The X-Factor: Why Apple Succeeds where Others Fail

I’ve spent the weekend with Apple’s new MacBook Pro Retina, as well as the newly updated MacBook Air. While working on these remarkable devices, I had an epiphany. Apple doesn’t engineer extraordinary technology to make money. No. Apple makes money so they can build extraordinary technology. Therein lies the essence of the difference.

Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, Microsoft, Asus, GOOGLE, you need to figure this out. You’re focused on bottom lines, pleasing shareholders, etc., and it shows in your product offerings. Your most interesting products are copies of Apple products. Even when done exceptionally well, they are still just copies. From so called “UltraBooks” to Microsoft’s “Surface,” to pick your flavor of Android phone, you are following the leader and you need to look past the leader. That doesn’t just mean tacking on a kickstand, a keyboard cover, and growing the screen.

You need to stop where you are, and go out and look for new engineers. During the interview process you need to probe. If that person does not at some point say, “I don’t work to live, I live to work,” he or she isn’t the person you’re looking for. You want people who find non-traditional solutions to traditionally daunting problems. If you don’t find such people, Apple will go on eating your lunch forever, because this intangible attitude, this innate “Jobsian” pattern of behavior, now seems to be part of Apple’s DNA. Think of it. You might be dealing with thousands of people, at every level,  conditioned to think like Steve Jobs.

I was dead set against it. I wasn’t going to sell my existing MacBook Pro and opt for the new MacBook Pro Retina. Hereinafter “MBPR,” but the minute I got my hands on one, it was love at first sight. Or was it touch? I don’t know. It’s all a blur.  After spending some time with it, I started calling around looking for one. I finally located one at the Pasadena Apple Store . Why did I have this reaction? It is because I viscerally sense the intangible factor I just described above.

Call it Apple’s X-Factor if you will, but know that you cannot copy it. You must evolve your own. When you mimic Apple, it’s obvious. When a Japanese auto maker produces a BMW or Mercedes look alike, it’s obvious and it is understood to be a knock off, a cheaper copy of the actual object of desire.

I know that it is difficult. I know that you ask yourselves, “Gee, what else can we do but try to make our devices thinner, or prettier than Apple’s, after all a computer is a computer.” This is the mindset you need to root out. Find the Howard Roarks of hardware engineering. Find the Hank Reardens of software engineering. If you know those names, you’re probably ahead of your competitors. Start off by telling your engineers, “There is no Apple. Start from here with the technology we have. Ask yourself what should this technology evolve into? Stay away from news about Apple, Inc. Indulge yourselves.”

When I started typing, this was not the message I intended to deliver. I was going to write my own review of the MBPR, but it was the silence from the computer, the phenomenal Retina Display, the feel of the keyboard, the essence, the incorporeal vibe of the machine, that took over my thoughts. I was starting to wonder if I held my hands just above the keyboard and closed my eyes, could I feel the minds of those who collaborated to create yet another masterpiece from Apple.

I was also working on configuring a few Lenovo notebooks for a client. Each was a decent computer that you could get your work done on. Each cost literally less than $600. Each was as inspiring as a box of cat litter. Then I would return to working on my client’s MacBook Air, or the MBPR, and it was such a striking contrast that I began to comprehend more than ever why Apple succeeds and others do not. It’s the X-Factor.

It’s the thing that makes me chuckle when I hear that CISCO, a router company, thinks they’re going to move into consumer technology, make a tablet or something. You know almost instinctively that they are going to fail because they aren’t doing it out of pure love of the opportunity. They aren’t doing it because this is the reason they exist. They’re doing it because they think they can make some money.

Charles F. Kettering said, “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.” I submit that Apple’s competitors simply don’t expect much of themselves.

What Will Mac Pro 2013 Look Like

So Tim Cook, (Apple CEO) promised so called “pro” users something to look forward to later in 2013. I’ve been thinking about why that might be and my guess is that it won’t be the box pro users are thinking of. The old Mac Pro is a throwback to the past when you needed a big box with expansion ports, memory slots, giant fans, monstrous and monstrous power supplies.

Those days are over.

To get an idea what the new Mac Pro might be like you don’t have to look any further than the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

I believe that rather than create something that is just the opposite of their direction everywhere else, Apple will stick with their new modus operandi. A new Mac Pro will be a box, but a much, much smaller one. It will come in configurations of 32, 64, or 128GB of RAM. That RAM will be soldered to the system board. It will have an option of one, maybe two internal SSD drives for a little over 1.5 Terabytes of internal storage. No SATA. It will have the most current graphics card available. The graphics card on the new iMac is already better than anything in the existing MacPro line. It will have the fastest multicore Intel Xeon processors available. It will also have lots of ThunderBolt ports probably 4 and at least one FireWire 800, one Gigabit Ethernet Port. There won’t be any PCI slots internal to the machine, the clear message being Thunderbolt, ThunderBolt, Thunderbolt.

I expect this all to fit in something the size of an XBOX 360. Or better year, I like it to be in a glistening black cube, with a hologram of Steve Jobs on the side.

The Pro “community” will react poorly, creating petitions, and whining, etc., instead of thinking about how to use the new machines. ( Just as they have this time. )

They will whine about storage:
Answer – 12Terabytes of RAID storage as fast and faster than their existing RAID systems can be had for around $1500.

They will whine about memory being soldered on the system board.
Answer – The amount of RAM on my imaginary Mac Pro in increments of 32, 64 and 128GB is more than enough. All they have now is 64GB.

They will whine about what to do with their existing RAID systems.
Answer – If you don’t want to go to Thunderbolt, you can get a Magma ExpressBox 3T allowing you to connect your PCI cards to an external chassis, and then to Thunderbolt of course.

http://www.magma.com/thunderbolt.asp

Some will ask about being in an Xsan.
Answer – Both ATTO and Promise make Fibrechannel to Thunderbolt devices allowing you to connect not just my imaginary Mac Pro to fibrechannel sans, but current iMacs and yes, MacBook Pros.

So be prepared for a REALLY all new Mac Pro. One that is as closed as the new MacBook Pro Retina. Expect the most whining to come from the “pros” who need the big box mostly to feel like pros.

NEW PRODUCT TERROR ALERT! CONDITION RED!

ImageWatching for new products from Apple is often like gathering and analyzing intelligence for one of the clandestine services. First of all, Apple is highly secretive and closed about their plans. They have to be. If the PC box making rabble get wind of exactly what Apple is planning, they will rush to get their own versions out ahead of time. Apple’s business is built upon creativity and originality.

Often this doesn’t mean actually inventing anything, but coming up with a better way of integrating existing technologies. Consider the mobile phone. Mobile phones existed and hand held computers existed. Apple developed a hand held computer, that happened to have a phone included, and when it became clear that Apple was indeed about to introduce a mobile phone, nothing on the market looked like the iPhone. Once the iPhone was introduced, suddenly copies started churning out left and right. Had people seen demos of the iPhone before hand, competitors could have beaten Apple to market.

Even with the concepts and design of the iPhone clearly leading the market by many months, Apple has still had to go to court defending their intellectual property. Imagine if they had shared their intentions openly before the iPhone was ready to ship.

Consequently, in order to get a feel for product announcements, you have to approach Apple like you would gathering intelligence on an enemy. You have to watch troop movements and supply chains, or who is Apple hiring and how many MacBooks are left to purchase? What’s going on with their allies? Are there any conspicuous sales of existing product? In particular you have to pay attention to the chatter.

The best chatter for monitoring Apple comes from Apple bloggers, news sites, and Twitter. Web server logs are important also. Apple bloggers are all watching everything and each other, so they tend to report when something is up. News sites will claim to have inside information (some do and some don’t).  Supply chain websites monitor what manufacturers like FOXCONN say. Twitter is a constant stream of information from which to cherry pick. Web server logs are fantastic because once they start reporting a new mysterious device, you can be pretty sure that the new device is in the hands of actual Apple employees. At this point, a new product introduction is extremely likely. You also start to get reports from MSM (Mainstream Media) such as FOX, FOX Business, WSJ, and CNBC. These guys start giving actual product announcement dates. At this point the Internet chatter reaches a feverous pitch. You can be fairly sure something is about to go down. You can dispatch a seal team to a nearby Apple Store to hold a place in line for you.

