Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple. Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.
My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:
1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.
2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports. Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,
3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,
4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor. People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,
5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive. Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,
6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story. Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,
7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,
8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?
9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet. Really?
10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy. Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.
And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:
11) Software stability: iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps. iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%. iOS 9 was problematic too.
12) Technical support: Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi. I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.
I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better. But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three. The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)
After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.
Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them. Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering. Much like the current MacBook line-up. Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.
Apple announced a new MacBook computer this week, during a press event that also provided the release date and pricing details for the upcoming Apple Watch. Everyone seemed to agree that the MacBook is a beautiful thing.
But why this machine?
I wish I could be more delicate, but the MacBook impresses me as being a totally unnecessary product. It might be a good ‘casual user’ machine: sufficient for accessing the Web, watching (cat) videos and for short emails perhaps? But so is the iPad. It might be a good “Office” machine: good for making presentations, writing, working on budgets. But so is the MacBook Air, which is less expensive and much more powerful. Instead, Apple seems to have aimed it at the less expensive Chromebook Pixel.
This was a major lost opportunity for Apple. It could have been the one form-factor that Apple is missing – the one that would have addressed the three things that the Microsoft Surface has over the iPad. The MacBook could have had a full computer operating system (as opposed to iOS), the ability to remove the keyboard portion so it could function as a tablet, and a port for file transfer and peripherals. These could have made the MacBook an instant hit. Instead, it has a mobile processor and people are already complaining about the keyboard.
I also immediately imagined a folder-like leather cover that would go behind the screen portion and under the keyboard portion. With the screen removed, the part of the cover that went behind the screen would simply fold down over the keyboard to protect it.
My first impression of the Apple Watch is that its not something that was designed for the ages. Luxury watches are designed as heirlooms and have century-long life expectancies, not 18-months.
Apple could still pull off a coup for $10,000-to-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition buyers if its Applecare extended warranty were to consist of replacing the electronics every couple of years. That would also reinforce the notion of Apple as a luxury brand. Or, instead of doing it under Applecare, just do it for free. The electronics probably cost less than $100 under mass production – the BOM (bill of materials) cost is probably much lower than a smartphone. iPhone 5S’ BOM was $199. It would be a pretty small percentage of the price.
But are they jewelry?
If Apple intended the new MacBook to be “jewelry,” it’s too big for a lady to carry in her pocketbook. And as for the Apple Watch. I imagine that it will sell, but not in Version 1.0. Too big. One of the appeals of the FitBit is its size and light weight. Once Apple manages to skinny down the electronics, then yes maybe.
This past week, Apple announced CarPlay, a rebranding of its iOS in the Car initiative that was announced at its June 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference. My own answer to the question I pose in the title above is at the end of this article.
Having been around the IP video and IPTV world for almost a decade and a half, I can recall how many times the IPTV plane was on the runway and seemed poised for takeoff. I remember writing an article in January of 2002 for Cable & Satellite International, titled “TV over Copper: Is 2002 the year?” With 20:20 hindsight, no it wasn’t.
By then, a lot of Telcos had already launched TV-over-DSL services to paying subscribers, going back to Canada’s Aliant and Kingston Interactive Television in the UK in the late 1990s, followed by Livingston (TX) Telephone and the UK’s Video Networks Ltd (and other pioneering independent operators) by the end of 2000. By 2005, there were hundreds.
The real turning point was when the large incumbent Telcos were able to reach scale. In the US, it was when AT&T and Verizon began to deploy their respective U-Verse TV and FiOS TV services at the end of 2005. In France, it was France Telecom’s MaLigne TV, along with a group of broadband competitors offering hybrid IP-satellite TV. In Hong Kong, PCCW’s Now TV had reached 750,000 by the end of 2006, and was the world’s largest IPTV provider for several years. In 2009, PCCW hit a million subscribers and had about 1/3 of the Hong Kong pay TV market.
My 2002 article was all about the transition to IP from Asynchronous Transfer Mode. In other words, it was about the network. But a lot of other tumblers had to fall into place before the real potential of IPTV could be unlocked: set-top boxes, middleware, MPEG encoding, standardized network architectures, content security, best practices for video quality assurance, and much more; not to mention the content itself. Each time one of the tumblers clicked, we all thought we were on our way.
