Technology Investor 

Harry Newton's In Search of The Perfect Investment Newton's In Search Of The Perfect Investment. Technology Investor.

Previous Columns
8:30 AM EST Tuesday, February 13, 2007: The Vista bang is whimpering, casting a pall over technology stocks that had hoped for a quick boost in Vista-inspired sales. Also, production overcapacity in many areas of technology is placing huge pressure on prices, creating great bargains for consumers (check out flat panel monitors, flash memory, laptops, digital cameras) -- but serious pressures on earnings for companies such as Best Buy, CDW Corp. Circuit City, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, etc. Technology is not a place to be at present -- unless you're selectively shorting.

Microsoft will fall further: Microsoft gets its biggest and most profitable revenues from two products -- its Windows operating system (now called Vista) and its Office suite of Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, etc. It has just announced upgrades to both. Its hope was for a huge boost to sales and profits as a result. It won't happen. Both products offer only cosmetic changes: they have few real improvements. Moreover, they are incompatible with so much existing computer software and hardware that few professional IT managers are recommending their organizations "upgrade," i.e. spend the money. And the computer press is totally unimpressed -- so much so that many writers -- a surprising number -- are talking about "getting a Mac."

The stockmarket has greeted Microsoft's two announcements -- Vista and Office 2007 -- by dropping Microsoft's stock price. I believe it will decline even further.

If you don't believe me, read what Stephen Manes, technology writer at Forbes Magazine, wrote about Vista:

Windows Vista: more than five years in the making, more than 50 million lines of code. The result? A vista slightly more inspiring than the one over the town dump. The new slogan is: "The 'Wow' Starts Now," and Microsoft touts new features, many filched shamelessly from Apple's Macintosh. But as with every previous version, there's no wow here, not even in ironic quotes. Vista is at best mildly annoying and at worst makes you want to rush to Redmond, Wash. and rip somebody's liver out.

Vista is a fading theme park with a few new rides, lots of patched-up old ones and bored kids in desperate need of adult supervision running things. If I can find plenty of problems in a matter of hours, why can't Microsoft ? Most likely answer: It did--and it doesn't care.

Example: If malware somehow gets into your machine, Windows Firewall will not stop it from making outbound Internet connections to do its evil deeds. If you turn off that firewall in favor of a better one, the Windows Firewall control panel will admonish: "Your computer is not protected; turn on Windows Firewall." But the Windows Security Center will correctly tell you that a firewall is on and that you shouldn't run two at a time. Call it convistancy.

Gaffes like this make you wonder if security really is improved as much as Microsoft claims. You'll still have to add your own antivirus software, a new Vista-ready version at that. And Vista's irritating and repeated warnings about possible security breaches don't always mean what they say and are usually irrelevant. You'll take them as seriously as the boy who cried wolf, making them useless as defensive tools.

As usual, things Microsoft was touting last time have mysteriously gone away in favor of putative new wonders. Windows XP's heralded "task-based interface" often let you perform actions by picking them from a list. Now many of those actions have disappeared--except where they haven't.

Likewise, Control Panel options have been totally rejiggered yet again for no apparent reason. You can still use the Classic panel view that's been available since time immemorial, but several items have been confusingly renamed out of sheer perversity.

The new desktop search features are a mess, thanks in part to inscrutable indexing defaults and options. A "quick search" panel at the bottom of the Start menu lets you find results whether in a file's name or its contents. But on one machine--oddly, the fastest I tested--it was far, far slower than using Start's regular search option. Though that option finds folders like Accessories, quick search doesn't always. And if you click away to do something else while you wait for answers, Vista abandons the "quick search" and makes you start over.

Windows Mail is a mild reworking of Outlook Express whose big new feature is a spam filter that in my tests flagged nonspam as spam and vice versa an unacceptable 10% of the time. The bare-bones word processor WordPad used to be able to open Microsoft Word files. No more. What possible rationale could there be for "fixing" that, except to force users to shell out for the real thing?

Potentially exciting improvements keep coming up short. The speech recognition system's clever design lets you control the computer via voice and dictate into programs like Word. It did pretty well at understanding me even when I used a less than optimal built-in microphone instead of a headset. But my enthusiasm turned to dust when the software for correcting inevitable mistakes locked up repeatedly--even when it understood what I was saying.

