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Newsletter Issue #818

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

Some readers suggest that we have too much coverage of Apple Inc. on The Tech Night Owl LIVE. Well, there are reasons for that, and they are pretty basic. Apple is the number one tech company on the planet by market cap. It’s also the most talked about company, and much of the conversation about the industry is influenced by them.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t cover other platforms. We’ve had ongoing discussions about Google’s Android platform, and certainly Microsoft, particularly Windows.

At one time, Microsoft was the enemy to Mac users, though that sort of dissipated when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates buried the hatchet quite publicly back in the 1990s. Sure, Steve Ballmer made some dumb statements about Apple gear during his time as Microsoft CEO, but that was just sales talk, something not to be taken seriously.

Certainly Mac users are benefitting from Microsoft’s more reasoned approach towards competing platforms. There are really good versions of Microsoft apps for Mac and iOS. Office 2016, released ahead of the comparable Windows version for Office 365 subscribers, brings the two versions closer than at any time in memory.

Now on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented tech commentator John Martellaro, Senior Editor, Analysis & Reviews for The Mac Observer, who covered a variety of topics as usual. He focused on the problems in writing reliable code for applications, why we need to “grow” with Apple and not against them, the important new features that make OS X El Capitan more than just a tune-up, the rumored iPad Pro, and what Apple is doing to boost iPad sales. You also heard John’s description of a “not-so-obvious” design feature of the Apple Watch that’s being overlooked.

The second half of this episode featured Microsoft Windows 10, released this past week. Along to guide you along was Mark Spoonauer, Editor in Chief of Laptop magazine. He explained what went wrong with Windows 8, the most important features of Microsoft’s new operating system, and even how some of those features compare to OS X El Capitan. We also covered what Windows 10 features need more work, and the best new PC hardware on which to run it.

I’ll have more to say about Microsoft and Windows 10 in the next article.

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: We present UFO researcher Margie Kay, Assistant State Director for Missouri MUFON, and host of the Un-X News Magazine and Radio Show. Says Margie, “Yes, indeed I do have some fascinating stories to tell about strange things going on in the Kansas City area — black planes, strange cryptic creatures that no one can identify, and I saw an ET while on a UFO investigation in Independence [in June 2015]!” According to her biography: “Margie Kay is a Paranormal and UFO Investigator, Remote Viewer, and author. She is clairsentient (feels), clairaudient (hears), clairvoyant (sees), and does remote viewing. She owns a construction company, a forensic investigation company, and is publisher of Un-X News Magazine.” During this episode, Margie will be asked to find out some information about Gene’s late brother, Wally.

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.

THE WINDOWS 10 REPORT: LESS IS LESS

The first official release of Windows 10 went live for some Microsoft customers on July 29th. I say some, because Microsoft is making the upgrade available for download in stages. The first group includes those who signed up for the Windows Insider program and got a crack at the beta versions. The rest will be notified when the update is available for them to retrieve.

I’m not certain why Microsoft is doing it this way except, perhaps, to reduce the load on their server farms. Still, they claim 14 million downloaded Windows 10 on the very first day. That might seem quite impressive to Mac users, but remember that there are an estimated 1.5 billion devices on which Windows is installed. The last figures for the Mac that I read about were closer to the 70-75 million range. So while Apple is growing share, there are lots of Windows users to convert before the PC era is over and it no longer matters.

In short, Microsoft’s initial download figure isn’t really that high. I’m more interested in seeing when it hits the 100 million level.

The reviews, while mostly positive, didn’t really cite any killer features. The return of a functioning Start menu, combined with a live tiles display, is positive but hardly revolutionary. Adding Cortana is hit or miss, and the other features, including the new Edge browser, and the Continuum feature to configure a PC for mouse or touch input, are useful in the scheme of things, but hardly game changers. Microsoft also borrowed some desktop/window management ideas from Apple, as Apple borrowed the Snap feature from Windows and dubbed it Split View.

Even though OS X El Capitan is regarded as mostly a refinement and bug fix of OS X Yosemite, there are probably more new features being introduced compared to Windows 10.

The initial Windows 10 “release to manufacturing” release is also buggy and inconsistent. Sometimes Cortana works and sometimes it doesn’t, possibly depending on the phase of the moon. But I’m concerned with the quality of the built-in apps. You see, while Apple continues to add features to Maps, Mail, Notes, Safari and so on, Microsoft seems to want to remove things.

There is no longer the ability to even play a DVD unless you get a third-party app. What’s that about? While Apple is no longer putting DVD SuperDrives inside new Macs, except for a lone legacy MacBook, there’s still the aging DVD Player app. Just what is Microsoft’s game plan?

