Connected Home EXPRESS, September 11, 2002

Connected Home EXPRESS—Brought to you by Connected Home Magazine Online, the unique resource to help you tackle home networking, home automation, and much more.


HomeTech Solutions

Windows & .NET Magazine Mobile Edition

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September 11, 2002—In this issue:


  • Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar: Is This the Purrfect Time to Switch?


  • Palm Offers Refunds to m130 Owners
  • Microsoft Unveils Windows Media 9 Series
  • Sony Preps Net-Enabled TiVo Device
  • Microsoft Releases Windows XP Media Center Edition
  • Napster Bites the Dust, This Time for Good


  • Real-World Tips and Solutions Here for You
  • UNIX, Linux, and Windows: Managing the Unruly Trinity


  • Results of Last Week's Poll: Using Blogs
  • New Poll: Home Computer Configuration


  • Tip: Download WMP 9 Beta


  • New WLAN/SOHO Platform
  • Create, Author, and Record DVDs


  • See this section for a list of ways to contact us.

By Paul Thurrott, News Editor, [email protected]


  • Greetings,

    Apple Computer's most recent OS, Mac OS X 10.2--code-named Jaguar (released 2 weeks ago)--is a viable alternative to the Windows XP juggernaut, especially for people interested in digital-media tasks. But is it enough? Despite months of "Switch" ads aimed at luring Windows users to the Macintosh fold, steady improvements to its core OS, and a stable full of desirable hardware, Apple continues to lose market share, even in its one-time stronghold, the education market. Is Jaguar the "purrfect" OS upgrade or just the latest in a long line of capable also-rans?

    I guess that depends on who you are; no one can answer the question in a vacuum. First, Mac OS X won't be viable if no one uses it, and existing Mac users (who number roughly 20 million, according to Apple) haven't been upgrading to Mac OS X in big numbers. By July 2002, 18 months after the first Mac OS X release, only 2.5 million Apple customers had switched to Mac OS X as their primary Mac OS--mostly because of performance problems and software and hardware incompatibilities. To put these numbers in perspective, consider XP, which shipped just after Mac OS X 10.1 last fall: Microsoft has sold more than 50 million XP licenses in less than a year. Game over, right?

    Not exactly. As Apple is quick to point out, niche markets can be big money makers. The company's global market share is similar to what BMW has obtained in the worldwide automotive market, and few people would label BMW an also-ran. On the other hand, BMW doesn't face a single, ultracompetitive foe that controls roughly 96 percent of its market. But Apple could double its market share without too much effort, and that's what the company's often-vocal followers hope for. And Apple has big plans to make such a thing happen.

    The first plan involves creating gorgeous hardware, such as the new 17" iMac, svelte PowerBook G4, and award-winning iPod, which Apple recently released in various Windows-compatible versions. Hardware as beautiful as Apple's is uncommon in the PC industry, and its innovative designs drive people to and the company's many retail stores. These venues attempt to show that small though it might be, the Mac market is still big enough to attract hardware and software makers that give Mac users what they need to work and play with their computers. But Apple's hardware solutions come with a not-so-hidden downside: The PowerPC architecture that drives modern Macs has fallen significantly behind the Intel and AMD architectures PC users enjoy. So Windows-based PCs are usually much faster, less expensive, and easier to find, fix, and maintain than Macs. And the performance gap, especially, is widening daily.

    Apple's plan also includes the Switch ad campaign, which shows real ex-Windows users who have switched to the Mac. These ads are curious for many reasons, the most obvious of which is that they don't show or discuss any of Apple's products. Whether the Switch ads have had any significant effect on Mac's market share is unclear, but we can expect Apple to trumpet any successes it might eventually see. On that note, one important Apple market is indeed switching, but away from the Mac: the education market. Apple's share of this market is now less than half of market-leader Dell's share. Apple once owned more than 50 percent of the education market but now commands less than 12 percent, according to market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). That's bad news for Apple no matter how you slice it.

    But the final part of Apple's plan, an ever-improving Mac OS X, holds the most promise. Although the company is widely known as a hardware maker, it's also been in the software business from the software industry's earliest days, and its modern Mac OS X 10.2 release is sure to gain some converts. Essentially a minor upgrade to previous Mac OS X versions, Jaguar includes numerous small updates and refinements but few major new innovations. Here's the problem in a nutshell: Although Apple has produced its most compelling OS release ever, Jaguar might not be enough to increase Mac adoption.

