PODCAST

Mac Lion: The King of the OS X Jungle?

Apple has this way of making its more devoted fans feel as though the company is giving them some sort of gift whenever it rolls out a new product. It plans a party, makes special invitations, and trots out the new inventions like it’s paying tribute to a visiting dignitary. Nobody’s giving anyone anything, of course; it’s total salesmanship. Not a bad way to go about it, though.

Its next big show on Oct. 20 will apparently center on OS X and the Mac. Judging from the image on the invite, it looks like the next iteration of the Mac operating system will go by the code name “Lion,” keeping up with the usual big-cat business. Hard to say how long they can keep going with that — I guess Cougar is still open, if they really want to go there, but after that they’ll have to dig down to Serval or Ocelot or Munchkin or something. Or maybe Lion is the king of the OS X family, and after this it’s on to OS XI.

However, an actual rollout of Lion looks like it would be kind of premature at this point — Snow Leopard arrived just over a year ago, and Apple’s rhythm is usually to release a new OS every two years or so.

Even if the next OS X won’t arrive in stores any time soon, though, the company might still give the world a bit of a preview. Apple’s iOS devices, especially the iPad, have been flying off the shelves lately, so perhaps Lion will promise a new level of integration between Apple’s mobile devices and its notebooks and desktops, allowing OS X users to get the devices to interact through means other than iTunes. Just a guess.

But Apple couldn’t possibly throw a party without tossing out a few new products to get the fanboys salivating. The invitation also included a phrase — “Back to the Mac” — so it’s likely we’ll see the arrival of some new desktop or laptop hardware, possibly a new version of the MacBook Air, which hasn’t received a whole lot of upgrade attention since it was launched nearly three years ago. And if new computers are in the making, they’ll come just in time to make all the back-to-school shoppers start grinding their teeth over the new MacBooks they bought last August.


Listen to the podcast (12:59 minutes).


Lucky No. 7

The next few months are going to be fast times for Microsoft. The company’s gearing up for one more push into the modern smartphone game, and it’s throwing in everything it’s got.

On the front line in its march to reclaim a piece of the smartphone market are several WinPho 7 devices that will start hitting the shelves Nov. 8. Manufacturers include LG and Dell, as well as two phone makers that have hit it big with Android over the last couple of years — HTC and Samsung.

Of course, a bunch of different phones are going to have a bunch of different specs, but one thing they will have in common is the processor. The Qualcomm Snapdragon will do the thinking for all these phones, so no mental midgets in this pack.

Microsoft’s launch plans are all over the map in terms of carriers. WinPho7 will hit all four major U.S. carriers eventually, but GSM carriers — that is, AT&T and T-Mobile — will have first dibs. Verizon and Sprint will get Windows phones sometime in the first half of next year.

The stakes are high for Microsoft. It’s had some noteworthy mobile misadventures in its recent past. Windows Mobile may not be technically dead, but it’s definitely been taken off the starter list. Even though Microsoft has buried more mobile operating systems than Google or Apple has produced, it decided long ago that in order to compete with the new market leaders in the consumer smartphone world, it had to do some kind of reboot. So Windows Phone 7 Series was born.

The Microsoft Kin was a half-step in that direction, but that crashed and burned in the span of about a month and a half. The less said about that the better.

Maybe Redmond can pull off a total comeback eventually, but at the very least it needs to hold its own as a respectable runner-up in the smartphone race. It’s hard to say what another failure in mobile would do to Microsoft, but it wouldn’t be pretty.

It might not be all-out deadly. The entire IT world is not moving en masse to mobile in the near future — there’s still plenty of money to be made in software built for computers that more or less stay put. But mobile is where a lot of the excitement is right now — a place where this huge, famous software company really ought to have a strong presence, if for no other reason than the sake of propriety.

The competition has a head start, the market is crowded, but if Microsoft can get it right this time around, there just might be room for one more.

Hulu to Do the IPO Dance?

Just as Google’s getting ready to bring its own brand of Internettelevision to the masses through devices from Logitech and Sony, a WebTV player that’s already won mass appeal is getting ready to take itsgame to a whole new level. Hulu is reportedly planning to file withthe SEC for an initial public offering by the end of the year. It could raise up to US$300 million, according to a Reuters report.

Decision time comes in November, according to an unnamed source. The IPO would actually happen in April or May.

IPOs haven’t exactly been very popular lately, but the market couldwork up a good appetite for them by spring, and an outfit likeHulu hits right in the middle of that new-media-slash-social-networking sweet spot.

When it first arrived, Hulu proved it couldconvince viewers to watch TV on their computers and even to sit through commercial breaks as long as the programming wasfresh, free and available on demand. More recently it’s begun a pushfor a paid subscription service with even more options, and who knowswhat it’ll do in the future, especially with 300 million dollars inits pocket.

Granted, a recent comScore study ranked it only the 10th most popularonline video site. But let’s look at what outranked it: sites likeYouTube, Facebook, Yahoo — in other words, your basic Internetamateur hour stuff. Not exactly the kind of places you’d go to if you wantedto catch up on the last few episodes of “30 Rock” or something. Andeven if comScore found it didn’t catch the most users, Hulu did catchthe most ad views.

If it can convince investors it’s on the right track, Hulu could get avery generous payout from this IPO. And those proceeds could go towardprojects like international expansion, building the kind of big-pipedata center you need to stream video to a lot of users, and licensingeven more popular content.