It’s tempting for people watching the auto industry’s steady progress to fall into the same trap. After all, Apple is in this now, so the Connected Car category must be mature. But that’s still far from true. Consider some of the early adopters. One was Ford’s Sync, based on Microsoft Windows Automotive Embedded technology. The conventional wisdom in 2009 being that Microsoft, of course, was going to own the Connected Car (just as they “owned” IPTV between about 2005 and 2010, which was arguable because AT&T was by far the largest single customer. Most of the others were small and some never deployed).
But Microsoft followed success with surrender and exited the IPTV space in 2013 by selling its Mediaroom unit to Ericsson, which will certainly transition the 45 or so Telcos using that platform over to something a little more Ericsson in nature, in the long run. So it’s natural to question Microsoft’s situation with Ford, given that Ford has recently been in the news with both Google and Apple.
On the heels of Apple’s CarPlay announcement, 9to5 Mac ran an article that asked “Will CarPlay impact your next car purchase?” And consumers weighed in with some obvious comments “Most cars already have a touch screen, so (why not buy one that integrates) with my main device.” and “Will Apple … have updates?,” “I’m sure there are safety concerns,” and “All I need on the dash is heater/AC and an AM/FM radio…” One technology-informed responder said “…(because) it relies on Blackberry’s QNX underpinnings … I can just schlep down to Best Buy… and pick the car stereo of my choice, as long as it uses QNX.”
Each of the concerns make valid points: compatibility, usability, relevance, not going out of date. It’s also not hard to envision the average car buyer wanting to choose the mobile OS that they already live with, just as they do for exterior paint and interior upholstry.
QNX happens to enable the virtualization of client operating systems, so a single QNX-based IVI system can conceivably host iOS, Android and Windows Embedded for Automotive. Linux-based operating systems like QNX or GENIVI (or even techology initiatives like MirrorLink) can enable auto OEMs and aftermarket suppliers to create an OS-neutral environment. But none of the car companies offer anything close to that yet to consumers, and automotive product lifecycles are (ahem) a lot longer than software lifecycles.
Another piece of the ecosystem is wide area connectivity. The Connected Car has been a strategic initiative for a number of major Telcos in Europe, Asia and the US, which has made it one for their network suppliers as well. iPhone reseller AT&T has a compelling vision for the Connected Car, and already enables application developers to leverage APIs into services that include U-verse TV, smart home, location awareness, mobile messaging, and mobile payments.
This January, AT&T announced its AT&T Drive connected car developer platform during its Global Developer Summit in Las Vegas, which coincides with CES. Soon afterward, AT&T opened its AT&T Drive Studio at its Atlanta GA Developer Foundry facility. AT&T also partners with GM (which is embedding 4G LTE capability in all its cars by the end of this model year, and is sure to help address the need for in-vehicle software updates).
So, will CarPlay really be the catalyst to bring the Connected Car into the mainstream? In a word, no. A significant step, maybe: along with Siri Eyes Free, which is available in some Chevy vehicles, it may represent a mainstreaming point for the in-vehicle user experience. But the Connected Car is an ecosystem and the possibility that AT&T, GM and Apple might be working alongside one another toward the same goals (even if not together), is a show of category maturity.
Once again, just as it was with IPTV a decade ago, a lot of tumblers must click into place, and no single party is in control of all the tumblers, except arguably the car companies, which are the most conservative actors in the entire initiative.
Note: Steve Hawley will be conducting a conference session on the Connected Car at the 2014 TV Connect conference in London, which takes place from March 18 to March 20.
I installed MacOS 10.9 (aka Mavericks) the day after it became available. Ars Technica has a fantastic and obsessively detailed review of Mavericks, so I’ll continue just with my own experiences. As of this date, its second dot-release 10.9.2 is in testing.
For me, Mavericks has pros and cons. On the plus side, there is a noticeable improvement in the computer’s performance – it seems ‘snappier.’ Fewer ‘lags’ when you scroll windows, that sort of thing. Also, font-rendering is better, much clearer.
On the minus side, there’s sometimes a performance issue relating to how quickly the contents of directories to show up in a Finder window. I’ve only seen it in column-view in the Finder (as opposed to list view or the icon view). When I’m saving a file attachment from an email or printing a Web page to PDF and navigating to a folder to save it, it sometimes will take as long as 10 seconds for the list of contents to appear. I don’t know what causes this – maybe an underlying change somewhere inside the operating system. Only in Column view. A little annoying but not a show-stopper.
I am also experiencing an egregious bug.
With my particular model of machine, there is a graphics issue that many users of that model have been experiencing, and it is absolutely as a result of Mavericks. I have a Mid-2010 MacBook Pro 15 inch, Apple model ID 6,2 (see **** below). The Intel I5 processor has in-chip graphics, but also, there’s a separate nVidia graphics card. If you set System Preferences > Energy Saver > Automatic Graphics Switching for better battery life, it forces all graphics rendering to the Intel processor. If you set it for “better performance”, it uses the nVidia.
By doing the former, many users, myself included, experience an issue where the drop-shadows surrounding application and Finder windows don’t render correctly. Instead of shadows, they are sharp lines. By doing the latter, the problem goes away, but battery life suffers slightly (not too bad, maybe 10%). But that’s not the point. Mavericks, in effect, has broken my computer. I shouldn’t have to rely upon a work-around.
I’ve been participating in several Apple discussion threads and other users also have this issue. This apparently is model-specific – everyone on these threads has the same MacBook Pro model, and nobody seems to be reporting this for any other model.
Apple is aware of the issue – to the extent that they have a pre-defined test for it in their retail stores. Also, they are replacing MacBook Pro motherboards (“Logic Boards”) for this issue, at no charge. In my case, it was replaced at no charge even though my machine is >3 years old and out of the AppleCare warranty altogether. On one hand, this is above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty customer service (I couldn’t imagine Dell or HP doing this, let alone a big-box retailer/reseller). On the other hand, Apple has made no formal acknowledgement or response to the issue – and I’m hoping that this issue is resolved on the next dot-release (10.9.2), which apparently is already in beta.
Many of the people with this issue, including myself, have also reported the problem to Apple’s Feedback ‘suggestion box’ which Apple engineers apparently actually look at. Also, I am a registered Apple developer and I’ve submitted this as a bug.
Other than this, there is no impact on the actual functioning of my machine other than the improvements that I mentioned at the outset, and the graphics issue. Which I can turn off by changing the ‘Energy Saver’ setting.
**** You can find out your model number by going to Apple Menu > About this Mac > More Info > System Report – and then read the Hardware Overview: “Model Identifier”)
I was a fairly late smartphone adopter – I didn’t have my first one until 2012, and only because I inherited it from another family member. It was the replacement for a lost phone, until the lost one turned up. So I decommissioned my 2007-vintage Nokia XpressMusic 5310 and popped my SIM and MicroSD cards into my new Samsung Exhibit II 4G. T-Mobile is my carrier. Wow! The Future!
But then reality set in. The Android experience did not meet my basic expectations. I found the user interface for basic phone calling to be awkward – dialing with one hand is difficult. Even though I would set the screen to time-out after 10 minutes, it would go dark in 10 seconds, so the act of deleting a voicemail meant that I would have to re-awaken the phone with the power button. The controls for apps were different for each app – no consistency. Often, the phone couldn’t pick up a network provider, even in London where six of them would be in range at any given moment.
Apps are unstable: Firefox could never get past two pages before crashing. Perhaps this instability has to do with poor memory management. One memory management app allows the user to quit all of the processes running in RAM, but within a few minutes they would always reactivate and sneak back in. On the left is a screenshot of this app after clearing 7 apps from RAM. The screenshot on the right shows the same app after clearing ram again six minutes later. This even happened with apps that I thought I had un-installed.
But above all, my greatest concerns went to security and privacy. Android’s ‘Privacy’ settings include ‘Back up my data’ and ‘automatic restore.’ That’s all. Under ‘Location and Security,’ there’s an option to ‘Install encrypted certificates from USB storage.’ Another is to ‘Add or remove device administrators.’ Wow, what an invitation – anyone could pick up my phone when I wasn’t looking and install a mole! Stop and think about this for a minute. The level of access should be a concern to anyone – especially corporate users concerned with data security.
