iTunes 7: Getting Better All the Time

Apple this week released iTunes 7.1 for Mac and Windows. Besides providing support for the new Apple TV product, it now offers a new full screen Cover Flow and improved sorting options to let you decide how iTunes should sort your favorite artists, albums, and songs. Apple also released QuickTime 7.1.5 which delivers numerous bug fixes and addresses critical security issues.

Apple’s official word on Windows Vista support has been updated — to the effect that the Windows version of iTunes 7.1 addresses compatibility issues with Vista, but that Apple “is actively working with Microsoft to resolve a few remaining known issues.” Those issues have to do with ejecting iPods using the laughable Windows “Safely Remove Hardware” feature, displaying graphics incorrectly, and a lack of synchronization with Windows Address Book. Also, don’t expect iTunes to run on 64-bit editions of Windows, including Windows Vista and Windows XP x64. I covered some tips on getting around these problems in a previous entry.

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The Genuine Disadvantage of Windows

Windows XP users — have you recently been “unable to complete genuine Windows validation”? You may be a pirate — or at least Microsoft thinks you might be. Then again you may just be a parrot. Don’t worry, Microsoft will figure it out.

The message is part of a controversial add-on to Windows XP, known as Windows Genuine Advantage Notification, which tells users whether Microsoft believes their copy of Windows to be legitimate (see “Windows adds ‘maybe pirate’ category” by Ina Fried in CNET News.com). It’s an antipiracy measure that will no doubt get in the way of many folks’ legitimate system operations and software udpates. Validation is required for most Windows XP downloads (though users can still get automatic security updates). As one CNET News.com reader commented, “If I ever see this pop up on one of our computers, I’ll fix the problem by installing Linux.”

If there’s a better example of why operating systems should either be completely free, or completely embedded in the hardware so as to be part of the product, I’d like to hear it. The many flavors of Linux are free (even if you purchase them on CD), so there is no such thing as a Linux pirate. The Mac OS X is essentially sold with the computer and unless you are going to pirate the hardware, you don’t get anywhere making pirate copies of the software — ain’t no percentage in it.

Microsoft said it hoped the new “yellow” state of we-think-you’re-a-pirate and Microsoft’s response that until-we-find-out-you’ll-hang-by-the-neck will somehow lead to better experiences for customers. Or something like that. How could you possibly trust Microsoft to figure out whether your copy is good enough to emerge from the “yellow” state? This is the company whose security services — Live OneCare — placed last in a test on the effectiveness of anti-virus security packages by Austrian researchers (see “Microsoft’s OneCare flunks anti-virus test” By John Leyden in The Register).

Of course, you would expect this: in Windows Vista, some features won’t work at all unless a machine is validated as genuine. Good luck with that.

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Most of the ccnp professionals are usually not satisfied with their cisco training or their mcdba certification and in order to train more in network plus, they go for advanced microsoft training.

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iPhone Tips Revealed in Videos

The video “Hidden Details from the iPhone Keynote” by Actioncorp.net on YouTube hints at future strategies for Apple and describes in detail some of the iPhone demonstrations Steve Jobs gave at the Macworld Expo keynote speech in January.

It describes the Calendar app, which Jobs did not demo (because it was not ready). It also shows Google Maps in action, but there were no directions, or traffic information yet, just buttons for these things. Scrolling by flicking a finger is cool, but there is also an alphabet for tapping on a letter to move directly to that section of a list.

The video narrator points to a Ringtones tab in the iTunes dialog for updating the iPhone, and surmises that Apple will soon be in the ringtone business, selling top-name artist ringtones through the iTunes store.

See The New York Times columnist David Pogue’s “The iPhone Up Close” video on YouTube for an excellent view of the Steve Jobs reality distortion field working overtime at Macworld. Fortunately Pogue adds helpful commentary and has edited the video down to the essential parts of the demo. At the end he adds his own experiences with using the demo unit.