For this reason I developed my copyrighted StrategicMac Apple Advisory System, that looks a bit like our old terrorist advisory system only its cooler, and it’s just as accurate. Take a look at the scale. We are currently in RED LEVEL! PRODUCT ANNOUNCEMENT(S) EXTREMELY LIKELY!

Internet Chatter indicates that at WWDC (June) a new MacBook Pro 15″ will be announced. This new MacBook will likely have a slimmer form factor. It will not taper like the MacBook Air. It will probably get rid of legacy technology like the optical drive. (Who uses that anymore anyway except slow to adapt to the always-on-connected-world College professors.) It will likely be built around new Intel Ivy Bridge Processors. It will probably have USB3.0, as well as multiple (2) Thunderbolt ports. Chatter indicates NVIDIA graphics (possibly the GeForce GT650M), and a good but not certain possibility of a Retina display. Chatter concerning a liquid metal enclosure does not appear to be true at this time.

It is also EXTREMELY LIKELY that OS X Mountain Lion’s shipment date will be announced in June at the WWDC (World Wide Developer’s Conference).

YELLOW ELEVATED Level chatter indicates a new iPhone, probably called the iPhone 5 around October of this year as well as the probability of updated iMacs before end of year.   iOS 6 is likely to appear along with the iPhone 5.

There are those who say that Apple does controlled rumor leaks. I don’t buy it. I can’t figure out why. It isn’t as if we aren’t all beating our heads on the wall trying to figure out what Apple is going to do next anyway. What do they have to gain unless its to squelch ridiculous rumors that start to float on occasion. I believe long time professional sites like 9to5Mac have informants and do a good job of sifting through chatter to create streamlined more accurate chatter, but I don’t believe Apple is creating their own rumors.

One thing is for certain. NO ONE outside of Apple knows anything for sure until the day that Apple announces a new product. Even people who work for Apple, like the retail store people, don’t know anything until the last minute, and usually by that time we all know. Most chatter  from most sources, up until the last minute usually contain more hot air than a presidential campaign speech.

I hope Apple keeps their air of mystery and secrecy. I worry that CEO Tim Cook in his apparent zeal to create a kinder, friendlier Apple might open things up a bit too much. Stay mean Tim. Make’em beg.

Convergence Never Happened… What Did?

During Apple’s Q2 2012 Conference Call, Apple disclosed that it had once again done far better than most industry analysts expected. Apple’s stock soared in after hours trading climbing from a closing point of $560 to over $600 per share, before 02:30PM PST.

During the conference call Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, said something that caught my attention. “…Anything can be forced to converge… You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the userTo ‘converge’ iPad and MacBook Air, would lead to too many tradeoffs. We’re not going there. We’ll do both; making each the best they can be…”

Mr. Cook’s statements struck me as being very Steve Jobs in nature, causing me to believe he may be even better programmed by Jobs than I had previously suspected. The statement also reminded me of a period, not too many years ago, when the technology industry was extremely excited about “convergence.

The word was used, overused, abused, and misused ad nauseam. Sort of the way “sustainable” or “racism” is used today. If the word had any actual meaning, it was lost in broad and continuous misapplication. Ask any two marketing professionals what convergence meant, and you’d get two very different explanations. Everything from the decline of “old media” and the emergence of “new media,” to the merging of computers and television. Some old timers still go on about the quaint and obscure idea of “Interactive Television and convergence.” Ask any two technologists about convergence and you’d likely have gotten a frown, a snicker, or a deep sigh.

Arstechnica.com states: “Convergence refers to a trend where some technologies having distinct functionalities evolve to technologies that overlap, i.e. multiple products come together to form one product, with the advantages each initial component.

Huh?

Wikipedia.com states: “Technological convergence is the tendency for different technological systems to evolve toward performing similar tasks. Convergence can refer to previously separate technologies such as voice (and telephony features), data (and productivity applications), and video that now share resources and interact with each other synergistically.

Hmmm…

I have one old computer science professor that says, “Convergence occurs when you mix different types of media on the same cable. Data, voice, and video.”  When I point out that it’s all just bits as far as the cable is concerned, he gets a dazed look.

Technology professionals understand that talking about television merging with computers is like talking about the horse merging with the automobile, vinyl records merging with CDs, or toasters merging with refrigerators. It seldom makes sense. It seldom makes things better. You can add a web browser to a cable set-top box, but it doesn’t improve the experience of television, nor does it make the set-top box a better computer.

Instead of convergence, what drives extreme change is that functionality previously handled by one technology is shifted to and absorbed by a newer more powerful, more flexible technology. The phrase that best fits is revolution. The new technology is better, so much so that there is actually divergence from the old technology and migration to the new technology, not convergence.

Consider the smartphone. Prior to the advent of the iPhone there were a smattering of devices called smartphones. These were cellphones with a few extra abilities typically so useless and difficult to master that the abilities went unused. We were seriously thrilled if we could keep our contacts and calendars in sync. Then Apple introduced the iPhone, and revolutionized the smartphone category.

“Smartphone” is an unfortunate name because it does a poor job of describing exactly what the iPhone (and copycat products) are. In fact they are small always on, always connected computers that happen to have a telephone incorporated. Some people will argue that this is an example of convergence. In reality the computer, a more powerful, more flexible technology than the mobile phone, has absorbed the telephony function.

The iPhone introduction was a black swan event. It was so much of a revolution that companies previously at the top of the mobile device category have since found themselves pushed into financial instability and technological irrelevance by the iPhone, for example Nokia and RIM/Blackberry. Other companies completely revised product and service directions in response to the iPhone, for example Google and Microsoft.

Since those early days of “convergence euphoria” very little convergence has happened at all. What has happened is the explosive growth of the Internet and personal computers, especially where different forms of media creation and consumption are concerned.

Some people like to talk about “new media” vs. “old media.” This actually makes no more sense than convergence. There is no new media vs. old media. Moving images are still moving images. Audio is still audio. Text is still text. What has changed is how that content is generated and deployed. When we talk about ongoing radical changes in content delivery, we are not talking about technology mergers, we are talking about the overthrow of conventional methodologies. AKA, revolution.

You will sometimes hear the phrase “democratization” used in relation to technology changes. Revolutionary technology didn’t just change the methods of media creation and consumption, it also greatly widened the door of who can create and consume media. Note that “who,” in this case, encompasses where, how and why. For example, Joe the mechanic can make a video about his Porsche expertise, edit it, and upload it to Youtube, where it can be seen by millions, all from his garage, using his iPhone. The changes that allow Joe to do this are not the result of convergence, they are the result of emergence. As new, more powerful, more flexible technologies emerge, barriers are broken and new users of those technologies emerge as well.

Back in the day when I would groan about the word “convergence” I would insist that there is one technology that is going to usurp all the others. If you take a look at all the existing forms of content delivery, they are all currently shifting to a single powerful technology, namely The Internet.

Television, radio, movies, telecommunications, libraries, magazines, and books are all moving to what we now collectively refer to as “the cloud.” (While there are very specific and technical definitions for what constitutes “a cloud,” we can forget enforcing them. The word is part of the mainstream vernacular now. It will never return to a precise meaning.)

As an example of revolution vs. convergence, consider the music industry. The music industry has all but been obliterated and re-conceived due to the Internet. Who still actually purchase sCDs?  When is the last time you were in a record store? What is a record label? Does anyone care? Who actually listens to top 40 radio anymore? Most of the younger people who purchase music buy it online, if they buy it at all, and they are increasingly buying it directly from the artists online, eliminating the bloated record label infrastructure of the 20th century.

They are extracting music from YouTube videos. They discover new music via friends and social media. Some use services like Pandora, Spotify, and Soundcloud.  Sure there are purists, and one can easily argue that nothing looks or sounds as good as a well made turntable, but that’s a very small slice of the music buying public.

Television is also being revolutionized by the Internet. In response, much of the television industry is clinging to an archaic business model, literally refusing to innovate, and instead attempting to shield their largely mediocre content from the choice dictated world of The Internet.

Well good luck with that. Welcome to the always on, always connected era. If you restrict your content to a specific hour on a specific night, viewable only via pay for TV providers, guess what? Fewer and fewer people will see it. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. (Sorry, couldn’t resist R.I.P Gill Scott Herron.)

