The Northern Spy
Tinker, Tailor, Leopard, Lawyer
Apple took the big leap(ard)
on October 26th with the release of System 10.5, boasting, per the company's own count, the results of their tinkering with and re-tailoring some 300 spots on the coat (plus some they chose not to count). Fix-em-updates began the next day. Seems to the Spy that this release will quadfurcate the user landscape.
At the (self-proclaimed) uber-geek (SPUG) level of the feeding chain, every new feature will be seized upon, tested, weighed, and criticized. Some will salivate. Others will sue for breach of promise, calling Apple long on hype, short on delivery, especially of ballyhooed features so secret they still haven't been revealed, if they ever were secret, if they ever existed at all. 'Course, core animation will keep programmers busy building new look-and-feel--if for no other reason than that they can (which is also the answer to the question "why did you wire your house with Cat 6, Dad?") OTOH, is Finder really as good as it can get, so polished and finished it doesn't need any work excepting an unfinished-looking sidebar?
Features to like probably will include screen sharing (via .Mac), spaces (virtual multiple monitors), time machine (not a conventional backup program, but does work within Mail, iPhoto, and Address Book) and a number of badly-needed improvements to the previously wimpy Spotlight. There are also numerous small interface changes, including improvements to Help.
One the Spy can't see anyone liking are the transparent menu bar and changes to the dock (stacks). Keep in mind that he rarely uses the dock, because DragThing is so superior a launcher. Iconoclasts like him will also wait till 10.5.1 before trusting Leopard for production environments, and even then he will look for ways to continue running OS9 for some applications like NisusWriter whose X features--sigh--haven't caught up yet. One he might not try for some time is the brand new Mail. Eudora is still good enough, even though its current incarnation is end-of-life. He's also not an iChat person, so that new app leaves him cold, nor would he likely use a speech interface--yet.
At the fanatic loyalist ordinary geek (FLOG) level, a few of the new features will be seized upon and used in ways iSteve never dreamed of. New industries will spawn to supplement those features, old ones whose business was based on attaching similar features to the more scantily-clothed Tiger will die. The latter will sue for the loss of their livelihood. iSteve may not sue the former for thinking outside one of his black boxes, but the next decimal release might well contain poison-pill code that bricks all their innovations. If so, those blocked will also sue.
Regular users of the Mac/gentry ordinaire (RUM-GO) may or may not upgrade, and if they do, might not notice the new features unless they go looking for them. Leopard does not, after all, look and feel radically different under everyday use. People in this group might join the uber-geeks' class action lawsuit, claiming they've been cheated of the upgrade price.
The dwindling un-Macified bandwagon (make your own acronym), with its heavy load of keyboard-stained, ostrich-like wretches still labouring under the limitations of that other operating system will toil on, smugly, blissfully, unproductively unaware of how much they could better themselves by using an Apple OS from, say, two or three versions back. Colour them bored through with a Robertson fastener by their OS and hardware providers. Perhaps they'll sue someone on general principles.
Is 10.5 compelling? Yes, for some of the security improvements, no on many other items taken individually, marginally yes on the overall weight and quality of the new OS. After all, there is far more of substance to this upgrade than your average once-every-seven-years W*nd*ws debacle. In the end mGates' little former company may sue everyone who buys Leopard, claiming misunderstood childhood, unappreciated genius, and besides, that Apple ought to be restrained from making a product so superior that they can't copy it for at least two decades, that their very superiority is therefore monopolistic. Who knows? By the time such a suit could come to court, MS may no longer be viable, the monopoly having indeed gone the other way.
Meanwhile, the iMinions rake in the cash, driving Apples' profits (nearly a billion last quarter, beating all estimates), market share (now around 8% overall, up to 15% in some niches) and stock value (never mind a current number, it goes up too fast) to dizzying new daily heights ($200 within reach despite hiccups in the DJI and the Ybuck). Some 2.1 million Macs sold in a quarter tell us Apple is growing at several times the computer industry average--without even counting iPod, iPhone, and now iOSX10.5 sales. Per Apple's own guidelines, look for next quarter revenues at $9.2B, though the Spy notes iSteve consistently lowballs and repeats his own suggestion that $10B is within reach.
Who was that Michael somebodyorother who said a few years back that Apple should be folded and the investors given their money back? Hands up all those who remember debates over whether iBM ought to buy out Apple with pocket change. Given that iBM has exited the microcomputer industry, apparently for good (a wrong call by the Spy, as long-time readers will recall), and given that Apple's market cap has now surpassed that of Big Blue and iNtel, one could ask today if iSteve might want to buy iBM.
