Mac News Review

Year of the Mac, 'Apple Tax' Analyzed, Steampunk Mac SE, Safari Security Updates, and More

This Week's Apple and Desktop Mac News

Compiled by Charles Moore and edited by Dan Knight - 2010.12.03

MacBook, PowerBook, iBook, and other portable computing is covered in The 'Book Review. iPad, iPod, iPhone, and Apple TV news is covered in The iNews Review.

All prices are in US dollars unless otherwise noted.

News & Opinion

Mac of the Future

Apple Updates

Tech Trends

Products & Services

Software

Desktop Mac Deals

News & Opinion

2011: Year of the Mac

Computerworld's Jonny Evans says that Apple has so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: Mac sales are exploding, the iPad/iPhone/iPod halo is shining, The Beatles have reached iTunes, and in a few weeks time Apple will launch the world's biggest and most convenient consumer software retailer - the Mac App Store.

Things are looking good.

That's even before you look at Apple's growing slice of the education market or consider the truckloads of AAPL products set to take shelter in this season's gift piles.

"All these signs mean next year will be the year of the Mac," Evans contends.

Economic Doldrums? Apple Has a Spectacular Year

mercurynews.com's John Boudreau reports:

"As 2010 draws to a close, much of the tech world is struggling to regain its footing after a difficult recession. Then there's Apple.

"Never before has this venerable company, which at age 34 is a grizzled veteran by Silicon Valley standards, stood so firmly atop the high tech industry. Earlier this year, Apple's market capitalization surpassed that of Microsoft, making it the most valuable property in the tech universe. And during its just-completed fiscal year, it broke four consecutive quarterly revenue and profit records. Amid the worst recession in decades, Apple hired thousands while others cut jobs....

"In 2010 Apple:

  • Broke four consecutive quarterly revenue and profit records.
  • Hired 12,300 employees, a 36 percent jump from the previous fiscal year to 46,600 full-time employees.
  • Hiked R&D spending 38 percent to $1.8 billion.
  • Opened 44 new retail stores, ending the year with a total of 317 outlets."

Apple Aces PCWorld's Reliability and Service Survey Yet Again

PCWorld's Jeff Bertolucci notes that every year PCWorld's polls its knowledgeable readers to see which companies are providing the best tech support and service. The results of their latest survey of 79,000 tech aficionados found that in general, products made by Apple, Asus, Brother, and Canon are typically reliable and well supported, while products made by Dell and Hewlett-Packard often aren't, especially if you're a home user.

Other findings:

  • Laptops are slightly more reliable than before, and have fewer serious problems than desktops.
  • Business PC customers are generally more satisfied than their consumer counterparts.

"Apple once again smoked the competition in the desktop, notebook, and smartphone categories, winning high praise from customers in all reliability and service categories, doing so well that virtually all its scores were above average.

"Can Apple do no wrong?" asks Bertolucci rhetorically. "Indeed, 2010 was a remarkable year for the world's highest-valued tech company. In addition to unveiling the iPad, a touchscreen tablet that launched a new genre of mobile computing devices, Apple enjoyed record sales and profits. And now it's won the trifecta by smoking the competition in our reader poll."

Is the 'Apple Tax' Real?

Hot Hardware's Ray Willington says:

"It's an argument that has been around for almost as long as Macs have been rivaling PCs . . . not the argument of 'PC versus Mac' from a software and compatibility standpoint . . . [but] an argument over dollars and cents. For years, PC loyalists (or just those who are anti-Apple for one reason or another) have argued that Apple computers are more expensive than their similarly equipped, Windows-based counterparts . . . many have complained passionately about the so-called "Apple tax," [an alleged] price premium that's added on for the simple fact that you're buying a Mac. Very little actual analysis goes into these claims.... Apple loyalists have long stated that near identical machines (or as close to identical as possible) are actually closely matched in terms of price....

"We felt it was high time to put the argument to rest."

Apple Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server: A Real Xserve Alternative?