Then there’s the level of access that’s available to software developers. Let’s look at a popular app whose purpose is to use the LEDs of the camera’s flash as a torch to illuminate your path. In reviewing the permissions associated with this app, it’s hard to believe that a flashlight is its true purpose. This app can access your storage, report your location, read the status of your phone calls, and has full access to the Internet. Really? A flashlight? And no way to disable this. The last item in the permissions list notes that it can control the hardware as a flashlight.
By contrast, Apple does not grant app developers access to phone or log functionality. Also, Apple provides system-wide settings for privacy, and both system-wide and app-specific settings to enable or disable location-awareness. in iOS, users can also enable a setting that shows them that an app has reported your location and when. Users can also disable location-based iADs (Apple’s mobile advertising platform).
Android’s location-awareness can be controlled system-wide but not app by app. If you want to grant access to Yelp or Urbanspoon but not to your flashlight, you’re out of luck. I don’t know whether later releases of Android have addressed this because my phone has been dead-ended. I can’t update the OS past Android v2.3.6 (Gingerbread), so I’ll never know (unless I look at the specifications of later releases, but what consumer will do that?).
In the end, privacy was the thing that ultimately won me away from Android, and even kids steeped in these new technologies agree with my decision. A few months into my smartphone, I reached a point where I stopped downloading apps for which I couldn’t control my level of privacy. Soon I realized that this meant I had to stop downloading nearly all apps. For some time afterward, I remained hooked on accessing the Web while mobile, but ultimately I said to myself: “What’s the point when my phone always crashes and I’m always looking over my shoulder?” My phone is a necessity. The rest is not.
And yes, we’re bashing Android, but this article doesn’t do the bashing justice. Juniper Networks estimated that 276,259 apps presented security issues, up 614% from 2012. Apple security isn’t perfect either: at the 2013 Black Hat conference, Georgia Tech researchers showed how malware could be injected into Apple iOS devices via the power connector. But this is nothing compared to kinds of hacks being publicized for Connected Cars. The University of Washington and UC San Diego conducted tests on several connected vehicles and were able to access and disable a vehicle’s controls via the car’s electronic tire-inflation sensor.
There’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there right now that Android is the winning mobile device operating system wars, and Apple’s influence in that market space is waning. This is reflected in the declining market share numbers for Apple in both the smartphone and tablet categories. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. A lot of people out there have opted for Android, been disappointed, and gone to (or back to) iOS. IPhone loyalty is higher also.
For now, I’m back to a Nokia XpressMusic 5310, which a nice gentleman in Shenzhen can sell to you on eBay, unlocked, for about $70. Later I’ll be one of those going to the iPhone, once the next generation is available. [ ...once again, dodging rotten tomatoes from those accusing me of being an Apple fanboy... ]
Ahhh, the Future!
[ Revised August 26: Another data point that acts to reaffirm my decision to leave Android is that there’s conjecture Google is devising a new kind of advertising measurement based on the number of gazes to ads viewed via Google Glass. A sort of “ad impressions” metric on steroids. I know this has nothing to do with my afore-referenced phone, but I don’t have to like it either. ]
This week, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both reported on efforts being mounted by Google to launch an “Internet cable TV service” (an oxymoron). Joining Intel, Sony, Microsoft, Apple and others. Let’s look at them one at a time.
Intel is on the record as hoping to launch its own consumer Internet TV service, although in my opinion – even if they DO launch a service, which they insist they will – a service is not Intel’s true intention in that space. Instead, it’s another market-seeding effort – which Intel has done in the past with set-top box reference designs and software SDKs to drive that industry’s adoption of Intel processors. In other words, a retail TV service might be the icing on a different cake.
For years, Apple TV has been Apple’s entry into the streaming video player market space, and the TV vector of Apple’s device-content-software ecosystem. After many rumors have come and gone, Apple is now reportly “playing nice” in the pay TV industry sandbox. People forget that Apple has been on the side of Big Media for years. The same strategy worked for them with the music industry a decade ago. Also, most pay TV operators, premium pay TV programmers and TV networks offer apps designed to work on iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touch devices (and on the Mac via a Web browser). Steve Jobs became the largest shareholder of The Walt Disney Company when he sold Pixar to them. And now, Sky News, ESPN, HBO Go (among others) have launched apps designed expressly for Apple TV. Bottom line, Apple is both a friend and a friendly distribution channel; not a threat.
