TV-PGSeptember 24, 2003: Apple yoinks the 10.2.8 updater due to Ethernet "issues." Meanwhile, rumors that Motorola is selling off its PowerPC business are slightly overstated, and what do you get when you cross a BlackBerry with an iPod? Answer: a BusinessWeek writer who just doesn't get it...
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When Good Updates Go Bad (9/24/03)

Tsk, tsk; someone's been a naughty little operating system update, and Santa will not be pleased. As we mentioned briefly yesterday (and as originally pointed out by faithful viewer David Silberman), the Mac OS X 10.2.8 updater has since pulled a vanishing act-- but not before wreaking untold havoc on millions of Macs worldwide. At last count, 10.2.8 is responsible for thousands of lost network connections, hundreds of now-unbootable iMacs and eMacs, dozens of water mains bursting, six shark attacks, and at least three bloody coups in various third-world countries. It has also been implicated in the greenlighting of the upcoming Dukes of Hazzard movie.

Well, okay, that may be a slight exaggeration. But there's no doubt whatsoever that lots of folks are having trouble with 10.2.8 in varying degrees (MacFixIt is crawling with reports of problems and potential workarounds), and CNET confirms that Apple did pull the update from its servers, citing "an issue affecting Ethernet networking on a small number of Power Mac G4 desktop systems." That's certainly the most widely-reported bug, albeit one AtAT's own Power Mac was apparently lucky enough to sidestep; following our post-update kernel panic and a forty-minute restart, our network connection was rock solid.

Of course, that was the point at which our Mac had become resolutely convinced that we were holding down the command key on our keyboard and the only way we could finally persuade it to change its mind was to restart again-- but considering that we're not wrestling with dead networks, scrambled video, unsupported trackpads, seriously reduced battery life, or any of the other biblical plagues of Egypt to have smitten similarly incautious upgrade fiends, we're going to consider ourselves lucky. In fact, at this point we're scared to look at our Mac cross-eyed for fear that we'll somehow trigger 10.2.8 to start writing random 1's and 0's to the boot disk while transmitting our credit card numbers as cleartext to every email address and URL in our Junk Mail folder.

At this point we think it's safe to say that the 10.2.8 updater easily ranks somewhere in the top ten list of Scariest Updates Ever, probably just a notch or two below that 7.1.4 updater that physically assaulted a Detroit man in the mid-'90s with a length of pipe and a corkscrew dipped in antifreeze. Here's hoping that this is evidence that Apple is devoting too much time to Panther at the expense of other projects' quality control. In fact, does anyone else wonder if Apple is undercutting customer confidence in 10.2.8 on purpose in hopes of boosting 10.3 sales when that upgrade finally ships? Intriguing.

Anyway, now that the 10.2.8 updater has ducked back into hiding, for those of you still spluttering along in 10.2.7, aren't you sorry you waited? Well, fret not; before long you'll be able to step up to 10.2.8 (presumably a kinder, gentler 10.2.8) along with the rest of us poor reckless sods, because Apple says that it "anticipates that the issue will be resolved soon." Then again, Apple also said that 10.2.8 "was designed to offer improvements in reliability and in performance," so sometimes you have to take statements like that with a grain or two of salt...

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Juicy To Dull In 8 Seconds (9/24/03)

Well, whaddaya know about that? Barely half a week has passed since Motorola heir and CEO Chris Galvin announced his "retirement" due to an unspecified difference of opinion with the company's board of directors, and the press is already abuzz with reports of Motorola selling off chunks of its semiconductor business-- a move which analysts and shareholders have urged for years, but which, until now, seemed to fall on deaf ears. Kinda makes you wonder if maybe the particular deaf ears preventing any deals were the ones sticking out of either side of Galvin's head.

Unfortunately, this was one of those rumors that quickly shed more and more drama as the facts unfolded. Originally we'd heard various reports that Motorola was finally ready to sell off its entire PowerPC business to an "unspecified buyer"-- which immediately brought to mind those old rumors that Apple had once planned to buy Motorola's PowerPC division for half a billion dollars in hopes of, you know, maybe actually running it correctly or something. Then MacBidouille killed part of the buzz, claiming that the unspecified buyer was still in negotiations-- and was, in fact, Tundra Semiconductors and not Apple.

