Tech Week in Review

Unplayable CDs, FBI Internet snooping, Internet Exploder update, AAPL pro and con, the iPod, and MS blocks non-MS browsers at

CD Won't Play? Return it!

Remember a couple weeks ago when I discussed the new initiative in the music industry to make CDs unplayable in CD-ROM drives? These folks have a really good idea, and it basically centers around the following (U.S. and Canada only; check out the link for why this is not a good idea elsewhere):

As Fat Chuck says, "we vote daily with our money. If they don't have your money, the labels will (probably) be smart enough to stop pulling this kind of stunt." Be smart, folks. Don't do this to your local Mom's Records on the corner. If you're going to do it, go to Best Buy, Circuit City, Camelot, Tower Records, or another big corporate chain.

Big Brother Is Coming

As though broken CDs weren't bad enough, the FBI now wants to listen in on all Internet packet traffic. Sound bad? It gets worse. According to the Interactive Week article, the FBI wants to concentrate all Internet traffic so that it flows through at least one of a few central locations where the wiretapping can take place.

Other than the obvious invasion of privacy and potential for violation of search and seizure laws in the U.S., there's the huge issue of international traffic that simply passes through the U.S. on its way to another country. Since when does the FBI have the right to intercept these communications? Remember, the FBI is basically the national police of the United States. Their jurisdiction doesn't — under most circumstances — extend outside U.S. territory.

The biggest problem, however, is that of centralizing packet traffic. This idea goes against everything the Internet was designed for. Remember, it started as a military network designed to be nuke-proof: If one part of the network was attacked, the rest of the network could reroute the traffic around the damage. Centralizing Internet traffic will defeat this — if any determined group wants to take out the Internet (at least in the U.S.), they simply have to coordinate an attack on the "several key locations" where the FBI's wiretapping equipment is located.

I think the events of September 11 proved that determined individuals can carry out coordinated attacks on high-profile targets. My gut feeling is that attacking a few Internet data centers would be significantly easier.

Internet Exploder Updated

For those of you using IE 5, my current browser of choice, there's a new patch available. This patch "resolves the following known issues in Internet Explorer 5.0," according to Microsoft:

I never really had a stability problem with IE 5 before (which is the main reason it's my current browser of choice), but when Microsoft releases patches, it usually means they did something really stupid and have to fix it. I'd recommend you apply this patch as soon as you can.

Is Apple Through? Or Is Apple Just Getting Started?

There's a great debate on this week between Glenn Curtis (pro) and Arne Alsin (con) concerning the future of Apple stock. Alsin merely rehashes most of the "Apple stock is dead" arguments that uninformed analysts have been making for months: "Macs are too expensive," "Apple doesn't have enough applications," "Apple retail is a really dumb idea."

Let me break down his most glaring oversights and errors. (By the way, the Mac Observer has done this as well, but I had written this whole section before I saw Bryan's article.)

"Don't tell me about the dazzling products that Apple introduces from time to time."

What? I suppose I, as an investor, should invest in a company whose products are boring, barely keep up with the status quo, and don't inspire desire in buyers. Maybe I should go buy stock in Kia or Daewoo, or maybe Micron. Now there are some inspired companies. (Yeah, right.) How about E-Machines? Without products that are compelling in some way, a company will never do more than survive. With compelling products that incite desire — even lust — a company can thrive in an otherwise poor economy. I'd say Apple is pretty much thriving right now, especially compared to every other major PC manufacturer.

"...sales are lower at Apple now than they were three, five, and even 10 years ago..."

While I don't know about 10 years ago, I know that three years ago was the quarter after the retail introduction of the iMac, the single most popular Macintosh in history, and the kick in the pants that Apple needed to come back from what the mainstream press had concluded was its death throes. With this economy, is it really any surprise sales are lower than they were then?

And five years ago? Remember Gil Amelio's product line five years ago? There were about 55 different models of the Performa 62xx series, no two of which had the same model number, and no two of which were ever sold in identical configurations. Or at least that's what it seemed like. Not only that, but the Clone Wars were in full swing, and the cloners had captured a very significant portion of Apple's market. Sorry, but I don't buy "sales are off" as a problem either.

"The reason that Apple products are not getting the retailers' attention is because they are not selling well."

No, the reason Apple products weren't getting the attention of Best Buy, CompUSA, Circuit City, and Sears was because no one at any of these four stores knew what the heck a Macintosh was. Those readers who actually went to one of those stores on a non-Demo Day probably know exactly what I'm talking about, especially with Best Buy and Sears. Alsin also conveniently ignores the stated reasons for opening retail stores: to increase mind share and to improve the computer shopping experience. What was it Steve Jobs said when he announced the retail initiative? That buying a computer was now worse than buying a used car as far as buyer experience? Alsin pretty obviously hasn't been to an Apple Store yet.