The Register's Liam Proven says with Apple's Xserve now discontinued, the only two Mac servers available are the Mac mini and the Mac Pro Server, making the Mac mini Apple's lowest-cost computer yet in its more expensive server incarnation it dispenses with the optical drive of its desktop sibling, instead opting for a second 2.5" hard disk.

Proven observes that the server's price hike puts it in third place behind the basic MacBook as cheapest Mac, but Apple has managed to squeeze two 7200 RPM 500 GB hard drives into the Mini's tiny case, along with a 2.66 GHz Core 2 Duo, and the machine comes preinstalled with Mac OS X Server 10.6.3 on one of its hard drives, with the other left empty. Proven notes that since there is no optical drive, you'll need to resort to the Mac's drive sharing option or use an external USB DVD drive.

He says the Mini isn't your typical server box, since there's no internal expansion headroom, save to replace its pair of 2 GB DIMMs with up to 8 GB, but it's ideal as a small workgroup server or even for rackmounting, as well as being tiny, inconspicuous, and virtually silent in operation, and economical too - demanding 85W of power.

The Mac that Saved Apple: Inside the Bondi Blue iMac

Bondi iMacThe Register's Rik Myslewski recalls that Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the iMac at the Flint Center Theater in Apple's home town of Cupertino, California - the same venue where he had unveiled the original Macintosh back in 1984.

"'We think iMac is going to be a really big deal,' he told the crowd. He was right."

Editor's note: For a while, the Bondi iMac was the best-selling computer on the market. Apple lost that spot when it introduced the Rev. C 266 MHz iMac in five different colors, because those who compiled such statistics viewed them as five different models. dk

Steampunk Macintosh

A Boston Globe feature on steampunk - a subculture with roots in a science fiction literature subgenre obsessed with Victoriana and the idea that the computer age evolved alongside the industrial - notes that over the past two years steampunk has emerged in the real world, with enthusiasts building steampunk objects and sharing photos of them on the Internet, one example being the ElectriClerk, made from a 1988 Macintosh SE computer, a c.1923 Underwood typewriter, and a Fresnel lens by Andrew H. Leman.

ElectriClerk
ElectriClerk, a steampunk hybrid of a Macintosh SE and an Underwood typewriter.

Thunderbird 3.3 Ditches PowerPC Macs

Cnet's Stephen Shankland reports:

"Mozilla has released its first alpha version of Thunderbird 3.3, an update to the e-mail software code-named Miramar that drops support for PowerPC-based Mac. Miramar is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

"The new software includes the Gecko browser engine used in Firefox, and with version 3.3, Thunderbird moves to the Gecko 2.0 engine that's the core of the upcoming Firefox 4. Firefox 4 is dropping support for Macs using PowerPC processors, too, to ease the arrival of new features such as a more secure and crash-proof plug-in design."

Installing Older Mac OS Versions on Newer Macs

MacFixIt's Topher Kessler reports:

"Periodically, people will ask about the options for installing different versions of OS X on their systems. Though installing a newly released version of OS X is possible and recommended (at least by Apple) for all supported Macs, there may be problems if you decide to install a version of OS X that was released before your Mac was issued....

"Despite the idea that you should not install an OS version that was released before your system was released, there are a number of instances (some more viable than others) as to why people may want to try this, or at least inadvertently end up doing so...."

Kessler discusses reasons you might want or need to install an older version of the Mac OS and provides tips on what to look out for.

AMD Bulldozer CPU Will Reach 4 GHz; Destined for Mac Pro?

Hardmac's Lionel reports that it seems that Apple is "looking with great interest" at AMD CPU silicon, making more careful scrutiny of AMD's development roadmap timely, and notes that among AMD's coming CPUs, the Bulldozer for desktop computers, projected for arrival in Q2 2011, will be available with 8, 6 or 4 cores, incorporate an embedded GPU, have a clock speed around 3.5 GHz, and a Intel TurboBoost-like feature will also be available to add an additional 500 MHz to the base 3.5 GHz frequency, amounting to 4 GHz in total, a clock figure unseen since the end of the Pentium 4 era.*

* Editor's note: Unseen in the x86 world since then, but IBM's POWER 7, which rooted in the same technology as the PowerPC CPUs Apple once used) is available of 4 GHz and higher and with up to 256 cores.

