• Newsletter Issue #815

    July 13th, 2015

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    In the old days at Microsoft, if something didn’t succeed, it would be renamed, and there would be a new marketing push. You might have expected the same of the 2013 announcement that it was buying Nokia’s handset division. With the in-house capability to build smartphones, supposedly the prospects for Windows Phone, which held a minuscule share of the market, would improve. And if they didn’t, Microsoft would perhaps rename Lumia to something else and keep on keeping on.

    It didn’t quite work out that way, and CEO Satya Nadella, not wanting to repeat the mistakes of the past, decided to take steps towards puling the plug. The company is taking a writedown of the full purchase price and laying off more former Nokia employees. Clearly this acquisition was a mistake, but what about all those people who received pink slips as the result of two mass firings? What about the morale of the remaining staff, not knowing how long it’ll take for their positions to be on the chopping block?

    So on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured tech columnist Rob Pegoraro, of USA Today and Yahoo Tech, who discussed Microsoft’s plans to essentially wipe away much of the Nokia acquisition with layoffs and a writedown of the full $7.2 billion dollar purchase price. Rob also talked about the confusing DRM setup of Apple Music, patent trolls and transparency, where tech companies outline how often they’ve been contacted by law enforcement authorities to turn over information about some of their users.

    You’ll also heard from Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and co-publisher of The Mac Observer. His bill of fare included a brief discussion of Comic-Con 2015 in San Diego. He also talked about the arrival of Microsoft Office 2016 for Mac ahead of the Windows version, the decision to essentially gut its Nokia purchase, reports that Apple Watch Sales are tanking, and why they should be taken seriously. Bryan will also cover some of the ins and outs of Apple Music.

    When it comes to Apple Watch, the reports of flatlining sales are based on surveys from Slice Intelligence, which examines sales receipts from people who volunteer to use its apps, but it’s questionable how many of those receipts reflect Apple online sales. And don’t forget that the Apple Watch didn’t even reach the Apple Store until late June.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: So what about claims of ongoing mind control and how powerful are these sinister influences? Marie D. Jones returns to The Paracast discuss her latest book with co-author “Larry Flaxman,” entitled “Mind Wars: Who’s Been Watching You From the Shadows.” The book presents “a history of mind control, surveillance, and social engineering by the government, media, and secret societies.” And, yes, there is a section about subliminal mind control, which recalls what Chris was talking about during the June 28th edition of After The Paracast.” The Manchurian Candidate is also on the agenda.

    Now Shipping! The Official Paracast T-Shirt! We’ve got swag! We’re taking orders direct from our 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.

    QUICK NOTES ABOUT THE iOS AND OS X PUBLIC BETAS

    Last year, Apple announced that the first one million people who applied for the OS X public betas would get into the program, but it doesn’t seem as if those numbers were ever confirmed, or anyone was actually blocked from signing up. Regardless, iOS was eventually added to the mix, ahead of Apple’s decision to merge all developer programs into one.

    The long and short of it is that anyone who is interested in getting iOS and OS X betas can sign up, download copies and install them. It’s sort of like the Windows Insider program, where, if you are still taking a breath, you can apply and be assured of getting the final version when it’s released.

    But that doesn’t mean you should jump onboard with Apple’s forthcoming operating systems. Remember that they are, in their own ways, supremely buggy, and performance may not quite what you expect, or what Apple has promised. Take OS X El Capitan and Apple’s claim that apps will launch up to 40% faster, and that you’ll be able to switch from one to another twice as fast. Apple says “up to,” and don’t expect to be able to gauge final performance until the release version is installed.

    So last week, the day after beta three of both went out to developers, the public betas debuted. I had already been exposed to the developer versions, but it was time to dive in, and, with the help of a couple of friends, managed to assemble some relatively new test beds on which to install them.

    The first thing to bear in mind with a beta is that you have to be prepared to erase everything and start over. If you’re not able or willing to commit an iPhone, iPad or Mac to the possibility that everything will go wrong, don’t bother. So you must have full backups. It’s as simple as that. At least with a Mac, you can always get ahold of an external drive, so you can switch startups when you’re ready to get back to real work.

    I got ahold of a fairly new iMac with 5K Retina display that was equipped with a 3TB Fusion Drive. As most of you know, a Fusion Drive combines a fixed hard drive with a 128GB SSD. The operating system and most used apps and documents stay with the SSD — it’s adaptive — so you get most of the performance of a full SSD for a fraction of the price. Don’t forget that real 3TB SSDs have only recently been announced, and even a 2GB SSD, available for the Mac Pro from Other World Computing , is $1,479. So this compromise makes sense.

    But there are limits to the Fusion Drive that you may not realize until you actually check out Apple’s support documents on the subject. It only works with one partition, so if you set up a second partition, it performs as a regular hard drive, meaning it’s much slower. Since I first set up the El Capitan public beta on an additional partition, to keep the startup partition with OS 10.10.4, performance wasn’t so terrific.

    So throwing caution to the wind, I threw the El Capitan beta onto the main partition, after making a full (clone) backup of course. I wanted to put it through its full paces without any potential performance hangups. But it would have been nice to see Apple update its Fusion Drive methodology to allow for it to adapt to any partition rather than stick with just one. But this hybrid scheme is only temporary. Some day, a 3TB SSD will be readily available at an affordable price, and you won’t need such clumsy workarounds.

