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Newsletter Issue #904

THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

iTunes is the app people love to hate. It can be flaky and bloated, and Apple appears to act arbitrarily in adding or removing features. Still, it’s essential for both Mac and PC owners, and thus has hundreds of millions of users. While Apple touts its success, each version appears to be a frustrating mixture of new features — some of which nobody asked for or needs — along with irritating bugs.

Some suggest Apple should basically throw it out and start over, and, at the same time, separate each function into a separate app. Maybe the latter will work on an iPhone or iPad, but integration is an important part of Apple’s strategy, and thus it will remain integrated. Starting from scratch may be difficult, since it depends so much on existing Apple services. Besides, consider the many users who appear to be satisfied with iTunes, or are at least putting up with it..

On the other hand, maybe Apple is doing just that. Maybe there is an iTunes 13 or 14 in the wings that will keep what people like, and clean up what people don’t. Maybe there will be convenience features we didn’t expect, so iTunes can better meet the needs of its users.

Or maybe enough Apple customers don’t really care, and Apple will stay the course. It’s not as if other platforms are doing any better.

That takes us to this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we featured outspoken blogger and podcaster Kirk McElhearn, also known as Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” Gene and Kirk briefly discussed the probe by French authorities into alleged emission faking by more and more car makers, the latest being Mercedes-Benz. Kirk described the new features in iTunes 12.6 for Mac and Windows and some of the glitches he’s discovered that Apple needs to fix. The discussion moved to the modest March iPad refresh from Apple, and what might come next. There was a brief debate between Gene and Kirk about the potential for the iPad as a productivity device. Gene says it could be better, while Kirk believes that power users should stick with their Macs.

You also heard from columnist Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. During a pop culture segment, Gene and Jeff discussed “Duets,” the musical episode of a TV super hero show, “The Flash.” Jeff made a pitch for Apple users changing their passwords in light of recent hacking attempts, and he briefly described 2-factor authentication. The discussion moved briefly to iTunes 12.6, the limits of the Apple TV, and on to the iPad refresh. Gene and Jeff focused on the possibilities for iPad productivity, especially being able to record and edit audio — and perhaps video — assets on Apple’s tablet. Does it make sense to enhance its capabilities, or should such tasks be left to a Mac or PC?

On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present yet another subject we haven’t explored with John L. Steadman, author of “H.P. Lovecraft & the Black Magical Tradition,” which explores “the real black magickal organizations that use Lovecraft’s fictional constructs as a basis for their magickal workings; I argue that such constructs can be used in this manner and that the Lovecraftian entities are just as ontologically ‘real’ as traditional gods, goddesses and demons.” John L. Steadman is a scholar of H. P. Lovecraft and western occultism and has been a magickal practitioner for more than thirty years. He is currently a college English professor at Olivet College in Michigan. And, yes, he has had paranormal encounters over the years.

RENEWED DEMANDS FOR APPLE TO LICENSE ITS OS

It’s very easy to forget the past, and the mistakes you made. Just keeping up is difficult, and sometimes the situation changes enough that you might want to revisit something you tried before, something that failed. Maybe it’s just worth giving it another try in the hope that there will be a different result.

And, no, I won’t consider that old saw that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is a classic definition of insanity.

Back in the early days of the Mac, Apple was urged to license the operating system. Do what Microsoft does, they said, and thus earn license fees from all those companies who will license the OS and expand the platform. After all, giving customers a wider choice of hardware has to help build a larger user base.

In the end, the key Mac OS cloners of the mid-1990s went after Apple’s core markets — the most profitable ones — with a vengeance. They delivered faster hardware in cheap PC boxes, and thus charged less. That, and the low fees Apple exacted for a Mac OS license, put the company in serious danger.