Dirty Computers: How Much Filth Can You Take?

The Register's Lester Haines says:

"It's been a tad over a year since our shock insight into the darkest and most fearsome interiors of computing hardware, and by our reckoning that's just about enough time to recover from the trauma.

"Accordingly, we're inviting contributions for 'Ventblockers II', so let's see if you lot can match this further collection of horror which has crawled into the Bootnotes inbox over the last 12 months."

Mac of the Future

To See Where OS X Is Headed, Look at iOS

Ars Technica's always insightful John Siracusa, writing for Macworld.com, notes that these days it's all too easy to take Mac OS X for granted. Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard was released a year-and-a-half ago, and most of its changes were under the hood. The last release to include significant user interface enhancements was Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard, which is now more than three years old.

Siracusa notes that with the iOS hogging most of Apple's attention recently, Apple in October finally announced Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, due to ship in summer 2011, and that for this next iteration of Mac OS X, Apple has taken inspiration from the defining characteristic of iOS - simplicity - and Apple now appears to be questioning whether there should even be a Finder in Mac OS X.

CPUs and GPUs Will Change the Mac

Writing for Macworld, AnandTech's Anand Lal Shimpi says that for the past few years, predicting the CPUs that Apple would put inside its Macs has been relatively easy, and observes that over the past year, Apple effectively smashed that clock, starting with the MacBook Pros released in April 2010, with the 15" and 17" models getting Intel's then-new Core i5 and i7 Arrandale microprocessors, while the 13" MacBook Pro stuck with the older Core 2 Duo CPU.

Lal Shimpi suggests that the decision to stick with the Core 2 Duo indicated at least two things:

  1. That the Apple-Intel relationship might not be as cozy as it once was.
  2. That Apple really likes graphics processing units (GPUs).

Tomorrow's Connections

Glenn Fleishman continues Macworld.com's "Mac of the Future" series with an installment on how we'll connect peripherals to our Macs, and our Macs to the Internet.

Fleishman notes that while current Macs feature USB 2.0 (for wired peripherals), FireWire 800 (ditto), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR (for short-range wireless connections), 802.11n WiFi (for local-area wireless networking), and gigabit ethernet (for wired networks), with the exception of ethernet, all of those standards are slated to change over the next two years.

USB 3.0 has ten times the bandwidth of 2.0, FireWire 3200 is not catching on (so the end of FireWire may be in sight), LightPeak could replace USB and FireWire and eSATA for external drives, Bluetooth 3.0+High Speed can transfer files eight times as fast as 2.1+EDR, and there's some debate as to which flavor of WiFi (802.11ac, which has better range, or 802.11ad, which has higher throughput).

Apple Updates

Safari 5.0.3 Security Update

New in version 5.0.3:

  • More accurate Top Hit results in the Address Field
  • More accurate results in Top Sites
  • Fixes an issue that could cause content delivered with the Flash 10.1 plug-in to overlap webpage content
  • More reliable popup blocking
  • Improved stability when typing into search and text input fields on netflix.com and facebook.com
  • Improved stability when using VoiceOver with Safari

System Requirements

  • Snow Leopard: Mac OS X 10.6.2 or later.
  • Leopard: Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later.
  • Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7

Safari 4.1.3 Security Update for Tiger

New in version 4.1.3:

  • More accurate Top Hit results in the Address Field
  • More accurate results in Top Sites
  • Fixes an issue that could cause content delivered with the Flash 10.1 plug-in to overlap webpage content
  • More reliable popup blocking
  • Improved stability when typing into search and text input fields on netflix.com and facebook.com
  • Improved stability when using VoiceOver with Safari

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.11

Boot Camp 3.2 Update for 32-bit Windows

Boot Camp Software Update 3.2 for Windows 32-bit adds support for the ATI-Radeon HD 5870 graphics card, Apple USB Ethernet Adapter, MacBook Air SuperDrive, and addresses critical bug fixes. This update is highly recommended for all Boot Camp 3.1 users.