Microsoft’s version of Mail is reasonably swift and all, but strictly bare bones. Forgetting the typical bugs with Gmail accounts, you don’t even have an option for email rules. You are restricted to a single signature for all your accounts, reminiscent of older versions of Mail for iOS. Why? Perhaps Microsoft believes that if you want more than the basics, you should get Outlook from the Office suite. That may make sense for power users, but there’s a wide range of users who lie between these extremes who are being cheated.

Just look at the new features in Apple Mail for oS 10.11, which include improved IMAP performance and better integration wth Microsoft Exchange servers, and you’ll see the proper way to bundle an email app. Hint: It’s not about making it do less.

The same questionable philosophy applies to Microsofts Internet Explorer replacement that’s dubbed Edge. It’s certainly a credible replacement to an app that people have come to hate. According to some published benchmarks, it’s fast enough in delivering pages, though falls down in some specifics. Rendering accuracy is said to be inferior to Chrome and Firefox, though.

In a sense, Microsoft is pulling an Apple here, which is to release an all-new app to replace an old one, but remove features that may be restored over time. Think iMovie, Final Cut Pro X and the last major iWork refresh as examples. So Edge doesn’t support add-ons, or extensions, although that ability will supposedly be added later. For most users who don’t get involved in such niceties, it doesn’t matter.

More worrisome is the removal of useful odds and ends. Call me selfish, but I’m concerned over the fact that you cannot right-click a link to an audio file, such as my two radio shows, and download them to your PC.  The Internet Explorer option is “Save Target As…” that delivers a standard Save As dialog for you to indicate where you want a file placed.

Will it return? I will have to contact Microsoft, but I expect their PR people will merely tell me that features will be added to Edge over time, and users should send feedback to Microsoft about what they want. I do notice that Microsoft really wants to discourage the use of Internet Explorer. First time I launched it on my Windows 10 system, I saw an announcement explaining why I should switch to Edge.

However, Edge’s slim and light approach might make it a suitable candidate to port to the Mac. It’s been years since Microsoft provided a Mac browser. Internet Explorer was once the default browser for Mac users until Microsoft lost interest in it, which resulted in Apple creating Safari from an open source Unix browser.

Now about those ongoing updates: Microsoft is following the approach taken with Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, which is to use a rolling update system. There will be regular bug fixes, and features will be gradually added and enhanced over time. Windows 10 is supposed to be the final monolithic release.

That might work for now, as early adopters encounter missing features and performance oddities. There’s the hope you won’t wait long for small updates or service packs to get things straightened out. This move, while possibly useful for home users, will positively freak out system admins. They want predictability, and they will probably disable regular updates if they even move to Windows 10. Instead, they will set up test systems on which to evaluate the updates as they arrive, and deploy them to their users if they pass muster.

But if those updates are coming every few weeks — beyond the scope of the usual “Patch Tuesday” releases — it will mean a lot more work to make sure Windows 10 delivers a reliable experience in the enterprise.

Now I have expressed skepticism about those so-called “Universal” apps, which allow developers to write once and have their software become compatible with desktop and mobile gear running Windows 10. I wondered about the size of an app that contains all that code, and how it would work on a smartphone, where space is at a severe premium.

I’ve heard, however, that the Microsoft App Store will only deliver the binary optimized for a particular system, so you don’t get an app with excess code you don’t need. This is an approach Apple will be taking beginning with iOS 9, where they are finally recognizing the problems with gadgets that have a mere 16GB storage space, or even less.

It doesn’t really matter much right now, as there aren’t a whole lot of apps optimized for Windows 10. So when smartphones using the new OS are available, we can see how effective this scheme really us. I also wonder about all the compromises entailed in adapting a desktop-oriented OS to work in a mobile environment. It’s not just a convertible PC or a tablet with a large screen, where having more touch capability is useful. It’s about dealing with apps that require a conventional PC to do their thing.

It’s not that Adobe is going to deliver a Universal version of its Windows apps. And other publishers of major productivity apps will also likely bow out of this scheme.

With OS X and iOS, the versions of Office engage the user very differently. They have different code bases, even though many features are shared. Can Microsoft build something of that nature into a single app? Can Microsoft’s development environment truly make properly optimized apps for desktop and mobile platforms? Would it be a mostly automatic process, or will developers be forced to do huge amounts of customizations to make sure that their apps work efficiently regardless of the target device?

At the very least, Windows 10 will have teething pains. It remains to be seen how this massive platform integration initiative will work in the real world, or on how quickly Microsoft will fix bugs and restore missing features. Of course when it comes to smartphones, Microsoft is still a tiny player, so maybe it won’t make that much of a difference.

THE FINAL WORD

The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

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