Wednesday, May 22, 2019
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Switching: the business perspective

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INTERESTING article here on MacWorld by Michael Schneider (in turn reprinted from PC World). The piece charts his company's migration from PC to Mac and provides a number of interesting points about switching from a business perspective. The item also includes a number of useful links for anyone contemplating the move to OS X.

Botnets shun the Mac

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THIS MORNING'S BBC news item on the Ukrainian botnet reports that almost two million computers worldwide had been recruited by the criminals. Some of these compromised computers were inside Government departments in the UK and USA. However, there is one telling snippet. According to the BBC:

"All of the infected machines were Windows-based PCs and the vulnerability was targeting security holes in Internet Explorer and Firefox."

Almost half of the infected machines were in the US and six percent were in the UK, including a single computer at the BBC!

Lest we feel too smug, have a listen to Rich Mogull on MacVoices discussing the fact and fiction of Mac botnet infections.

Billion apps on target

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WE'RE INDEBTED to TechChrunch for news that the App Store will clock up one billion downloads sometime later today (April 22). The time target appears to be moving a bit, depending on the rates of download, but the best current estimate is that it will happen in the very early hours of the morning Pacific Time. That means it should happen early evening here in Greece. By any standards this is a wonderful success for Apple and just underlines the popularity of the iPhone throughout the world.

Apple’s iPhone locking policy

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I'VE ALWAYS hated the locking of mobile phones to one carrier. Sure, in many countries, particularly the UK, locked phones supplied under a contract can be extremely cheap. And unlocking of the average phone is simple and costs peanuts; so there are some arguments in favour of locking.

But with the iPhone we have the worst of all worlds in many countries, including the USA and UK. The locked phone is supplied at a discount, as you would expect when signing a 12, 18 or even 24-month contract. Unlike other phones, though, the iPhone cannot be unlocked–unless it is jailbroken, which is not for everyone. More annoyingly, Apple have one chosen partner in every country. While I have been very happy with my O2 contract in Britain and with Vodafone in Greece, I would have liked a choice of carrier. Many would-be iPhone users are put off because they want to stay with their current supplier.Main_safari20081204

With the new iPhone expected mid-year (and the new 3.0 software certain for June) I've got to thinking about the iniquities of the exclusive deals that Apple have made throughout the world. Apple can claim with some justification that they have chosen partners that can provide reliable and universal 3G coverage, but I suspect the main reason for the system is the financial benefit that Apple gets from signing these exclusive deals. In my view it was wrong for a consumer-oriented company such as Apple to go down this route.

In several European countries, France and Greece to my knowledge, locking of phones is either illegal or not normal. So, for instance, I get an unlocked iPhone from Vodafone (official Apple partner) in Greece and I can use this anywhere in the world with a local SIM card. I routinely use my O2 SIM in this phone when I am in the UK. Meanwhile, I have a completely unused (but locked) iPhone which was supplied under the O2 contract. I paid £150 for this phone and this was a complete waste of money.

The fact that I have to have two separate contracts is also a scandal, but this time the finger points at the cellular phone networks rather than at Apple. Roaming charges are exorbitant and, in my case for instance, I could not rely entirely on roaming because I spend large chunks of the year abroad. Hence, I need two separate contracts. I pay a total of £80 combined ($116, €90) a month for my UK and Greek contracts which give me unlimited (fair usage) data downloads and an adequate number of voice minutes and SMS messages.  This is probably not expensive, but it would be nice to have only one number and fair roaming charges on one contract.

I foresee a time when the whole of Europe will be regarded as one area for cellular network purposes. It is geographically smaller than the United States, for instance, yet roaming charges are a fact of life for many Europeans. Those living close to borders–sometimes borders that run through the middle of a town–have to be very careful they don't inadvertently rack up data roaming charges of up to €10 per megabyte or a staggering €10,000 a gigabyte. Thankfully, the EU is doing something about this and caps will be placed on roaming charges. Not before time. 

CPT, the Cassette-Powered Tinosaur

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by Paul W. Evans

CPT 8500 The piece on the TRS-80 (April 19) prompted me to recall the now-extinct dinosaur, the CPT word processor. In the early eighties the CPT Corporation (it originally stood for "Cassette Powered Typewriting") held an impressive share of the dedicated word-processor market with its trademark portrait screen and amazingly complicated operation. I ran a public relations company at the time and was asked by CPT to promote their very expensive machines. Even then, personal computers were taking over and the idea of a dedicated word processor was becoming history.

The all-female staff of the CPT London headquarters were fanatics. They believed implicitly in the future of their system and any mention of PCs or "personal" word processors was accompanied by brays of utter scorn. I swear they had a regular happy-clappy collective experience every morning, including singing the CPT company anthem. I entered the fray as an experienced user of WordStar, then the leading PC-based word-processor, so I had a clear benchmark. The massive and massively expensive new CPT on my desk left a lot to be desired as I soon found out.