CBS News did an interesting report from the Macworld show floor, posted on YouTube. “A Closer Look at the iPhone” by John Blackstone includes a detailed demo by Apple VP Phil Schiller, who describes the iPhone as “the best iPod we’ve ever made.” He gave a detailed demo of the cover flow feature, scrolling album covers just like in iTunes.

For a wonderful parody, see “SNL — Weekend Update iPhone Special” on YouTube, produced by the Sat. Night Live folks.

For those with iPods and iPhone envy, check out “iPod Firmware Update” by Gizmodo, also on YouTube. It shows the iPhone-like cover flow feature working on a standard iPod using the scroll wheel. Expect this update to come out soon.

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Google Apps and Office Naps

Google introduced Google Apps Premier Edition for $50 per account per year. Think of it as the enterprise edition of Google Docs and Spreadsheets (which is what I use to write this blog, among other things), and competition for Office Live. The best thing about these types of Web applications (or Web services) is that the software is NYP — Not Your Problem. Software upgrades are implemented and bugs fixed without any need for you to install anything or mess up your computer with hidden files, dynamic link libraries, and drivers.

Google Apps Premier offers guaranteed uptime, IT management tools, technical support, increased email storage, and integration with the Docs and Spreadsheets word processing and spreadsheet applications, as well as BlackBerry support for Gmail (see “Google Apps upgrade threatens Office” by Juan Carlos Perez of IDG News). According to Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google’s enterprise unit (quoted in the above story), Google plans to add several more applications to the suite before the year is out, and the JotSpot wiki service is a likely candidate.

Rafe Needleman of WebWare, writing for CNET News.com, tells us not to get too excited (see “Google Premium: Don’t get too excited“). Who’s excited? We’re just optimistic. Rafe points out that Google’s offering is not robust enough to give Office real competition… not yet, anyway:

The word processor and spreadsheet can’t exchange data, for example. The spreadsheet has no graphing function. And there’s no presentation program (Powerpoint competitor), although there are indications that Google is getting close to releasing one. On the other hand, Google’s communication and scheduling tools (Gmail, Google Talk, and Calendar) are very strong, and the mobile versions keep getting better as well… Here at Webware, we use Google Apps when we need to collaborate on documents, and sometimes when we need to bang out a quick story and don’t want to fire up a full Microsoft app. But it hasn’t replaced Office for day-to-day document creation. Yet.

Nevertheless, Google Apps is getting serious attention. Joe Wilcox in Microsoft Watch (“Google and Long Tail Computing“) makes the point that “Microsoft has a huge fragmentation problem, where businesses aren’t quickly upgrading to new versions of Office… These upgrade laggards form part of a Long Tail of computing that Google could capture as Apps customers.” Add all Mac users to the list as well. I’ve been a happy user of Google Docs since before Google acquired it (back when it was called Writely).

Wilcox’s newer post is also illuminating: “Google didn’t release ‘Apps’ to compete with Microsoft. Google’s objective is much bigger than Microsoft: A googol of information.” You know that old saw that “railroads are not in the railroad business, they are in the transportation business”? (Christy Hefner, CEO of Playboy, once used the phrase to describe the media business.) Wilcox points out that while Microsoft is in the “operating system” or software business, Google is in the “information” business. Microsoft monetizes software (and services, no doubt, in the future), while Google uses search and contextual advertising to monetize information. Give people just enough of a feature set and a lot of other things for free (a strategy Microsoft used in the 1990s with Office), and they will get on board. Meanwhile, Microsoft advances in services in the enterprise arena are hampered by its alliances with so many partners, which get much of their revenue from services that they sell on top of Microsoft software. As Google scales up to support enterprise customers, it begins to eat Microsoft’s lunch.

