• Newsletter Issue #947

    January 22nd, 2018


    For years, Microsoft Office for Mac has lagged behind its Windows counterpart. We can always speculate why, perhaps that Microsoft expected you to switch to Windows for the best Office experience.

    Since the release of Office for Mac 2016, Microsoft has delivered a fairly steady stream of minor updates. They’ve even made it possible for you to change update settings so you get an advanced look at upcoming features via the Office Insider feature.

    With the newest update this past week, it was announced that both the Mac and Windows versions of Office now had a common codebase, which will supposedly make it easier for the Mac version to eventually reach parity.

    But I have some concerns, because we’ve been there before.

    In the early 1990s, Microsoft released Word 6.0 for Mac, which shared its code base, dubbed P-Code, with the Windows version. I remember receiving a beta version while writing a Mac book for a publisher. It was dreadfully slow, taking nearly a minute to launch on a speedy PowerPC Mac. When I asked Microsoft’s public relations team whether it would get any better, they assured me that it would.

    Over time, performance did improve, but the interface paid only lip service to the Mac platform. When running the app, you had the feeling you were using Windows software that had undergone just a few interface alterations to run on the Mac, but not much more.

    The Mac version of Office 2016 may now share a code base with Windows, but it doesn’t look or perform altogether different. So maybe Microsoft has figured out how to satisfy its Mac user base without making too many sacrifices. On a practical level, I don’t care how it gets there, just so long as the app suite looks and runs properly, and becoming identical in features to the Windows version would be a plus, if it ever really happens.

    In the meantime, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we featured commentator and podcaster Peter Cohen, who discussed the CPU bug, involving malware dubbed Meltdown an Spectre, and why was Apple blamed by some for a problem that’s existed with CPUs throughout the computing industry since 1997? Peter provided a full explanation of the problem and how it’s triggered. There was also a discussion about the dispute over iPhone X sales, whether sales were high or disappointing. Gene and Peter also talked about the recent announcement from Apple about its five-year plan partly based on the U.S. tax cut, where Apple plans to repatriate billions of dollars of its overseas cash hoard and use some of it for new hires, employee stock awards, a second corporate headquarters, new datacenters and, as expected, stock buybacks and dividends.

    You also heard from tech journalist Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer. Jeff discussed a possible Skype alternative known as Discord, and mentioned the announcement that Microsoft has unified the Office code base that may, at some time in the future, mean feature parity of both the Mac and Windows versions. In discussing the Apple TV 4K, Jeff mentioned a problem with a recent update for one of the HDR protocols, Dolby Vision. The discussion moved to the amazing performances of character actors and how they enhance a movie or TV show, which included brief discussions of the duo’s favorite shows. Jeff offered his opinion about Apple’s promised investments as the result of the tax cut. There was also a brief exchange on whether or not Apple ever plans to update the Mac mini, which hasn’t been changed since 2014.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: In this special episode, Gene presents cutting-edge commentator Greg Bishop, host of “Radio Misterioso” and, as usual, he offers a freewheeling approach to paranormal mysteries. Greg will explain why he’s not interested in speculation about possible extraterrestrial visitors as being the source of UFOs, citing the co-creation theory, in which the witness participates to some degree in the event. There will also be discussions on the possible implications of the Pentagon UFO study. Greg will be joined by the inimitable Don Ecker, host of Dark Matters Radio. Both will present overviews of the contactee movement, as Greg previews a forthcoming book on the subject that he’s written with Adam Gorightly, who often calls himself a “crackpot historian.”


    In a recent TV interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrongly suggested that customers were properly informed about the iOS change that resulted in throttling performance on iPhones with failing batteries. Unfortunately, the interviewer failed to correct him or make much of an effort to ask proper follow-up questions.

    Now Apple did mention a change, first for the 10.2.1 update in 2016, that it was addressing a sudden shutdown problem on some units. But there was no disclosure that the fix meant that performance would be reduced to eliminate the problem. Another sentence or two about the fix reducing performance to regulate power use would have been appropriate, as would an explanation that the user should have the battery checked and see if it needed to be replaced.

    Two sentences, and a load of problems and suspicions would have been avoided. There would probably not have been dozens of class action lawsuits and possible other actions against Apple for allegedly engaging in a planned obsolescence scheme.

    Even though Apple denies that this was its intent, and that performance throttling was done for the benefit of the customer, not everyone believes them. I do. But I think that Apple’s attempt at maintaining its little nanny state backfired. Proper messaging would have made a load of difference.

    True, Apple finally explained what was done and why. Until the end of the year, the price of battery replacements for affected models has been reduced from $79 to $29, but why not just make it free? An iOS update, due in a few weeks, will allow you to monitor battery health, and even switch off performance throttling if you prefer.

    Unfortunately, Apple does a really poor job of writing release notes for its software updates. A few more paragraphs, a little more detail, and lots of questions would be answered. The response to the CPU bug, involving malware dubbed Meltdown and Spectre, is a rare example of providing details that explain the problem that’s being fixed, Apple’s intended solutions, plus the possible impact.

    That, of course, didn’t stop some members of the media from conveying the false impression that this was just an Apple bug, and not something that impacted almost all CPU chips manufactured since 1997, even, apparently, the PowerPC.

    Then again, what I call Throttlegate wasn’t the first example of Apple failing to explain things. Back in 2010, when some users complained about the loss of signal quality when the iPhone 4 was held in certain ways, Steve Jobs sarcastically suggested that we hold it differently.

    That went over like a lead balloon, and Jobs had to summon the media to corporate headquarters to explain the ins and outs of smartphone antenna technology. It wasn’t Apple, it was the laws of physics, and Apple even posted videos of smartphones from other companies suffering from similar problems when held in certain ways. For several months, you could even order free bumper cases from Apple and several third party companies.

    During the press briefing, a few reporters were even taken on a brief tour of Apple’s sophisticated antenna design and test facility.

    It didn’t stop Consumer Reports from deciding not to recommend the iPhone 4 without a case, but Apple’s solution to Jobs’ failure to communicate was probably satisfactory.

    But what about Cook’s misstatement of its original performance reduction update? Did the reporter just forget to ask a follow-up, or not do the proper research to be prepared in case a wrong or misleading answer was given?

    Unfortunately, the real problem when someone interviews an Apple executive is that corporate communications takes a strong hand in setting them up. More often than not, friendly journalists are selected so that contentious or hard questions won’t be asked. This is a prime example of what some refer to as “access journalism,” in which the reporter has to play the game in order to continue to get interviews.

    If they fail to behave themselves, forget about further access. There are plenty of reporters lining up to replace them. Since Apple is a corporation and only answerable to its board and stockholders, there is no obligation to make itself available for interviews by skeptical journalists.

    Giving priority to friendly journalists is not just a problem with large multinational corporations, unfortunately. How often do you hear a politician interviewed on a cable TV news show in which they basically repeat tired talking points at length rather than be asked to respond to probing questions?

    You almost think you are listening to a political ad rather than an interview.

    So what’s at work here? Do these networks fear that their TV talking heads won’t get the interviews if they ask tough questions? It’s certainly true that some politicians deliberately choose venues where they expect friendly receptions.

    That said, it’s obvious that Apple’s key executives are perfectly capable of answering difficult questions and follow ups from the media. It may not convey the politically correct corporate message, but it might provide a lot more useful information to a public that’s fascinated by the goings on at Apple.

    It will never happen, but I can always dream.


    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
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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