It did have some attractive features, mainly the paper-white on-end portrait screen that faithfully mimicked a sheet of paper. At the time, most PC displays had blurry white-on-black or green-on-back displays and were usually square and no bigger than 12 inches. The CPT screen was magnificent in comparison, and the on-screen copy was as near WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) as could be in pre-Windows or Apple Lisa days. But there the good experience ended.

The massive 8-in floppy disks stored very little, as I remember, and the method of constructing documents relied on a strange, already archaic one-page-per-file system. It was just about acceptable for a single-page letter, but any multi-page documents required endless fiddling, especially if large amounts of text were inserted or deleted. I did hear that experienced users found it all very easy and Government departments and many large companies relied exclusively on CPT. I suspect, though, that the enthusiasts had come straight from typewriter to CPT and had not experienced the relative freedom of a good PC-based word processor. 

I never once managed to produce a reasonable report on the CPT and soon lost whatever enthusiasm I had gained on first acquaintance. I realised that WordStar, primitive as it was, was years ahead of the CPT in all but on-screen display.

Nevertheless, the ladies of CPT saw no writing on the wall and continued promoting their square-earth philosophy for more than another decade.

My relationship with CPT ended fairly abruptly and I cannot now remember whether I was given the boot or the other way round. I suppose my lack of enthusiasm must have been obvious.  It was a great relief to have the CPT equipment collected and to continue with my tried-and-trusted WordStar. 

Saving the world with the TRS-80

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280px-Trs80_2 Thirty years ago today MacOldie Corporation acquired its very first computer. The Tandy (Radio Shack) TRS80 had 8KB of RAM and a cassette input device. Hopes were cherished that this rather neat little box would handle all the MacOldie Corp. accounts, compose and print letters and reports and even make the tea. 

Such hopes were very soon dashed, not surprisingly with 20:20 hindsight, and the little computer proved utterly useless for business purposes, although it was well regarded by the hobbyist and still has a strong following. It languished in the cupboard and an electronic single-line display typewriter was purchased from Olivetti. This had a fiendlishly difficult method of viewing and correcting documents and proved to be short lived.

Then along came the Superbrain, a one-piece terminal-style unit in a cowl that would not have been out of place on the Starship Enterprise. This, with it's twin 5.25in floppy disks and a tad more memory, proved an altogether more useful asset. The introduction to Superbrain came from a small north-London company peddling accounting software and MacOldie, who always had a penchant for mechanisation of the bean counting, soon had a reliable and serviceable business system. Letters and reports were rattled off on WordStar and clients began receiving personally-addressed mail-merged letters, the wonder of the age.

Pretty soon MacOldie got to worrying about data security (as he was to do on and off for the next thirty years) and a decision was made to acquire a hard disk. This came in a substantial metal enclosure and stored a massive five megabytes of data. It cost a fortune and, today, it would just about hold one medium-size photo from Aunt Flora MacOldie's digital camera.

Intl206t No looking back from then for an increasingly digitised MacOldie. Soon the Superbrains were replaced with Apricots, still running the CPM operating system, then came the first Dells with MSDOS. WordStar, the early-80's word processor of choice was ditched in favour of Microsoft Word, pre Windows of course. Windows provided a real breakthrough in useability and served MacOldie Enterprises well for many a year.

So it was a very experienced Windows user who finally converted to Macdom in 2005, 25 years after the first byte was bitten. The speed of development has continued to accelerate throughout the past 30 years of the personal computer and these days we take a massive leap forward every year, particularly in terms of memory and storage. In those early days 5MB was an inconceivably large amount of spare disk; now we are on the verge of ditching the gigabyte in favour of the terabyte and the fabled petabyte is on the horizon. Of course, everything we use–operating systems, programs, data–get bigger in line with the increased memory and storage so we are still sometimes scrambling for RAM or disk storage. 

Windows switchers start here

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by Giorgos Simonides

There is no end of advice out there for the switcher who wants to try a Mac in order to see if it beats Windows. But I was highly impressed by the article by Preston Gralla of Computerworld published this week on MacWorld's web site. Preston Gralla, as I learned, is a die-hard PC fan who has often come under attack from Macistas for his fervid support of the Seattle OS. Now, though, he has written about his experience of giving up his PC and living for two weeks with a Mac. 

The result, surprisingly for PC fans, is strongly in favour of the OS X operating system which he reckons beats all current versions of Windows. In getting to this verdict, though, he went through a number of hoops that will be of interest to any Windows users who fancy changing to Mac. The whole process is relatively simple, as Preston says, and the result is well worth the effort of learning some new ways.

He also installed a virtual PC machine within his Mac. For economy he chose the free Virtual Box from Sun, although he could have gone for the more mainstream (paid) options of either Parallels Desktop or VM Ware's Fusion. Whichever you choose, you have the ability to run Windows within the Mac OS, in a window or full screen, with very few compromises.

For some strange reason, the Mac he was presented with was the Air. He loved it (and has now gone on to buy one because he reckons it is so lustworthy) but the Air does have one or two quirks and compromises. While I think he would have done better with a MacBook, he liked the Air so well and didn't dock any marks from the overall Mac experience. 