P.S. How a Typo Brought Down MS Office

According to the Wikipedia entry for googol, a very large number (actually 10 to the 100th power), Google was named after this number, but ended up with “Google” due to a spelling mistake on a check that investors wrote to the founders. While this bit of folklore will most likely survive challenges to its veracity as the history books dissect this period decades from now, David Koller at Stanford (who apparently was there) says that Larry Page’s officemate Sean Anderson was responsible for the misspelling — he executed a search of the Internet domain name registry database using “Google.com” by mistake, and found it available; Page liked the name and that was that. Of course, since Google didn’t exist at that time, there was no correction offered for Sean’s mistake.

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The Mothers of Invention at Apple

Rumors about Apple are swirling a week after Steve Jobs’ open letter to the music industry (for an excellent summary of reactions, see Engadget’s “DRM: the state of disrepair” by Thomas Ricker). But several developments warrant particular attention:

1. Apple is patenting wireless docking. According to AppleInsider, Apple is developing a dock connector for handheld gadgets that lets you dock the device at different angles of orientation and, in some cases, charge the device with power wirelessly. (See “Apple may turn to induction for iPod docking, charging” by Slash Lane.)

2. Car manufacturers are looking at ways to integrate iPods and, more importantly, the iPhone. Reliable sources tell Audiospies.com that BMW will be the first to announce full integration of the iPhone features into the next 7-Series.

3. Apple TV, which wirelessly extends the media on your Mac or PC to your television/stereo system, includes a 40-gig hard drive, ostensibly for synchronizing with iTunes just like an iPod. But the Apple TV hard drive and user interface, which makes it a computer, could be put to use in other ways, such as acting as a node of a peer-to-peer (P2P) home network. According to Robert X. Cringely, a centrally controlled P2P system is powerful because it enables prepositioning of content.

Put all three together and you have, at the very least, a wireless multimedia home network that not only links together all your PCs and Macs and television/stereo systems, but also extends out to your car and to all your iPod and iPhone devices, seamlessly. A scenario out of the Jetsons TV show of the Sixties.

But examine #3 more closely. According to Cringely, it would mean “nothing less than the undermining of TV.”

Say Disney releases Cars 1.5 — a direct-to-DVD release expected to sell millions of copies in its first few days. There is no way iTunes could even hope to participate in a launch like that simply because there isn’t enough bandwidth at a good price — or any price. Even BitTorrent would have troubles handling a small part of such a launch until enough seeds were populated and running. But what if the movie was effectively pre-seeded — loaded over a few days on a distribution tree of thousands of Apple TV boxes which could then deliver the movie locally at high speed if purchased. Or if not purchased the seeded copies could still work together to serve other Apple TVs on the same ISP subnet…

First Apple would eliminate its current dependence on Akamai, reducing its network costs for iTunes by about 100X, making the network costs effectively free. Hello HDTV!

Second, Apple would have one or many content channels roughly equivalent to an HBO, Showtime, or perhaps Discovery. Yes, I think Apple will do direct content deals, buying programming that it will then either distribute to subscribers or support with Google ads, thanks to Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s position on the Apple board. Apple’s network will give you the same content with or without ads, delivered from the same servers, one of which may be underneath your TV.

Nice to think about, but Apple’s stated position is that the hard drive is for synchronizing videos and music with a computer so that, if the computer is off, you can still play the content on your television. Makes sense by itself, but Cringely’s idea also makes sense from a business point of view. “Lowering network costs by 99% will enable the company to add to its portfolio the equivalent of half a Time Warner. Apple becomes a cable company without trucks or network costs. It becomes a whole bunch of cable networks with an instant audience the exact size of the iTunes registered user base, which is frigging enormous.” Not only that, but Apple could suddenly be major competition for NetFlix (see “The Apple iTV, Netflix has been gutshot!“).

Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology is one obstacle to this vision. And, lo and behold, Steve Jobs is for dropping DRM. Steve… good luck with that, seriously!

