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The Northern Spy
September 2007

The Financial Chicks

Rick Sutcliffe

Some old ones have come to roost, particularly

as the stock market lurches from insane optimism to guarded pessimism, the Ameribuck adjusts to levels more consistent with the massive U.S. trade deficit, and a slew of once respectable companies "adjust" past earnings, replacing past terminological inexactitudes (to use an old Diefenbakerism that once slipped by Parliament's speaker for a day) with newer and figures that may have a one-to-one correspondence with reality.

Latest to get caught creatively cooking books is once-industry-darling Dell, which must now downwards restate four years of earnings by as much as $150 million. Seems executives wanting to fly above the clouds demanded accounting adjustments to make it appear they had reached quarterly performance targets. The investigation continues, though the rug has probably now been lifted from above most of the swept-under dirt.

Dell's troubles have been nowhere more evident than in stock trading, as the company's market cap is now approximately half that of Apple's.

Meanwhile Apple is flying high

Indeed, Apple's valuation has now surpassed HP for the first time and is now about half that of Microsoft. Perhaps it's time to start a contest for who can predict the date it will push past that of Billg's former company. It might also be interesting to predict the first quarter Apple's that sales will pass $10B. Given that the last "big quarter" peak was $7B, the Spy suggests the next back-to-school/Christmas season.

In the short term Apple continues to spin out new iMac models following the aluminum motif, and with screens to 60cm. A new iPod iteration seems imminent, and the Spy expects another desktop rev next, though towers are clearly no longer a high priority.

Operating systems appear back on track now that iPhone has been released. Builds of 10.4.11 (Tiger) have accelerated, suggesting a release candidate is at hand. New builds of 10.5 (Leopard) have also been sighted. It's too soon to say if the latter can reach us by the end of October, so figure on at least a possible 10.4.12 as the last in the Tiger series. By the way, iSteve, how much would it really cost to include Classic support in 10.5, at least for PowerPCs? Given the still-missing critical features of system X word processors, the Spy needs Classic.

On the software side, the most notable addition is to iWork '08, where one of the Spy's long-term wishes has been partly satisfied with the addition of a spreadsheet. Christened "Numbers", the new offering will surely redefine the seminal application that created the whole personal computer market in the 1970s. (The Spy owned one of the first copies of VisiCalc sold in this country, and some of his models are descendants of ones he wrote back in the day, BTW.)

The newcomer's strength is visual layout. Hearkening back to the OpenDoc experiments, a document page may contain a number of independent spreadsheets, set side-by-side with their graphical interpretations. Like so many other things Apple does, beginners and naive users will find this package fascinating, even compelling. However, Numbers is unlikely to replace Excel for corporate and professional heavy number lifting any time soon, as it's weak in formulas and lacks macros of any kind. This will come. Watch out when it does. Thus far, who rules the spreadsheet rules the entire marketplace.

Moreover, Numbers hasn't yet been integrated with other Apple apps in any meaningful way, Pages is not really a word processor, and iWork does not include mail or database, but the Spy is confident that eventually, iWork will surpass all current standard office packages.

So, why market a fresh-look spreadsheet, when its users aren't likely to be old crocs like the Spy--at least not for the first few iterations? Because it's new people, especially the younger ones, that Apple wants to hook. Indeed, iSteve and his boys and girls may well be the best marketers to teenagers ever. Remember the Spy's Fourth Law? In a few years those teenagers will be the young Turks of the industry, buying software and hardware for at least their own use. A few more years beyond, and they will specify purchases for whole departments. What brand will they be predisposed to buy? Just so. Is it any wonder other pundits are now lining up with the Spy's predictions of 15%+ marketshare in the medium term, more in the longer? Indeed a market cusp as all these teenagers begin spending their own disposable income is now a real possibility. In such a scenario, Market share could double or triple in a span of two years.

OTOH, in view of this, Apple's almost complete lack of interest in higher education seems puzzling. Why does the company that markets the future more effectively than anyone else remain missing in action from the hotbeds of the future--the continent's colleges and universities? Apple should be aggressively pursuing higher education partnerships with leading schools to cement the good will those students already have when they arrive in their calculus and programming courses carrying their iPods and iBooks.

A notable buzzard disintegrated in a cloud of feathers

as, on August 10, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball ruled that perennial litigant SCO doesn't even own the copyrights it was using to threaten or even extort money from Linux users. Rather, Novell owns them. At this ignominious conclusion, those who gave in to SCO's pseudo-legal blackmail must be scratching their heads over their own motivation for succumbing. However, the companies that actually funded SCO's piratical designs ought to be hanging their collective heads in shame. Indeed, perhaps they too should be subject to audits for possible misappropriation of funds. Perhaps this long-expected decision will give pause to others who today are bringing similar pressure against the Linux community. Ahem.

Meanwhile, flying through the not-so-rarefied air,

at least according to a study by a group of Australian scientists, are far too many ultra-fine toner particles emitted by nearby laser printers. Apparently, if pollution doesn't get you driving to the office in your gas guzzler it'll get you instead on the way past the printer to the water cooler. Will office workers end up sharing silicosis with coal miners.

Quote of the month has to be

from Jim Louderback, departing editor of PC Mag while flying the coop and handing over a few choice comments on Vista to the incoming editor. I've been a big proponent of the new OS over the past few months, even going so far as loading it onto most of my computers and spending hours tweaking and optimizing it. So why, nine months after launch, am I so frustrated? The litany of what doesn't work and what still frustrates me stretches on endlessly. Hey Jim. Shoulda bought a Mac.

New releases this month

include LemkeSoft's flagship product Graphic Converter version 6, available as usual from the Northern Spy's download site. This full version upgrade does however require users to pay for a new license code.

Book of the month

is Inventing English by Saul Lerner-an engaging and fascinating romp through the history of English by a master scholar of the language. Highly recommended.

--The Northern Spy

Rick Sutcliffe, (a.k.a. The Northern Spy) is professor of Computing Science and Mathematics at Trinity Western University. He's written two textbooks and several novels, one named best ePublished SF novel for 2003. His columns have appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers, and he's a regular speaker at churches, schools, academic meetings, and conferences. He and his wife Joyce have lived in the Aldergrove/Bradner area of BC since 1972.

Want to discuss this and other Northern Spy columns? Surf on over to ArjayBB.com. Participate and you could win free web hosting from the WebNameHost.net subsidiary of Arjay Web Services. Rick Sutcliffe's fiction can be purchased in various eBook formats from Fictionwise, and in dead tree form from Bowker's Booksurge.


The Northern Spy Home Page: http://www.TheNorthernSpy.com

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PCMag: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2171472,00.asp

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Last Updated: 2007 09 02