If you are thinking of switching, you must read this article before doing anything else. 

i-Doodz for your own avatar

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IMG_0025Regular readers will know that MacOldie is far too ancient to be turned on by computer games. He's made of far more serious stuff than that. However, one little fun application for the iPhone has got the MacO juices running. That's i-Doodz which was used to create that nice picture of Fergus MacOldie clutching his iPhone in front of his iMac. 

The Doodz are a couple of British guys, one an artist and one a computer nut, who put their talents together to produce a handy little application which enables users to create their own avatar. It is a good illustration of the way in which many entrepreneurs have taken advantage of the billion-download iPhone Apps Store.

When you open i-Doodz you're presented with a selection of chubby naked bodies on to which you hang shoes, hair, underwear, tops, pants, hats and accessories. This is a really fun application and actually has a useful purpose. MacOldie has never looked so handsome, I'll wager. 

New to the i-Doodz stable, apparently, is i-Doodz Sexy, which is no doubt far too exciting for MacOldie's venerable ticker and he hasn't yet downloaded it for fear of shock.  Nevertheless it might appeal to more adventurous blogees who want to while away the hours on their own iPhone.

MacOldie on MacDesertIsland

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DSCN0202SM Our Mac musings are now established in a virtual Mac desert, the island of Mykonos in the Aegean Sea. Great scenery, great beaches, sun on the rise, but No Mac's Land for our favourite computer brand. There is one friend on the island who owns a G4 PowerBook and I sort of know of a white MacBook which comes to visit a neighbour's pad occasionally. 

And I suspect there must be at least one other Mac on the island because I often see a black Mini Cooper sporting an Apple logo on its rump down by the harbour. Strange, that, how many Mini Coopers there are with Apple logos. Maybe its an on-going thing between Mac owners and Mini drivers. 

Anyway, as you've gathered, this isn't the place to be if you need another Pro power brick in a hurry. The stores here on the little island (such as they are) cater exclusively for PC owners and, to some extent, that's typical of Greece as a whole. 

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As far as I can see, Greece is one of the few European countries without official Apple representation. Here you have to deal with a Greek importer and they have what appears to be a very sketchy operation. They do have an "Apple Store" in central Athens, on Akademias Street, but it is an extremely strange place. With all the Apple products encased in glass boxes, it's more like a mini annexe of the new Akropolis Museum. And don't ask to buy anything. Don't be ridiculous: you must order from the web site, which appears to direct all orders to Ireland. Fortunately for Athens-based Apple nuts, there are a few computers for sale in two or three electronics multiple stores such as Multirama and Public. It's no wonder Macs aren't popular, however, because the back-up service is extremely poor.

All in all, Greece isn't the place for Mac fans. I miss my regular fix at the shrine of the blessed Steve Jobs in Regent Street, and I dread anything going wrong because Apple Care doesn't seem to operate here. Until the worst happens, MacOldie will continue to click away on the blogging keys and keep you informed of developments here in the city of white-framed paving stones. At least the sun shines between postings.

Cut & Paste creeps in from the Dark Ages

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Iphone-os-preview-hero20090317 Last month's preview of iPhone 3.0 software, which is due for release in June, brings a number of very welcome improvements to the ultra-successful phone/pda. For my money, the biggest of these changes is the addition of cut and paste. This is such a basic operation which has been available on personal computers since the early eighties, that it is truly amazing versions 1 and 2 of the iPhone software did not include it. No one seems to know why it was so difficult to implement, but we will have it at last in a couple of months.

The second advance for me is the ability to compose emails and text messages in landscape mode. Recently I have been using landscape mode extensively with the Momo journal application and there is absolutely no doubt that it enables greater accuracy and speed. The little keyboard of the portrait screen turns into quite a useful "full size" offering when you turn the phone round.

Two other useful features are the ability to send MMS messages, missing from the iPhone so far, and the facility to search the entire phone for information. This, again, is a basic operation which has been available on Palms and Windows Mobile devices for ages.

Multi-tasking of applications has been on most people's wish list for ever, but this is not going to happen. Apple say the reason is that multi-tasking will severely harm battery life and I tend to agree with them. The iPhone is just so useful that you find yourself using it constantly with the result that it needs charging every evening and, sometimes, early in the afternoon. 

Probably the most important aspect of the new software release, though, is the addition of 1000 new APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) in the iPhone SDK (Software Development Kit). This will enable more complicated applications to be produced. 
Iphone-os-preview-sdk20090317 Developers will now have the tools to enable in-app purchases such as subscriptions, additional game levels and new content. They can also create apps that connect peer to peer via Bluetooth, communicate with hardware accessories and use the Apple Push Notification service to provide alerts on applications which are not running.

What hasn't been announced is a new iPhone to go with the new software (although, of course, the new software is will run on the existing iPhone). There's a general feeling in the rumour world that there will be a new iPhone, probably to be announced at the World Developers' Conference (WDC) on June 8 in San Franciso. Whispers speak of a better camera with more pixels and variable focus, and more storage memory for the phone; and, maybe, even a difference processor. We shall have to wait and see, but the money is on something being announced.