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Splendid Time is Guaranteed For All

The Beatles catalog will soon be made available online by its owner, Apple Corps, for legal downloading from multiple online music services as well as iTunes. Beatles music was a turning point in the history of pop music, and its power will once again prove to be a turning point in the history of online music. As CD sales plummet, Tower Records goes out of business, music downloading matures, and high tech titans call for an end to copy protection, the Beatles — dressed up in white tuxedos right out of Magical Mystery Tour — are happy just to dance with all the online music services, and put online sales on an equal footing with CD sales. Baby boomers are excited by this, and that’s why record labels should also be excited — baby boomers (those of us over 50) are the folks more likely to buy music, compared to the younger generations that are used to downloading free music.

According to Roger Friedman at FoxNews.com (and repeated everywhere in the blogosphere), Apple Corps CEO (and original Beatles road manager) Neil Aspinall said that all 13 core albums — the ones originally released on CD in 1987 — have been remastered and will all be released, probably at the same time. Apple Corps is owned by the Beatles’ two surviving members, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, as well as John Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, and the estate of the late George Harrison.

You should be able to find Beatles songs here, there, and everywhere — Aspinall told Friedman that Apple Corps plans to offer the Beatles catalog on all services, not just iTunes. Rumors have swirled for weeks, since the Apple-Apple settlement, that the Beatles would debut on iTunes on Valentine’s Day (tomorrow as I write this). It has also been reported, as a rumor, that Apple Corps, the label that owns Beatles recordings, gets a share of iTunes/iPod sales as a result of the settlement.

But Apple (the computer company) was not the reason for the delay in getting the music online. In a written statement submitted to the U.K. High Court back in April (as reported in VH1 News by Chris Harris on April 14, 2006), Aspinall wrote, “I think it would be wrong to offer downloads of the old masters when I am making new masters. It would be better to wait and try to do them both simultaneously so that you then get the publicity of the new masters and the downloading, rather than just doing it ad hoc.”

Indeed, it has been possible to download the older unremastered Beatles music for about 11-14 cents per song (or $1.79 for all of Sgt. Pepper) from the Russian site All of MP3 (Beatles page), but U.S. and NATO government officials have told Russian authorities to shut it down, alleging the site is pirate.

However, the Beatles never made an official debut online, and none of the music of the Beatles as solo artists has appeared either, with the notable exception of Ringo Starr (with his All Starr Band and other albums).

Excuse me for a slight diversion: here’s a bit of that Ringo magic:
Ringo Starr

And here’s one of my favorite Ringo solo songs, “It Don’t Come Easy”:
Ringo Starr - VH1 Storytellers: Ringo Starr - It Don't Come Easy

Other holdouts from iTunes and other online stores: Wings and other recordings by Paul McCartney, John Lennon’s and George Harrison’s solo albums, and classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin. Curiously, other Apple Corps artists such as Badfinger, and James Taylor (his first album) are on iTunes.

Badfinger’s “Come and Get It” (an Apple recording, a Paul McCartney song):
Badfinger - Golden Groups & Glitter Sounds - Come and Get It

James Taylor’s “Carolina on My Mind” (an Apple recording, and Paul McCartney played on it):
James Taylor - James Taylor: Greatest Hits - Carolina in My Mind


Jason D. O’Grady (ZDnet, The Apple Core) asks the Big Question: “Whether or not Apple will announce a special edition Beatles iPod to commemorate the occasion. As much as I love the idea of a Yellow Submarine iPod it won’t be a phone-less iPhone (iPod 6G) as many have hoped. Such a device would cannibalize iPhone sales too much.”

I disagree with the idea that a Beatles-branded iPod would damage iPhone sales; besides, I expect Apple to introduce more iPod models, decked out with enough storage to handle larger music and video libraries. Perhaps an Abbey Road model would include everything the group ever did — all music, all films and videos, even audiobook biographies. Nevertheless, the film Let It Be remains unissued. “The film was so controversial when it first came out,” said Aspinall to Friedman. “When we got halfway through restoring it, we looked at the outtakes and realized: this stuff is still controversial. It raised a lot of old issues.” You can find excerpts of Let It Be in the Beatles Anthology video series, which will likely be included in the online rollout.