Then things got even less interesting when faithful viewer Ian Hornby pointed us in the direction of a Canadian Press article which revealed that Tundra isn't even interested in buying Motorola's PowerPC business at all; it only wants "Motorola's PowerPC Host Bridge line of computer interconnection technology, in which microchips connect main processors to other systems." So the processors themselves apparently don't even enter into the proposed deal. Of course, we suppose the upside to that is that if Apple did still want Motorola's PowerPC business, it's there for the asking; sure, it may seem a little superfluous now that IBM is firing on all cylinders, but Apple bringing its own PowerPC development in-house would give it a good degree of insurance in case Galvin winds up heading IBM and subsequently grinds chip development and production down to a slow crawl.

If you're still holding out hope that the Canadian Press article has its facts wrong and the situation is far juicier than Motorola just selling some interconnect technology to Tundra, quit holding your breath, because the sources of its info are pretty solid-- namely, Motorola and Tundra. It seems that, due to "human error," Motorola "inadvertently" issued a press release announcing the deal before the deal was actually done. Whoops. "They were all over themselves apologizing for the mistake," said Tundra CEO Jim Roche. Nice to hear that Galvin's imminent departure hasn't changed Motorola much after all, huh?

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The PodBerry Of DOOM! (9/24/03)

Charles Haddad's freewheelin' over at BusinessWeek again, this time asking the question, "What would you get if you crossed a BlackBerry with an iPod?" The answer, he claims, is "the future of the music business": a player that downloads music wirelessly over the airwaves and plays it with "no way it could be stored." (We've heard of this, we think! It's called a "radio." The difference is, you can buy a radio with something called a "tape deck.")

Nah, just joshin'. Haddad is, of course, talking about being able to play any song you like on demand and not having to deal with lame and repetitive playlists, dorky DJs, and incessant commercials for beer and Jet Skis; pretty much the same thing as picking any song out of your iPod's 10,000-tune library, except that you wouldn't be bound by storage limitations, because you'd just be wirelessly streaming songs from some massive central server somewhere. Since you could always play any song you wanted, there's no need for local storage, and with no local storage, there's virtually no way to pirate the music. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, there are some slight technical hitches with Haddad's vision. Here's our answer to his riddle about what you get after crossing a BlackBerry with an iPod: you get a digital music player that can play any song you like-- right after a five-minute wait as the song buffers, of course. That's assuming you aren't in an elevator or the basement of a large office building, or traveling somewhere without decent wireless coverage. Oh, and you wouldn't be allowed to listen to it during air travel, either. Sounds like a freakin' dream.

Sure, technology keeps advancing, but as far as we know, right now sustained transfer rates necessary to play a 128 kbps AAC file just don't exist with BlackBerry-style wireless service. The best average transfer rate found at TreoCentral was 82 kbps with Sprint PCS, so you're talking about waiting while songs buffer and then getting stutters if the transfer rate dips for whatever reason. (802.11 has more than enough bandwidth, but coverage issues make it impractical for this purpose.) And even when mobile networks have enough bandwidth to allow thousands of customers to stream 128 kbps songs simultaneously, that still doesn't fix the fact that you won't be able to listen to any music on that cross-country flight.

In short, what Haddad is proposing is the iPodian equivalent of the Network Computer, and we all know how well those caught on. It wasn't just the bandwidth issues; plenty of people have broadband, now, and plenty of businesses have gigabit Ethernet, and yet you still don't see fleets of cheap, diskless NCs out there for a couple of reasons. The first is the fundamental problem with the Network Computer: if you have no network, you have no computer. Networks fail all the time, and therefore so would NCs. The second is that people like local control; they don't want to rent their applications and run them off of some remote server and store their files offsite. And as Apple has shown by the iTunes Music Store's success over all those subscription-based services, the principle applies even more strongly when it comes to the purchase of music.

Fix the technical problems, and we still think the PodBerry would fail; Haddad, however, claims that "it's an ill-kept secret that Apple is trying to figure out how to add wireless Internet connectivity to the iPod," and even goes so far as to insist that Apple's new Bluetooth mouse and keyboard are "dry runs" for a PodBerry. (Um... oooookay...) Then again, this is coming from a guy who insists that streaming commercial-free music's "record of success" is those audio channels available to digital cable TV subscribers; what he fails to mention is that nobody has actually listened to one of those channels since some guy in Duluth tuned to "Sounds of the Seasons" for ten seconds when he accidentally sat on his remote control in February of 2001.

The bottom line is that Apple understands that people want to own their music, and we don't see that changing anytime soon. Thank Jobs for that.

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