People who have read my columns over the years already know that I hate the stock market, and hated it long before the 2008 collapse or all the crap that Goldman Sachs has been accused of lately.
Simply put, I don't trust it. Companies with far more resources than most small countries manipulate the market on a daily basis and use sophisticated software to trade stocks faster than the average person can blink.
Rooms packed with day traders bet against stocks and drag good companies down to penny stock status so they can buy and sell the same shares over and over to ring whatever value they can out of the company and its miserable shareholders.
And then there's this insane idea that a company is only as good as its last quarter. How can people realistically expect a company to be profitable and hit its earning estimates every three months? Sometimes it takes years for companies to get a product to market or get a strategy to pay off, but as long as we're stuck in this short-term mindset we're going to see a lot more CEOs manipulating company finances, making reckless bets and using questionable accounting to give the trigger-happy investors out there the impression that growth is without limits. It's a lie, but to do otherwise only hurts the stock market value of their company and reduces the value of the shares that CEOs get paid through various stock option schemes.
Then there's the whole emotional angle. Stocks go up and down based on how people are feeling rather than facts or how companies are actually doing. Companies that are profitable can still lose value because they profited less than they projected or than was earned in the same quarter a year ago. Things that happen around the world that have nothing to do with anything, like the recent Korean conflict, can cause huge drops in stock market values that make no real sense at all.
And yet we devote so much attention to the markets, with stock tickers running along the bottom of news websites and whole television networks devoted to the rise and fall of indexes and markets, currencies and bonds.
All that said, the big tech news of late is the fact that Apple's stock market valuation is now greater than Microsoft's - $222 billion last week, compared to $219 billion for Microsoft. Somewhere champagne corks were being popped, tins of caviar pried open and orders placed for very expensive cars.
Kudos to Apple. Unlike Microsoft and dozens of other companies out there they actually seem to have a plan, and no company pays more attention to the cool factor of their hardware and software. They make the best operating system, the best computers, the best phone, the best portable gadgets and have created the best online solution for purchasing media. They invented the app.
Meanwhile Microsoft has been hit or miss for a long time. Vista sucked, but Windows 7 is pretty good. They don't do much in the way of hardware, and what they do - e.g. the Zune - is poorly executed. The Xbox 360 is awesome to play, but has had an insane failure rate and it's so loud that it sucks for anything but playing games. The Windows 7 phone has potential, but the company is so far behind Apple and Google that it will have to be incredible to get any attention whatsoever. Microsoft Live is good and getting better, but it's also confusing and not very well marketed.
And for a technology company, Microsoft.com, Zune.com, etc. are terrible websites. How could a company with Microsoft's resources fail design so badly? I recommend checking out both websites and then dropping by Apple.ca to make a side-by-side comparison. It doesn't take long to see which company is focusing on the right details.
And yet for all of their shortcomings I do believe that Microsoft will be back on top sooner or later. The main reason is the Windows 7 platform, which is on its way to dominating the market while encouraging all the third party hardware manufacturers - also embarrassed by Apple on a regular basis - to up their games as well. Windows 7 will be on third party tablets and touchscreens, phones, updated Zune players and every other kind of device you might think of.
Another reason Microsoft will be back is the release of Microsoft Office 2010, which will generate huge sales numbers as businesses, students and others rush out to buy it. The Xbox 360 will also boost the bottom line, especially when the Natal motion control system is released at some point this year - along with (as rumour has it) a smaller, quieter, higher capacity version of the console itself.
I'm not a betting man, which is another reason I hate the stock market. But if I was, I'd put Microsoft back on top by Christmas at the latest.
More on Media PC's
A few weeks ago I wrote a column on media PCs, a.k.a. home theatre PCs and I completely forgot to include one hardware solution that I've been researching - the Dell Inspiron Zino HD (www.dell.ca). If you're looking to hook up a computer to your television for movies, web browsing and other multimedia, then the Zino HD is a powerful and affordable solution.