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No More Dancing in the Streets

Turn your cell phone off in Bronx, Brooklyn’s iPods out of sight
Crazy taxi cab in Harlem, iPod Zombies are in fright
Peds love iPods they’re so proud, but the volume is too loud!
Car 54 where are you?
(With apologies, based on the theme from the “Car 54 Where Are You?” TV show, 1961-63)

I don’t mean to make light of a bad situation (pedestrians getting killed while crossing the streets of New York City), but the reaction of lawmakers can border on the ridiculous. A state senator from Brooklyn plans to introduce legislation that would ban people from using an MP3 player, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street in New York City and Buffalo. With the popularity of the iPod, and the fact that two victims were iPod listeners, the news media headlined the story as an anti-iPod law.

In fact there are already state laws banning cell-phone yakking while driving as well as other distractions, such as smoking, using OnStar, and just plain driving while drowsy (see “After We Ban Driving While Drowsy, Can We Just Ban Legislating While Stupid?” by Mike on TechDirt). Many of us ignore these laws, and police generally treat them on a par with jaywalking offenses. But the proposed legislation may be the first to blame the victim — in this case, the iPod Zombie. According to the Urban Dictionary, an iPod Zombie is an iPod-using pedestrian (typically of New York) that unknowingly risks becoming street pizza by attempting to adjust the perfect song and volume intensity while wandering into the street against the crosswalk signal.

Folks, you may want to consider consigning your noise-reduction headphones to plane and train trips and switch back to ones that let you hear a little of what’s going on around you. Seriously, stupidity should not be rewarded with laws that inhibit our personal liberties. Lawmakers and the police have better things to do with their time and our tax dollars. The best response I’ve read in the blogosphere comes from Michael Rose in The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW), “Welcome to Brooklyn — now turn off that iPod“: “Perhaps, instead of criminalizing stupidity (which rarely works), a targeted PR campaign on the subways could remind iPod users to ‘turn down & tune in’ while they navigate the mean streets. Anyone want to design the poster?”


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The Last FairPlay Deal Gone Down

It looks like Apple is serious about not licensing its FairPlay Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology used to protect music sold through its iTunes online store. Steve Jobs has put it all into perspective in an open letter on the Apple Web site. My more detailed blog post about this is in my new iPod and iTunes blog, Tony Bove’s iTimes — see “Let It Be… Naked (Without DRM)“.

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Let It Be… Naked (Without DRM)

Steve Jobs has put the music industry labels on notice about Digital Rights Management (DRM) in an open letter on the Apple Web site. As we all know by now, DRM is a pain and a barrier to freely using the music you own on different players.

It may just be the right time for Steve to speak out — from a position of strength. Pricing issues are about to resurface as Apple negotiates licensing extensions with the labels, and Jobs is prickly about pricing. DRM might also be a major issue involving the Beatles music (on Apple Records).

So Steve is peeved. He wants to shed some light on the situation. If Jobs feels the squeeze from European consumer groups, he is now redirecting it back to the source of the problem. He not only calls out the big four record labels by name (Universal, Sony BMG, Warner and EMI) but ironically points to their part-European ownership. Then he tells the consumer groups fighting for iTunes openness: “Perhaps those unhappy with the current situation should redirect their energies towards persuading the music companies to sell their music DRM-free.” It’s a call to arms. As Dana Blankenhorn points out, in “Jobs’ DRM gambit and the americanization of open source” (Open Source blog on ZDNet), “Political support for the technology demands of content providers has been based on the idea that we are protecting American interests. In one paragraph Jobs has ripped that argument to shreds.”

It’s a great letter and deserves a good read. While I’m sure that Bill Gates could have written something similar (with help, of course, from a ghost writer), and that Bill most likely believes in dropping DRM (and even said so at CES in January), Bill would never have garnered the press attention that Jobs has with this letter. And I’m not belittling Jobs, because he wrote it well, and his vision of a DRM-less music world is excellent.