Many touted improvements, like the Web browser and media player, have been available for XP for months. One minor winner is Vista-only: file lists that update their contents automatically. You no longer have to hit View and Refresh to see files added since you last opened the list window. Macs, of course, have done this for years.

The new Mac-like ability to show thumbnails of documents and running programs is cute, but it doesn't always work--typical of a level of fit and finish that would be unacceptable from a cut-rate tailor. Only in Windowsland will you find howlers like a Safely Remove Hardware button for memory card readers that happen to be hardwired into your computer.

Still with us: program crashes, followed by the machine's refusal to shut down until you lean on the power button awhile. Thereafter you may be subjected to ugly white-on-black text from CHKDSK, a DOS-era program that issues baffling new reports like "44 reparse records processed."

Should you upgrade your current machine? Are you nuts? Upgrading is almost always a royal pain. Many older boxes are too wimpy for Vista, and a "Vista-ready" unit Microsoft upgraded for me could see my wireless network but not connect to it. The diagnostics helpfully reported "Wireless association failed due to an unknown reason" and suggested I consult my "network administrator"--me. Yet I've connected dozens of things to that network, including other Vista machines, a PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's own Xbox 360.

My recommendation: Don't even consider updating an old machine to Vista, period. And unless you absolutely must, don't buy a new one with Vista until the inevitable Service Pack 1 (a.k.a. Festival o' Fixes) arrives to combat horrors as yet unknown.

I suggested to one Windows product manager that if the company were truly serious about security, Vista might offer a simple way to delete files securely and eliminate all traces of identity and passwords so you could safely pass the machine on or sell it years from now. His reply: "Does any other operating system do that?" That tells you all you need to know about Microsoft. The real slogan: "No innovation here."

As Bill Gates winds down his roles at Microsoft, Windows Vista may be the chief software architect's swan song. It's a shame his legacy is something so utterly unimaginative, internally discordant and woefully out of tune.

Best travel tips:
1. Be flexible (if you can) with dates and times of travel. Airlines, like JetBlue, often charge substantially different prices for planes as close as two hours apart.
2. Nonstop flights are usually more expensive than those involving a change -- especially if you're going business class. For long, long flights sometimes a stopover for an hour or two is OK.
3. American Express platinum offers two business class tickets for the price of one on many airlines. You'll save the price of the card many times over. Some airlines -- e.g. El Al -- will give you the business class two-for-one price if you simply ask.

Two astronauts land on Mars
Their mission: to check if there is oxygen on the planet.

"Give me the box of matches" says one. "Either it burns and there is oxygen, or nothing happens."

He takes the box, and is ready to strike a match when out of the blue, a Martian appears waving all his arms..."No, no, don't!"

The two guys look at each other, worried. Could there be an unknown explosive gas on Mars? But he takes another match....

And now, a crowd of hysterical Martians is coming, all waving their arms: "No, no, don't do that!"

"It looks serious. What are they afraid of? But - we're here for Science, to know if man can breathe on Mars".

He strikes a match, which flames up, burns down, and..... nothing happens.

"Why did you want to prevent us from striking a match?"

The leader of the Martians replies, "Today is Shabbos!"

The clean glass
Sol and Herbie were finishing their lunch in a New York diner when the waiter asked, "Tea or coffee, gentlemen?"

"I'll have tea," said Sol.

"Me too," said Herbie, "And make sure the glass is clean."

The waiter returned a few minutes later and announced, "Two teas! And which one gets the clean glass?"

This column is about my personal search for the perfect investment. I don't give investment advice. For that you have to be registered with regulatory authorities, which I am not. I am a reporter and an investor. I make my daily column -- Monday through Friday -- freely available for three reasons: Writing is good for sorting things out in my brain. Second, the column is research for a book I'm writing called "In Search of the Perfect Investment." Third, I encourage my readers to send me their ideas, concerns and experiences. That way we can all learn together. My email address is . You can't click on my email address. You have to re-type it . This protects me from software scanning the Internet for email addresses to spam. I have no role in choosing the Google ads. Thus I cannot endorse any, though some look mighty interesting. If you click on a link, Google may send me money. Please note I'm not suggesting you do. That money, if there is any, may help pay Claire's law school tuition. Read more about Google AdSense, click here and here.
Go back.