Safer Sign-On

Using a computer that doesn’t belong to you is sort of like using someone else’s toothbrush. It’ll get the job done, but you probably want to do anything you can to make sure the experience is as safe and hygienic as possible. That’s especially true if you’re using a computer at an Internet cafe or a library to log into a personal account using a username and password. You never really know what’s lurking behind the screen — could be nothing, could be a keylogger taking down everything you type and shipping it off to some spamming operation, or worse.

But what happens when you must, must, MUST check in with Facebook and the only way to do that is by signing on with some strange computer that could be crawling with more bugs than a New York mattress store?

That’s where Facebook’s latest disposable passwords schtick comes into play. You can text a code to a special number, and you’ll get texted back with an alternate password that’s only effective for the next 20 minutes. Use that to sign on, do your business, make sure you sign off, then move on. Once it expires, you can only sign on using your usual password, which you presumably have not typed into any unfamiliar computers.

The drawbacks: You have to have your phone number listed in your Facebook account information. If you haven’t given Facebook your number for whatever reason — I can think of at least five — then you won’t be able to use this service.

Also, you’re out of luck if you happen to lose your phone and whoever picks it up turns out to be some kind of joker. If they somehow also figured out your email address — which is sometimes kept on phones — they might be able to use this one-time password trick to jimmy into your account and create all kinds of mischief. Might even work if you do a screen lock on your cellphone — maybe they could just swap the SIM. Moral of the story: Don’t lose your phone.

Quarantining the Zombies

When you have a cold, a flu, or any other kind of infectious disease,the best place in the world to be is at home. Locked in a room. Awayfrom me. The fancy word for that is “quarantine,” and Microsoft’s bigidea now is to quarantine computers with certain types of infections.If your computer has come under the spell of a botnet — basically, thecomputer equivalent of a tapeworm — maybe it should stay out of publicspaces. In other words, it should be kept off the Internet. By force,if necessary.

That’s the proposal outlined by Scott Charney, Microsoft’s VP oftrustworthy computing. In a speech he gave last week at a conference in Berlin and in a position paper published by Microsoft, Charney explained why it would be beneficial to either throttle or cut off sick, wheezing computers and prevent them from polluting the Internet environment.

Sure would be nice not to have to share the Web with a bunch of zombiemachines, but how much is too much? When does a public cyberhealthinitiative turn into a heavy-handed clampdown that cuts people offfrom vital sources of information?

Well, Charney made it sound like what he has inmind is a bit less than 100 percent draconian. Such a system wouldn’tnecessarily cut your computer off forever at the mere whiff of abotnet infection. More likely, it would throttle your connection, speedit down — both to choke off the parasitic traffic and to motivate youto do something about it. Of course, you’d still need to be givenonline access to the tools needed to cure your machine, lest westep back to the days of getting CDs in the mail AOL-style.

Let’s keep in mind that this is only the talk of oneguy who just wanted to get some discussion going. Microsoft may bebig, and it’s definitely influential, but at the present time,nobody’s dictating the terms under which our future selves will surf.

Manual, Automatic or Really Automatic?

Obviously, you are an excellent driver. Anyone who drives faster ormore aggressively than you is a maniac, anyone who’s slower isprobably asleep at the wheel. No accident has ever been your fault,and the roads would be safer if everyone had your skills.

But would the roads be safer if computers — not people — were the onesdriving cars? Google CEO Eric Schmidt seems to think so. Just lastmonth he said it was unfortunate that cars were invented beforecomputers and that it was amazing people were allowed to drive at all.And right on cue, just a week or two later, Google confirmed a rumorthat’s been floating around for a while: The company is indeed workingon cars that drive themselves.

They’re not just testing it out in some big open field where theonly thing to hit is a fence or a technician who forgot to dodge.Nope, the public roadways of California are Google’s laboratory –possibly right alongside you if you happen to commute along one of thestate’s major north/south arteries. Google says its fleet of sixToyotas and an Audi have made the trek from Mountain View all the waydown to Santa Monica, a trip of about six hours under good conditions.

Apparently, this is completely legal — the police have been aware ofit from the beginning. And Google says that in the event anything goeswrong, there is an actual person in the car at all times — aterrified, sweat-soaked person. Just kidding; I’m sure they trusttheir software completely. In fact, they trust it so completely thatthey just might have let some of their automatic cars take a solo spinonce or twice. There’s a video on YouTube that appears to show acompletely empty car barreling down the road, though it’s hard to knowwhether that’s really the work of Google or one of the region’s manyother mad scientists.

The goal of the whole thing, of course, is safety. Schmidt had a pointwith the driving thing — navigating three tons of metal at 70 milesper hour isn’t a great job to entrust to a human. We get distracted,emotional, stupid and sometimes even intoxicated. Or we just can’tpossibly react quickly enough when trouble comes up. That’s why over amillion people die on the roads every year. It’s possible that in lessthan a decade, this kind of technology will be feasible on a largescale and actually built into cars.

There are lots of questions surrounding this scenario, though. Let’sjust come right out with it: If someone gets hurt or killed, who getssued? Would Google or whoever else wrote the software get served withpapers every time there was an accident? And even though drivingsoftware may be better than the average human driver, if thatsoftware’s written by a human, it’s still flawed in one way oranother.

Perhaps the result of research like this won’t be to take humansout of the driving equation completely. Maybe it’ll just lead totechnology that adds a little more robotic assistance to the task ofdriving but for the most part still leaves us old meatbags in charge.

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