It is well documented that children are now growing up without television. At least television as it has been known. They watch Youtube, Vimeo, all sorts of video services, including conventional television content made available on the Internet. They play games, they even, (gasp!) read. The functions previously provided by broadcast television are being replaced by the Internet. Kids can tell you where to find content, whether it’s on HULU, NetFLIX, iTUNES or Youtube, but if you ask them on which television network to find “A Person of Interest” for example, they have no idea, if they even know the program exists. Television networks are as relevant to kids as music labels.

Furthering the shift even more, HULU, NetFLIX, and Youtube as well as many others are starting to experiment with original programming. New business models are being experimented with. I often wonder why CBS, ABC, NBC, FOX, etc. haven’t created iCBS, iABC, iNBC, and iFOX? Why are they not experimenting with original content for the Internet? Why are they not making it very simple to find all of their content online for viewing? Instead we are presented with half hearted efforts.

Presumably due to byzantine licensing requirements, utterly irrational conditions like being able to watch content on my computer, but not on my iPad sitting right next to it exist. Instead of making all content available, their various websites typically offer a prosaic brochure of their banal programming.  Is it because they have the same old washed up over paid executives running the networks? Come on TV people, evolve! Bang the rocks together!

A growing number of people are doing what is known as “cutting the cable.” I.e. they are dumping their pay TV services and opting for the Internet only. These are not just young people, and not just people trying to save money. I recently dumped my pay TV service  after accepting that I was paying for a service that was off most of the time.

I was paying approximately $150 per month for cable television and Internet service. When I cut out the television portion, I was able to use the difference to boost my in home Internet service to 50Mb/s down and get a 4G/LTE Personal Hotspot with 5GB/month data cap. So by getting rid of hundreds of channels of crap, I can afford among the fastest Internet speeds available in The United States both at home and while mobile. My consumption of media has completely shifted to new technologies, most notably The Internet. For a growing number of us, television is dead, long live the Internet.

Having the Internet much more suits my preferences and lifestyle. I like science fiction, science documentaries, and spy thrillers, that sort of thing. I despise reality TV, and I have no interest whatsoever in professional wrestling. Why pay for all that bilge? Instead I watch what I want, when I want, where I want, and how I want. This is paradigm shift. This is the mindset kids are now growing up with. The idea of gathering in the living room to watch TV at a certain time is fading.

If that isn’t enough to rock the TV Industry, a growing number of people are attaching ipTV boxes to their televisions, such as ROKU and AppleTV. These devices allow you to watch content from services such as NetfFlix or Hulu on your large flat screen TV. In addition, the functionality offered by ipTV boxes will be built directly into most new televisions. It’s already started. Many models of televisions from numerous manufacturers have built in ipTV capabilities, and everyone is waiting with baited breath for Apple’s entry into this market. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new product from some vendor that only received content from the Internet. I.e. no TV receiver or coax connection. Just an HD monitor with HDMI inputs.

It’s not just music and TV. Clearly other forms of conventional content distribution such as newspapers, magazines, books, movies, and spoken word are also shifting to the Internet, and again, there is no convergence, no “new media” just a shift to the Internet.

If there is a new media form on the Internet, it is most likely social media. The Internet is now the chief medium that people from all over the world use to communicate on a daily basis. Through social media, we actually do, “keep in touch.”

Critics of social media say that it is no replacement for true human contact, and that is absolutely true, but social media doesn’t attempt to do that. What social media does is maintain some form of contact where if it did not exist, there would be none.

With FaceBook I see a constant stream of information from old friends that I’d lost contact with simply because of the way life works. I know that one has become an insanely great photographer, especially of horses. Others have started businesses and families. One has become a beekeeper and sells her own honey. No, this is no substitute for sitting down and having a drink with these people, but it’s better than nothing, which is what life normally leaves you with. So while some scoff, I submit the Internet is bringing us closer, actually keeping us connected.

I’m self employed. I live and work out of a loft in Downtown Los Angeles. On most days my commute is from bed to the sink to make coffee, and to my desk. It is possible for me to go weeks without seeing anyone I actually know. Most of my communications with  friends, associates, and clients are electronic. Were it not for the Internet, my lifestyle would not be possible. One of the things I miss however, is work chatter.

Twitter has taken the place of the proverbial water cooler for me. While I keep track of friends with Facebook, I monitor ideas with Twitter and for that matter Google+. Using Twitter and Google+, I follow people I wish I knew. I monitor the fleeting thoughts and notifications of people I consider to be important to my career and my view of the world. I follow people I find interesting. Twitter is the ultimate water cooler, and actually the ultimate news aggregator.

Social media isn’t completely new. There were of course the bulletin board systems, chat rooms, and message boards of the past, but they never reached the level of general acceptance that systems such as Twitter, FaceBook, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Instagram have. People are using these new systems not just as a new form of telecommunications, but as a method of documenting and sharing their daily lives.

Back to Apple.

If you’ve followed our favorite tech company over the years, you might’ve noticed something. Apple tends to periodically create technology revolutions. When they approach a product, they don’t look for someway to mash technologies together, or converge them. They look at the existing technology and determine that there is room for something newer, more powerful, and more flexible.

Apple’s run to the top of their game started with the introduction of the iPod. With the iPod Apple leveraged a new technology for music distribution. iTunes.

Recognizing that demand for mobile access to the “real” Internet with a full blown hand held computer was rising, brought about the iPhone.

Their most recent revolution, the iPad, is not a result of convergence, but a desire to create a device that allows people to do most of the daily things they do on the Internet in a better way than conventional computers previously allowed.

Each of these new technologies offered a newer, more powerful, more flexible way to use the Internet. This is one reason to believe that the next new innovation from Apple will be the much rumored Apple Television. In order for a new television to succeed, it’s going to have to provide an advanced and highly compelling new human interface as well as overcome the stagnant television industry business models discussed earlier. This new television is going to have to be more powerful and flexible, leverage the heck out of the Internet, and absorb the functions previously handled by conventional televisions. It will likely be a computer first, but offer a paradigm shift for gathering content from around the Internet. I’m betting it will be smart enough to simply say, “Record Entire Season of Person of Interest” to and it will do it, without you worrying about what network it’s on. The only question that remains is will CBS be smart enough to allow it to do so?

SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND

Last week a Russian computer security firm called “Dr. Web” reported a botnet of more than 600,000 Macs. In other words, based on Dr. Web’s findings, more than half a million Macs had been compromised by hostile software. Never mind the fact that “Russian Computer Security” is an oxymoron of sorts, this kind of security breach is unprecedented for the Macintosh platform.

A botnet is a network of compromised computers. Botnets can be ordered to do all sorts of destructive and disruptive things. They can be directed to gather personal and private information from infiltrated computers. They can be directed to send out endless spam. They can be directed to overload a specific website with spurious traffic, effectively bringing the site down. Such attacks are called DOS or Denial of Service attacks. Botnets are a very serious network security problem and until last week they seemed to be a Windows only issue.

Then out of the clear blue, an obscure Russian security firm discovers a rather substantial Mac botnet concentrated in the United States, but with slaves in several other countries. Bizarre to say the least. If I were Judy Dench, I might be inclined to pick up a secure line and say, “007, get off your well formed misogynistic ass and find out how the entire world missed the formation of a 600,000 strong botnet, except for a Russian security firm. Oh, and try not to kill too many people.”

The 600,000+ Macs were infiltrated by a recent variant of the FLASHBACK Trojan Horse. FLASHBACK has been around since September of 2011. As it has been detected, so has it frequently been updated. The initial FLASHBACK intrusion method was based on “social engineering.” In other words, the user was hacked, not the computer. The good thing was that if people noticed there was something out of the ordinary with the fake FLASH installer (situational awareness), they probably didn’t surrender their passwords and thus the FLASHBACK trojan was blocked. If the user did hand over their password the Trojan would proceed to release its payload into the victimized computer. This latest variant of FLASHBACK is different.

Instead of tricking the user into handing over a password, it exploits a security flaw in JAVA. It still attempts to acquire a privileged password, but it does not require it to compromise the machine. It was a bad flaw in JAVA.

JAVA is a programming language originally created by Sun Microsystems. JAVA programs execute on any computer that runs a JVM or “JAVA virtual machine.” Normally a program written for a Windows computer will not execute on a Macintosh and vice versa, however a properly written JAVA program is capable of executing on either.

