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The Biz Roundup March 28-29

We have met the bottom and this is it (or not).

April will mark the 17th month of the recession that began in December 2007, making it the lengthiest downturn of the post-Depression era. For the most part, forecasters don’t see U.S. economic growth turning positive until early autumn, and even then, expect the unemployment rate to hit double digits this year or next.

This week, though, has brought a spate of good economic news. Consumer spending rose marginally in February, the Commerce Department said Friday, as did consumer confidence.

(“Economy Raises Tentative Hopes a Trough Is Finally in Sight,” Wall Street Journal, March 28) Housing sales up, consumer spending up . . . it’s starting to look like the slide is at least starting to slow. But we have a long way to go and a lot of work to do (that means you, entrepreneurs). As Thucydides puts into the mouths of the Athenians in the Melian Debate: “Hope is a good comforter in the hour of danger, and when men have something else to depend upon, although hurtful, she is not ruinous. But when her spendthrift nature has induced them to stake their all, they see her as she is in the moment of their fall, and not till then.

Is it our cloud or Microsoft’s (and Amazon’s)? Should you care?

The skirmish between tech groups blew up on Friday after Microsoft and Amazon revealed that they were not joining a group of other technology concerns in signing a “manifesto” outlining broad technology goals to make sure cloud computing remains an open market – for instance, enabling customers to move their data freely between different suppliers.

The full list of companies behind the manifesto has yet to be disclosed, but Steven Martin, a Microsoft engineer, said the initiative was led by IBM and a website created to promote the initiative, called, which was registered by an IBM technology strategist. IBM refused to comment.

(“Tech rivals in cloud computing clash,” Financial Times, March 27) This matters for small business and small entrepreneurs since cloud computing will be the holy grail promised since the dawn of the personal computer age: high-level corporate business software at low, low prices for small businesses and entrepreneurs. If you run or manage a business, I can assure you in capital letters that your interests are not aligned with Microsoft and Amazon on this one. Proprietary standards mean that you pay a premium; open standards mean low price and high choice.

Apple starts clearing out 3G iPhones at double the price.

Staffers at Apple’s (AAPL) flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City confirm that as of Thursday at 8 a.m., customers are now permitted to buy unlimited quantities of iPhones without an AT&T contract . . .

Selling iPhones for more than double their usual price is an interesting way to clear inventory — and may be preferable to unloading them for, say, $99 each. It’s not clear how many customers will be interested, however. The phones are still locked to AT&T, and would have to be unlocked to work with any other carrier’s service. The demand for unlocked iPhones was fierce before Apple began signing contracts with overseas carriers, but may not be as strong today.

(“Has Apple begun clearing iPhone 3G inventory?,” Fortune, March 27) I’ve never understood why anyone thinks that Apple is thisgoodcompany fighting the good fight against riff-raff like Microsoft. They make good products, sure. But only Apple could get away with aclearanceprice that’s double the normal price by selling a completely useless piece of technology (unless the buyer does a fair amount of workunlockingit) — and can get away with this because thedealthey’re offering essentially screws their business partner (ATT). It takes real marketing genius to makescrew youinto a viable marketing strategy.

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