    Once installed, I spent a day or two checking out the new features to become accustomed to the changes. There really aren’t many readily visible until you start checking things out, which fits the basic conception that El Capitan, and iOS 9, are essentially fixer-uppers that clear up old problems and provide better performance and stability.

    The new Split View feature, reminiscent of one that’s been in Windows for several years, is fine if you’re only using two apps at a time. But that’s not my scene. I’m often jumping back and forth among several apps to get work done, and that includes recording interviews for my radio shows. So I’ll leave the feature — and the other Mission Control changes — to others who might need them.

    Spotlight’s most visible change, the ability to move and resize the search window (at least vertically) seems to only make sense. I wonder why it wasn’t done before. Being able to deliver results for plain language requests is a huge improvement. It’s not so much a dumbing down of search, but something that only makes sense, but it’s not easy to implement. At the very least, it does seem to improve search requests and results, and that’s a good thing.

    Some complain that Apple should have brought Siri to Macs, but I’m not altogether convinced. While I understand areas where one might prefer being able to speak a command rather than type it, I’m not one of those people. But Windows fans will continue to tout the arrival of the Cortana digital assistant to Windows 10 as an advantage.

    The new system font, San Francisco, seems a slightly better fit. From a casual glance, you might not see the difference, but the letters are thicker and more readable in smaller sizes, and thus makes it ever-so-slightly easier to see what you’re doing. That’s especially true if you must resort to reading glasses, as I do, for close up chores.

    A few quick app launches did show promise. Both Pages and Word 2016 appeared to launch almost instantaneously, perceptibly quicker than with OS X Yosemite. So the promise appears to be correct. I didn’t notice much of a change with Adobe Photoshop, not a recent version, and QuarkXPress 2015. Neither was developed with OS X’s implementation of Metal in mind, though the latter might be updated eventually. I wasn’t able to put a current version of Photoshop to the test, since Adobe is stingy about handing out cloud licenses to journalists.

    There are bugs, as you might expect. The Finder and Open/Save dialog sidebars are too narrow. You resize them, but they revert to the narrow size when reopened. The account sidebar in Mail is too narrow and cannot be expanded. These are silly glitches that will probably be dealt with before long.

    I’ll have more to say about El Capitan as betas continue to appear. The final version should be out by October if past is prologue.

    As with El Capitan, the changes in iOS 9 aren’t readily apparent when you see them in action for the first time. The impact of the San Francisco font is more obvious on an iPhone. I expect a lot of people won’t feel the need to change text labels to bold anymore. There are an assortment of improvements, mostly minor. The addition of public transit information in Maps is only useful if you live in the few cities where the feature is available, such as New York. But you can expect the list of supported cities to grow quickly over the next year. Apple has lots of ways to go before coming close to matching Google Maps.

    Performance on the test device, a friend’s iPhone 6, seemed a tad snappier, particularly when launching apps. Over a few days, we observed slightly longer battery life, or at least a higher percentage display after a day of moderate use. This is a totally unscientific test. Earlier betas supposedly made matters worse, but Apple promises up to an hour of additional battery life.

    The most significant iOS 9 changes will be found in the latest iPads. The iPad Air 2 gets Split View. Evidently the older models don’t offer the memory or performance to provide a seamless multiple app multitasking experience. I don’t think it’s about Apple wanting you to buy a new iPad.

    Improved multitasking is said to be a significant factor in making the iPad more useful as a productivity device, and it may pave the way for the rumored iPad Pro with a display of over twelve inches.

    Some critics will remind you that Split View has already appeared on Samsung tablets, but it’s not that many people regard such gear as suited for anything more than consumption. Again, it’s not who originates a feature but who makes it work, and it clearly works well on an iPad Air 2.

    Assuming El Capitan and iOS 9 continue to vindicate Apple’s promises of improved performance and reliability, and the first release versions aren’t saddled with irritating bugs, these ought to be essential upgrades. As to the public betas, I suspect hundreds of thousands of millions of people are downloading and installing them. But you are only getting a vision of the future. It will only get better.

    For now, I’ll continue to access the test gear to follow the progress as new betas are released. But I’m not quite ready to commit my own work machines to this update, and you shouldn’t either. That will happen soon, though.

    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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    One Response to “Newsletter Issue #815”

    1. dfs says:

      I installed El Capitan on my secondary iMac (normally used as a second monitor thanks to the magic of Target Display Mode). After fooling around with for about an hour I decided I could risk it on my main monitor since no software appeared to break running it, even gadget shareware items like Smart Scroll, which don’t usually take kindly to major system upgrades. I have to say, the transition was very smooth, kind of like Leopard > Snow Leopard. Since then I’ve had a few Finder hangs and a hang on the beta of Word from Microsoft 2016 (probably not to smart).

      Only seriously bad thing. Sometimes when I boot I only get a black screen. My workaround: get secondary iMac out of TDM, then on that one access main Mac via ssh. I get a legible window, type in my password, hit Return and then the resulting desktop shows up normally on my main Mac. Of course this requires two keyboards and two mice or other pointing devices. A bit Stone Age, but it does work

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