    So what's new in Jaguar? Apple told me that this release includes more than 150 new features. Jaguar includes excellent communications tools, such as a new version with an interesting junk-mail-removal feature, an attractive AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) front end called iChat, and a new systemwide address book. All these tools are roughly analogous to what XP users might expect on their systems. Jaguar's Web-browsing experience, however, lags significantly because of bizarre performance problems, and I have yet to find a Web browser that performs adequately under any Mac OS X version. It's frustrating.

    Jaguar also includes a new QuickTime version, QuickTime 6, which supports the already outdated MPEG-4 video format and instant-on Web streaming. Apple significantly updated its Sherlock application with support for numerous Web services so that you can search for items such as movie listings and reviews, eBay auctions, and restaurants; Apple added Sherlock's file-finding capabilities back to Mac OS X's shell, the Finder. Conversely, Jaguar's Help system is an embarrassment.

    Apple has dramatically improved Windows network interoperability in Mac OS X 10.2, answering all my complaints about previous versions. You can now browse Windows workgroups natively from Jaguar and even appear on a Windows network as a Windows machine. However, you still can't share printers attached to Windows PCs. I'd love to see that feature added.

    But Jaguar's biggest strength, as always, is its so-called iApps, none of which Apple upgraded for this release. The applications include iTunes for digital music recording and management; iPhoto for digital photo acquisition and management; iMovie for digital movie acquisition, editing, and distribution; and, on recordable DVD-equipped Macs, iDVD for creating home DVD movies. Most of these applications are excellent, but XP's built-in tools easily match iPhoto and iTunes. Although iMovie is much more sophisticated that XP's Windows Movie Maker, it's also more complicated and works only with digital video inputs. iDVD is simply the most wonderful piece of software on the planet, unmatched on any system. And iDVD remains the key reason to consider a Mac.

    In case it isn't obvious, Jaguar's problem is that it doesn't overtly improve Apple's chances of gaining ground on Windows. Macs are still better than Windows PCs if you need to deal primarily with digital video. And they are equally capable for digital audio and photos, although not nearly as viable for most other computer-based tasks, such as game playing, productivity applications, and Web and software development. That Jaguar includes more than 150 small improvements speaks more to the fact that Mac OS X simply needed that much refinement than it does to any superiority to Windows.

    But don't take that statement as a criticism of Jaguar, which is a refined, stable, and mature OS. The problem is inertia. As my wife recently commented, Mac OS X can't simply be as good as or a little better than Windows for most people to give up their Windows systems, take the time to learn the new system, and convert and copy all their valuable data. No, it has to be two or three times as good, and the transition has to be totally seamless. Otherwise, the costs are just too great to justify the aggravation. And although Jaguar is, at best, a viable alternative to Windows--one that many people would be quite happy with--it's still not better than XP. And it most certainly isn't two or three times as good.

    That said, I really do like Mac OS X, especially this refined new Jaguar release. But I wonder whether it's good enough to make anyone switch. I'm interested in hearing from Connected Home EXPRESS readers who have made or even considered the Mac OS X switch. What factors led you to consider this path, and what made you ultimately decide to stick with, or abandon, Windows? Most important, how did you handle the data and application conversion?


    ON THE GO?
    Introducing Windows & .NET Magazine Network Mobile Edition! Now you can get the latest news from WinInfo Daily UPDATE, commentary from respected sources like Windows & .NET Magazine UPDATE, and important security discoveries and alerts from Security UPDATE--delivered right to the palm of your handheld device. Sign up today!

    (An irreverent look at some of the week's Connected Home news, contributed by Paul Thurrott and Keith Furman)


  • This week, we continue the never-ending legal saga for Palm and its ill-fated m130 PDA, which, as you might recall, can display only 58,000 colors, not the advertised 65,000. In a reversal from its previous stance, the company has now agreed to offer full refunds to any m130 customers who are upset about the display-color discrepancy. "We want to do the right thing," the company wrote in a statement, no doubt spurred by the class-action lawsuit Palm now faces in California because of this situation.


  • In a gala Hollywood event last week, Microsoft unveiled its Windows Media 9 Series family of products, which include a new Windows Media Player (WMP) and new audio and video codecs that the company says far surpass anything available from the competition. WMP 9 can display high-definition-quality movies by using 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound, according to Microsoft, bringing theater-quality experiences to the PC for the first time. For anyone who thought MPEG-4 was cool, it's time to wake up. This stuff is serious.


