• Newsletter Issue #909

    May 1st, 2017

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    A few hours before writing this column, I saw a vehicle with a peculiar spinning wheel or gear on its top that bore the name of Uber. It was traveling in an adjacent lane along busy Apache Drive in Tempe, Arizona. I managed to catch a glancing look at its steering wheel, noticing its occupant didn’t have his or her hands on it. You see, Tempe is one of three cities where Uber is testing its autonomous driving fleet, which consists of modified Volvo SUVs.

    But Uber seems unable to avoid legal repercussions, such as when it set up shop in San Francisco last December, but failed, or refused to apply for the required autonomous driving permits. One of their vehicles was also involved in a crash on another Tempe street, where a car struck the self-driving vehicle. It wasn’t Uber’s fault. It may have been unavoidable, since the driver of the other vehicle was cited for a moving violation. But the episode still resulted in Uber grounding its fleets for a while and take stock of the situation.

    Is it possible the Uber system could be programmed to avoid such episodes?

    For now, the tests have resumed, but I wonder about the consequences to the hundreds of thousands of drivers Uber has signed up around the world. If they are ultimately going to be replaced by autonomous driving vehicles, which is clearly the intent, what happens then?

    Now I realize as I get older that I may need to give up driving someday. When or if that happens, I might appreciate the fact that there will still be ways for me to travel even though I live in an area where public transportation is only available in limited areas.

    Still it was an interesting look at the future, as I wonder how Google and Apple are faring in their tests of such technology. Apple recently received permission from California’s DMV to use several modified Lexus vehicles for such tests. What this means is that, for now at least, Apple is looking into a technology solution rather than build its own car. But it’s early in the game, and Apple’s real plans can only be guessed.

    That takes us to this weekend’s edition of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, where we featured author/editor Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles. After discussing the 27th anniversary of TidBITS, Gene and Josh talked about some controversial moves from ride-sharing giant Uber and the prospects for its main rival, Lyft. Gene provided personal experiences with both, but will Uber’s plans to add self-driving vehicles eventually put their human drivers out of work? What about Apple’s promised commitment to professional Mac users, with assurances that a new Mac Pro is being developed, and that they will continue to improve Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X?

    In an encore presentation, we took a romp through the world of social networks with Cella Lao Rousseau, a reporter with iMore. During this segment, Cella talked about the Snapchat IPO, its impact, and how the network plans to leverage its large user base to earn money.The discussion moved to profiles of the most popular social networks and how they meet the needs of their members. Snapchat’s unique slant is to allow you to send photos and videos that self-destruct shortly after they are viewed. The discussion included Facebook, which Gene says has become too bloated for him except for the Messenger app, which he uses regularly because most of his contacts are on the service. Has Twitter outlived its usefulness despite becoming the medium of choice for high-profile people, such as the President of the United States, to make announcements? What about WhatsApp, Instagram, Mashable and Reddit? What happened to one of the original social networks, MySpace?

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and Chris present veteran anomalist Allen Greenfield. He is a published author on Masonic rites, UFOs, esoteric spirituality and psychic phenomena. Having done considerable field research and lab work in all of these areas he subscribes to the “Many Worlds” interpretation of Quantum Theory, and thinks that the explanation for phenomena as diverse as ghosts, Near Death Experiences, spontaneous cases of the reincarnation type, men in black, shadow people, cryptids etc. is in the overlap among so called “branes” (that’s b-r-a-n-e-s) or alternate worlds impinging upon our consciousness, a concept he has advocated since the late 1960s. Gene and Allen have been close friends for well over five decades.

    A FRANKENMAC? NOT FOR ME!

    Almost from the first day the Apple Macintosh arrived in 1984, the company was urged to license the Mac OS and allow other companies to build compatible computers. That, after all, is what helped Microsoft take control of the PC marketplace. Even though Apple has gained market share to some degree in recent years, as the overall market for personal computers has eroded, Windows remains dominant.

    It got really bad when Windows 95 arrived. It was Microsoft’s first truly functional release of its graphical OS. While not as fluid and elegant as the Mac OS, it was good enough. That’s all it took for some people to give up on Macs for good, since Microsoft had built a far larger app ecosystem, especially as Windows compatible software soared.

    Apple relented and agreed to a Mac OS licensing program, and several companies were signed up to build Mac clones. Chief among them was a scrappy startup, Power Computing, which took cheap PC cases and sold them for prices that seriously undercut Apple’s. When new PowerPC chips arrived, Power sometimes released products with them first because it didn’t need as many as Apple.