Consequently, JAVA presents a challenging security problem in that it allows renegade programmers to create software that can elude standard system security measures. Running JAVA on a computer is a risk, however most people feel the benefits far outweigh the risks.  JAVA is now owned by Oracle since Oracle acquired Sun. JAVA is the chief programming language for Android devices.

Oracle doesn’t directly deliver Macintosh JAVA. Apple retains responsibility for delivering all patches and updates. I suspect that Apple does this because they’re unwilling to let a 3rd party be responsible for such a large security issue.

Once the target computer has been compromised, it essentially becomes a sleeper agent. The previously trusted computer is now part of an Internet based ring of malevolence, and most likely the owner has no idea.

It is interesting to note that this new version of FLASHBACK is not a virus, not a worm and it is not exactly a Trojan either. Nor is it a rootkit. It’s got elements of all of these things. The initial exploit is much more analogous to a “booby trap,” or “land mine.” It is important to understand the differences when judging the relative security of Macintosh vs. competitive systems.

{
See: What is a computer virus?
See: What is a computer worm?
See: What is a trojan horse?
See: What is a rootkit?
See: What is social engineering?
See: What is a Botnet?
See: What is a payload?
}
In order for the new FLASHBACK to seize control of your computer, all that is necessary is that you simply visit a website that has been compromised. So in effect, the creators of this malicious software lay traps by hacking websites on the Internet. These are not necessarily disreputable websites either. Websites as benign as dlink.com were reportedly booby trapped.

Actually I think a new analogy is in order here. To me this thing seems to lay in wait like eggs from an “Alien” movie. When you visit a hacked website, the alien delivery mechanism jumps out onto your computer’s face and shoves its virtual phallus down your computer’s throat and delivers its payload into the guts of your system. Subsequently you might think you’re ok, but you’re compromised. This thing is now set up inside of your computer, waiting for instructions. In the parlance of gamers worldwide, “You just got owned.”

Once in your system, the FLASHBACK malware uses a date based algorithm to generate a domain name. This has been done before with the old Windows Conflicker worm, but it’s no less impressive. The FLASHBACK malware then attempts to communicate with the generated domain name. If it fails, it just lays in wait, like a Russian Sleeper Agent. Did I say Russian?

If the master of the botnet decides to do something with his botnet, he will arrange for the generated domain to be available. He will have a server running to provide the sleeper agents with instructions. Pretty slick. If only these digital sociopaths would used their powers for good.

To sum it up, there are several aspects to this intrusion. First websites are hacked. Next when users visit a hacked website, their computers are compromised due to an exploitable flaw in JAVA. Finally, compromised computers become sleeper agents for the hostile botnet.

Sadly the spread of the FLASHBACK “ALIEN” could have been prevented or at least significantly mitigated. A patch was sent out by Oracle, the people who now own JAVA, back in February of this year.

Apple had all that time to get their version of JAVA patched and delivered. Instead they did nothing. Apple is notorious for dragging their feet this way when notified about security problems. Only after the 600,000+ impregnated Macs were reported did Apple put out the patched version of JAVA.

This week, Apple has indicated on their website that they will be delivering a FLASHBACK ALIEN detector and repair tool. “FLASHBACK Alien” is my terminology, Apple simply refers to it as FLASHBACK.

See: Apple’s “About Flashback malware

And… Apple is pissed.

Not only are they taking overt action against the malware, they are going after the creators using the only thing more scary that viruses, trojans, worms, and rootkits; Lawyers. On their website, Apple states: “Apple is working with ISPs worldwide to disable this command and control network.” Maybe, at it turns out, another reason you didn’t want to mess with the Mac is that when you do, you’re poking a stick at a company with $100 billion in cash to play with, and a reputation worth almost as much.

In the meantime, while Apple is marshaling her technical and legal armored divisions to combat the FLASHBACK network, here are some steps you should take.

  1. Turn off JAVA in Safari and other browsers. If you use Safari, go to the Safari Menu, choose preferences, security, and uncheck “Enable Java.” If you find you need to turn it back on temporarily for some reason, remember to turn it back off afterwards. If you use Chrome, in the address bar type ‘about:plugins’ hit return then look for JAVA and disable it. If you use FireFox, go to the Tools menu and choose Add-ons. Next select the Plugins Tab. Find the JAVA Applet Plug-in and disable it.
  2. There is a small script that will check your computer for the FLASHBACK malware located at https://github.com/jils/FlashbackChecker/wiki. It’s called “FlashbackChecker 1.0.”  If it reports that your computer has been compromised, see number 3 below.
  3. There is a free Flashback/Flashfake removal tool offered by Kaspersky here.
  4. A comprehensive discussion of how it works can be found at F-Secure’s website here.

Over the last week or so, much has been written about this attack. More than a little hysteria concerning the relative safety of Macs has been written. Cliché after cliché concerning “the end of innocence” has been blogged and vlogged. I would like to point out that to the best of my knowledge, the Mac OS itself has not been compromised. Some will say I’m nitpicking, but I think it’s important to be accurate.

As such I would like to point out that Apple didn’t create JAVA, they don’t own JAVA, nor do they maintain or even install it for you. It is no longer included with the OS. So essentially to this date, Macs have only been compromised through third party software and social engineering.

Apple does retain the responsibility for distributing the Mac version of JAVA though and they need do a much better job of keeping up with updates when they come out.

I have not heard of the Mac being attacked by a WORM or a VIRUS in the wild. There are countless people out there referring to FLASHBACK as a Mac VIRUS, but as I indicated earlier, this is inaccurate.

I still maintain that from a hacking point of view, Windows is an easier target than the more robust UNIX based security of the Macintosh Operating System. Previously, when coupled with the smaller installed base of Macs out there, this made the Mac an unattractive target. A. It’s a harder nut to crack, and B. There just aren’t that many of them if you do. So from a malware developer point of view, why bother?

In order for this to remain true though, we will require more vigilance and much faster reaction times from Apple. Allowing that exploit to linger for weeks is not acceptable behavior from Apple. Apple’s culpability is only part of the equation though.

Back in May of 2011 I warned in “Mac Security, Landsharks, Social Enginering, and Situational Awareness,” that malicious people who try to compromise computers for any number of reasons are more actively targeting Macs. This is because Macs are selling like hot cakes right now, while the rest of the PC industry is in relative flatline.

This is generally great, but the consequence of Apple’s success is that Mac users no longer have a thin veil of obscurity to hide behind. It’s like hostile aliens have picked up our radio signals and they’re coming. Consequently I’m issuing the warning again.

Please read the Mac Security article if you haven’t. The gist of that article is that you, not Apple, are responsible for your safety on the Internet. It’s like driving a car. If you drive drunk and wreck your car, the manufacturer isn’t responsible. If you inadvertently hand the keys of your car over to a thief, and your car is stolen, that’s your fault. Not the manufacturer.

The truth remains that most malicious attacks typically don’t target the Mac itself. You can actually touch the weakest component in this system. Take one finger, say the index finger of either hand, and tap your head 3 times. That is the weak point so called “hackers” are targeting. They are counting on the fact that you aren’t paying attention and will click INSTALL for any old thing that asks you to, and apparently many of you will.

Here are some of the steps I take to avoid intrusions:

  1. Don’t operate your computer under a privileged account. I run under a non-privileged account. If something manages to get into my machine, it will find it’s under a standard username without significant capabilities. If I need to install software, I give the installer a privileged username and password. On client computers where I act as the IT Director, I don’t give users privileged usernames.
  2. I’ve started using anti-malware. Often still referred to by the antiquated phrase, “Anti-Virus” this is software that not only watches out for viruses, but many other forms of intrusions you might be exposed to.
    1. I also use Sopho’s free tool which can be downloaded here.
    2. I use ESET’s Cybersecurity for Mac which can be purchased here.
    3. I will NEVER EVER use Norton. Norton has always been so heavy on a system spreading crap everywhere and so difficult to remove afterwards, it’s more like malware itself than a cure. I don’t know if this has changed over the last couple years but I recommend letting someone else find out.
    4. Kaspersky Lab’s Advance Protection for Macs can be purchased here.
    5. I don’t like MacKeeper. I’d avoid that one. I don’t like the sheer bombardment of the Internet they do advertising it. I am sick to death of MacKeeper ads. It tries to be a kitchen sink tool and it makes me suspect they aren’t doing one thing well, the important thing, just lots of things half assed.
    6. Intego Mac security software can be found here.
    7. Little Snitch is a great tool. It monitors network connections on your Mac and provides an easy to manage firewall. It’s such a great little tattle tale that the FLASHBACK malware opts not to install if it finds Little Snitch on your system. When initially installed it can be annoying. It asks for permission each time an application wishes to have network access. After a while it calms down as it records your preferences. It’s also interesting to note just how many applications are chattering on the Internet without your knowledge. Even Apple’s freebie calculator application wanted to talk to Apple about something.

I seldom experience performance issues with Sophos or ESET. I’m not aware when they are running on my machines. You should only run one anti-malware package at a time.

  1. Sorry to say it, but Google’s Chrome is a better browser than Safari right now. Chrome and Safari share WebKit DNA, but lately Safari has been extremely buggy. Chrome is faster, much faster. Google has been more responsive to security issues than Apple has as well aggressively offering rewards for finding Chrome related exploits. I love Safari. I love that when I make changes to my Safari bookmarks or bookmark bar they are automatically carried across all my devices including Macs and iOS devices. Unfortunately Safari has become more of a problem as of late than a useful tool. I’m running version Version 5.1.5 (7534.55.3) which I believe is the newest.
  2. Stay away from obviously disreputable websites. If some website says it has current versions of a running television show for free, THEY’RE LYING! Obviously porn sites are bad. In addition, you can unknowingly download malicious software from pirated music, television, and movie sites. Sites that offer free iPads for answering lots of questions, etc. You can sense flakiness. Just sort of use your common sense and develop that intuition.
  3. Get rid of FLASH and get rid of JAVA. Both of these 3rd party environments allow programs to be executed. Both are often targets for hackers. Both also run on Windows so hackers that aren’t even thinking about the Mac may wind up inadvertently attacking Macs. Adobe provides tools for removing Flash here. As mentioned earlier, you can disable JAVA in Safari, but better still, go to your utilities folder, find the “Java Preferences” application, launch it, and uncheck any Java SE’s you find.
  4. Be extremely careful who you give your passwords to.
  5. Keep your system updated. Run Software Update Frequently.
  6. Don’t log into your services using public computers. I.e. don’t log into Facebook from some “cybercafe.” I notice people leave themselves logged into iCloud, FaceBook and other services at Apple stores all the time. If you log into one of your services from a foreign computer, especially one in a public place, you run the risk that the computer might have something like a key logger installed. You never know.
  7. Pay attention when using public WiFi. Make sure the WiFi you pick is actually the one for the establishment. Anyone can sit down in a Starbucks and broadcast a “Starbucks Free WiFi” SSID. From there you go to FaceBook or some other site, you get a page that looks completely legitimate, you attempt to log in and it fails. Someone now has your password.
  8. Online services that claim to make your computer run faster should be regarded with more than a little suspicion.
  9. Keep all 3rd party software on your computer updated. In particular Adobe Reader has become a favorite of hackers.
  10. Keep important files in encrypted folders. You can create password protected disk images using Apple’s Disk Utility. Apple describes how here.
  11. You can use FileVault to encrypt your entire home folder. I’m not a huge fan of this. If you lose your password and associated recovery key, you will not be able to get back into your computer. Your entire home directory is encrypted.
  12. In Safari, turn off Open “safe” files after downloading. This can be found under General preferences.
  13. If you aren’t using Bluetooth accessories, make sure Bluetooth is turned off.
  14. Use Strong Passwords.

Over the last week or so I’ve looked at about 35 different Macs that I work with on a regular basis and I haven’t found a single instance FLASHBACK. The thing to take away from this if you are a Mac user or considering using a Mac, the argument of which platform is safer is irrelevant.

Consider, however, TDL-4.

The TDL-4 botnet has infected over 4.5 million Windows computers worldwide. 25% of those machines are in the United States. The botnet is growing and there seems to be no way to prevent it.

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See: Is The New TDL-4  Botnet Really ‘Indestructible?’
See: TDL4 Rebooted

While I maintain that the Mac is relatively safer, so what? I still advise taking the same level of precautions that you would have to take if you were using Windows, and the most important precaution is building up your own situational awareness. Even if the Mac is the safest computer in the world, that doesn’t make Firefox completely safe, nor does it make FLASH safe, or even Microsoft Word.

The Internet is a hostile environment. Imagine it like the cliché old west saloon. When you walk through the doors, visually sweep the area, know who’s in there. Know the situation.

Evolution vs. Revoluiton

Under the reign of Steve Jobs, Apple would create a great deal of media glitz surrounding product announcements. Steve Jobs was unsurpassed at providing the magic of those product announcements. Steve had that certain something, a presence that made people giddy. Steve could announce evolutions and make the audience feel like they were revolutions. His was a combination of talent and honed skill.

Apple continues to make a big deal out of evolutions. Unfortunately the expectation has been set that every announcement will be a revolution, and without the great wielder of the reality distortion field, people are seeing the announcements for what they are. Updates!

There is nothing wrong with updates. There is nothing wrong with evolution. It’s the way things are supposed to work. The problem is, with the wild rumor mill, the constant attention from the media, and the expectations set by a past series of revolutions, people are disappointed, even with darn good evolutions.

The Mac was revolutionary. Every Mac since then has represented an evolution. OS X was a revolutionary product. Every update since then has been an evolution. The iPod was revolutionary. Every update since then has been a evolution. The same is true of the iPhone and the iPad. One could argue that the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch represent branches on the same mobile device evolutionary tree.

Long time users of Apple products understand this, particularly professionals. New users of Apple products haven’t figured it out yet. Moving to Apple was a revolution in and of itself for them. Now they expect that every single product will be a revolution. This isn’t going to happen. It can’t!

Evolution means bigger or smaller, cheaper, more features for the same price, etc. Sometimes it means tradeoffs and compromise. A higher resolution screen might mean faster battery consumption, etc. The point is, evolution doesn’t mean a complete reimagining. Product evolution is the same as biological evolution. It is change across generations. Updates can be looked at as mutations. Sometimes the updates are great and they make the product stronger, more fit. Sometimes they aren’t so great and they need to evolve further or be dropped all together.

One thing Apple is very good at is providing changes that make sense, when they make sense. Apple make look at something like 4G and decide now is not the time for that single evolutionary change or they might look at it and decide that all things considered, 4G makes the overall product better. Other vendors aren’t as good at this as Apple. Some slap together all available technology into a product and say, “Here’s our offering! It has more features than the comparable Apple device!” One can put fins on a Ferrari also, but that doesn’t make it better.

I personally believe Apple also holds back features that they fully intend to integrate at some point. This is a business decision. If you can project great sales on the iPhone 4s without 4G, for example, it’s smarter to hold it for a subsequent generation to add more value to that evolution.

When the iPhone 4s was introduced, people who understood the technology recognized it for what it was, a significant set of evolutionary changes to an already revolutionary product. The original iPhone was the revolution. The 4s was simply a better iPhone.  Much better than any previous iPhone actually. Nonetheless there were many who were so enveloped in the reality distortion field that they were even upset by the fact the product wasn’t named “iPhone 5.” As an associate of mine put it, “This isn’t about technology, this is about fashion. If someone can’t look at my phone and tell I have the newest and greatest just by looking at it, the phone sucks!” I strongly suggested that she’d be happier with an Android device. Lots of fins.

Now here we are again with the new iPad. While most tech people get it, there are those who feel the product isn’t revolutionary. The new iPad has a solid set of upgrades. It is the highest quality iPad one can purchase, and provides the best iPad experience overall. The new iPad coupled with Apple’s ecosystem, is still lightyears ahead of comparable offerings from competitors, and the iPad is likely to remain the tablet of choice for at least 75% of those interested in such a device.

The new iPad isn’t for everyone though. People who appreciate the higher resolution graphics, people who are still using the original iPad, people who want and need 4G, are examples of those who will likely purchase the new iPad. People who are happy with their iPad 2s are far less likely because the new iPad is less of an evolutionary shift from the iPad 2 than it is from the first iPad, and this is how things should be.

So what can Apple do to control the lunacy surrounding every product announcement? One thing is make it clear that these are updates. I believe this is the primary reason the newest iPad is simply called “iPad” and not “iPad 3.” This helps to keep people from expecting huge changes as opposed to rational evolutions.

