APPLE OFFERS A HIGH-TECH SMORGASBORD THAT DAZZLES 05/19/02
While talking about Microsoft and Apple — not exactly an
apples and oranges comparison — it’s hard to say who’s doing the brighter thing. And who’s doing it faster. At the moment though, Apple seems to be squeezing the cider out of the competition — with a string of innovative products, like the powerful Xserve and the versatile iPhoto 1.1.
Apple aims to sell Xserve to media clients for uses like video streaming as well as more traditional applications, such as running Oracle databases, where bigger competitors dominate, and e-mail management.
Xserve is a flat computer that slides in like a drawer
into data center racks. The cost — $3,000 to $4,000 for one- and two-processor models (to be available in June, according to Apple).
As for iPhoto 1.1 — it’s a great application for handling digital photos with consummate ease. It incorporates new brightness and contrast controls, integration with Mac OS X’s Mail application for simple e-mailing of photos, and controls for setting favorite
photos as desktop backgrounds and screensaver slide shows.
If you have a digital
camera, then iPhoto’s the
turbocharger — letting you smoothly import, edit, save, organize, print and share
For home users, the best feature is that you can create a self-contained QuickTime slideshow that includes background music and elegant, cross-dissolved slide transitions.
Professionals will find it useful that they can view all EXIF metadata associated with a photo JPEG file, such as creation date, shutter speed and f-stop.
If you find this appealing, iPhoto is available as a free download from www.apple. com/iphoto. iPhoto requires Mac OS X version 10.1.2 or later and a Macintosh with a built-in USB port.
Coming back to the Xserve, here’s a bit of a backgrounder. It used to be that network
administrators needing to work with Apple Computer’s Mac operating system could only buy servers housed in an enclosure basically identical to Apple’s PowerMac G4 computers. In a market niche where machines are built to stack on top of each other in densely packed racks, the lack of the rack-ready
machine became a problem for both Apple and its customers. Business users who wanted to run several Apple servers in a small space had limited options. Folks at Apple realized this could prove to be their Achilles’ heel. This led to the creation of Xserve.
Now that Apple’s core operating system, Mac OS X, is based on Unix, which is also the backbone of many of the servers running on the Internet, the company now has a serious contender in the server game with the release of the Xserve, a server that is 1.75 inches high and rack-mountable — just like servers from all the other entrants in the Wintel and Unix world.
There are two models: one uses only a single PowerPC G4 processor running at a clock speed of 1 gigahertz and 256 megabytes of DDR SDRAM memory, starting at $3,000; the second model has two processors and has 512 megabytes of memory, starting price $4,000.
Apple has also promised a huge storage server called Xserve RAID to accompany Xserve with the ability to store more than 1.6 terabytes of data. It should arrive on the market by end of the year.
CEO Steve Jobs offered programmers at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference a preview of
the company’s next version
of its current OS X operating system — code-named Jaguar.
Jaguar — due to be released sometime later this summer — will feature some minor improvements on the current version of OS X and several additions, including an instant-messaging client built into the operating system and a networking protocol called Rendezvous that lets Macs close to each other automatically connect without user intervention.
Apple is proposing Rendezvous as an industry standard, urging that it be put in network devices developed by other companies.
Also in the pipeline is iChat. Importantly, it’s the first consumer chatter to receive AOL’s permission to connect with the popular AOL Instant Messenger system. The chat program has a few handy features not available in other clients. The most useful of these is the program’s "local buddy list," which creates a chat list of all the people available on a network. Just connect your computer to the network and iChat will find all the people available to talk.
The chat system is also
integrated into Jaguar’s
e-mail application, indicating whether an e-mailer is available for instant messages.
When iChat is released with a new version of the Mac OS later this year, it will sit alongside the music player iTunes, home-movie apps iMovie and iDVD, and a digital photo management program, iPhoto. These programs are all free, and iTunes, iPhoto and iChat
perform tasks that were once the domain of third-party
Notice Apple bundling all kinds of programs with the operating system? Notice the plea to make Rendezvous an industry standard? That sounds incredibly like ... Microsoft, doesn't it?
Perhaps we can start comparing Microsoft and Apple as apples and oranges after all.
Antitrust, here we come.
STARS ARE ALIGNING IN FAVOR OF THE YELLOW METAL 05/12/02
There were enough doubting Thomases who, well, doubted whether gold would ever rally. With the metal edging over $300 an ounce, to its highest level in three years, coinciding with a breakdown of the U.S. dollar and a breakout of the euro — the skepticism has been dented somewhat. In the past weeks, gold has twice lunged over the $300-an-ounce barrier before pulling back, raising fears that the current rally might be temporary.
The present "gold rush" is happening due to several reasons. The primary one is the unsustainable supply/demand imbalance. Mine production has flattened out at 2,600 tons annually and scrap supply is flat at about 4,900 tons. And current annual demand is around 4,900 tons and growing. Of that figure, 85 percent goes into jewelry.
Another strong factor for gold’s ascendancy is the unsustainable short position. Central banks have loaned gold to earn income on reserves and bullion banks have borrowed gold for their own account (carry trade) and for producers (hedging) — and used derivatives to cushion their risk and generate an additional income. The loaned gold has been sold into the physical market and is now in the form of jewelry. Thus, the size of the short position (in excess of 10,000 tons) cannot be covered in the market — except at much higher prices.
The dollar is probably the greatest catalyst to propel gold further upstream. The U.S. dollar’s seven-year bull market is finally ending, amid worries about the historically high U.S. current account deficit (bursting the seams at $400 billion annually), mixed signals on the economy, artificially low interest rates and capital market concerns. The U.S. borrowed more than $1 billion a day to finance last year’s current account deficit of $417 billion or 4 percent of the nation’s GDP. In February, the trade gap catapulted 12 percent to $31.5 billion (the widest gap in 10 months) and could scrape $435 billion or 5 percent of GDP this year. When nations run sustained current account deficits in this range, they eventually reverse, and the consequences in terms of the real exchange rate can be disturbing.
Current account deficits are a cause for concern because they are unsustainable and with the weakness in the greenback, the investment appetite for the dollar seems to be shrinking. The dollar declined nearly 2 percent against the yen — to a three-month low, and a four-month low against the euro. The U.S. dollar index broke 116 — a critical level. Yield-hungry global investors, who once funded the U.S. deficit, are now staying away because American rates are among the lowest in the world and their equity market amongst the worst. Also, capital inflows are slowing, due in part to the repatriation of Japanese funds. Japanese companies are dumping U.S. assets in order to re-liquefy balance sheets.
Finally, Greenspan confirmed that U.S. interest rates are artificially suppressed in order to subsidize the economic recovery.
The bond vigilantes realize that this short-term approach is ultimately inflationary —posing negative implications for the greenback. The lack of Fed tightening is fatal for the dollar because investors sense they are going to be paid back in dollars with less purchasing power.
Consequently, U.S. treasuries are not the place to hide, and like the Japanese and Argentine experience, gold is an effective hedge against the U.S. dollar collapse. Case in point — between 1985 and 1987, gold doubled when the U.S. dollar fell by half.
The dotcom bust was bad enough. Then along came Enron and kicked the remaining confidence out of people. The result — a new focus on fundamentals and dependability — and a hasty departure from speculation and risk.
In such a landscape, gold becomes a heartening commodity. Ironically, the darkest hour for the economy could be the brightest for gold.
The annual gold shortage worldwide is estimated to be more than 300 tons. That calculates to a rate of 25 tons a month. This shortage can be readily confirmed by monitoring the Indian gold market. India is the single largest consumer of gold in the world, consuming nearly one-third of world mining production or one-fourth of total global supply — which makes the price at which it buys a vital pointer. India buying at $310 is big news because it normally buys on the downswing, and stops buying when the price rises. The inference is poignantly direct — gold will jump.
The shortage is real and gold-watchers are predicting a substantial rise in gold prices in the near future.
Not only is gold a sterling investment, it’s good for the heart and soul too. As the song goes: "You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky, as we walk in fields of gold."