Then there are Sony and Microsoft. Over the past year, reports have had both of them taking runs of their own at being “Internet TV providers.” Sony’s effort sounds ambitious, but the rumor mill had gone quiet. They’d have some chance, by virtue that Sony is a media company (Sony Pictures) and the PlayStation is a content ecosystem; not just a game platform.
AT&T offered a special kit for Microsoft’s Xbox 360, to make it compatible with AT&T U-verse IPTV, although sales of that add-on have been suspended. Microsoft also offers branded apps from Comcast, Verizon and a number of TV programmers via Xbox Live. But Microsoft’s efforts to launch its own TV service by negotiating directly with TV programmers ran onto the rocks.
I was originally inspired to write this article because I started thinking how Google might have a better chance than any of these competitors. The TV networks are distrought over the fact that audience measurement for online video is not comprehensive, making advertisers leery of advertising in that medium. Meanwhile, 97% of Google’s revenue is from online advertising, so you’d think they’re onto something (See *** below). But a number of other TV programming distributors offer online platforms and already have relationships with the networks. Also, Google would expect a share of any ad revenue and is no friend of pay TV or broadband providers, particularly in cities where Google is building its own broadband service.
Not to mention that Google has taken other runs at the TV opportunity, most notably with Google TV, a noteworty technology that happened to be one of the great failures of high-tech marketing. Google TV cost Logitech millions of dollars, and their CEO his job. For its part, Google did nothing to correct the misperception that Google TV was a service, instead of the TV middleware that it actually was. [ Update July 26: Google has launched yet another TV device, Chromecast ]
So, here’s how I rank their chances at launching and sustaining an online TV service:
- Google: 0%, for having alienated the TV industry, which is highly resistant to change
- Microsoft: 0%, because they don’t instill confidence that they can succeed. Consider the recent launches of Windows 8, Xbox One, Surface, Windows Phone, and Microsoft’s exit of the IPTV middleware category (Mediaroom) only after becoming a leading supplier.
- Sony: 50% because they are working with TV industry players and because they are a content owner themselves. Also, they are in the process of revitalizing the Playstation ecosystem. [ Note: I previously was saying they had a 10% chance. ]
- Intel: 50%, because they appear to be trying to work within the parameters of the TV industry. If the retail service fails, it’s not the end because a service is only part of Intel’s true agenda despite what they say.
- Apple: 100% if they collaborate with the pay TV industry. Apple’s ecosystem is the broadest and deepest (albeit sans games). Also, Apple gets credit for having saved the music distribution industry’s bacon.
Samsung is a huge wild-card here. They have a device and in-home distribution product ecosystem and have been successful in extending Android into something useful, but Samsung has not announced any intentions of their own, other than partnering with content companies and distributors (pay TV, Redbox Instant and a few others)…
*** I’ve begun to think of Google Search, Android and Chrome as ad-malware. But that’s a whole ‘nother rant, for the next episode of “Why can’t I download that Android app without accepting its terms to track my location and phone usage?” I’m saying to myself “Get over it or switch!” and from my tone, you might guess my decision.
As happens each year, the opening keynote at Apple’s 2013 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) on June 10 included the unveiling of several major new Apple products that will be available later in the year. During the keynote, Apple Sr. VP Eddie Cue announced iOS in the Car, which embeds Siri voice commands into the car, and identified sixteen automobile companies that are working with Apple.
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Viaccess-Orca recently posted a thought piece on their company blog, about Apple and Microsoft shaking things up in the OTT video world. It ended with the question: “Who will dominate the living room?” Given the success of the Xbox and Xbox LIVE, versus Apple’s currently serviceable but functionally lackluster entry in the TV category, my immediate reaction was “Microsoft,” but on further reflection, I have to say “leaning toward Apple, but Android is a contender too.”
Now that Microsoft is leaving the TV infrastructure business (Mediaroom), they are on a more even footing with Apple. Both companies have content ecosystems that are tied with their devices and with the cloud. Both have vulnerabilities. While Apple has been absent in the game category, Microsoft has stumbled in two very strategic device categories (ceding the smartphone and tablet categories to others, not to mention its current challenges with Windows).
If revenue is your measure of success, Xbox has sold more units than Apple TV, but Apple has a clear advantage in content revenue. According to researcher NPD Group, Apple iTunes has 65% and 67% of online movie and TV content unit sales, respectively, compared with Microsoft Xbox Video at 10% and 14%.