I also would like to see Apple dispense with the glitzy shows. They produce a great deal of excitement, that is often not warranted. The personality that the cult grew up around is gone. Tim Cook might be a genius and may prove to be a great CEO overtime, but for the moment, the pale imitation of Steve Jobs reminds me of when Michael Eisner started introducing the Sunday night Disney program on ABC. I just kept thinking, “You’re not Walt. You don’t belong there.”

Apple has to become the personality itself. It can no longer revolve around an actual person. Apple should become an amorphous entity that produces magical products on schedule. When those products are ready, there is no need to fly the journalistic faithful to Northern California to lead the cheers. Instead, create more of those great videos and make them even more substantive. Show us more people using products in business and their personal lives. Send statements to developers on the day that the website changes, and let Apple take center on a virtual stage.

I would however find a voice. Preferably younger and preferably female. Think Natalie Morris or someone with a British accent.  The voice should be the voice of Apple. I’m sorry, it’s just not Tim. The parade of middle aged white guys doesn’t appeal to the youth market either.

Finally, only hold those press conferences for the revolutions. That way when Apple sends out those notices to the “journalists,” we know whatever is coming is going to be special, and that we haven’t seen it before. I suspect the next one should be the actual Apple Television.

We are expecting new MacBooks this year. No need to do a show for that, just create beautiful online presentations and videos that we can download and study. Same for any new Macs, OS X, or any existing product really. We know how great they are, and we are capable of analyzing the evolution.

THE NEW IPAD

The newest iPad, referred to by Apple as simply “New iPad” was introduced on March 7, 2012. There is no number in the name. People were expecting the device to be called iPad 3, but apple only refers to it as the new iPad. I suspect this is after observing the ridiculously bizarre reactions of some people when the latest iPhone upgrade, a rather substantial upgrade, was scoffed at by said people because it wasn’t called the “iPhone 5.”

Not all Apple aficionados are intelligent. Some are simply mindless fashionistas. Apple correctly assumes that adding a number to identify a product confuses these people. Just calling it “New” is easier to understand, and Apple is all about easy.

Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to introduce the new iPad at the March 7 event. We learned that the new iPad equation is DISPLAY + QUAD CORE GRAPHICS + BATTERY + iSIGHT + 4G. This added up to a very nice set of improvements so there was no doubt that the new iPad would generate excitement. I attempted to order my WiFi only model the moment the presentation was over. The Apple Store seemed to buckle under the demand, but like Atlas on bended knee, it eventually rose and started taking orders.

The first online orders promised a delivery date of March 16, though once again, the supply was not quite able to meet the ever present demand for a new Apple product. The delivery date quickly slipped to March 19 for later orders, and before the day was over online orders sold out. People subsequently began lining up to purchase from the stores as early as March 15. We began receiving notices that iPads had shipped and as promised, the new iPad began arriving in the hands of customers on March 16.

I live in a loft in a secure building in downtown Los Angels. So delivery people aren’t able to come directly to me. They have to deliver to the guard who texts or emails me when there is a delivery. So on March 16th I was watching the FEX EX tracking page and waiting for my text. Needless to say I was disappointed when the FED EX tracking page suddenly said that there was a problem delivering, that the “office was closed.” Apparently he delivered at precisely the moment the guard needed to use the restroom.

Luckily I was able to pick up my iPad at a nearby FED EX depot. It was entertaining as the FED EX people were making fun of all of us “iPad people” who were there because we missed our deliveries. Once I got the iPad home, I poured a glass of wine and began to explore.

Looks

The new iPad looks exactly the same as the previous iPad. It’s approximately one millimeter thicker. If they’re turned off it’s difficult to tell them apart without extremely close examination. This changes however, once you turn them on.

With the new iPad what’s important is what’s packed inside, and Apple hasn’t disappointed. Once again they’ve provided us with a significant evolution of an already revolutionary product. It is a more substantial leap over the iPad 2 than the iPad 2 was over the original. Using it I find the whole is definitely greater than the sum of the upgrades. The most difficult part of writing about this new iPad is that I’m running out of superlatives.

The Display

The first thing I noticed was the outstanding new screen. So much had been said about the new screen, I was almost expecting to get a sense of spiritual euphoria when I saw it. At first glance however, I didn’t see the difference. My appreciation for the new screen came as I began to notice the subtle differences.

The subtlety is in the fact that it’s not what I saw, but what I didn’t see. What is gone is the minute jagged edges in text that we’ve learned to ignore. The blur of anti-aliasing is gone. As you’re reading the crisp quality of text will stand out. The striking clarity of print alone is an unexpectedly pleasing experience. It’s as if the text has been hand painted in smooth strokes as opposed to being formed by pixels. The constant comparison is to printed text, like on the page of a book. This comparison is not an exaggeration.

If you read a page of text with the New iPad then immediately look at the same text on the older iPad 2, the iPad 2’s screen will look slightly blurry. In fact, if you read a page of text and look at the same page on your brand new 27” iMac, the iMac screen will look blurry in comparison.

No one will be able to adequately describe the difference and you won’t be able to see it looking at comparison photos on an existing computer screen. You will need to go into an Apple store and look at the two screens side by side.

The best photos of the difference I’ve found are [ HERE ].

I wear reading glasses, particularly after staring at a screen all day long. When I look at my blog on both the new iPad and the iPad 2, the text is crystal clear on the new iPad, and looking at the older device, I see a weird fuzz around letters that I had previously been unaware of.

Seriously, I cannot do justice to this in words. You cannot recognize the difference until you sit down and see it with your own eyes. Anyone who says there is no difference is wrong, has an ulterior motive for saying so, or is no more observant than a 5 year old jar of Vaseline. Reading iBooks, Kindle books, even freaking e-mail on the new iPad is a pleasure with the new display.

Retina Display” is Apple marketing speak. It is human targeted branding for technology that shrinks pixels and squeezes so many, i.e. packs them so densely into a small space that the human eye is incapable of discerning individual pixels. The display has 263 pixels per diagonal inch. 4 times more pixels than the iPad 2.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that you couldn’t discern individual pixels before, so what’s the big deal? Trust me. You could see the pixels before, but your brain, preferring to see smooth organic curves, causes you to ignore the jagged pixels hanging off text. Again, when you see the new iPad side by side with the iPad 2, you’ll understand.

The iPad and iPad 2 have a screen resolution of 1024 x 768. The new Retina Display has a screen resolution of 2048 x 1536, exactly double the resolution of its ancestors. Presumably Apple did this so that previous iPad applications would scale up to the new resolution with no modification. Even iPhone apps that looked jagged and sloppy when pixel doubled on the iPad 2, look very smooth and clear on the new iPad.

The resolution of the new iPad is higher than the resolution of my 17” MacBook Pro. The new iPad has a million more pixels than an HDTV. Hopefully app developers will start tweaking their applications to take advantage of the new resolution. As I write this I’m seeing lots of updates.

You can find a list of cool apps that have already been updated here at TechCrunch in an article by MG Siegler: [ HERE  ]

As of this writing I’ve tried the [ ABC Player, Flipboard, Barefoot World Atlas and Twitter and they all look fantastic. Barefoot World Atlas is very fun.

Sharper text isn’t the only thing you’ll notice with the new screen. Colors are brighter, and more vibrant. High resolution photos are beautiful, much more realistic. There are times, when looking at really high resolution images squeezed down to fit into the iPad’s screen that it’s like looking through a window.

New A5X Chip

I know what you’re thinking now. That’s a helluva lot more pixels than the older iPads. Is this iPad much slower when drawing images? Short answer: No. Not in the least. In order to drive the 3 million plus pixels of the new iPad, Apple upgraded the A5 processor with quad-core graphics. So even with 4 times the pixels of the previous iPads, the speed of the new iPad is still as snappy as ever. Even more so in some cases.  In my personal speed tests, the new iPad was just as fast as the iPad 2, occasionally faster. Some people (think teenagers making youtube videos or bloggers for Gawker media) will consider this a failure. The engineering feat here is that the speed was maintained while driving the greatly enhanced display. The power of the new chip is most evident in 3D Graphics. When benchmarked against the Asus Transformer Prime tablet built on the Nvidia Tegra 3, the iPad’s A5X processor thoroughly trounced the “Transformer Prime.” Optimus will be bummed out.

See Test [ HERE ]

Battery

This time  I surely know what you’re thinking. 3.1 million pixels? 4 times the number of pixels of the older iPads? A faster processor and quad-core graphics? This must mean battery life has suffered tremendously, right? Short answer: No. Not in the least. The new iPad still delivers 10 hours of battery life. Battery life will vary depending on use, however I can confirm that I used the new iPad for the better part of Saturday and I noticed no difference in battery life. Typically, by the end of the day I’m down to 35% battery remaining. The results were essentially the same on the new iPad. I was down to 30%, but you have to consider I was actually playing with the new iPad much more than I normally would.

This might be compared to hitching a half ton trailer to your car, putting a bigger engine in the car so it continues to go as fast, yet using the exact same amount of fuel over the same distance. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Apple didn’t stop there though.

iSight Camera

The general consensus was that the rear facing camera in the iPad 2 just plain sucked.  It was ok for quick shots here and there, but the cameras in the iPhone 4 and 4s were comparably fantastic. When people asked, “Did Apple do that just so the next iPad could easily have an even better camera?” I would change the subject because I didn’t really have an answer on that one.

The new iPad has a rear facing 5 megapixel iSight Camera that shoots fantastic stills and full 1080p HD video. The front facing camera is still a FaceTime camera capable of VGA-quality photos and video up to 30 frames per second. I wish the front facing camera was also an iSight camera because I want to look good in HD when I’m giving up some FaceTime.

The photos and videos from the iSight camera look great. I would like to have seen an 8 megapixel camera there, but I have a hunch as to why that isn’t there yet. It might be more wishful thinking than anything else, but in my humble opinion, the 10” iPad is an awkward device to use as a camera. If Apple were to introduce a smaller iPad, say in the 7” realm, I.e. an iPad that fits in a jacket pocket… hmmm… now that device might be useful as a day to day camera. Such a device would make more sense for an 8 or 10 megapixel iSight camera. Just a thought. More than likely though, Apple sees the iPhone as their camera device and will continue to put the highest quality cameras there. Here’s some sample video I shot outside my building: [ SAMPLE VIDEO ]

4G LTE

If you’re a highly mobile knowledge worker type, you will be thrilled with the 4G LTE network capabilities of the new iPad, that is unless you’re in an area without 4G LTE. If you are, you can still get the speedy 3G HSPA, HSPA+ and DC-HSDPA speeds. The new iPad supports so many standards it should work almost anywhere. Your results will of course vary due to far more variables than I care to mention here. I’ve seen speeds consistently faster than the average home DSL line. I’ve seen speed (youtube demos) as fast as 20Mb/s on LTE and as low as 3Mb/s on LTE. I’ve read reports of 40Mb/s in San Francisco. Whatever speed you get, using these fast networks will cost you. The new iPad is capable of acting as a mobile hotspot, but chances are, your mobile ISP won’t allow it, unless you pay even more.

Dictation

The new iPad includes the same mobile dictation capabilities found in the iPhone 4S. I love the dictation for text messaging, and when I tested dictating to the notes application on the new iPad, the accuracy was fairly precise. If you’re like me you probably tried older voice recognition software and gave up. You have to try these new incarnations. They are incredible.

To Buy or Not To Buy

The question for many will be do I “need” to upgrade?

“Need” is a highly subjective word.

Once you go down the road of “need” you can apply it to everything. Who “needs” an iPad? Who “needs” an electric can opener? Need is tricky.

In my opinion, the new iPad is a much better iPad than the iPad 2. It is far better than the first iPad. If you are still using the first iPad and you are considering an upgrade, the new iPad is unquestionably a great purchase. If you already have an iPad 2, the decision gets a bit more blurry. The iPad 2 is a fine device and will continue to be so for some time to come. If you’re wallowing in cash though, and you want the latest and greatest, the new iPad will not disappoint.

Throughout the year analysts and pundits droned on about who would deliver an iPad killer. They should have known. Apple has delivered the only tablet on the market better than the iPad 2.

Net Neutrality

In my humble opinion, next to the AK-47, the single most liberating technology of the 20th and 21st centuries has so far been the Internet. This will likely hold until someone makes a more sturdy and easily copied assault rifle, invents a disintegration ray, or we learn to teleport something a bit larger than a subatomic particle. For the moment though, the Internet reigns supreme as the most powerful technology there is for preserving freedom through the unencumbered exchange of goods, services, information and ideas.

The Internet is humanity friendly technology. It generates liberty. It democratizes freedom of speech. It allows us to communicate, cooperate, argue, work, and play with one another on a global scale. It causes us to discover each other. We see that we are often utterly asinine. At the same time we discover that we are very often brilliant, productive and creative. Needless to say the Internet has been extremely conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation as well as the creation of new business models for old media such as cinema, broadcasting, music, and publishing.

This didn’t happen simply because we connected our computers. It happened because we connected our computers to an open and free NETWORK NEUTRAL INTERNET.

In other words, it happened because there are no virtual boundaries, speed limits, stop signs, or censorship police for us to deal with. Information generally flows freely from one destination to another. Think of it as limited government of the Internet.

This creates a network that is philosophically libertarian in its nature. At the core of the Internet’s design is something called “The End-To-End Principle.” It essentially means that the network itself is indifferent, i.e. neutral. This is the fundamental idea of Net Neutrality.

Net neutrality means simply that all like Internet content must be treated alike and move at the same speed over the network. The owners of the Internet’s wires cannot discriminate. This is the simple but brilliant “end-to-end” design of the Internet that has made it such a powerful force for economic and social good.”—Lawrence Lessig & Robert W. McChesney

So far this has worked extremely well, and stands as a monument to what can happen when all the typical power mongers whether governments or corporations keep their hands off.

The Internet, our Internet, has remained open and free. It is a prime example of one of the fundamental tenants of libertarianism or Classical Liberalism, i.e. Spontaneous Order.

With no central governance, the Internet is a very orderly place, but not overly so.  It has to be, in order to function. Order on the Internet is maintained through the voluntary interaction of technologists, i.e. people. The operation of the network is defined through agreements and standards. Anyone is free to propose different standards, or protocols. Such standards may or may not be adopted. No one is allowed to seize control or ownership of the Internet.

The Internet regulates itself. Openness is the primary regulatory value. Net Neutrality says that any proposed change should ask, “Does this increase or decrease the freedom and openness of the Internet?”

When I speak of the Internet being open and “free” I don’t mean without cost. We pay for connectivity and bandwidth, or “Quality of Service” as well we should. Telephone companies, cable companies, and satellite companies have spent countless billions building the infrastructure that hosts the Internet and the higher our quality of service the more we pay. Some think it should be free. It should not. Insisting on free Internet service is a violation of property rights. We the people have no inherent ownership rights of their wires. We pay to access them.

I submit however that the Internet is not the wires. The edge service providers  and last mile service providers own the infrastructure. We purchase access from them. They DO NOT own the Internet though. The Internet has come to exist as an entity on its own. It may be hosted by or live on the wires of the service providers but the network itself is something wholly separate. The Internet is made up of the various computers, networks, standards, protocols, services, and most importantly INDIVIDUALS who live and work there. Yes, it is a place.

In order to keep the Internet open and free, it is up to the individuals to maintain vigilance over the power hungry. The power hungry entities are the usual suspects, i.e. governments and corporations.

Corporations seek to control traffic on the Internet because that can be EXTREMELY profitable. Governments really don’t like us talking amongst ourselves so much and they seek to control who can talk to whom and when they can talk, and what they say. Governments are fond of Internet kill switches and censorship. Governments, particularly our own I suspect, really don’t like seeing such a successful thing as the Internet exist without their say so, or their taxes, or their ability to exercise control and constraint on behalf of those who contribute lots of money to them.

Proponents of Net Neutrality seek to thwart the efforts of governments and corporations to exercise ownership like control over the Internet. Net Neutrality wants the traffic on the Internet to remain unmolested by corporations and uncensored by governments and unblocked by both.

Opponents of Net Neutrality see it as a government power grab or FCC over regulation. Opponents of Net Neutrality feel that the Internet has done well on its own since the day we agreed that it actually existed, so why do we need any FCC interference whatsoever?

