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The Northern Spy
June 2007

Spring Roundup

Rick Sutcliffe

This year's lead bull award

has to go to Apple, and not just because the Spy has a heavy investment of all kinds in iSteve's products (riding for the brand), but by the general consensus building among consumers, pundits, and Wall Street.

Investors have to be happy with record sales, profits, stock prices, and a 35% year-over-year growth, versus the industry's slackish 9%. Apple is now within reasonable reach of third place in computer market share behind faltering Dell and HP, a spot now occupied by likewise fast fading Gateway. After all, iSteve has only just begun to convert mindshare to marketshare, and has sufficient reserve of the former to run the latter to 10% over two years without busting a sweat, without offering anything new. So, that third place could be achieved by a year from now, but seems a lock in two. Second and then first depend on both new mindshare generated this year and next, and on how fast the fall of others accelerates. You read it here first.

More corroborating good news appears to come in the form of word that web surveys claim the percentage of people using MacOS-based browsers on the net has doubled in the past eight months. The Spy admits to being skeptical of this item, because the 10K hits per day on his own sites do not as yet demonstrate such a trend. Perhaps better data will surface in the mid-term future, but meanwhile, don't hang any hats on this statistic just yet.

Coming additions to the Apple ramuda include

- a flash-based notebook, possibly including a range of products reaching down through sub-notebook sizing toward the MaciPhone and iPod,

- more new stores, including Calgary and Vancouver,

- bigger and badder AppleTV units,

- the lurking Leopard, incorporating a slew of new features that collectively make Vista look like last season's dried up grass,

- Tiger 10.4.10, the placeholder OS designed to fill a few security and performance potholes currently annoying the herd during its now extended wait for the new cat,

- the MaciPhone itself, marking a watershed in the entire cellular industry, already generating the biggest product launch and largest consumer stampede in eHistory, and against which every other phone will henceforth be compared. Cingular gets this, at least partly, so is in a mad rush to rebrand itself as AT&T in order to attach Apple's toy to a new image right out of the gate. Do the rest get it? More on this below.

Amazon has joined the stampede,

away from the debilitating and wasteful "digital rights" protection racket by announcing a DRM-free store. This is an obvious attempt to compete with Apple, which now offers EMI label tracks without stifling restrictions imposed by the music industry's muscle. First cracks in the facade, folks, and hasn't the Spy told you so often enough? All forms of copy protection are a complete waste of time and money. Look it up. This may be listed as the Spy's sixth law, but he first formulated it back in the early 1980s, when he used to unprotect floppies and mail them back to manufacturers to demonstrate the futility of the practice. If we could only ditch that regressive anti-consumer robber baron legislation misnomered the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we might begin to see the future's shape. Someday we'll look back on the protection racket with incredulity.

In the herd passing by, the Spy notes

- Logwatch 7.3.5. for Linux and assorted UNIXs. Install with rpm -Uvh ftp://ftp.kaybee.org/pub/redhat/RPMS/noarch/logwatch-7.3.6-1.noarch.rpm,

- TLA Systems' DragThing 5.8, which now also becomes the upgrade path for once competitor DropDrawers, and is of course available mirrored at downloards.thenorthernspy.com (Have we mentioned TLA's very nice P Calc 3, also in a widget?),

- IBM's Power 6 chip running hot at 4.7G and representing Apple's once and no longer future. Nice for high end servers and speciality devices, though you couldn't run these power suckers in a consumer product (why there was no there there for Apple). OTOH, neither can you deny the deep geek value of the best line of chip design the industry has seen in decades. Sigh. Too bad the pinstripes' engineers couldn't have made it a priority to get the speed up and the power consumption down for mass market purposes. But, IBM wanted a small waterhole all to itself, so it waved goodbye to the main herd--a move that will eventually prove costly.

Meanwhile, having performed a BTG (Branch to Tall Grass),

MS sponsors a lonely shorthorn drive which relatively few buyers attend. Certainly, some forty million copies of Vista have been pushed out the door, but unit placements have slowed dramatically, box assemblers are reverting to XP, many institutional and government buyers have deferring purchase for two years or longer, unsold boxes are piled in most stores, reviewers are universally negative, and long-time employees quietly shopping resumes around. Customers must perforce accept new machines with the lame OS pre-installed (artfully boosting the raw numbers), but many rip it out and installing XP rather than experience vistas of grief. Thus, despite strong words from a brave face, Redmond must be very worried.