Usability is a key to the living room and design will make all the difference. The old adage about Web design still counts: more than two clicks and you’ve failed. Usability has always been an Apple hallmark, but as Viaccess-Orca’s article pointed out, Microsoft offers speech and motion control (and what’s next for Siri?). Apple has Airplay but Microsoft has SmartGlass.
The dark horse in this race is Android because third party developers have more of a say on the user experience. Android offers more control over the conventions of interactivity, while Apple and Microsoft have hard-and-fast user interface rules. Whether device companies (Samsung comes to mind) can deliver on that premise remains an open question.
PS: I’m surprised that Viaccess-Orca resisted the temptation to offer their own opinions about winning the living room, being developers in that space themselves, with a five million user living laboratory through Orange (France Telecom).
One of my friends just switched from PC to Mac and asked me about viruses on the Mac. I put so much time into the answer that I figured “What the heck, I’ll put it on my blog too.”
Yes, I use a Mac, and yes, you do need Internet security, despite what the Mac fanboys say about it. Viruses are not an issue (Macs are not susceptible to Windows virus executables that come in the form of attachments, in other words), but you DO have the same exposure to the Internet as PCs have.
So I take these three basic steps:
1) On the Mac itself:
- Use the Mac’s built-in firewall ( System Preferences -> Security/Privacy -> Firewall -> and make sure it’s turned on )
- Make your Mac invisible on the network ( System Preferences -> Security/Privacy -> Firewall -> Firewall Options: check Enable Stealth Mode)
- Disable location-based services ( System Preferences -> Security/Privacy -> Privacy )
- If you’re really paranoid, disable “Send diagnostic and usage data to Apple” in the same tab
- Disable sharing ( System Preferences -> Sharing -> Un-check everything on the left unless you WANT to share something specific )
- Enable access only for yourself ( System Preferences -> Sharing -> Allow access for “only these users” and just have yourself in the list )
- Turn off Remote Management ( System Preferences -> Sharing -> click on ‘Computer Settings’ and un-check everything ). The only time you’d ever need this ‘on’ is if you have a support call with Apple and they want to take a look into your system.
2) Install Norton Utilities for the Mac (which includes antivirus and firewall). Not McAfee or any of the freeware alternatives. Norton (I am told) is best at detecting root kit-level invasions. As soon as you install it, run the updater and set it to update weekly. Norton includes a program that scans anything that you download and any physical media that goes into your machine (hard drives, USB thumb drives, DVDs/CDs, software updates, etc). Check your Internet Service Provider’s support page. Your ISP might offer it at no charge if you’re a subscriber (Comcast does).
3) Browsers. I use Firefox, with three plugins:
- Ad Block Plus (kills pop-ups)
- Ghostery (finds and disables trackers on Web pages, such as transparent GIFs, etc) and,
- NoScript (allows you to keep scripts from running unless you say that you trust the site.
This is a bit invasive at first because it can (for example) keep Flash from invoking, but you can whitelist/blacklist individual sites which is all good). It is a pain to ‘train’ these to ignore things like Skype or frequently-visited sites, but worth it in the end.
Also, Firefox is very configurable (type about: config in the URL bar), which is nice, and exposes some settings that are not in Firefox Preferences.
I don’t use Safari. It collects data, even when you think it isn’t. Even after you set Safari for private browsing, clear cache/history/etc upon quitting, etc. Somehow Safari still keeps track of URLs so when you start to type one in, it will auto-fill. I have never found a way to turn that particular feature off, short of blowing away all the preferences for the app (which you can do from the Finder ( user-> library-> preferences->). From there, you can delete anything related to Safari but that’s a bit drastic because you can lose your bookmarks.
All of this works for me, but (disclaimer) your mileage may vary.
Despite the fact that I’ve been using PCs on and off since 1981, and remember Windows v1.0 from 1985, I’m often bewildered by Windows 7. When I want to troubleshoot my network, for example, Windows gives me generic help and instructions that often are out of context to the task at hand. Instead, I use the Mac, which puts a diagram of my network on the screen and points out where the issues are.
