Tuesday, December 26, 2006

VMware Workstation 6.0 now in Beta

VMWare offers some of my absolute favorite software/technology products - all revolving around "virtual machines", which let you make much greater use of your existing computing hardware by being able to run what is in effect multiple-computers on one computer. I make regular use of their free VMware Player software, as well as their VMware workstation software. I've written about VMware software virtualization advantages previously here on my software and technology blog, and, I keep a watch on the upcoming products VMware has in the works, planned, or in Beta.

And, now VMware has announced the Beta release of VMWare Workstation 6.0. This new release brings some long-awaited features I am really looking forward to testing. These include:
  • Multiple Monitor Support! Woohoo! This is a very cool addition, offering the ability to span monitors within a guest operating-system, just like you can do with a normal desktop. I have one development machine I would really like to put this feature to use on.
  • Run Virtual Machines in the Background. This is sorta nice, when you don't want the graphical portion of VMware Workstation always running just to keep a virtual-machine running. Now there will be a little system-tray icon to show what is running instead if you like - quite minimal compared to the full GUI.
  • Enhanced copy/paste between disparate guest operating systems. Now, this is cool for sure, giving you an easy way to copy/paste files between Windows and Linux to name one use. Even drag-n-drop between mixed OS's is now supported!! This should be a huge time-saver in mixed-OS environments. Definitely looking forward to testing it.
  • USB 2.0 high-speed device support (certainly something I will welcome).
  • Increased RAM limits -- more total memory can be used be Workstation, and each guest-OS can be allocated more. Sadly, I will need to purchase more RAM to try this one out, but I have needed a good excuse to do so. :) Maybe a 16GB workstation is in my future. Ah, just the thought of putting all that memory to use..
As with any beta, there are known bugs and issues that are still in a state of flux, but the release sounds like a promising one. Here is a link to the full VMware Workstation 6.0 Beta Release Notes to see more detail on what is new.

In addition recently, VMware has announced how they would be offering their desktop virtualization software on the new Intel-based Apple Macintosh computers. This should be really great news for those that want to go with an Apple OS-X machine, but are worried about having access to Microsoft Windows on occasion -- once VMware's products are out for the Mac, this concern should greatly dissipate, since you should be able to run MS Windows from a Mac machine in a fully self-contained virtual-machine (With the advantage over Apple's "Bootcamp" being how you can run both OSX and Windows simultaneously -- OS-X as the "host" OS, and Windows as the "guest" OS). Heck, run Linux on it too just for kicks!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Adobe Photoshop CS3 Beta is out

For those of you who use Adobe Photoshop and like to keep up with where the product is headed, Adobe has release a public beta of Photoshop CS3. Here is a link to the release notes and new features in Adobe Photoshop CS3. A couple of the items caught me attention, including the "refine edge" capability and the "quick selection" enhancements. I have to believe there are more changes then there are listed in the page, since there are not very many high-level changes listed.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Daystar Technologies NASDAQ:DSTI - To be or not to be?

If you follow, or invest in, Daystar Technologies (NASDAQ:DSTI) stock, you may be wondering about the long-term prospects for this company. Will they make it as a solar-cell player, or will they be unable to secure adequate funding to remain viable and/or competitive?

I have watched Daystar Technologies, Inc. stock for some time now, and have watched it rise from $2-3.00 range back in early 2005, to a peak of nearly $16.00 in mid-2005, through to its current slide to the $4.65 level. A lot of this stock's price chart can be correlated to the over-exuberance about alternative-energy and solar plays that took place during the massive oil price run up which started in 2005, followed by a corresponding realization that these solar companies in startup-mode (like Daystar) may not make a profit for quite some time, let alone even remain viable as a company if they can not obtain adequate financing for the capital-intensive manufacturing ramp-up they require to reach any real economy-of-scale production capacity.

Recently, it seems DSTI has come under quite a bit of selling pressure as the obviousness of the financing situation emerges. Apparently, one of the biggest investors of recent ( Castlerigg Master Investments Ltd., an offshore investment fund that has already provided about $15MM in funding to DayStar), has been backing off a bit when it comes to any future/continued investment into the company. Coupled with the recent departure of DayStar's founder (John Tuttle) and subsequent shuffling at the top of the management structure, there is certainly reason to take pause as an investor.