After he returned to Apple and took control,  Steve Jobs decided to put a stop to this nonsense. It cost a cool $100 million to take over and shutter one of the key cloners, Power Computing, but that and other moves set Apple on a realistic course. Apple earns most of its money from hardware sales, so expecting it to survive and prosper from licensing an operating system didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

These days, Microsoft essentially tries to do a little of the reverse. It’s in the software and services business, but does sell hardware. The Xbox gaming console does well enough after years of losses, but the Surface tablet probably takes more market share away from PC vendors than Macs.

So why should Apple go down the OS licensing route again? Why repeat what was almost a fatal mistake?

The latest suggestions are about Apple’s questionable moves in the Mac space these days. It appears that product refreshes have slowed, and what about the company’s commitment to pros?

Despite recent reassurances from Tim Cook, it’s clear that some people question his understanding of the needs of power users and creatives. Look at the MacBook Pro, which is supposed to be a powerful business notebook. But it’s felt that Apple has ignored the needs of customers, and focused on looks over function. Did the newest model really have to be smaller and slimmer? What about allowing for the installation of more RAM? Why did Apple use last year’s Intel processor anyway? Who needs a Touch Bar?

Forgetting the form factor change, Apple has given reasons for not adopting a memory controller that supports more RAM. It would require using a slower memory bus and substantially reduce battery life. Apple is already being attacked for inconsistent battery life on these notebooks, even though recent OS updates might have managed some of those issues.

When it comes to Intel hardware, quad-core Intel Kaby Lake chips weren’t even shipping when the MacBook Pro went on sale.

During the MacBook Pro launch event, the Touch Bar was demonstrated as a productivity tool using Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office. By now, a number of other apps are supporting this feature, but the question is whether this is part of the reason that the new models are several hundred dollars more expensive.

Besides, why would Apple add support for two external 5K displays — how many PC notebooks offer that? — if it wasn’t meant for professional users? That’s hardly a casual decision, and what sense does it make to stick that capability in a computer that’s not meant for professional users?

Now about the Mac Pro: Why did Apple release a version without one of its best features, a decent amount of internal expansion? Besides, the product appears to have been abandoned, since it hasn’t been updated in more than three years, yet is still being sold for the same price. If Apple has a game plan, what is it and does that promised commitment to pro users mean a new model is coming soon?

So how does this fuel a renewed call to license macOS?

Right now, hobbyists sometimes build what are known as Hacintoshes, which are regular or custom-made PCs onto which macOS is installed. It generally involves hacking the macOS installer to allow it to be set up on non-Apple hardware. There is an online community that has posted instructions on how to induce macOS to run on such a box, and the range of hardware that will provide the most trouble-free experience.

Apple has usually tolerated the practice, since it involves an individual doing their own thing. If people actually went into business selling macOS clones, and Apple found out about the practice, you can be sure cease-and-desist demands would be sent pronto!

But what if Apple decided to license macOS to hardware companies to expand the market? If Apple isn’t interested in a professional workstation, why not let someone else build it? What about a bigger, more powerful notebook?

It may make sense in theory, but it recalls the original logic behind the failed attempt to license Mac OS back in the 1990s. That move was also meant to expand the market, but resulted in people choosing the clones over Apple’s own gear, in large part as the result of possibly prices and more options to customize.

So if Apple were to make this move for a second time, how would they insure that all or most of these Mac clones would be marketed in areas Apple didn’t touch, with models that Apple opted not to build? Don’t forget that Apple is not selling an OS. It’s selling hardware, and anything that hurts those sales could impact the company big time. How many macOS licenses would they have to sell to even cover the loss of a single sale of Mac hardware?

I suppose limited licensing — with careful attention to detail — might work. Then again, couldn’t Apple simply expand the Mac hardware market with new models to provide a greater range of options for customers? The biggest argument against the current situation is that you can’t buy the Mac that meeds your needs, so you have to compromise, keep what you have, or switch to Windows (or Linux).

A new macOS licensing program would carry lots of risks. It’s not just about building models that Apple won’t sell, but about making sure such gear is fully compatible with Apple’s software and services. That’s hard enough with Apple’s own products as many of you can attest. At the end of the day, I don’t expect to see it happen.

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
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