The Week in Review -- March 12, 1999

The Markets

  2/26 Close 3/5 Close Change %Change
DJIA 9,736.08 9,876.35 +140.27 +1.44
S&P 500 1,275.46 1,294.59 +19.13 +1.50
Nasdaq 2,338.27 2,381.54 +43.27 +1.85

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Free Thought
by Jerry Thomas (

Greetings, Fools.

There are certain elemental forces in nature that inevitably clash: Good versus Evil. Fire versus Ice. Cat versus Dog. Fudd versus Wabbit. Which is better? More powerful? More deserving of our praise and admiration? This week's Dueling Fools feature pits two such forces against one another: Messrs. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, leaders of Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), respectively. It's amazing how, a quarter of a century after the dawn of the personal computing era, these two names can still cause voices to raise to a high pitch, as advocates lock horns branding one of these icons an arrogant reviler of digital justice and the other the last hope of all the computing ages to come. The Dueling Fools Message Board on our website is rife with passion, as Fools step forward to defend the honor of their champion.

Today I have my own conflict to stage: The Battle of the Maxims. On one hand, all my life I've heard that You Get What You Pay For. There's no short cut to quality, kiddo. If you want the best, you've got to pony up the bucks right from the start. I've likewise been told, and often from the same sources, that The Best Things In Life Are Free. Sunshine, true love, the trust of a friend, the color of the sky at night -- all of these are available to you whether you name is Rockefeller or Smith, and no wallet is thick enough to buy them when they aren't there.

Which of these two truisms should prevail? I dunno. I'm not prepared to reject either one out of hand.

In the online world, we do seem to be trending toward the latter adage, however. A third maxim, born of this cyberspace age, says that Information Wants To Be Free. When impediments that hinder the commerce between minds are removed, ideas will proliferate. The competition is not merely for your dollar, but for your attention. A few weeks ago Louis Corrigan (TMF Seymor) wrote a Fool on the Hill piece in which he posited that the idea of selling dollar bills for ninety cents is not quite the paradox it might seem, at least as a way of illustrating the economics of cyberspace. This week he considers the concept of Free Cash Flow, and its usefulness in valuing companies in our New Economy.

Free cash flow. There's that word again. Free.

Online, it's all about thought, or so it seems. If you have the attention of the people, you can make some very profound things happen.

The Motley Fool website is 100% free. Is this one of those "You get what you pay for" situations? I'm sure our critics would argue that case. But biased as I am as a Fool employee, I would counter that argument by saying the Fool's value exists because it is free. Because so many of the impediments between minds here are lifted, the exchange of ideas flows freely -- perhaps more freely than in any conversation anywhere, at any time in history. No longer can some important-looking fellow in a dark suit argue that his opinion matters more because he has access to information that you don't have -- information he'll sell to you at a steep fee. Increasingly, his tools for gathering information are no more powerful than your own.

When was the last time you paid for a stock quote? It wasn't so long ago when information as easily obtained as this would have cost you more than you might have felt comfortable paying. Now you just click on it and it's there.

Right now I'm looking at one of this week's Fool Specials, called "Confessions of a Car Salesman." (If you click the link, you can see it too!) The salesman in question is Mike Cavendish, who is a contributor to our Buying a Car message board. He isn't a paid Fool staffer, but simply a member of our Community with expertise in a field that he felt compelled to share. His contributions to that message board spawned this article, which in turn gives you, as an auto buyer, information that can place you in a position of power that might never have been available to you. Would such an exchange of such key information have occurred if there were costs intervening? I doubt it.

Time and again I see Fools stepping forward to offer what they can to the group at large. ChundoHadASnack, for example, in Wednesday's Post of the Day examined the issues he considered in deciding whether to buy a home or continue renting. Meanwhile, Joann Floyd (known on our message boards as "Hunzi") offered many hours of her own to index the hundreds of contributions to our Recipes message board. These are astonishing efforts on the part of the members of our Community, and they are all the more amazing because they are merely typical of the spirit which pervades that Community. People are making these contributions, by and large, because they can, and because the whole they enjoy is enhanced by their own participation in it.

Unleash a group of free minds and see what you get.

You'll notice that I've studiously avoided the one topic you might expect to see in a Week in Review column, especially this particular week: Dow 10,000. Dale Wettlaufer (TMF Ralegh), in Friday's Fool Plate Special, looks at the significance -- and the insignificance -- of that particular number. While the rest of the media played "Are We There Yet?" with this essentially meaningless benchmark, I was pleased to watch our analysts at The Motley Fool tending to more significant matters. Of special interest this week was Al Levit's series examining Dell Computer (Nasdaq: DELL), beginning with Monday's Rule Maker Portfolio report.

For fun, don't forget to play our Stock Madness game. The deadline for your entry is Monday, March 15 at 9:00 a.m. EST... so get busy, Fool!

Until next week,
Fool on!


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