If you have an Intel-based Mac and there's a PC application you need to use, you can run it using Boot Camp. You'll need to provide an authentic copy of Microsoft Windows but Boot Camp is included in Mac OS X Snow Leopard.

File Size: 280.28 MB

System Requirements

  • Windows XP
  • Vista 32-bit-SP2
  • Win 7 32-bit
  • Boot Camp 3.1

Tech Trends

Chrome OS Coming to Tablets and TVs

TechCrunch's MG Siegler reports that in the most surefire sign yet that Google's Chrome OS is imminent, Google is openly talking to The New York Times about it, with NYT reporting that Google will release a lightweight netbook running Chrome OS before the end of the year.

Siegler deduces that while a full-scale Chrome OS rollout has likely been delayed until 2011, Google will still likely release something before the end of the year, probably a beta version of the OS running on their own device that's currently undergoing in-house testing.

Siegler also gleaned from the NYT report that Google Vice President and Engineering Director in charge of Chrome Linus Upson commented that the Chrome OS would be a computing platform supporting handheld devices, tablets and TVs as well as laptops, and suggested that 60% of businesses could immediately replace their Windows machines with Chrome OS machines with corporate system administrators rendered obsolete, because everything will just be updated automatically over the Web.

Siegler thinks Upson's projections are likely overly optimistic but is extremely excited about the prospects, noting: "I would estimate that 95 percent of everything I do on a computer in a given day is now in a web browser. And several of the things in the other 5 percent - like taking notes - I could do in the browser," and further observing that "I'm essentially already using Chrome OS, it just happens to reside inside of OS X right now. If Google can cut out that middle man in the name of making an even faster and more seamless computing experience, I'm in."

Products & Services

MiCorder an Easy Alternative for Recording Music & Audio from Any Source

PR: Pismo Beach, California based olenstechnology.com' new mobile MiCorder makes recording music and audio files much easier, recording from audio sources by simply plugging into the earphone jack, converting the sound into an MP3 file, and storing it on an SD Card. MiCorder records from any radio, computer, stereo, CD player, phonograph/turntable, cassette deck, 8-Track, reel to reel, DAT, or any device that has a stereo output to create high quality MP3 audio files - without using a computer.

MiCorderAlthough there are products on the market designed to convert music from vinyl albums, cassette tapes, and CDs into an MP3 file, most require a special turntable, a big tape player, or a computer. The MiCorder converts sound to MP3 format and records onto a standard SD Card, so music can easily be transferred to any computer, iPod, cell phone, MP3 player, or car stereo. The MiCorder also includes a backlit LCD display, a built-in microphone for personal recording, and comes with a USB cord and a set of earbuds. It even comes equipped with a rechargeable battery that will last up to 14 hours.

"People were always telling me they wanted to listen to their old vinyl albums or cassettes on their iPod or in their cars," say Ölens Technology President Ron Meritt. Musicians want to record their music and some people want something to record a radio program and listen to it at another time. With MiCorder there is now one very simple and inexpensive device that will do all of these things."

The MiCorder sells for $79.99 and is available at HammacherSchlemmer.com and other retail outlets.

NuPad Organizer Tray Arranges Keyboard, Magic Trackpad, and Mouse for Maximum User Comfort and Productivity

PR: Newer Technology, Inc. (NewerTech) announces the NewerTech NuPad Organizer, a configurable keyboard tray with padded leather wrist rest & mousepad/trackpad area that arranges a variety of Apple Aluminum Keyboards, the Apple Magic Trackpad, and/or any Apple mouse into a clutter-free, ergonomically logical work environment for maximum user comfort and productivity.