On Saturdays, The Seattle Times – which is my local newspaper – runs two personal technology columns: one Mac and one PC. Practical Mac talks about Apple products and trends and give tips and tricks, but it’s rarely a ‘fix it’ column. The PC column, Q&A with Patrick Marshall, is invariably dedicated to solving arcane Windows issues (it seems that every third solution involves reinstalling the operating system, the device drivers, or both). Not that the Mac doesn’t have issues too, but juxtaposing these two columns provides a contrast.
So, when Microsoft said that it had ‘Reimagined Windows’ (their term) with the release of Windows 8, many people wondered whether or not Microsoft had learned its lesson. The teaser screen-shots before release (this one is typical) made it appear that Microsoft had finally committed to usability.
But it seems that they have not. Even The Seattle Times – which is also Microsoft’s local newspaper – can’t sugar-coat the situation: the business section has been reporting on the challenges to Windows 8, and The Times is not alone in this. Everyone from The Motley Fool to Ars Technica have not been kind either.
The combination of the negative press and the product itself have had an impact. ZDNet reported in April that Windows 8 OEMs have already revised their PC sales forecasts downward for 2013. Software developers are not flocking to Windows 8 either. Through June 30th 2013, Microsoft is paying developers to write apps for the desktop and phone versions of the Windows 8 platform, in stark contrast to its competitors.
Then there’s the Microsoft Surface ‘tablet.’ Again, high expectations have given way to disappointment. One version of the Surface uses more than 2/3 of the device’s available storage space just for the operating system, whereas competing devices use much less. Retailers are discounting the Surface as well. and so are device makers.
An unfair assessment? Casting judgment while the jury is still out? The Surface provides a cumbersome user experience. It’s too thick and heavy to be a tablet, doesn’t have the solid feel of other tablets, and the keyboards are covered with a sponge-like material that would be doomed in one coffee spill flat. And not to mention how poorly the Windows 8 user interface fails to deliver past its Start screen. Why couldn’t Microsoft bring the ‘Metro’ UI across the entire Windows experience?
Compare with Apple. While Microsoft seems to be bent on putting nearly the same Windows experience everywhere, Apple has accepted that the user experience can differ from one device to the next in a device-appropriate way. A few releases ago, the conventional wisdom was that the iOS/mobile experience would also become the MacOS X experience, and this has not taken place. Although MacOS X has some iOS-like features (for example, Launchpad, a version of the Mac desktop that presents apps the same way the iPad and iPhone do), Apple did not make Launchpad the default user experience, whereas Metro is the default for Windows 8.
It’s almost as if Apple said “We’re going to try this and see if consumers adopt it” plus “Let’s make it easier for people coming to the Mac from iOS for the first time,” while Microsoft said “We’re going to tell you how Windows is going to work now.” Microsoft’s usability test facilities are top notch, but Microsoft seems more worried about making sure you know how their product works rather than taking user reactions back into product design. I’ve been in many Microsoft usability studies and I can recall several where I simply couldn’t figure something out, and the usability engineer would come out from behind the 2-way mirror and show me how it works. Think about that for a minute…
And don’t get me started about ‘the ribbon’ in Office. I was under some time pressure the other day to do an animated slide with ‘build ups’ in it. Assembling an animated slide used to be a matter of selecting objects in the slide and assigning an action to it. After 10 minutes trying to find this functionality in the UI, I gave up. Thanks.
So after nearly 30 years, the concept of Windows no longer seems to fit what consumers are buying, and Windows 8 and the Surface are case in point. It was a good run. But no, Microsoft hasn’t lost the consumer altogether. There’s still the Xbox 360, an industry unto itself.
But no matter how hard Microsoft tries, the PC roots of Windows can’t be disguised in today’s usability-driven, mobile, post PC world. As a result, Microsoft has now missed the two great device opportunities of this young century – smartphones and tablets – and has squandered its Windows franchise. Smartphones and tablets are built around ecosystems, and Microsoft apparently can’t to commit to one that extends beyond the Xbox. But ecosystems are another discussion for another day.
This wasn’t meant to be an “Apple Fan Boy” article, but Microsoft has made itself an easy target. Hopefully this situation turns around for Microsoft. But it will take an infusion of vision to make that happen, which is sorely lacking at the top. And now there are concerns that the same is true of Apple, post Steve Jobs. We need our innovators to be innovative, so let’s hope that better days are ahead for both.