Ironically Apple is the chief beneficiary of the existence of DRM technology in the music world with its near-monopoly share of the digital music player market and the music downloading market. The music labels wanted protection, and Apple provided the best-selling music player with a benevolent form of DRM that some people could accept. Apple’s position, however, gives Jobs’s vision some altruistic credibility — the man is willing to give up market share to help the market grow for everyone. Let’s not forget that Steve is personally involved in the copyright holding business — Jobs has a very large stake in Disney. What works for music might one day work for movies and TV shows, but those industries are even more petrified of downloaded content and are heavily into DRM. So Steve is helping out the cause, if you believe in less DRM and drag in the nascent online music industry.

And it turns out that Apple won’t lose much by going DRM-less — except, of course, its responsibilty to protect the labels’ music with DRM. Remove that responsibility, and Apple can license even more music without having to spend time and effort (and endure bad publicity) plugging leaks in the copy protection code and forcing everyone to upgrade their iPods. Competitors will produce cheaper DRM-free players, but Apple won’t mind because the company has a larger consumer electronics market to conquer. Profit margins are slim on commodity equipment, and Apple doesn’t fight in price wars. The consumer electronics industry is in constant transformation and Apple wants to be a leader, not a commodity manufacturer.

Steve Jobs is about providing value. And yes, if you provide value, you make money — hand over fist if your also efficient about operations, marketing-savvy, and articulate. The iTunes store has always been about providing real value — not just to consumers but also to the copyright holders. As he summed up the history of the store’s success in the context of the iPod’s success, “So far we have met our commitments to the music companies to protect their music, and we have given users the most liberal usage rights available in the industry for legally downloaded music.”

P.S. More interesting facts from Jobs:

“Through the end of 2006, customers purchased a total of 90 million iPods and 2 billion songs from the iTunes store. On average, that’s 22 songs purchased from the iTunes store for each iPod ever sold.”

Well, I bought quite a lot more than 22 songs, but this research is revealing. The vast majority of my iTunes library consists of music ripped from CDs and videos from DVDs. My fraction of purchased material may be closer to 6% (rather than the 3% cited by Jobs).


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The Vista Breaking Point

As reported in my other blog, Tony Bove’s iTimes (“iTunes Pulls Over at Vista Point“), the iPod and iTunes software for Windows needs a patch to work with Windows Vista. But iTunes and the iPod are not the only media players, devices, and applications that break in Vista.

Three companies so far — Samsung, Cowon, and iRiver — have noted that a few of their players are incompatible with Vista (according to Gizmodo, each company will release new firmware to customers to update the players). Steven Warren writes in Window on Windows that his Sprint Wireless card, lacking a proper Vista driver, would not work unless he created a virtual machine of Windows XP to run it and access the Internet. He correctly identifies the culprit: the use, by many Windows XP applications, of the administrator user rights profile:

Prior to Vista, the default in Windows was to run as administrator. So vendors just programmed their software to work as a computer administrator with full user rights. The door was open; Microsoft’s lax security made writing code relatively simple for vendors. In fact, if you try to run as a limited user in Windows XP, for example, a lot of software will not work properly as Windows XP wasn’t truly designed to work this way… But the most talked about, under-the-hood change with the release of Windows Vista is its incredible improvement in security. And this has caused a challenge for vendors; they now have to rewrite their software to work as a user as opposed to an administrator.

After five years of propaganda and several months of beta, many vendors are still not ready for Vista. One might expect Apple to lag behind the others because it competes directly with Vista, but most other vendors don’t have that excuse — it’s the complexity of Windows security that costs these vendors delays. They would surely rather be making money selling products than spending money to make them work with new systems.

Thinking of upgrading to Vista and using your wireless Internet cards, music players, displays, and other devices that require software drivers? Good luck with that.

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