Particle Debris (Week ending Oct 24)

Befo re I get into this week's news debris, I want to comment on the recent remark Steve Ballmer made about how Apple customers don't get the "full office." I am sure that that remark was a simple, factual marketing statement -- MS Office for Windows has Outlook (and Access in the Professional version).

I asked Microsoft's PR agency about that and asked for clarification. They said Mr. Ballmer's statement stands, and they had nothing to add. The reason for that was probably that, taken at face value, Mr. Ballmer's comment can be taken to mean nothing more than Windows users get Outlook and Mac users get Entourage - a package that has been shortchanged when it comes to equalling the full capabilities of Outlook.

But the problem goes deeper. Microsoft is on a rebranding campaign, and even though Mr. Ballmer's intent was only to point out the advantage of Windows, I don't think it was wise to say so. The reason is that the suspension of disbelief, the willingness to believe that Microsoft has been doing the very best it could on the Apple side is destroyed with that one remark. While Mr. Ballmer probably saw it as a way to point out how wonderful Windows is, Apple customers who experience problems with MS Office on the Mac, from now on, could feel that despite paying their hard earned money, they're being short changed somehow in support of Microsoft's agenda to accentuate Windows and denigrate the Mac.

It's a tricky situation, and it just goes to show how carefully an executive's words must be chosen.

On to the news debris.

I saw a news story at Barron's on Sunday that Apple might, repeat might, be thinking about a carrier subsidy program for MacBooks on the other side of the pond. The idea is that with a 3G/USB adapter, the MacBook could get onto the carrier's 3G data network in those cases when Wi-Fi isn't available. The carrier charges a monthly fee, just as for a mobile phone, but included is a subsidy that reduces the initial price of the MacBook. It's an intriguing plan -- one that sells more computers and makes more money for everyone without damaging Apple's brand and higher, unsubsidized price. Alas, it was just speculation.

On Monday, Peter Burrows offered the idea that Apple may be luring Microsoft into an ad war, one that Microsoft, given its ineptness, would have no hope of winning. However, corporate hubris would dictate that Microsoft would believe it could win -- and at time when it doesn't have anything exciting to offer and Vista's outlook bleak. Will Microsoft fall for it?

Meanwhile, Microsoft is playing the tortoise to Apple's hare by taking a slow and steady approach to cluster computing. Even though serious supercomputer scientists love Unix and don't have much respect for Windows, Microsoft's camel keeps nibbling under the tent, hoping to convince customers that a small cluster, built by Cray, with Windows HPC Server, will appeal to some scientists in a small workgroup setting. Microsoft is nothing if not persistent in this arena, and Apple should be careful not to be overconfident with its own Workgroup cluster.

Of course, as I recall, SGI got in bed with Microsoft and suffered badly as a result. Here's hoping Cray plays it smarter.

Ever wonder why seemingly good people make bad OS choices?
Computerworld's Steven Vaughan-Nichols took a stab at it.
I would have approached the article differently, and volumes have written about the effect, but the author has some good observations. Every battle has millions of stories to tell, and this is one.

I don't normally reference routine help or hints stories as news, but this one is worth noting here and catching up on. The Unix roots of Mac OS X offer all kinds of mysterious, magical functions under the hood. While it's cool that a newbie can ignore all that on the GUi desktop, eventually it's wise to dig a little deeper into the OS that is such an important part of our lives. Every Mac user should eventually learn how to boot into Safe Mode, and My First Mac published a very nice tutorial last week.

Back to this week. On Wednesday Gizmodo revealed that there is more going on with the dual graphics units in the new MacBook Pro than Apple has publicized. Why Apple chose implement the new NVIDA GPUs they way they did is currently a mystery, but there's hope that, at some point, users won't have to log out to change GPUs. And maybe it'll end up being a four computational core machine after all. Time will tell.

On Thursday, VentureBeat pointed out that Apple has more cash on hand than Microsoft now -- US$24.5 billion vs. Microsoft's $20.7 billion. Of course, Microsoft did a big stock buyback and also pays dividends. Apple has taken a much different approach, and despite constant inquiries from analysts, Steve Jobs has insisted that the money is not burning a hole in Apple's pocket. Given the state of the economy, that mindset is, oh so, prescient.

I also don't pay too much attention to one-off stories about Mac hardware problems. A certain percentage of new Macs are going to be defective, out of the box, and writing about those consumer problems as if they were a product-wide failure is unproductive. However, owners of the new MacBooks may want to watch out for a screen brightness issue mentioned at O'Grady's Powerpage on Friday. It seems the light sensor may need some tuning or be reacting oddly to certain lighting conditions. A workaround is described, and the discussion continues in their forums.

It's Friday. The debris has settled.