In all the hype, an upgrade to the venerable Mac Office 2004 at version 11.3.5 has gone almost unnoticed. It's a 59.5MB upload, but for security and stability reasons, strongly recommended by MS for all Mac users. The Spy has mixed feelings about the whole thing. Nothing much could rescue W*rd from its non-intuitive, clumsy, confusing interface, nor Access from its status of worst in class, but he depends heavily on Excel, still the single most important and best designed piece of application software in the industry--ever--all categories, and this despite it employing VBA, the all-time industry-wide poster boy for how not to do language design. All those macros he wrote in such linguistic pain are out the window on the next upgrade, when VBA falls to AppleScript. What happens then to cross-platform compatibility? Will an Excel file automated on the Mac still perform on Vista, or vice-versa? Apparently not, and this therefore strikes him as an interim measure, likely to be abandoned a year or so down this road. Time to find a new spreadsheet product with more stability.

Is it just a case of hoof in mouth disease,

or does the MS rant over Linux and associated programs/utilities violating some 200+ of its patents strike you also as arising from a severe inferiority complex? Or, is this a suicidal desire to become the next SCO. Who, you ask? Exactly. Face it. Linux has won the data centre wars, and offers no threat on the desktop. Attacking it is a total waste.

There's another issue here most people are missing. Software patents themselves restrict an industry that depends for its very existence on being nimble-footed, able to ramp up new technology quickly from raw ideas. Patenting those ideas (which is what this amount to) is contrary to the spirit of the information age, impedes progress, may violate international law, and will surely cost MS more in time and resources than it could possibly hope to gain, even if some tame judge does exhibit an attack of temporary insanity. That's why the Spy's second Law--everything will eventually be open source. Lock horns elsewhere folks; this is another lost battle.

Somewhere back in the herd,

despite rumours it will ditch its current OS for a Linux base, labours Palm, which recently announced the Treo 755p. This is for the Sprint network and will have some new features, but the Spy classifies it as a minor rev, along with all the 600+ models. The camera is now 1.3MB, the battery removable, the expansion slot on the side, and the antenna hidden inside the main case, screens are higher resolution, there is more software, and higher data speeds, and yet... and yet, in view of the MaciPhone, all this seems too little and too late, a recycling of the then revolutionary Treo 600 but without any renewed vision for what a phone/PDA could become. Indeed, Palm seems to be the company with the most to lose, a prairie dog community on the path of the herd. There mightn't be much left in a few years.

Don't know whether Apple will be able to do better on this front, but the cost of mobile phone service is exorbitant, especially considering that data plans are extra. Hey, let's have that 755p $280 advertised price without being shackled to a monthly contract, and supply a little competition so the phone companies aren't raking in obscene profits. Then tell me how wonderful these smart phones are. iSteve take note. Even twenty million back orders won't revolutionize the industry if customers realize they're being ripped off on the utility bill afterward. Let's hear it for some real creativity in phone industry pricing--prepaid plans, free roaming, no lock-ins, and for that matter, no locked phones. It makes no more sense to protect services than it does software or content.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.


The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com

The Spy's Laws collected: http://www.thenorthernspy.com/spyslaws.htm

The Spy's Shareware download site: http://downloads.thenorthernspy.com/

WebNameHost : http://www.WebNameHost.net

WebNameSource : http://www.WebNameSource.net

nameman : http://nameman.net

opundo : http://opundo.com

Sheaves Christian Resources : http://sheaves.org

Arjay Books: http://www.ArjayBooks.com

Booksurge: http://www.booksurge.com

Fictionwise: http://www.fictionwise.com

Logwatch : http://www2.logwatch.org

TLA Systems (Drag Thing PCalc 3) : http://tla-systems.co.uk/

Office press release : http://www.power.org/news/pr/view?item_key=beb3d7582586bd44d45292705332153ed9121618

Office Downloads : http://www.microsoft.com/mac/downloads.aspx

Palm : http://www.palm.com/us/products/smartphones/treo755p/

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Last Updated: 2007 06 01