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Mac Bloggers Surf While Sipping, Screen Blu-ray on Psystar, Stream With Silverlight

By Chris Maxcer MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Oct 31, 2008 4:00 AM PT

The Apple-focused blogosphere was relatively quiet this week -- that is, it's been populated with a wide range of smaller news items. But hey, Apple-lovin' bloggers can't have a new MacBook redesign to talk about every week.

Mac Bloggers Surf While Sipping, Screen Blu-ray on Psystar, Stream With Silverlight

While Google is bringing the Earth to the iPhone, a few other interesting stories hit. For one thing, AT&T has brought back free WiFi for iPhone users -- this time for real. In addition, Psystar is broadening its Mac "clone" lineup, and movie monger Netflix is using Microsoft's Silverlight to bring streaming movies to the Mac.

Are You Sure?

AT&T has been leaking free WiFi access to iPhone owners over the last six months or so, and some iPhone owners have been quick to report suddenly free -- though apparently unofficial -- WiFi access at their local Starbucks coffee houses. Now, though, it appears that AT&T is officially rolling out the service. Some iPhone customers have been receiving text messages from AT&T noting that iPhone owners can now get free AT&T WiFi at thousands of nationwide hotspots. The text messages direct iPhone owners to a company Web page with more details.

"AT&T knows WiFi is hot, and free WiFi is even hotter. Which is why free AT&T WiFi access is now available for Apple iPhone at thousands of hotspots nationwide, including Starbucks," the page noted. Other hotspots include airports, hotels, universities, convention centers, restaurants, etc.

If all of this sounds familiar, it's because AT&T took criticism a few months ago over a series of confusing announcements on the carrier's Web site. Over the Air blogger Eric Zeman slammed AT&T for its fits and starts, but readers weren't so concerned.

"Whatever, who cares how long it took. Point is, it's here! Awesome," noted JoeThePlumber on the Over the Air post on the subject.

This time it may well be here to stay. In response to a MacNewsWorld inquiry as to the accuracy and official nature of the reports, Mark Siegel, executive director of media and analyst relations for AT&T, told MacNewsWorld, "It is true -- there is info on our Web site, and customers are receiving text messages."

3G or WiFi?

Getting access, it seems, requires a few steps, starting with finding the WiFi hotspot, entering the iPhone's ten digit phone number, checking a box to agree to the usage policy, and receiving a text message from AT&T with secure link to the AT&T hotspot, which is valid for 24 hours.

"Seems like a lot of trouble to get wifi. I'd just stick with the 3g connection where I'm at. Might be worth it if in EDGE only area," noted F1Turbo on the AppleInsider post on the subject.

"Unless, of course, you're trying to download a song or large application, or surfing a graphics-intensive Web site. Then the WIFI connection would be greatly appreciated," added mactoid.

Add-on Blu-ray? New Psystar HackBooks?

Despite the ongoing litigation between Apple and Psystar, the upstart Mac "clone" manufacturer is moving forward with new model plans. Psystar basically builds an Intel-based PC then loads it with Mac OS X -- which may or may not have the ability to work with Apple's periodic software updates. Still, Psystar's low-end box costs US$554.99. Its OpenPro with Mac OS X starts at $1,154.99. Both prices are far below what Apple charges for its iMac and Mac Pro models.

Now customers can opt to add a "6x Blu-ray Burner" and DVD drive for an additional $310.

Psystar's press release on the matter boasts that the company is the "leading manufacturer of OS X-compatible PCs" and is now shipping PCs with Blu-ray optical disc drives and the Nvidia's 9800GT graphics card "before Apple's release of these peripheral products on their own computers."

It's not clear whether the Blu-ray drives actually play Blu-ray movies, though they do appear to burn to Blu-ray discs.

Meanwhile, a Psystar spokesperson reportedly told an reader that the company is working on releasing a mobile open computer that would be competitively priced.

On Cnet's Apple blog, writer Tom Krazit wrote, "The average person reading this article could slap together a desktop PC while watching a football game on a Saturday afternoon, using off-the-shelf parts from an electronics store like Fry's. And there has always been a thriving market for so-called 'white box' desktops built by local shops such as Psystar and distributed to small businesses. A comparable market does not exist for notebooks."

Comments were all over the map, questioning Psystar's quality as well as noting that it may not matter that much.

"... other than an EFI emulator, the hardware is the same," noted jabberwolf, adding, "And if anyone has dealt with Apple's plastic cheap white laptops before, the bar isn't that high for Psystar to achieve a decent clone knock-off."

Then again, maybe the bar is indeed pretty high.

"I speak with laptop OEMs all the time (Dell and HP, in particular) and their laptops all contain highly customized parts, including the motherboard, antenna, and the case. In addition, component selection of the stock components you mention is a highly complex business because of the problem of heat dissipation, which is a much more important consideration on laptops than desktops for obvious reasons," commented therealbean.

Starting With a No-Name Notebook

"Psystar is going to have to purchase a no-name notebook. You can't piece these together like a desktop," Sven Rafferty, founder of hyperSven and SvenOnTech blogger, told MacNewsWorld.

"While I have seen laptop kits, I can't imagine this is the way Psystar is going. I think it's trying to build itself as a 'legit' company with a 'line' of products so that it will add credibility to its name among customers," he added.

"What do I think of Psystar in general? I love them for the David and Goliath aspect -- punch that snobby Steve Jobs in the nose! -- but Apple has a solid resale value for a reason. Quality. An uninformed consumer knowing 'Macs' are better and easier to use wanting a cheaper version of that experience will most likely be the prey of Psystar," Rafferty said.

"Once the user attempts to upgrade the operating system, they'll hear that old saying in their head, 'You get what you pay for,'" he added.

Netflix Lighting the Way With Silverlight

Netflix is now beta testing its video streaming service to Mac-using subscribers, and it should roll out to all subscribers by the end of this year. Netflix is using Microsoft's Silverlight technology to handle the streams, which only work with Intel-based Macs.

While some blog commentators took time to paint Silverlight as a bad "Microsoft" solution, others were more accepting.

"Silverlight does not suck," explained dernhelm on the post on the subject. "Silverlight is actually a very nice development environment. It won't ever surpass Flash for marketshare or anything, but it does have one thing that Flash and Apple's QT/iTunes do not, and that is DRM capabilities that a third party can license. Like it or not, that is a requirement for NetFlix, and it is something that Apple could've fixed long ago -- but Apple doesn't want Netflix competition on movie rentals/sales, so it isn't available,"

"Kudos to NetFlix for working around it with Silverlight to give Mac users a closer to first class experience. It's also a little gutsy since Silverlight is still pretty dripping wet (even on the Windows side) but they really aren't stressing the capabilities too badly here, so I bet it works OK," the user added.

And, as iSee commented, "Who cares if it uses Silverlight, as long as it works?"

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