Leopard Launch Wrap, HD DVD vs. Blu-ray, Next-Gen PC Security, Product of the Week

I’ve been covering the Leopard launch for the last three weeks and will now wrap it up. There have been some issues with the new OS, but nothing critical, and it appears to be a near-flawless launch.

Moving to a more interesting battle, Black Friday is coming up and it looks like the HD DVD folks are planning on nailing the Blu-ray folks to the wall. Finally, Phoenix Technology is back, and they have a really interesting idea about how we all will be using Linux on our more-secure PCs shortly.

As always, I’ll close with my first product of the week for November: a new PC that meets the very high Energy Star 4.0 standard, has a starting price of US$369, and allows you to help save the environment without spending a lot of your own green.

Leopard Launch Wrap: Apple Future Thoughts

Leopard came to market with only a few ironic blue screens of death, and Apple reported 2 million sold during the opening weekend. Given the relative installed bases in the consumer space, this would be like Microsoft selling 20 million copies of Windows over the same time, and it was a very nice effort regardless of whose side you are on. The problems that did happen still have me thinking the best way to get a new OS is on a new PC.

Apple should see solid share growth as a result of this, but had it been able to roll out some compelling new hardware at the same time I think the numbers would have been larger and folks would be more excited. A number of us are wondering whether we will ever see lines for PCs again. The right combination might result in such an event.

Apple provides a good lesson on how to bring out an offering. It contains the information surrounding it until the launch, hand-picks initial reviewers to ensure a positive initial set of reviews and set the baseline, then rolls a sustaining marketing program on top of the launch, which ensures a strong ramp to market.

The only thing that seems light is Apple’s sustaining marketing on Leopard. Right now it seems Apple is primarily focused on moving the iPhone, which just won Invention of the Year from Time. This might indicate that Apple is choosing the iPhone over Leopard for its fourth-quarter push. Word of mouth on the product is strong, and that should carry it through the quarter.

However, where does Apple go from here? The iPhone and iPod are clearly the more important side of this company and increasingly seem to be getting the lion’s share of the resources.

Hardware technologies like solid state drives, outdoor viewable displays, touch and biometrics don’t exist, for the most part, on Apple machines, making you wonder if they aren’t simply treating their PC hardware lines as cash cows now and placing all of their strongest efforts in the CE (consumer electronics) products.

Given how much traction Apple’s PC stuff is getting, I wonder if it might also benefit greatly from the same level of effort. An iMac built like an iPhone would look really cool; this video of a prototype iMac still catches my breath.

Black Friday: The HD DVD Barbarian Attack

We’ve known for some time that there would be a lot of low-cost HD DVD players driven into the market during the critical Christmas buying season. We were expecting it to be off-brand Chinese players, but it looks like Toshiba products are the ones that will be hitting stores in massive volumes in prices ranging from $170 to $200 for their previous- and current-generation low-end HD DVD products.

Of course, if you were awake last Friday, you saw that Best Buy and Wal-Mart blew out the Toshiba A2 products at $99 a pop. I’m writing this Thursday night, but I expect the stores will sell through inventory before you read this.

This makes the new steady price for the low end (after last weekend) of the Toshiba line under $200, and this puts the still expected Chinese products at an even lower price point and that is a considerable amount of price pressure on the approximately twice-as-expensive Blu-ray offerings.

If, as we understand, the new A3 Toshiba products do drop below $200, they have a decent built-in DVD up-converter and that would make them a really good buy even though they only go up to 1080i. The format actually looks better than the more expensive 1080p player on a 1080p set because of the superior de-interlacing technology in most 1080p sets.

This creates a sustaining insider bargain, one where people in the know get just what a huge value this is. If that perception is widely held, the folks who sell these things — including Wal-Mart, which cornered the DVD market years ago — will likely set sales records now that both K-Mart and Amazon have jumped on board. Hint: It appears Amazon will have them at a sub-$170 price.

Adding to the drama is the rumor that Warner Home Entertainment is planning to go exclusive with one platform. It will be basing its decision on how many of these inexpensive players are sold. Initially, WHE was releasing titles in HD DVD only.

We’ll know in a few weeks, but the fact that Disney is anything but happy doesn’t bode well for Blu-ray. When executives start blustering like this it isn’t a good sign.

Linux and Security for Your PC, by Phoenix

Phoenix Technologies is actually one of the most powerful companies in the PC space we never talk about. Up until recently, the company seemed to be hell-bent for leather to go out of business, but what a difference a new executive team can make.

Now, Phoenix has figured out how to stop fighting Intel and address both its future and a better user experience on PCs. By slipstreaming on Linux in a way that actually favors that OS, it can be so much better than just a poor clone of Windows.

It has a new offering called “Failsafe” that runs in the computer’s basic in-out system (BIOS). This is a Lojack-like utility that’s virtually impossible to disable without destroying the PC. If your PC is stolen, it allows you to get it back and/or ensure the folks who stole it can’t get access to your stuff.

Unlike products that run in the operating system (OS) layer, BIOS-based products are tied to systems which have to work in order for any OS to boot. Coupled with one of the new Trusted Platform Module (TPM)-enabled systems with an encrypted Seagate drive, this represents the ultimate in security.

Even more interesting is HyperSpace, which is a light virtual machine running on top of BIOS that allows both Windows and embedded Linux to co-reside. This allows you to get access to basic functions like watching DVDs, doing e-mail, or browsing the Web without having to wait for the whole PC to boot up, and without requiring a number of energy-robbing systems you don’t at the moment need to start up.

Anti-malware products can run in this virtual machine and are vastly harder to fool or compromise than if they were running in Windows, leading to a much more secure platform overall. If that weren’t enough, even if you ruin Windows, this allows you to boot your machine and get online so a remote technician or download can fix what you’ve done.

This could make every PC a Linux PC, even if it runs Windows as well and set up a level of cooperation on the desktop between the platforms we hadn’t even thought of. We won’t likely see hardware based on either initiative until mid-2008, but man, is this ever interesting.

Product of the Week: Green PC

Dell just got its entry level Inspiron 531 to level 4 on the Energy Star Rating, which means that, coupled with a flat panel monitor and used for four years, you save the same amount of energy you’d save if you parked your average car for eight weeks.

Prices start at $369 without the monitor or $579 with a 17-inch flat panel and more power.

For most things, going green comes at a premium and results in some rather homely (or strange-looking) products. In this case, you get your cake and can eat it too in that the prices are very reasonable and appearance of the product is actually rather nice.

We are going to see a huge focus on Green next year from everyone from HP to Lenovo. This is space that will be hard-fought, and regardless of who wins, we win as a result of the savings. Start thinking green and, if you are in the market for a desktop PC, check out the 531.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

1 Comment

  • Disney LOVES Blu-ray… they are not upset with it at all. Just last week they were talking about how great Blu-ray is at the Blu-ray festival and how upset with HD-DVD they are..
    The Toshiba HD-DVD players look more like a desperate move than a good strategy. What major manufacturer would want to make HD-DVD players now that Toshiba dropped them down to $100?! There is no money to be made there.
    BTW, a decent up-converter from 1080i to 1080p will NEVER look as good as a straight 1080p set up with no conversion.

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