Issue 207, May 16, 2000  

High-Tech Life: It's Jaded, But It's Fun

By Stephen M. Lawton

      It seems to me that those of us who make technology our life are simply nuts. One need only look at the Nasdaq the past few weeks to know this is true. Despite leaps and bounds in new technology, the mapping of the human genome, hot new products introduced from every corner of the globe on an hourly basis and slick new dot-coms sprouting up everywhere, Wall Street investors have absolutely no clue what goes on in our corner of the world. We, however, keep pumping out those products.
      Just because the Department of Justice is wagging Microsoft's tail, is that any reason for stocks to fall 200 points a day? It's not like the Microsoft trials and tribulations are a secret — even the popular press is covering this story. It's big news — even to those who don't know a RAMBUS from a city bus. No, the stocks fell because of a rumor that Microsoft will be split into two companies. (Just imagine two Microsoft monopolies.)
      So what if there's a rumor? This business thrives on rumors. Isn't that why so many of the products announced at trade shows are essentially vaporware or, even worse, Powerpointware?
      Rumors in this business are the stuff that dreams are made of. No one knows that better than Bill Gates himself. After all, it was Gates who, back in the 1980s, was talking about his great, new spreadsheet — a full two years before the first Excel beta was ready. Talk about ways to kill off competition — just tell them that Microsoft is about to enter their market and they run for cover, or to the R&D labs.
      If you're part of this industry, you watch the ups and downs of the stock market philosophically. One day you're up a million, the next day you're down eight. The late Sen. Everett Dirkson (R-IL) would have loved Silicon Valley. He once was quoted as saying, "A billion here, a billion there — pretty soon it adds up to real money!"
      Following this market might make you want to buy stock in Glaxo Wellcome Inc., the maker of Zantac for heartburn and Imitrex for migraines. Of course, this pharmaceuticals firm trades on the New York Stock Exchange, not Nasdaq, so maybe it doesn't qualify as a techie's stock.

      This has been a particularly tough year for Gates, and I'm not only talking about Microsoft's legal entanglements. Not only has he seen his personal wealth drop from roughly $90 billion to a paltry $49 billion, but that upstart, Larry Ellison of Oracle, has seen his company's stock soar more than 500 percent since it fell to a mere $11 a share last year and is now standing in Gates' shadow at $48 billion. (These figures are based on recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings.) If things continue the way they're going now, Gates could be second-fiddle to archenemy Ellison.
      We in this industry might be jaded from the multimillion dollar IPOs, but the Bill and Larry show, although a little tired and old, still makes for good sport.


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