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In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "NEA: School bully," June 22, 2002

Contraction traction?

The debate over Major League Baseball contraction is entering its own seventh-inning stretch. The sport is still buzzing about plans to cut two teams, but the issue remains tied up in legal wrangling. On June 6, baseball owners, who favor contraction, and players' union officials, who oppose the idea, made their final arguments before arbiter Shyam Das. Mr. Das says he will make a decision by July 15. Baseball owners voted on Nov. 6 to eliminate two teams for 2002, targeting the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos. But the plan was blocked when the Twins' landlord gained an injunction to enforce the team's lease, sparing the team at least through 2003.

Counting on accountants

The recent economic crunch may be hurting college graduates, but number crunchers seem to be exempt. Surveys indicate that U.S. employers overall expect to hire 36 percent fewer new college graduates this year, but the scandal surrounding Enron and the auditing practices of several other companies hasn't put a dent in the demand for new accountants. Nearly all newly minted accountants likely will find jobs, with starting salaries in the $45,000 range, according to placement counselors. (The job market also looks strong for graduates in pharmacy and nursing.) But the new accounting hires are likely to face new policies intended to reform the auditing business. The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market are trying to calm investors with new rules for companies listed on their exchanges. The biggest concern: conflicts of interest between outside auditors and corporate boards. The proposed rules, for example, would forbid directors who serve on audit committees from holding shares in the company's stock. "We still have the strongest equity markets in the world," said Nasdaq official Ed Knight. "If we're going to continue to enjoy that benefit, we have to take steps to ensure the markets are fair and efficient and there's no reason to doubt their integrity."

Sweaty palms

Believe it or not, there's one market in which Microsoft is an underdog. Palm rules the handheld market, and the company is looking to rebuild itself and protect its market dominance-and Palm OS 5 is part of the plan. It boasts more speed, better security, and richer audio and graphics. Most consumers will see the changes when they buy a new PDA device. One difference may be striking: the ability to run two programs at once. The Palm OS runs on numerous PDAs from Palm, Handspring, and Sony, as well as new smartphones from Samsung and Kyocera. Palm plans to split into two companies by year's end: one for hardware and another called PalmSource for software. "This is just the beginning of a very aggressive roadmap-a new era of innovation for the platform," said Dave Nagel, chief executive of PalmSource. "Now we could do things that would have been impossible or a lousy user experience before." Many observers complain that Palm's products stagnated for two years-and the new operating system is a needed change. Palm-enabled gadgets represented 53 percent of worldwide handheld device shipments last year, according to market researcher International Data Corp., but the economic slump hit the company hard. Palm's stock has tumbled about 80 percent from a year ago.

Still thinking different

Apple Computer says it wants to convert the "other 95 percent." That would be the 95 percent of computer users who use Windows machines instead of Macs. The company has launched the largest campaign since the "Think Different" blitz of 1998 to woo PC owners. Apple remains the sole mass-market holdout that doesn't support the Intel/Microsoft-dominated platform. It has been praised for design elements, but has found most support in niche markets like education and professional artists. The company still boasts that it "ignited the personal computer revolution" with the old Apple II in the 1970s-and wants to reclaim the general public. The Mac has its share of critics. Veteran Associated Press tech writer Larry Blasco called the new iMac "cute and powerful, but more expensive than a trophy wife." The faster, high-end model sells for $1,899, far more than almost all consumer PCs, and it contains no floppy drive. Apple may have noticed that the design-over-function principle has limits. Not long ago, the company all but declared the traditional TV-like monitor dead and hailed the flat screen. Now the good old CRT monitor is coming back with a new computer that was originally intended only for schools. It's dubbed the eMac, and it sells for as low as $999.

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