.

    One key problem is the poor multitasking. Consider that Macs with smaller screens over the years could easily run multiple apps and documents side by side, and I wonder why such a mission-critical feature is still missing from iOS. This is especially true at a time when Android offers a split-screen multitasking scheme.

    I suppose one might hope that such a feature is already in the works, and might appear in a forthcoming iOS update. There are also renewed published reports — still rumors of course — that an iPad Pro, with a display over 12 inches, is in the offing for early next year. With a screen sized with a mainstream MacBook, you’d think Apple would have to offer more flexible multitasking.

    Would that be a magic bullet for the future success of the iPad? I wouldn’t hazard a guess, but it would surely help.

    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
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    6 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #779”

    1. Mario says:

      I think you misunderstand the main reason to be for Outlook, and that is to be the default Exchange client for Mac.

      At my employer, we switched to it (and Office 2011) after a short testing period because it worked very well with our Exchange server. Was it a perfect match to Outlook for Windows? No, but it gave us a similar enough interface that if some of our users switched from Windows to Mac, they would not have a steep learning curve. This also made it a lot easier for us in the IT dept. to support than Entourage. For the most part, it has been a very stable application, and it has minimized Exchange-related calls to IT significantly.

      Our biggest gripe is no “Autoarchive” feature that retains the folder structure of the Exchange mailbox, followed by the Calendar not showing multiple calendars side by side like in Outlook for Windows.

      Yes, it can access IMAP accounts with some finagling, and I sure wish it would be able to connect to CalDAV servers so I could view and manipulate my iCloud or Google accounts from the application. If it did that, it would very quickly become my personal email/calendaring application, since I have been very happy with its performance as an Exchange client.

      • @Mario, Apple Mail offers a reasonable amount of support for Exchange. If your mail server has features that aren’t supported by Mail, I can see where you’d need Outlook for Mac, or just go online.

        Here’s what Apple says on supported email systems for Mail:

        http://support.apple.com/kb/PH19124?viewlocale=en_US&locale=en_US

        Whether you have an Exchange server or an IMAP server or a POP server, performance is performance, and Outlook lacks it.

        Peace,
        Gene

        • Mario says:

          @Gene Steinberg, Hi Gene. We’re a mixed-platform shop, so we did try our options before settling into Office again. We tested Apple Mail and iCal (at the time it was still called that) with Exchange before we tested Office 2011.

          Mail was very straight-forward, and perform well, but at the time it didn’t have support for “Out of Office” messages (that came with a later version), and iCal had some calendar-related issues that now I can’t remember since it was about three years ago. We also ran into some learning curve problems, and our test users felt it was awkward to have to remember to launch two separate applications.

          When we were able to test Office 2011, it seemed to us that Outlook performed well, and our users took to it a lot quicker. YMMV, but we have had few issues with it both in-house, and remotely.

          We have been looking forward to a new version, and we hope that it does bring some of the missing functionality from the Windows edition like “Autoarchive,” side-by-side calendars, and the integrated task viewer in the main window. Of course, more optimized performance is always welcome.

          • @Mario, As I’ve reported over the years, I had had fairly miserable experiences with Outlook for Mac. Performance is dreadful, and isn’t much better with the public beta. That is clearly not true with everyone, or maybe you don’t have mailboxes as large as mine.

            Peace,
            Gene

    2. Peter says:

      The iPad is definitely interesting in that, to me, it’s an appliance. In other words, you don’t get a new one until the old one literally stops working. How often do you “upgrade” your toaster?

      My roomate has a 1st Gen iPad. She got it for free in a company raffle. Works great. She can go to websites and view stuff. She can look at her recipes while cooking in the kitchen, which is where she mostly uses it. What more does she need?

      Most iPads that I see are like that. A local real-estate agent got a cellular one several years back which she’ll set up at an open house in case you don’t like that house and want to see some other properties available. I see tons of them used as cash registers (remember how we used to talk about all those Windows-machines being used as cash registers?) Those won’t get upgraded for quite some time.

      Personally, I could see the “iPad upgrade cycle” lasting even longer than the typical PC one.

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