• Apple Goes Up, Microsoft Goes Down

    May 3rd, 2006

    You’d think the tables have really been turned now that Microsoft is trying to explain why Wall Street shouldn’t downgrade its stock. After all, it needs a huge slush fund to fight competition from Google and Yahoo, so if profits aren’t so great for a while, well, no big deal. Besides, how much more money must they pump into Windows Vista development before it bears fruit? Sure, they still claim its on track to meet its revised schedule, but now there are published reports that the January 2007 release date will soon become March or April of next year.

    No wonder the stock has begun to tank! This is the sort of stuff that generally happens to Apple when some financial or tech analyst suggests that the latest iPod-killer will really gain traction. Or that it needs to find a new strategy to boost Mac market share before it becomes irrelevant all over again. How things have changed!

    Now it wasn’t so long ago that some were suggesting that the 99 cents per track price at the iTunes Music Store would soon come to an end. Those greedy music companies wouldn’t allow it, now that they are awash with cash from online sales, and that Steve Jobs, for all his great powers of persuasion, would have to cave. So along comes the report that if anyone caved, it was those music companies that postured and preened with very public statements about how they must get their way. What really happened behind the scenes is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that Apple’s 80% share of the U.S. download market and Steve’s legendary stubbornness were sufficient to keep the status quo.

    Oh yes, there are suggestions that the new contracts are of shorter duration this time, to allow the music companies to renegotiate and try again to have their way with variable music pricing. Of course, when all the conversations are taking place behind closed doors, you don’t have to really know what’s going on. Guesses can be educated and otherwise, but at least you’ll have something to report. Sure, maybe a few music executives are fueling the commentaries, hoping that they will somehow influence public opinion not, as usual, realizing they’ll just look more greedy than ever.

    Now I don’t pretend to know anything about the mindset of these people, but I suspect they’d somehow want price increases to be retroactive if they can get away with it. That way, you’d suddenly be charged extra for all the music you previously bought. I wonder what planet they think they are living on!

    So however long it lasts, nothing much changes at iTunes, so you can download your favorite songs and videos and not bust your budget any more than you’ve busted it already.

    It’s not that Apple does everything perfectly. I cannot understand why specs or prices weren’t changed on the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro when the 17-inch model came along. Why should it cost more to custom configure the former with options that closely match the latter? And still not get FireWire 800 or a dual-layer SuperDrive. Why indeed!

    Sure, Apple will make a liar of me soon, no doubt, by changing the configuration of the smaller MacBook Pro. It won’t be long now, although it surely won’t affect the stock price. But the thousands and thousands of owners of Apple’s first Intel-based note-books must feel a little betrayed, but after all, you knew you were paying the early adopter tax, right?

    Then there is the latest round of Mac malware FUD, which is short for fear, uncertainty, doubt, and not a misspelling of the name of that cartoon character with a speech impediment. We are told that the criminals and would-be crackers who write malicious software have begun to tire of the vulnerabilities of Windows. There’s no challenge, so they are beginning to target Macs. The standard array of Mac OS X vulnerabilities are rehashed, and you are told that Apple’s operating system isn’t invulnerable, so don’t get complacent. Apple needs to be careful, and rush out those security updates, even if they aren’t given the proper degree of quality control testing.

    If Apple dares add a few percentage points to the Mac’s market share, watch out! Viruses, spyware, and the other horrors of PC ownership will soon come raining down. Of course the folks who write so enthusiastically about such things seem to forget that the Mac actually had a far greater percentage of the market once upon a time, and, while there were viruses here and there, they were never as bad as on the Windows platform.

    You see, people love to hate Microsoft, and they just adore Apple. Sure, threats may come in greater numbers, but so long as people feel they use Windows because they have to, not because they want to, it’ll still remain the primary target. While I have little doubt that Microsoft is trying real hard to build a more confidence-inspiring system, and may even be succeeding in part, it won’t suddenly become warm and fuzzy and invulnerable.

    Some might say that Apple remains on a roll, and certainly the early spring, beginning with Boot Camp, has been quite positive. And it’s real nice to see some brand new Mac ads on TV. Now that’s a change!

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