"In the past six years, against a backdrop of unparalleled profitability in tech, Apple was profitable in only three of those six years, despite a slew of provocative product introductions."

Yeah, the most recent three, the three years when Apple was making "provocative product introductions" instead of sitting around wondering why the clones were slowly draining Apple's lifeblood. The three years prior to that involved two years of Gil Amelio's failure to do anything interesting and one year of Steve Jobs doing damage control from the mess Amelio left.

Should I not buy Coca-Cola stock because New Coke was a flop back in 1985? Perhaps Alsin should read the disclaimer on any investment prospectus: "Past gains are no predictor of future performance." Faulting Apple now for mismanagement five years ago — from which the company has quite obviously recovered — is not only silly, it's poor business sense.

"Macs are too expensive" and "Macs have no applications"

I'm grouping these together because they both fall under the same category: Stupid Myths That Uninformed Journalists Believe Because They Seemed To Be True Ten Years Ago When They Last Used A Macintosh. Anyone with actual experience in the field knows that the iBook is by far the best price-performance value in the known universe and that most major applications are available on either platform (and for the ones that aren't, a similar app exists in most cases).

Curtis, on the other hand, basically says what a lot of informed people have been saying for a while: Apple has loads of cash on hand and no debt. There's a new round of compelling products in time for Christmas. Sounds good to me.

Note that Alsin is a stockholder in Circuit City, whereas Curtis (by policy) owns no individual stocks.

Completely Off-Topic Link of the Week

Okay, I'm done ranting about uninformed financial journalists. You can pause and catch your breath.

Done catching it? Good. You'll need it when you start laughing at this "Off-Topic blog" from Bill Walsh, of

iWanna iPod

Go2Mac has some very interesting ideas for what the iPod could become: a digital camera storage device, a huge PlayStation 2 memory card, and, of course, it's already an external FireWire hard drive. Now, if only IBM could shrink that 48 GB Travelstar drive down to iPod size.

Another feature a lot of people have been overlooking is its ability to store and use WAV and AIFF files, making it extremely useful as a storage/presentation/playback device for on-the-go audio professionals.

I personally think $399 is a bit much for it, since all I'd be able to use it for would be a FireWire hard disk and MP3 player. (I don't have a PS2 or a digicam with a FireWire interface, nor am I an audio professional. If I had one or more of these qualifications, it would be a great deal.) Apple has a heckuva impressive product on their hands now, though. All that remains is to extend its basic features a bit. Perhaps they could just release an SDK for the iPod OS and leave feature additions up to the Mac programming community.

For those of you interested in others' opinions, Philip Machanick and Andras Puiz both have excellent articles detailing their (contradictory) viewpoints. Eliot Hochberg's article on MacEdition is a great comparison of the iPod to other MP3 player in its price class, where the iPod clearly comes out on top. Finally, Rodney O. Lain weighs in with his amusing, as usual,opinion on the iPod over at the Mac Observer.

But I Wanna Use My Browser

Microsoft has blocked access to the MSN Web site by non-Microsoft browsers. Not that I particularly wanted to visit MSN, but has anyone forwarded this story to the DoJ and Judge Kollar-Kotelly? "All of our development work for the new is W3C standard," the director of MSN marketing is quoted as saying. Gee, if that's true, why does the MSN home page not validate with the W3C's HTML validator? (The CSS validator won't check the page.)

It goes back to a basic issue of what the Web is and what it isn't. The Web is not print media. Publishers do not have complete and total control over how a page will appear. When you publish on the Web, you have to understand that the document isn't going to look exactly the same in every single browser.

Then there's the issue of Microsoft not only unfairly promoting their browser, but unfairly excluding the competition. OmniWeb, despite its non-Microsoft origins, renders the MSN home page just fine, according to MacMinute. iCab behaves similarly.

Opera Software, meanwhile, is furious at Microsoft for excluding their users. "We do identify the string from the browser, and the only issue that we have is that the Opera browser doesn't support the latest XHTML standard," said Mr. Marketing Weenie Guy. "So we do suggest to those users that they go download a browser that does support the latest standards." Do I need to remind MSN's marketing director that even IE 5 isn't fully standards-compliant, and that it doesn't matter anyway, because the MSN home page isn't either?


Update, Friday morning, 26 October: Under heavy fire from the Internet community Microsoft has removed the block. Opera's CEO Jon van Tetzchner pointed out the exact same thing I originally did — that the MSN home page doesn't even validate — and is reported to have said "Microsoft should take a look at its lack of respect for the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) international Internet standards before bad-mouthing others." Go pat Mr. van Tetzchner on the back.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson