TV-PGNovember 20, 2001: Buffalo denizens, be thankful; this Friday brings you an Apple retail store (along with three more in various other locales). Meanwhile, Palm-Handspring merger rumors conjure forth strange echoes of the past, and Microsoft offers to settle a slew of private antitrust cases by forcing Windows on inner-city kids...
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Four For The Holidays (11/20/01)

Buffalo-area Mac fans (and yes, by necessity we suppose that includes most of you in Canada), it's time to start suiting up to get in line: both MacCentral and MacNN are now confirming our theory that Apple plans to open four retail stores this Friday: the previously-expected Miami, Santa Clara, and San Diego locations, plus the long-delayed Walden Galleria store. The Walden web page still doesn't list a grand opening date, but we've got three solid reasons to believe that Buffalo will gain its own little corner of Mac retail heaven this Friday.

First of all, "sources familiar with the store's progress" inform us that Apple has finished moving various inconveniently-located walls, the place is finally certified for retail business, the shelves are being stocked by cheerful little elves, and all systems are go. Secondly, members of the press apparently received official notices about the Buffalo opening this week. And last but not least, faithful viewer Julia noted that Buffalo store hours are posted on Apple's holiday schedule, beginning with "11/23 8 a.m.-10 p.m." Altogether, we think that's a fair bit of evidence.

What this means, of course, is that Apple's retail presence will increase by 22% just in time for shoppers to shake off the tryptophan and grab the credit cards. Some analysts are reportedly expecting Apple to fall on its face this holiday season, but while we don't have any hard numbers available, we've heard some pretty exciting anecdotal evidence that iPods are already a hot stocking stuffer in Mac households this year. We're not sure what Apple's margin on those little devices happens to be-- we've heard everything from "razor-thin" to a wholly unbelievable 57%-- but so far we're optimistic for Apple's chances at holiday cheer.

So everybody (and especially those of you in Buffalo, Miami, San Diego, and Santa Clara) prepare to incur some serious debt down at the local Apple store. If you don't, we have it on good authority that you'll wind up on Santa's "naughty" list; we hear that he and Steve are pretty tight. You've been warned.

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Dog Eat Dog Eat Dog World (11/20/01)

Man, sometimes keeping up with the merger game is downright exhausting. Every once in a while we think that maybe it'd be best if we took it easy, limiting ourselves to hearing about the occasional AOL-Time Warner-class megadeal on the nightly news, but where's the drama in that? Instead, we like to focus in on two categories: rumors of who might buy Apple, and rumors of whom Apple might buy. Usually that's not a big deal; the volume of each is pretty light, like the occasional resurrection of the "Disney's buying Apple" story or yesterday's whispers that Apple is looking to snap up Adobe. But every so often the whole which-swallowed-what chain gets out of control.

If you were suckered into buying Palm and/or Handspring stock last year like we were, first of all, we commend you on your intestinal fortitude; the fact that you haven't yet thrown yourself under a moving truck is a testament to your inner strength. Secondly, you may have noticed that those two severely battered stocks bounced nicely higher yesterday, and you may have been wondering why. Well, faithful viewer Stephanie notes that The Register has the skinny: in light of Palm CEO Carl Yankowski's "resignation" last week, people are talking about a potential Palm-Handspring merger. It's purely rumor at this point, and has absolutely no basis in fact, but it's an intriguing enough notion to have sparked Wall Street's imagination.

Now, this relates to Apple in a couple of ways, and the first is a nifty parallel to the Apple comeback story. Instead of Steve Jobs in the role of "cofounder and Once and Future Visionary," you've got Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky. Instead of getting kicked out, Jeff and Donna left when 3Com refused to spin off Palm as a separate company, but just as Steve then went on to create NeXT, Jeff and Donna cofounded Handspring-- the company they had wanted Palm to be. Just like the post-Steve Apple eventually almost drowned in mismanagement and red ink, the current Palm is beleaguered with a capital "B." And if this supposed merger ever comes to pass, the Hawkins/Dubinsky team would be back at Palm like Steve returned to save Apple's bacon. It just goes to prove that there are no new stories in this world, except for possibly one involving a dyslexic wildebeest who moves to the city to fulfill his lifelong dream of landing a high-paying job as a hat.

But the other way that this imagined Palmspring merger relates to Apple is purely in the dynamics of corporate takeovers. Try to keep up, here: a few years ago, Apple tried to buy Palm. No go. Then Apple tried to buy Handspring. No dice. Even earlier, Apple almost bought Be, but bought NeXT instead. Now this is where things get goofy: not too long ago, Palm bought Be. Now people are talking about Handspring buying Palm. If that happens, the next step is all too obvious: Apple buys Handspring. All we need now by means of illustration is one of those cartoons in which fish keep getting eaten by bigger fish. So the real question here, is, could Apple just be biding its time to get a three-for-one deal?

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Cruel And Unusual, Indeed (11/20/01)

Disappointed in the likely conclusion of the "Redmond Justice" case? Heck, we don't blame you. After all, it's been proven in court that Microsoft is a monopoly that illegally abused its power to stifle competition; the company has no more appeals with which to prove otherwise. Yet despite the fact that the feds have a proverbial smoking gun, they're now willing to settle for yet another toothless consent decree that Microsoft will likely go out of its way to ignore-- and all it took was a heap of Redmond patience and a convenient change of administration. The last time we saw four years of grueling work accomplish so very little of real substance, we were graduating from college. (Ba-dum ching!)

But hey, don't be glum; after all, there's still a chance for real justice and penalties that might actually prevent future infractions. For instance, there are all those private antitrust suits still pending against Microsoft, and the fact that the feds proved the company to be a monopolist is apparently admissible evidence in those cases. Armed with that sort of ammo, surely the plaintiffs wouldn't roll over like the feds did, right?

Well, insert sound of rolling here, because as faithful viewer David McConnell points out, the Associated Press reports that Microsoft plans to settle most of those private suits-- by donating "more than $1 billion in cash, products, and services" to "the nation's poorest schools." Aw, ain't that sweet... especially since those "products and services" include "up to 200,000 refurbished computers each year" and "virtually unlimited copies of programs such as its Windows operating system and Office business software suite." Whoa, so Microsoft's going to have to atone for its monopolistic sins by indoctrinating millions of kids to the wacky world of Windows and Office? The horror! We bet Bill Gates is about to slash his wrists in despair. About the only worse penalty we can imagine is all the pizza you can eat and backrubs on demand for life.

Now, you may have noticed, as some plaintiffs' lawyers did, that this proposed settlement "does nothing to curtail Microsoft's behavior." Furthermore, it's remotely possible that you're pessimistic enough to see this as a thinly-veiled plan to extend Microsoft's monopoly instead of correcting it. (No!) Redmond, however, would be shocked at the accusation, because "the settlement would not harm competition since educators could ask to use their funds for Apple or other rival products." Of course, it doesn't say that Microsoft would actually say yes, but schools are welcome to ask anyway. And we're sure that the "nation's poorest schools" are going to jump at the chance to pass up those free copies of Windows and Office that will be useless (er, perhaps we should say more useless?) if the school opts for Macs instead of the offered Wintel systems.

Meanwhile, we have to wonder if anyone's thinking about the welfare of the schoolkids in all of this. Coercing inner-city children into using Windows? Geez, Bill... what did they ever do to you? Correct us if we're wrong, but isn't it Microsoft that's supposed to be getting punished, here? Perhaps this is all best summed up by the following quote: "Microsoft admits no wrongdoing in the settlement." Indeed, why would they?

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