Now, let's put that aside for a bit and look at what DayStart Technologies has to offer as a company. DSTI is focused on providing low-cost, high-volume solar-electric photovoltaic (PV) cells, using patented technologies that employ a unique combination of Copper Indium Gallium diSelenide (CIGS) technology solar cells placed on flexible specialty metal foils. Their approach promises a few improvements over standard silicon solar-cells in that they will take require much less natural resources to product, not be dependent on high-quality silicon wafers (that are in short supply), and also be lightweight and flexible.

This all sounds great! And, DayStar seems to be have laid out some logical steps to execute their stated three-year mission of establishing themselves with a profitable manufacturing platform, expandable to Gigawatt scale, by 2008. Gigawatt scale! WOW! Assuming they reach that level of solar cell production, that would imply a capacity approximately equal to today’s combined worldwide manufacturing capacity for all PV solar cells! That could sure change the game for Solar Energy as a whole.

So, I look at their stock with both caution and excitement. I see inherent value in their patents and technology. I see potential for the alternative energy market as a whole, though I see our government doing little to promote it and instead wasting 100's of billions of dollars on oil-subsidies (yes, the war costs are oil subsidies in one way or the other -- the cost of protecting the steady flow of oil from the Middle East). When I look at DayStar's funding requirements to stay on plan, and the fact that an investment as tiny as $15MM from Castlerigg can even matter, I just sit shaking my head when I think how that $15MM is not even 1/30,000th of what our government has spent on the Iraq War. But, our government's priorities will likely not change, so DayStar will need to seek funding elsewhere: perhaps Bill Gates or the Google founders will see the light?

Next, as with ANY stock (especially startups), I keep a VERY close eye on management compensation and watch for what I call "self-awarded" excessive stock options and such. I am always concerned that the entire goal for many of these higher profile small startups (certainly not publicly stated) is simply to become a publicly traded stock and gain enough market liquidity whereby internal holders of said stock have a way to essentially "print stock" and convert that stock to cash,... regardless of the long-term impact on the stock price or the ramifications for the average investor that doesn't have the ability to simply "print more stock shares" to reap substantial returns. If all these senior-level managers in the company truly believe in their vision, then they need to forego the immediate "need" for cashing stock holdings out until the company is profitable and the stock is steady and solid enough for ALL investors (meaning, us the average stock holder) to reap rewards for taking risk too. I do not want to be viewed simply as a source for liquidity for insiders to dump their over-generous self-awarded shares onto. (this rant of mine is not about DSTI per se, but my concern that many, many companies, both small and large, are absolutely abusing the average shareholder these days by diluting stock through excessive "self awards").

So, DayStar executives, if you want to absolutely convince me that your company is a great investment, prove it by not selling your stock until you have achieved your stated goals for 2008, and have executed a plan that produces profits. You have the technology from what I can figure, and you have a team with skills in the Solar sector. Time to make some friends with a few wealthy individuals that can kick in $10 million or so apiece to keep your plan on track though! It's really not that much given how many ultra-rich entrepreneurs and individuals there are out there; you may want to focus on the more "liberal" or "green" ones, like StarBucks Howard Schultz, the Google guys, and so on.

I'll be watching DSTI, and who knows, if their stock's market capitalization goes much lower, I may start making a few calls myself and seeing if I can line up the cash to buy out the company and make sure the DayStar Technologies vision becomes reality. :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Barclays Bank - Nice Gain over past few months.

If you happened to read my blog back on August 17th, 2006, about currency hedging with ADRs where I featured Barclays Bank as one of the ADRs to consider, perhaps you picked up some shares. If so, you should be quite pleased with your returns since then!

At the time, Barclays (NYSE: BCS) was trading under $50/share, and thanks to a weak dollar since then, and the new rumors/talk that Bank of America is looking to buy Barclays in what will be a massive merger transaction, the ADR share price of BCS has closed at USD $58.25. You may have just made 20% over the past few months, or more depending when you invested in Barclays.

The one thing I am not sure of now, is whether holding BCS during this speculation time is still the best way to go. With a cost-basis of around $45 on this latest cycle, I am looking at a 30% return in a relatively short period of time. Certainly this met, and even exceeded, my short-term objectives for playing currency-movements. The stock could rise further on speculation of increased bid-price during a takeover or whatever, but some of the excitement could also dissipate. I guess it is time to flip a coin. The original ownership reason (hedging against the US Dollar falling versus the British Pound) is still somewhat legitimate, though with the Pound pushing a 15-year high, I do not know how much more wind is in the sails of that price-movement-force.

Keep ADRs in mind in your investing portfolio, and look for solid stocks that can benefit from currency swings in addition to their fundamental strengths, and you will likely be in a decent position long term regardless.