An often irreverent look at some of the week's other news...
Apple: Just Kidding, We'll Try to Compete on the Low-End Now
At a riotous MacWorld keynote address earlier this week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs contradicted earlier promises and introduced two products he had previously said Apple would never produce: A sub-$500 Macintosh computer and a flash RAM-based iPod audio player dubbed iPod shuffle. And contrary to my pre-MacWorld analysis of the rumored low-end Mac, the Mac mini, as the computer is known, looks awesome. In fact, it's so good, I expect Apple to sell millions of them this year. We can bicker about the missing features (no keyboard, mouse, or screen--stock components that come with a typical $500 PC, which is also more expandable), but it doesn't matter. By hitting the $500 sweet spot, Apple now has a credible vehicle, finally, for increasing the Mac's market share. And the display-less iPod shuffle? It's a stroke of genius with an amazingly small form factor (think pack-of-gum small) that will also sell in the millions in 2005. I've berated Apple when it does the wrong thing, but with the Mac mini and iPod shuffle, Apple has proven that it can deliver when it needs to. Very, very impressive.
Thanks to iPod Sales, Apple Profits Quadruple in Quarter
Speaking of Apple, the company revealed this week that its profits for the quarter ending December 31, 2004, were up almost 500 percent to $295 million on sales of $3.49 billion. Apple credited the surging iPod for the improvement, and though iPod sales in the quarter fell short of the 5 million units analysts were expecting, the 4.6 million iPods the company did sell is still an impressive number. Even Macintosh sales were up, with Apple selling over 1 million Macs in a quarter for the first time in more than 4 years. Apple's iTunes Music Store, which made only a small profit, has sold over 230 million songs to date, the company noted. Let's recap: Apple's kicking butt with the iPod, and it has a new iPod out that will likely sweep up the two-thirds of the portable digital audio market that Apple doesn't already own. And though the Mac is now stuck with less than 2 percent of the PC market, the recent Mac sales resurgence occurred before Apple announced the Mac mini, which should dramatically improve matters. Apple--and the Mac, from what I can tell--are back.
Intel Ups Revenue Forecast, Cites Huge Demand
Microprocessor giant Intel this week announced that stronger-than-expected demand for its product would increase revenue about 10 percent over previously reported levels for the current quarter. Intel also released positive guidance for calendar year 2005, noting that a successful 2004 holiday season was just the beginning of a strong period of growth. Intel spent much of 2004 fending off its chief rival AMD, which had seized mindshare with its 64-bit AMD-64 platform, now called x64. However, with Intel announcing plans to ship x64-compatible chips in early 2004, then delivering a compatible 64-bit workstation chip in late 2004, the company has largely caught up with its smaller, faster rival. Intel will soon ship a family of x64-compatible Pentium 4 chips as well.
Microsoft CFO Bails on Troubled Company
OK, so maybe "troubled" isn't quite the right word, as the company had $36.8 billion in revenues last year. But Microsoft CFO John Connors said this week that he would leave the company to pursue a new career at a venture capital firm in the Seattle area and spend more time with his family. Connors had been with Microsoft for more than 16 years and had spent the last 5 years as CFO. But the 55-hour work weeks apparently took their toll. Maybe Connors will eventually write a book, which we can hope will be more exciting than "The Fiefdom Syndrome," the snooze-a-thon produced by previous Microsoft CFO Bob Herbold.
IBM Sets 500 Patents Free ... Free As in Beer
Computing giant IBM this week said that it would be making more than 500 of its patents freely available to anyone working on open source software projects such as Linux. The move stands in sharp contrast to the ways in which most corporations jealously guard their patent portfolios, using them as legal hammers with which they can pummel competition. IBM, with hundreds of thousands of patents--it received more than 3200 patents in 2004 alone--is the largest patent holder in the world. In fact, I've heard that the company owns the patents for the color beige, the taste of strawberries, and that weird effect that happens when the moon seems like it's following you home at night. It's quite a company.
Microsoft and Yahoo Begin Eating Away at Google's Lead
A study by Keynote Systems says that search wannabes such as Microsoft and Yahoo are starting to eat away at Google's lead, largely because the rival products are friendlier and provide better-quality search results, according to study participants. The study, which polled 2000 Web users, found "significant improvements" in the search results offered by MSN Search and Yahoo Search, while Google's search results were essentially unimproved. The big problem with search engines, of course, is unwanted results--an area in which all the competitors can improve. Still, Google is likely to retain its search engine crown through 2005. But it will be interesting to see where things stand a year from now.
Yahoo Ships Desktop Search Tool
And speaking of Yahoo, the company this week released its Yahoo Desktop Search beta for Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 (SP3) and higher and XP, joining a suddenly crowded market that includes such companies as Microsoft/MSN, Google, Copernic, and X1. Yahoo Desktop Search helps you quickly find various file types and email messages and provides an interesting preview feature that works with Excel spreadsheets, PDF documents, and other document types. I'll be looking at Yahoo Desktop Search to see how it stacks up against my current favorite solution, MSN Toolbar Suite. You can download Yahoo Desktop Search from the Yahoo Web site.
AOL's Case: The Time Warner Merger Was My Fault
In a rare moment of candor during an appearance this week at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, former AOL CEO Steve Case took blame for the failure that was the AOL/Time Warner merger. "I probably wasn't the right guy to be a chairman of a company with 90,000 employees," he noted. However, Case took some credit for spreading the Internet to non-technical users and instituting innovative Instant Messaging (IM) features. For me, Case will always be remembered for his stiff, Munster-like appearance and his absolute hatred of Microsoft. Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, Case was more business man than technologist, and his hard-edged business acumen was what drove AOL to the top. As for the Time Warner merger, well, at least give him credit for actually doing it: At the time, AOL was riding high on the fortunes of the Internet boom, and it succeeded in snagging an established media conglomerate. Not too shabby.
Sony PSP to Launch in US in March
Sony will launch its eagerly awaited PlayStation Portable (PSP) in the US in March at a price of less than $200. Keith Furman and I saw the PSP last week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2005 and were impressed by the quality of video on its widescreen display. But the real news about the PSP, of course, is the games that will accompany the device at launch. Unlike Nintendo's rival DS device, which shipped with just a handful of titles late last year, the PSP will be accompanied by a much wider allotment of games, including crucial Electronic Arts titles such as Need For Speed Underground Rivals, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR, MVP Baseball, FIFA Soccer, NBA Street: Showdown, and NFL Street 2: Unleashed. But where's Madden? Even the DS has a version of Madden.