Despite all the ibillions in the bank, the answer has to be a resounding "no." What would he get but a company with almost no relevance to Apple's core business and target audience, an aged star that has fallen and can't get up. Such a merger might serve up delicious irony, but would of course result in everybody suing everybody else over monopolies, ultimately bringing the entire industry to its knees from an inability to pay all the lawyers in the universe at once.
No, if there's anyone iSteve is cozying up to, any company one might speculate about normalizing a "significant other" partnership by tying the formal corporate knot with a stock exchange, it would be Google (the next one up in market cap). In today's market, vertical integration means one division to deliver the e-applications, and another to make hardware of all sizes and price points on which to run those applications. For instance, the pair could team up to produce both their own cellular network and the handset/PDAs to access it. Of course there's no Googlephone. Why would there be when the iPhone is so enticing for co-branding on a Google-operated network?.
And, following up on that last thought, it seems clear to all the watchers, rumourmongers and claimants to "inside information" (none of which labels may legitimately be pasted on the Spy) that the Apple hardware lineup sports gaping holes that are standing up and begging iSteve to be filled. The goal must obviously be a seamless range of consumer products from credit-card size to super-computer-on-a-desk tower. Any enterprise market (servers, etc.) is a bonus.
It's equally obvious where the gaps are, and pundits play at filling them with iPod/iPhone-on-steroids cum daughter of Newton PDAs from one end, and subnotebook cub-of-Leopard cat dens on the other. The Spy's take? iSteve will do both, starting by January 2008. (It's probably already too late for Christmas.) Given how he no-sweats the nano stuff, Newton-3 might be the best bet for starters. OTOH, given that Apple's marketshare for notebooks is already in the 15%+ range, the next market prescription may well be to tell Leopard to "take one tablet and leap on it"--giving everybody else's laptop production lines a good long rest.
What is becoming apparent in the chase for marketshare is that Apple has significant upward momentum and W*nd*ws has quite the opposite. By the time Redmond understands why Vista is a turkey, many thanksgivings and two or three new versions of OS X will have come and gone.
Oh, and speaking of members of the board/bored/gored,
the Spy notes with more than passing interest that the Nobel committee now gives away statues and money for what zealous UK courts have categorized as political polemic, too one-sided and misleading to be suited for educational purposes. Ah, well. People have either been right for the wrong reasons or wrong for the right reasons before. Happens all the time in tech fields. Perhaps your view of this whole thing depends on whose oxymoron you think is being gored.
But does this mean those same courts will invalidate, say, shrink-wrapped warrantees as convenient falsehoods? OTOH, one could ask why the court of public opinion creates superstars in the first place, only to discard them a few years later on realizing the inconvenience of their aging. As a passing peripherally related thought, does Madonna really think changing record labels will restore her misspent youth? Does anyone think a Nobel implies a presidency or have that other lot got it Clintched? Would the Gates contribute to a run despite the Apple connection? Just wondering about at random. Decisions, decisions.
And, what about those energetic hackers with enough time on their hands to crack the latest iPhone OS iteration? OTOH, what about the Apple developers who made them do it by issuing an upgrade that killed their earlier efforts? We're into the usual finite regression between protectors and hackers that only ends when the former are forced to give in. Yawn. Seen this one before. Spy's sixth law. Wake me when the rerun is over. And, what in turn does this say about those who claim the only reason the Apple OS hasn't been cracked is that it occupies too small a niche to bother? Think of the cracker community bragging-right bling that would attach for producing a MacOS X virus that actually worked.
Speaking of reruns, the latest format war, this between Blu-Ray and HD-DVD appears to be winding down, with Blu-Ray now outselling its rival some two to one in the U.S. Can't colour this one over yet, but it may not be long.
The pitter patter of little feats
The Canadian Copyright Board has decided to tax music downloads (retroactive to January 1996) to support recording artists. This is really going to mess up Apple's iTunes accounting, but government (and their creations) are always (by their own definition) right.
Apple has limited iPhone sales to "no cash, please" and "two per customer" in an effort to squelch the unlockers. Lotsa luck, folks.
FileMakerPro 9 (and possibly earlier versions, but they can't be bothered checking) are apparently incompatible with Leopard. No word on whether one division of Apple will sue the other for failing to communicate across the campus. Whoops. The iLife team did better. Its compatibility updates are already available on the Apple site. Oh BTW, and lest we forget, many other apps are likely to have compatibility problems. This reportedly includes some Adobe products. Buyer beware at times of an OS upgrade, and don't bother suing if you upgrade and some app or utility fails.
Greenpeace is suing Apple over the presence of PVCs and brominated fire retardants in the iPhone, claiming Apple has broken the law by not disclosing hazardous substances on the label.
