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Thursday, January 29, 2004  

Tech talk: A bite of the Apple

  • ACC, WMA fans clash over HP iPod
  • Will Hewlett Packard include Apple Computer rival Microsoft's audio format in its iPod branded MP3 player/hard drive? Online sources disagree.

    Contrary to reports, Hewlett-Packard will not be supporting Microsoft's Windows Media Audio format in its forthcoming HP-branded iPod.

    According to Paul Thurrot's WinInfo newsletter, HP is working with Apple to add support for WMA to the iPod. Thurrot's report was widely circulated online on Monday.

    However, a spokesman for HP denied any such plans.

    "We're not going to be supporting WMA for now," said Muffi Ghadiali, product marketing manager for HP's digital entertainment products group.

    "We picked the service that was the most popular (Apple's iTunes Music Store)," said Ghadiali. "We could have chosen another format, but that would have created more confusion for our customers."

    He added, "Most customers don't care about the format they're downloading."

    Last week, HP made the surprising announcement that it will be reselling a HP-branded iPod this summer. HP will also bundle Apple's iTunes digital jukebox on all new consumer PCs.

    That means Apple's Advanced Audio Coding (ACC) will be expanded into another customer base.

    Apple uses a proprietary, copy-protected scheme based on Advanced Audio Coding. While AAC is a proposed standard for Internet audio developed by a consortium of companies, Apple has wrapped its songs in a Digital Rights Management scheme that puts some restrictions on playback devices.

    Meanwhile, the majority of Apple's competitors -- Napster, Wal-Mart, Musicmatch, Best Buy and dozens of others -- sell music encoded in Microsoft's WMA format, which is also proprietary.

    The problem is that Apple's iPod -- the most popular portable player on the market -- will not play music encoded in WMA.

    Likewise, none of the other portable music players from the likes of Dell, Rio or Creative Technology will play Apple's AAC files.

    In the interest of playing nicely with others, an argument can be made that Apple should make iPods of all flavors compatible with WMA. However, if it does so, it will be surrendering thousands of possible converts to its competitor.

    I don't think we have heard the last about this conflict. Stay tuned for additional maneuvering.

  • Apple will repair iBook screens

  • It appears that biting into an Apple has proven a sour experience for some iBook users. Apple Computer has agreed to repair problem displays for them at no expense.

    Apple Computer began a three-year, worldwide repair program Wednesday for certain of its iBook notebook computers that can have problems with their internal or external display monitors.

    Apple declined to comment on the exact number of iBooks affected, but said it will repair these components for free and offer a full refund for customers who already have paid for the repair. Apple will pay for shipping costs, the company said.

    In the last several months, there has been increasing chatter on Mac community message boards about problems with the logic board, one of the building blocks of a computer. Apple said that problems can include scrambled or distorted video, unexpected lines on the screen, an intermittent video image, video freeze and the computer starting up to a blank screen.

    Though the repair agremment is limited to iBooks, I had problems with the screen on my PowerBook G4 before the computer was repaired, gratis, in December. There was a darkening of the lighting, about two inches wide and one high, right above the centered name on the display frame. Intermittently, a cobalt blue vertical strip would appear on the screen. And, occassionally, the screen would go pinstripe, usually when there was a power surge. These problems, which existed about two months, ceased when Apple replaced the logic board in my computer. The only blemish now is a new top clamshell frame that does not close completely.

    From a legal perspective, it is revealing that Apple has decided to refund money to customers who paid for the repair. It is practically an admission of liability for a corporation to disgorge funds without being forced to.

  • Virginia Tech dean predicts change
  • The dean of the school of engineering with the third fastest, and cheapest, supercomputer in the world believes this innovation may spark a revolution in what institutions and businesses can afford a big machine.

    In the words of Hassan Aref, the dean of the college of engineering at Virginia Tech, thanks to Apple: "Yesterday's supercomputers have suddenly become affordable."

    Discussing the comparably low cost of the Virginia Tech supercomputer in an article for Cnet, Aref explains: "That is extremely good news for universities and corporations and for society at large. It follows that any institution or company that can afford to set aside 1,000 desktop machines - and invest in the communications software to link them - can own a supercomputer."

    He continues: "Some are predicting a minor revolution in computing similar to what happened many years ago, when the VAX computer became "everyman's mainframe." Small cluster computers have already been popping up in departmental labs and within academic research groups. Now, clusters at the frontline of performance can be assembled and run anywhere, more or less. The consequences could be truly dramatic."

    Regarding the plans to [upgrade] the Tech's supercomputer to Xserve G5 cluster nodes - as announced earlier this week - Aref predicts that they will: "Gain even more industry-leading price performance benefits."

    Virginia Tech made history by using Macintosh G5s to form its cluster supercomputer.

    8:36 PM