    In short, you could get a better Mac from Power and other companies for less money. At a time when some genuine Mac had perfectly user hostile setups for memory and hard drive upgrades, it was easy to consider alternatives. Apple hoped to expand the market; instead, these companies went after existing markets with a vengeance, particularly Power Computing.

    I recall owning a couple of Power  boxes at the time. They were as ugly as any PC box, and, while it wasn’t hard to upgrade key components, including the processor, I ran into situations where it was easy to get cuts and bruises if your fingers got caught on a stray strip of metal.

    Long and short of it is that, when he took control of Apple, Steve Jobs released it was a bad deal and he did his best to torpedo it. Since Apple licensed Mac OS 7 to the clone makers, Jobs named the next version Mac OS 8, which was only licensed to one vendor. Power took on a bunker mentality to keep its business afloat, but finally agreed to sell itself to Apple for $100 million.

    Now when Apple switched to Intel processors in 2006, the possibility of a new clone program seemed even more realistic. Imagine being able to buy any old cheap PC box and have it act as a Mac. But the clone argument fails big time because Apple nowadays gives away its operating systems free. Most of the company’s revenue comes from the sale of hardware, and services for people using that hardware.

    So why should Apple give away significant percentages of its revenue to third parties in the hope of receiving license fees under the illusion that the Mac market will expand? Some still suggest Apple might just cede the professional market to third parties, and let them build high-end workstations, or other models that Apple won’t build. In light of the promise to make a new modular Mac Pro with easy upgrade capability, it’s clear there won’t be any Mac clones.

    At least officially.

    But some people have taken advantage of Mac on Intel, in recent years, to build unofficial Mac clones. While Apple has sued companies that attempted to sell Mac clones, they won’t go after hobbyists who want to roll their own.

    In 2008, Rob Griffiths, then a Macworld contributor, wrote an article explaining how he built one of those unofficial Mac clones, which came to be called a Frankenmac. With a budget of $1,000, Rob was able to build a reasonably powerful Mac clone using off-the-shelf parts.

    In fact, Rob was left with $17.60 change which, in 2008 dollars, would allow him to enjoy a decent dinner at a family restaurant, or perhaps buy a couple of salads with beverages at Wendy’s.

    Now it’s not a casual project. You have to be judicious about selecting parts that are compatible with macOS. In order to induce installation of the OS on these machines, you have to engage in some smoke-and-mirrors hacking.

    If you want to give it a try, you’ll find you’re not being left to your own devices. There’s an active site, Hackintosh.com, which provides information on assembling compatible hardware for both desktops and notebooks. There’s plenty of how-to instructions and even installation videos that guide you through the process of turning a perfectly ordinary Windows PC into a macOS computer. There are also links to other sites that provide loads of useful information on getting a successful and reasonably reliable installation.

    As a practical matter, such a move is probably best left to hobbyists. Since an Apple maintenance update could cause compatibility problems, or make one of these computers inoperable, I would hardly recommend such a move for a work machine. Well, unless you have backups and a genuine Mac to which you can switch if things go wrong.

    Now I haven’t felt inclined to build a Frankenmac, largely because Apple builds Macs that suit my needs. I might consider such a move if I had money to burn. But there is an interesting opportunity here for people who are disappointed with Apple’s Mac product lineup. So Rob Griffiths is busy assembling a brand new Frankenmac. It also appears that my old friend Kirk McElhearn is at it too, because he’s been dissatisfied of late with the choices Apple offers.

    I await the results of both these efforts to assemble macOS clones. Obviously there’s plenty of help out there, so if you prepare yourself for the pitfalls, you should be able to put together a reasonably reliable home-built Mac. Or find a way to take existing PC hardware and install macOS on those machines.

    While Apple may well look upon this hobby with some level of amusement, peppered with concern over where it might be heading, perhaps the Mac hardware team can look at what people do and use it as a guide when deciding what sort of Mac configurations should be offered. Apple has long attempted to build products that you supposedly didn’t know you needed until being exposed to them, but they clearly missed the boat on the Mac platform. This is particularly true for the Mac Pro.

    So maybe there are some user experiences out there that can serve as useful wakeup calls. But the chances that Apple will be influenced by any of them are zip, zero.

    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



    Share
    | Print This Issue Print This Issue

    Leave Your Comment