  • Sony recently unveiled plans for a new Internet-connected digital video recording (DVR) device that uses a 160GB hard disk to store 100 hours of television programming. Sony's Cocoon line of products are designed for broadband users who want sophisticated DVR functionality and interconnectivity with other devices, such as cell phones, Sony PlayStation 2s, and home PCs. Sony powers this technology with software licensed from DVR market-leader TiVo. The company will roll out the initial products in Japan, as usual, but a US launch is forthcoming. Stay tuned.


  • Last week, Microsoft announced that it has completed development on the initial release of Windows XP Media Center Edition, a new Windows version that will power Media Center PCs from Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Samsung. XP Media Center Edition is basically XP Professional Edition with a friendly new remote-enabled interface for TV, DVR recording, DVD movies, digital photos, digital music, and digital videos, making it possible to access these features from a living room TV set rather than the pathetic little 15" monitor most people use today. Whether XP Media Center Edition takes off will depend on people's desire to pay $1800 for a new PC: The company isn't offering the software separately for existing XP users. Boo!


  • Napster has been dead so long that the newest generation of music pirates has probably never even heard of the original music-pirating service. But in case any of you still remember Napster, last week a federal judge shut down the company for good by blocking the sale of Napster's assets to music giant Bertelsmann, killing any hope that the service would someday be revived. Napster sparked the current trend of downloading, rather than paying for, CD-quality music, but several recording industry companies sued Napster and forced it to radically change its service. Eventually, the pirates moved on, and Napster shut down. Lesson learned? Starting a business based on the theft of intellectual property isn't necessarily a viable idea. Go figure.

    (brought to you by Windows & .NET Magazine and its partners)


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  • The voting has closed in Connected Home Online's nonscientific Quick Poll for the question, "Have you used blogs (Web logs)?" Here are the results (+/-2 percent) from the 87 votes:
       -  5% Yes, I use blogs regularly
       -  9% Yes, but only occasionally
       - 22% No, but I'm interested
       - 36% No, and I'm not interested
       - 29% What in the world is a blog?


  • The next Quick Poll question is, "Do you have Windows machines, Macs, UNIX-based machines, or a combination in your home?" Go to the Connected Home Online home page and submit your vote for a), Only Windows machines, b) Only Macs, c) Windows and Mac machines, d) Windows, Mac, and UNIX-based machines, or e) Other.



  • (contributed by Paul Thurrott, [email protected])

    Yeah, it's only a beta, but you'll be amazed by how far Windows Media Player (WMP) has progressed with its new release. WMP 9 features an almost infinitely configurable UI; cool new playback modes, including a Web-based Info Center view; Smart Jukebox features with Auto Playlists based on various criteria; crossfading and autovolume leveling functionality; deeper shell integration on Windows XP only; powerful tag editing for Windows Media Audio (WMA) and MP3 files; high-speed CD burning; and numerous other improvements over WMP 7 and Windows Media Player for Windows XP (MPXP). Download it now from the Microsoft Web site.

    Got a question or tip? Email [email protected]. Please include your full name and email address so that we can contact you.

    (contributed by Jason Bovberg, [email protected])


  • Jungo announced a strengthening of its strategic alliance with IDT with the introduction of a jointly developed platform optimized for wireless LAN (WLAN), small office/home office (SOHO), and residential gateways. The platform includes Jungo's OpenRG Linux-based software solution and IDT's RC32334 integrated communications processor. The scalable platform supports both existing and future system functionality for wireless access points (APs) and gateway equipment. For more information, contact Jungo on the Web.


  • B.H.A Software announced B's DVD, DVD creation and recording software that lets users of all experience levels create, author, and record DVD-Video titles. Users can select video clips stored on hard disk or captured in realtime from a Digital Video (DV) camcorder, then quickly and easily create professional-looking, shareable DVDs. The software includes a variety of professionally designed templates, including backgrounds, button positions, and color schemes, and automatically sets the look and feel of the finished DVD. The software also gives advanced users expanded options to create hierarchical custom submenus, import graphics for menus and buttons, and store DVD images on hard disk. B's DVD costs $29.95. For more information, contact B.H.A Software at 714-549-7624 or on the Web.

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