Juicier Apple Is Tempting

DURING A PRESENTATION I GAVE at a personal-finance conference back in 1992, I asked the Mac owners in the audience to identify themselves. Just two from a group of about 300 people raised their hands. “I like my Mac,” explained one of them, “but I have a PC for my serious work.”

That seems an apt summation of the two computing systems’ long battle: in one corner, the Mac, expensive, fully outfitted with software and suited for graphics-heavy games; in the other, the PC, cheaper and stripped down (with loads of options to build-your-own), but able to handle most jobs with ease.

But the nature of this bout is changing for everyone, including electronic investors. The newest Macs offer PC-like pricing, especially since they come as an integrated set that doesn’t need pricey add-ons. In turn, PC users who have been waiting to upgrade to Microsoft’s delayed next-generation operating system, Vista, can’t help but look on a little enviously.

Through its new Intel-based Macs, Apple Computer offers a tempting alternative. Its third-quarter report to shareholders boasted huge sales increases, and says that the company—already enjoying iPod’s huge success with consumers—now holds 12% of the laptop market, up from 6% in January. Desktop sales haven’t experienced the same leap, but analysts expect that will change as the Intel chips are installed in future systems. (Apple didn’t respond to our queries for this story.)

When you buy a Mac with the Intel Core Duo processor, you’re able to run software that is written for both Mac OS X and Windows XP. Microsoft has stopped producing Internet Explorer for the Mac operating system, but it will still run under Windows XP on a dual-processor Mac.

Prices for a MacBook with the Intel Core Duo processor now rival those of a Windows-compatible notebook. We found a MacBook with a 2GHz processor on Amazon.com that included a 60-gigabyte hard drive and 512MB of RAM for $1,199.99 (including a $100 manufacturer’s rebate), the same price as a Sony VAIO that had a 1.86GHz processor. (The Sony had a 100-gigabyte hard drive and 512MB of RAM.)

Last month, we asked Barron’s readers to tell us about their experiences in moving from the PC to the Mac. We didn’t get a huge response, but the comments we did receive were interesting—and positive.

One writer gushed, “The iMac is the best computer I have ever owned, now that it has both operating systems, Windows and OS X. Last week, I bought a new MacBook laptop and installed Windows on it, and E*Trade works perfect on it also.”

Another noted that Interactive Brokers’ Java-based trading platform runs “flawlessly” on his Mac. Java applications are platform-independent, so they can run on PCs or Macs. He goes on to say, “In fact, by transferring a folder, I can switch my settings and portfolio, from Windows to Mac machines, and vice-versa. I’m very pleased with this flexibility, because I don’t have to take my computer when I travel. I just copy the appropriate folder onto a flash drive and transfer it to any computer anywhere.”

A reader in Florida reports a more mixed experience using a previous Mac version with active trading platforms: “Both E*Trade Pro and TD Ameritrade Apex platforms run on Macs, as these are Java-based applications, but E*Trade’s futures platform does not.” (E*Trade confirms that this is the case.) There isn’t yet a mobile Mac-compatible platform, explains one of our respondents, so some of the applications discussed in “Latest Road Rage: Trading” (The Electronic Investor, Aug. 14) that run Windows cannot run on Macs.

Java-based direct-access trading software, such as thinkorswim’s or Interactive Brokers’, are theoretically platform-independent and thus should run on Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems. Programs that are defined as running on Windows, such as Fidelity’s Active Trader Pro, should also run on the Intel-based Macs.

Still, the Mac falls short on technical-analysis software written for its operating system. Yes, the new Macs can run software written for Windows, but few publishers have tested these programs on the Apple systems. We found a technical-analysis program called ProTA for Mac OS X, by BeeSoft (http://www.beesoft.net), that has two versions: ProTA and ProTA Gold. ProTA includes classic charting, technical analysis, portfolio management and quote maintenance, for $59. The gold version ($199), can create custom indicators, trade modeling, optimization of parameters, and scan for trading opportunities. ProTA’s features are comparable to those of Fidelity’s Wealth-Lab Pro (http://www.fidelity.com), which is free to Fidelity customers whose trading frequency and portfolio size qualify them.

The fate of products like ProTA for Mac OS X may depend on how big a bite Apple can take out of the desktop marketplace. And Apple’s success relies in part on how many publishers like BeeSoft take the risk of supporting its cause.

Posted by on 10/07 at 04:51 PM

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