What is interesting is that the decision on whether or not one supports Net Neutrality has fallen along the cliché and boring left vs. right political lines, with pro-net neutrality people being on the left and anti-net neutrality people being on the right. Unfortunately this has resulted in minds instantly being closed to what the actual issues are and what is at stake.

I consider myself a libertarian (because people understand this somewhat) but more accurately a  classical liberal. By definition this would put me right of center and I often agree with so called “conservative” ideals. I like to believe I look at every issue on its own though. Just because someone I might agree with on tax policy tells me Net Neutrality is bad doesn’t mean I don’t investigate for myself. In doing so I have come to support Net Neutrality notwithstanding the meaningless political labels that have been attached to it.

I would ask that those who believe in limited government and free speech, as I do, take a close look at Net Neutrality. Don’t close your mind because some hidebound conservative tells you it’s evil. It isn’t. If you are a leftist, don’t simply believe in it because your favorite Marxist kook says “the 99% are in favor of Net Neutrality.” Read up on it. Understand what the Internet is, how it works, why it’s important, who the players are. Don’t let them obfuscate the importance of this issue by pressing your political hot buttons. They do not apply.

Conservatives, I am speaking to you in particular here. Leftists have the luxury of accidentally being on the correct side of this issue. You don’t have that luxury. You’re going to have to use your brain. You’re going to have to ask yourself how it is that rules that do nothing other than ask that the Internet remain open and free with limited governance are government over regulation and then you’re going to have to come up with an answer that makes sense. You can’t. If you understand what Net Neutrality is and you continue to insist that it’s some kind of government power grab, you’re acting irresponsibly with respect to the Internet and you are handing the Internet over to corporations to over regulate and govern because your mind is just that closed. Don’t do it. Keep in mind, calling Net Neutrality regulation is like calling The Bill of Rights regulation.

When you support Net Neutrality, you are not supporting equality over all else. You are supporting equality of opportunity. If I put up a website, people can access my website as easily as CNN or MSNBC. Within the Internet itself, there is a free market and this is because of Net Neutrality.

Those who own the wires are not policed by a free market. Those of us who purchase access from these people have little or no choice as to whom we get service from. To claim that the market will control ISPs is wrong. The market must have competition.

Without Net Neutrality the companies that own the wires are free to form an oligarchy or what can essentially be described as an OPEC of bandwidth, in which they wield entirely too much power determining how traffic flows on the Internet. Remember the wires are not the Internet. We should pay for our access to the wires, and they should be able to charge more for greater bandwidth or better QOS, but they should not be allowed to tamper with how the Internet works.  They should not be allowed to throttle or even examine the packets we exchange, unless an appropriate court order has been supplied.

Beware. The Keyboard Thugs are trying to hack your brain again.

Mac Users,

Once again, I have to report that evil people are trying to hack your brains. These people are sometimes called “hackers,” sometimes “cyber criminals.”  These are romantic terms however.  They are glamourous and they should not be. These are basically keyboard punks. They are not geniuses, they may know a bit more about your computer than you do, but that’s it. They are thieves and vandals, the Internet equivalent of of pickpockets or unethical locksmiths.

It seems they’ve cobbled together a new Trojan Horse that attempts to trick you into downloading and installing malicious software. I’ve discussed Trojans here before. Remember, this is the act of hacking YOU, the computer user, and convincing you to open the door and stand aside.

Please see “Mac Security, Landsharks, Social Engineering, and Situational Awareness.”

This one pretends to be an upgrade to FLASH (as if there weren’t enough reasons to avoid installing Adobe Flash already.).

Concerning Flash, please see Steve Jobs on Flash: http://www.apple.com/hotnews/thoughts-on-flash

If you go to a website and you see something like this, DO NOT install Flash. Unfortunately it looks like the real installer and can create confusion and very easily fool most Mac users.
If you believe your FLASH install need to be updated you should go to Adobe’s website to do so. Finding anything on Adobe’s Website is an adventure in and of itself, but this link should take you directly to the Flash Installer, (and better yet, the Uninstaller as well!)
Be very careful exploring the Internet. The punks are looking for brains with weak security.

OS X 10.7 LION IS HERE!

I’m so excited!

Today, Wednesday 07/20/11, Apple will be releasing OS X 10.7 Lion. This is a major new release of OS X. Unlike previous releases of OS X, this will be the first release to be offered via download through the new Mac App Store. This release also has relatively strict requirements.

To install OS X Lion you must have:

  • An Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, Core i7 or Xeon processor. This does not include the Intel Core Duo, a slightly older chip. Check your “About this Mac” display. If it says anything other than what is listed above, do not attempt to install OS X Lion.
  • 2GB of RAM
  • Mac OS X 10.6.6 or later with the Mac App Store installed
  • At least 4GB of additional disk space to hold the download
  • A fairly fast broadband connection to make downloading 4GB of data tolerable. (If you regularly download movies from the Internet, this should be no problem. If you’re on some flaky ancient DSL connection you might want to start the download at night, and go to bed, and hope it finishes by the time you wake up.)

As always, Apple allows you to install right on top of the existing operating system. As always I recommend against this. Computers, even Macs, are in a state of entropy from the moment you get them working properly. You’re putting files on, often in to the wrong places. Software installs do things they shouldn’t do. Computers crash for one reason or another. Lots of little problems add up to one big problem. Installing a new OS on top of the old one doesn’t necessarily clean all of this up, and can make things worse.

I recommend that you first do a full backup of your system. Have an image backup on an external drive tucked safely out of the way. Then during the install process, tell the installer to format your hard drive. Then install the new OS clean. I recommend doing this at least once per year for any computer. It’s digital catharsis. Then re-install from your disks or installation files applications as you need them. Your backup will contain all of your old data that can be installed as needed. Sometimes putting data back, like email for instance, or iTunes data, can be tricky. If you’re not sure how to do this, ask for help.

Update: Installing Lion onto one of my computers as a test, I was not given the option to do a clean install, i.e. format the drive. In order to do this, I will likely have to make a bootable USB Flash Drive or DVD so that I can first erase the internal drive, then do the install. If you aren’t proficient at such things, it looks like you’ll have to install on top of the existing OS. ( Y U C K ).  Even more reason to have a full backup ready, just in case.

If you wish to skip all of this and slap Lion on top of your existing system, chances are it will work just fine, but I’ve seen some of your systems and the kooky things you do and the strange stuff you install so I’d do the full backup anyway. No matter what you should always do a full backup before installing any major new release of an OS.

Recently I began creating recovery partitions on client machines. Once the OS and applications were all installed, I’d section off part of the hard drive and make a copy. This way if something went wrong, we could boot from the recovery partition to fix things. OS X 10.7 Lion does this now for you. Keep in mind if you install OS X 10.7 Lion to an external drive, I’m not 100% sure where it will put this partition. The last version I saw, back in February still put the recovery partition on the main internal hard drive. This can lead to confusion if you remove your external and boot your system. It will default to the recovery partition.

There is also the issue of older software.

If you are running older versions of application software, your apps may not be compatible. Check http://roaringapps.com for a current list. Notable incompatible programs include QUICKEN 2007, (of which there is NO NEW VERSION (there is a half assed Quicken Essentials, but it should be called “Quicken Lite” for people who only have a checking account). Office 2008 is questionable. I can’t find anything that says that it will definitely work. I would let others find out for sure first, before rushing to install Lion.

You can also do a preliminary test of your system Go to the Apple Menu, choose “About This Mac,” then click “More Info.” You will be taken to the System Profiler app. On the left side of the app is the “Contents” area. Under Software, choose Applications. After it finishes building a list of your applications, look under the Kind column. If you see anything that says “PowerPC” assume that application will not run. Contact the vendor to see if there is a new version. You want to see “Intel” or “Universal” in that column.

Pictured below is a shot of a client machine running Office 2004. Office 2004 is clearly incompatible with OS X Lion. Interestingly, compatibility with LION is the only reason I’ve found to upgrade to Office 2011.

Generally speaking you should VERIFY any application that is critical to your work BEFORE upgrading.

OS X 10.7 Lion is an exciting new version of what is quite possibly the finest general purpose operating system on the market. Apple says it has over 250 new features and in the coming weeks I will be documenting my experiences with them.

If you got nothing else out of this short text, please back up your system before installing Lion.