TV-PGNovember 1, 2004: The odds are pretty good that your Halloween get-up wasn't nearly as cool as one college student's functional iPod costume. Meanwhile, a market research study backs up Apple's claim that consumers just aren't into the whole portable video thing (at least in Europe), and Apple officially states that the "Opener" malware isn't a virus, worm, or Trojan-- despite security experts' claims to the contrary...
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Spin My Click Wheel, Baby (11/1/04)

Happy November, folks, and here's hoping that everyone had a safe and happy Halloween. Ours was just dandy, what with the carving of gourdlike things (no tracing, no pencils-- freehand with a Ginsu), the festive masquerading as other gourdlike things, the baking of cookies shaped and colored like still more gourdlike things, the distribution of foodstuffs of dubious nutritional value to costumed munchkins going door-to-door with vague threats of vandalism, the unbridled joy of hitting up the neighbors for sugar with the exact same threats, the traditional chainsaw-to-the-car at the house of that guy down the block who had the nerve to be handing out apples and trial-size packs of dental floss, etc. Ah, it's truly a magical time of year.

AtAT production and this annoying little thing called Real Life conspire to suck up our time at a frankly ridiculous pace, so our costume preparation tends to be strictly of the "will that be cash or charge?" variety, but luckily, there are plenty of people out there with waaaaaay too much free time on their hands making Halloween far more interesting for the rest of us. Case in point: faithful viewer Howard Martin tipped us off to the iPod costume of a college student named Jared Winick. Jared, you see, evidently decided that simply building an oversized iPod and wearing it would be the act of a quitter; obviously any halfway-decent iPod costume would have to function like its tune-blasting inspiration, at least to some degree. In other words, that puppy's gotta play some music, or it's no better than a bedsheet with eye-holes cut out of it.

So here's what Jared did: he used a Tablet PC (shudder) as the giant iPod's screen and wrote some Java software that plays MP3s and mimics the actual screen readout of an iPod while it does so. He then ripped a USB mouse into shreds and soldered the innards back into the costume under the Click Wheel to enable the previous track, next track, and play/pause buttons. Then he just added a pair of battery-powered speakers, and voilà: an iPod costume fit for a king. Well, okay, maybe not an actual king, since the scroll wheel itself doesn't work and the costume lacks giant earbuds made out of jumbo corn muffins spray-painted white, but it's definitely at least good enough for some sort of baron or something. It was also good enough for Jared to win first place in a costume contest he entered, in which his creation beat out a very passable Mr. T (well, except that he isn't black) and a St. Pauli Girl whose cleavage alone might otherwise have clinched the top spot.

So there you have it, the best on-topic Halloween costume we've seen in this or any other year. Perhaps the most surprising piece of news to come out of this whole inspirational tale of boredom-meets-geekdom, though, is this: Jared actually found a real, honest-to-goodness use for a Tablet PC. No doubt Microsoft has been alerted, and is already madly scrambling to launch an all-new marketing campaign touting Tablet PC technology as "Perfect for Making Partially-Functional iPod Costumes." Analysts predict that, as a direct result of the campaign, unit sales will increase by approximately two. But not until next Halloween.

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Portable Video For Suckers (11/1/04)

Still not convinced that Apple didn't just shoot itself in the foot with the iPod Photo release last week? After all, when you step back, shake off the Reality Distortion Field for a second, and take a good, long stare at the thing, it's not necessarily an earth-shattering development. Basically it's a slightly thicker iPod with a better battery life (but still not as good as that of many of its competitors), a color screen (which several other players offer as well), and the ability to store and show photos, both on the iPod's screen and out to a TV (which plenty of competing portable music players have also been able to do for ages). One thing it doesn't do is show video, a capability that's been cropping up in competing products for a while, now. So is the iPod Photo just Apple playing catch-up to the Portable Media Centers, and not very well?

Well, duh-- of course not. Geez, where did you think you were, one of Paul Thurrott's self-congratulatory windbag Microsoft-apologist sites? This is our self-congratulatory windbag Apple-apologist site, make no mistake (although, come to think of it, that might have made a nice Halloween costume for our little show, here, if we'd had the stomach for it). And when Steve says that people don't want to watch video on their iPods, we smile a tight little smile and bow to his inestimable powers of market telepathy, even though we personally would consider an iPod Movie with iMovie integration to be a parent's ultimate weapon for the impromptu assault of unsuspecting passersby with offspring-related media.