A company called Digitalreg is suing a batch of others, including Apple, claiming that anyone selling DRM-protected material owes them for a 1998 patent. Wouldn't it be easier to forget about DRM altogether? In the long run it can't work anyway. Spy's six law again. Won't we have fun when quantum computers can decode any copy protection scheme in zero time? Entire cracker-protector wars will flame out in milliseconds, saving the rest of us from the inconvenience of noticing.
Meanwhile, a class action suit has been launched against Apple over the locking of the iPhone, so preventing it from being used on other than the blessed networks that kick back a chunk of the monthly fee to Cupertino. Given recent decisions in related cases, expect the courts to force Apple to sell unlocked phones, or at least to require unlocking once an initial carrier contract expires. Even if this doesn't happen in the United States, it surely will in other countries. Worries that this will adversely affect the bottom line by reducing revenue from exclusivity kickbacks are ill-founded. If Apple sold nothing but unlocked phones, revenue would increase dramatically.
VOIP provider Vonage is being sued by AT&T for patent infringements. Seems AT&T claims patent on the means of using standard telephones to connect over the Internet.
Comwave Telecom Inc. is a Canadian company marketing VOIP products, but all set to be an Apple iobstacle. Seems their products are marketed under the name "iPhone", and they're objecting to upstart Apple using their trade name in Canada.
More lawyer work. Aren't we lucky? Shall we sue cannabis smokers for releasing hazardous substances into the atmosphere? University students for being unprepared for calculus, but taking it anyway? More lucratively, why not sue casino owners and governments for playing on people's stupidity without first telling them they can't win? Indeed, in the Spy's own fiction, it's a capital offence to practice law for money. Perhaps it's an overreaction to create a fictional society where expected behaviour is entirely based on responsibilities and no one mentions rights, but surely our own is deeply flawed by being the other way around.
New Versions Noted in Passing
Drag Thing is now up to version 5.9 and supports Leopard, has a few new effects, themes and small bits of functionality added. As usual, it can be downloaded from the Spy's mirror.
Smith Micro's venerable file compression utility Stuffit is up to version 12, reportedly with enhanced performance and a new stuffing engine.
Only slightly less venerable file Office 2004 Mac has been updated to 11.3.8 to sort out a security vulnerability in Word. To upgrade use the Microsoft upgrade utility.
A couple of the Mozilla browsers have been bumped a small version, Firefox to 18.104.22.168, and Camino to 1.5.2.
Carbon Copy Cloner has reached 3.0.1. If the Spy didn't already have Retrospect, he might not bother. CCC is terrific.
World Wide Weight
is the subject matter of this month's key book--yet another from perennial top publisher O'Reilly (no, the Spy does not own shares, but at times like this....) This one is High Performance Web Sites--Essential Knowledge for Frontend Engineers, by long-time Yahoo engineer Steve Souders, and its target audience is the tailors of complex and potentially slow-loading web sites.
The book is organized around fourteen rules for decreasing the weight (and therefore the wait) of web sites. Some of the rules--reduce the number of HTTP requests/DNS lookups/redirects, use external scripts and stylesheets, employ compression, and cache frequently loaded pages (by using an expire header)---could have significant benefits for almost any web site's loading time. On the other hand employing content delivery systems to parallel HTTP requests is only applicable to large sites loading heavy content.
Rules such as removing duplicate scripts are more along the line of debugging. Avoiding CSS expressions and configuring ETags constitute advice to the too-sophisticated who are trying things that don't work. Suggesting one put stylesheets at the top is either in this category or is preaching to the converted, as few do otherwise. By contrast, putting scripts at the bottom has mixed benefits--yes, scripts block other downloads, but many pages depend on script execution to render correctly, and they therefore belong at the top (i.e. Your kilometerage will vary on this one.) Finally, the practice of minifying or obfuscating scripts can certainly reduce load size and time, but it's only worth taking the trouble after the site code is rock stable and unlikely to be changed.
The book comes complete with plenty of examples and assessments of major sites against the proffered advice. The YSlow tool the author has developed is publicly available from Yahoo as a FireBug addon to check compliance of any site with his "rules", making the material instantly accessible and useable--something any book should offer these days.
This is a good one. Anyone concerned with web site performance needs to read, understand, and implement as applicable--this particularly so if the site in question is a weighty one (lots of graphics, scripts, and dynamic activity.) And yes, it does apply to Ajaxified sites as well. Give this one an A+.
--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
Apple OS X1 11.5: http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/300.html
Drag Thing: http://www.dragthing.com/
Carbon Copy Cloner: http://www.bombich.com/software/ccc.html