Organizes & Adds Comfort with Factory Look

The NuPad Organizer improves Mac user productivity by keeping various Apple input devices cleanly arranged and readily accessible with a factory-like appearance. Engineered to hold all Apple Aluminum Keyboard models, the NewerTech NuPad Organizer's durable Optix acrylic base features a permanently affixed premium grade leather wrist rest for improved typing comfort. When used with a standard Apple Aluminum Keyboard, the NuPad Organizer offers open space for using either the Apple Magic Trackpad or any Apple mouse via the included top grade Brazilian leather mousepad.

Product Highlights

  • NuPad Organizer Opaque White Optix Acrylic base
  • Permanently affixed premium grade Brazilian leather wrist rest
  • Non-slip, natural closed cell sponge rubber underside for optimum stability
  • Accurate tracking surface for optical, laser or rollerball mice
  • Handcrafted in the US
  • Weight: 1.2 lb.
  • Lifetime Warranty

Compatible with

  • Apple Wireless Keyboard Aluminum
  • Apple Keyboard Aluminum
  • Apple Keyboard Aluminum with Numeric Keypad
  • Apple Magic Mouse, Apple Mighty Mouse, or any other type of mouse
  • Apple Magic Trackpad

"Studies have shown that a well-organized work area boosts productivity, and the NuPad Organizer enables Mac users to take control of their desktop," says Grant Dahlke, Brand Manager, Newer Technology, Inc. "The NuPad Organizer's comfortable wrist support and non-slip tray make this an ideal workspace enhancer for home, business, and educational use."

The NewerTech NuPad Organizer is available immediately for $49.95 MSRP from NewerTech's exclusive distributor, Other World Computing (OWC), as well as through the retail channel, and comes with a Lifetime NewerTech Warranty.

Software

OmniWeb 5.10.3 Web Browser OS X 10.4 'Tiger' Stability Update

OmniWebPR: OmniWeb, one of the shrinking retinue of Web browsers that still actively supports Mac OS x 10.4 Tiger, helps you save time and be more productive by using built-in web shortcuts and unique drag-and-drop tabbed windows. Stay organized with workspaces that save web pages you have in your tabs, your history, and even the location of your windows on your screen. Tell OmniWeb how you want the web to work on each individual domain you can choose how to interact with its content, from changing the text size to blocking ads, managing cookies, or telling OmniWeb where to save downloads. Instead of being limited to a standard set of page viewing functions, OmniWeb gives you total control over your entire browsing experience.

Key Features

Visual tabs: Most browsers have tabs, but OmniWeb builds on the idea of viewing multiple web pages in a single window by offering thumbnails. When you create a new tab in your tab drawer, a thumbnail graphic allows you to easily identify the page. Keep your browsing organized and productive by quickly switching back and forth between them, changing their position in the drawer, creating new tabs on the fly, and even dragging and dropping tabs from one window to another. For those times when you have a lot of pages in a single window, you can change to a list mode so you don't have to scroll.

OmniWebWorkspaces: With OmniWeb's Workspaces feature, your individual browsing sessions can be saved in one convenient location. When you create a workspace, OmniWeb saves information like which web pages you have in your open tabs, your history, and even the location of the windows on your screen. Organize them by dragging and dropping the contents of one workspace to another. Take a snapshot of a workspace and instantly restore the workspace from the snapshot, clearing away any changes made to the workspace in the meantime. You can even share your workspace files with other OmniWeb 5 users.

Ad Blocking: You can do much more than simply block ads with OmniWeb. You can choose to view popups only when you ask for them (like if you specifically click a link), you can tell OmniWeb to block any ad content coming from a known ad server, you can block all Flash content, and much more.

New in version 5.10.3:

  • Fixes a crash encountered if you were running on Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger'.

System requirements: Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later.

System Support: PPC/Intel

Freeware

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