But we're not quite big-headed enough yet to think that what we want is what the market at large is yearning for-- and we're more inclined than ever to accept Apple's market research now that there's some evidence that Steve's anti-portable-video stance is spot-on. According to The Register, a new Jupiter Research poll confirms that "a mere 13 percent of people expressed any interest in a portable movie machine" at all, and only "a lowly five per cent of people would like a music player which could also play films." Compare that to the more than one-in-three people surveyed who are interested in portable music players like the iPod, and you might see where Steve's coming from.

Of course, since the thrust of the report is that most customers don't want additional non-music features in their music players if they'll adversely affect size, price, or battery life, that actually implies that iPod Photo is heading in the wrong direction. True, its battery life is better, but the iPod Photo is a tad thicker and heavier and at least a hundred clams more expensive-- so will it flop in the marketplace? Well, Jupiter, at least, doesn't necessarily seem to think so, citing "Apple's decision to include album art" as an improvement that "brings more to the music without damaging battery life or sound quality." That sounds like a thumbs-up for the color screen and bigger battery, at least, and if Apple were going to include those anyway, building in photo slideshows could be considered a no-cost, might-as-well bonus feature.

Then again, you could say the same thing about video. Hmm.

Anyway, Jupiter's research is based entirely on a study of the European market, but we doubt that the numbers would be startlingly different worldwide; for most people, it sounds like video on a tiny screen just isn't going to be a compelling enough feature for them to accept either shorter battery life or appreciably more bulk for the music players they carry everywhere. Some people are going to want it, sure, and if they want it enough, Apple might lose a few potential iPod customers to makers of video-capable devices, but for now it seems that the right mix of music, size, and quality-- in other words, the iPod-- rules the roost. Whether enough people will shell out at least $100 extra for the iPod Photo remains to be seen, but the one thing we can say with reasonable confidence is that almost nobody would have paid at least $200 more for a model that could play video, too.

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Eeek! Whew. Eeek! Whew. (11/1/04)

Emotional flip-flop time again! Remember how your stomach churned when you first heard that "Opener" was Mac OS X's first real virus and it could do all sorts of truly nasty things to your system? Okay, now do you remember the overwhelming sense of relief you felt when you found out that Opener is actually not a virus after all, but malware that has to be physically installed by someone with admin access before it can do its thing? And then do you remember the premiere of Stomach-Churning 2: Electric Boogaloo when you heard that several people had found Opener running on their Macs when no one else had access to them and at least a couple of antivirus companies had claimed that Opener kindasorta is a virus after all?

Well, good news: apparently you can quit chugging the Mylanta, because according to ZDNet UK, Apple has poked and prodded at Opener for the past week, and has released an official statement of its findings-- namely, that "Opener is not a virus, Trojan horse, or worm. It does not propagate itself across a network, through email, or over the Web. Opener can only be installed by someone who already has access to your system and provides proper administrator authentication. Apple advises users to only install software from vendors and Web sites that they know and trust." Whew. Finally, we can all relax.

Or can we? We hope you didn't get too used to the flip-flop, because it might be time for a flop-flip right back into Ulcerville. Don't forget, McAfee has officially classified Opener as a worm, claiming that it tries to "spread via shares," and now another antivirus company, Sophos, insists that Opener is a worm because it "does try to copy itself from Apple Mac drive to Apple Mac drive." Note that this assertion is directly at odds with Apple's report that Opener doesn't self-propagate, so clearly somebody's wrong and/or lying, here.

Of course, everybody knows that security companies like Sophos make their money by making you paranoid so you'll buy their antivirus software, and Sophos in particular might have less credibility than most; don't forget, these are the guys who insisted last year that "a Mac has no more inherent security when it comes to malware than a PC," when anyone with a reasonable grasp of default Windows and Mac OS X security settings knows that's just patently false-- or certainly was at the time, prior to the release of Microsoft's Big Scary Security Patch a couple of months ago.

That said, we'd feel a lot better if Apple could explain exactly why "security experts" keep insisting that Opener attempts to self-propagate if it really doesn't-- and some sort of guess as to how Opener has turned up installed on Macs reportedly sitting behind firewalls and locked doors would be nice, too. Basically, if we should be panicking, we'd love it if Apple could just go ahead and say so; we could really use the exercise.

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