AP­PLE’S STOCKSOURS, MI­CROSOFT’S SOARS. SAY WHAT?!

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Wall Street in­vestors are en­am­ored with a newly emer­gent tech com­pany.

It has noth­ing to do with post­ing self­ies or find­ing a soul mate. The com­pany is in­stead mak­ing bil­lions of dol­lars sell­ing cloud­com­put­ing and other tech­ni­cal ser­vices to of­fices around the world.

Say hello to Mi­crosoft, the 1990s home­com­put­ing pow­er­house that is hav­ing a re­nais­sance mo­ment - eclips­ing Face­book, Google, Ama­zon and the other tech dar­lings of the late decade.

And now it is close to sur­pass­ing Ap­ple as the world’s most valu­able pub­licly traded com­pany.

Yes, that Mi­crosoft. As other tech gi­ants stum­ble, its steady re­silience is pay­ing off.

That Mi­crosoft is even close to eclips­ing Ap­ple — and did so briefly a few times this week — would have been un­heard of just a few years ago.

But un­der CEO Satya Nadella, Mi­crosoft has found sta­bil­ity by mov­ing away from its flag­ship Win­dows op­er­at­ing sys­tem and fo­cus­ing on cloud-com­put­ing ser­vices with long-term busi­ness con­tracts.

“They’ve fi­nally turned the cor­ner and have be­come a vi­able cloud player,” said Daniel Mor­gan, se­nior port­fo­lio man­ager for Synovus Trust. “They’ve made a very strong tran­si­tion away from the desk­top.”

A brief pe­riod of trad­ing Mon­day was the first time in more than eight years that Mi­crosoft was worth more than Ap­ple. Mi­crosoft sur­passed Ap­ple again briefly Tues­day, be­fore Ap­ple closed on top with a mar­ket value of $827 bil­lion, just 0.5 per­cent ahead of Mi­crosoft’s $822 bil­lion.

Ap­ple has been the world’s most pros­per­ous firm since claim­ing the top spot from Exxon Mo­bil ear­lier this decade. Mi­crosoft hasn’t been at the top since the height of the dot-com boom in 2000.

Mi­crosoft be­came a con­tender again in large part be­cause Ap­ple’s stock has fallen 25 per­cent since early Oc­to­ber, while Mi­crosoft hasn’t done any worse than the rest of the stock mar­ket. But the fact that it hasn’t done poorly is a re­flec­tion of its steady fo­cus on busi­ness cus­tomers in re­cent years.

Just a few years ago, Mi­crosoft’s prospects looked bleak. The com­pany was de­pen­dent on li­cens­ing fees from the Win­dows op­er­at­ing sys­tem used in per­sonal com­put­ers, but peo­ple were spend­ing money in­stead on the lat­est smart­phones. In 2013, PC sales plunged 10 per­cent to about 315 mil­lion, the worst yearto-year drop ever, ac­cord­ing to re­search firms Gart­ner and IDC. It didn’t help that Mi­crosoft’s ef­fort to make PCs more like phones, Win­dows 8, was widely panned.

But a turn­around be­gan when the Red­mond, Wash­ing­ton, com­pany pro­moted Nadella as CEO in 2014. He suc­ceeded Mi­crosoft’s long­time CEO, Steve Ballmer, who ini­tially scoffed at the no­tion that peo­ple would be will­ing to pay $500 or more for Ap­ple’s iPhones.

That bet paid off. Win­dows is now a dwin­dling frac­tion of Mi­crosoft’s busi­ness. While the com­pany still runs con­sumer-fo­cused busi­nesses such as Bing search and Xbox gam­ing, it has pri­or­i­tized busi­ness-ori­ented ser­vices such as its Of­fice line of email and other work­place soft­ware, as well as newer ad­di­tions such as LinkedIn and Skype. But its big­gest growth has hap­pened in the cloud, par­tic­u­larly the cloud plat­form it calls Azure. Cloud com­put­ing now ac­counts for more than a quar­ter of Mi­crosoft’s rev­enue, and Mi­crosoft ri­vals Ama­zon as a lead­ing provider of such ser­vices.

Be­ing less re­liant on con­sumer de­mand helped shield Mi­crosoft from hol­i­day sea­son tur­bu­lence and U.S.-China trade war jit­ters af­fect­ing Ap­ple and other tech com­pa­nies.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump am­pli­fied those tar­iff con­cerns when he told The Wall Street Jour­nal in a story pub­lished late Mon­day that new tar­iffs could af­fect iPhones and lap­tops im­ported from China.

The iPhone maker had al­ready seen its stock fall after re­port­ing a mixed bag of quar­terly re­sults ear­lier this month amid fears about how the tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try will fare in the face of such threats as ris­ing in­ter­est rates, in­creased gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion and Trump’s es­ca­lat­ing trade war with China.

Ap­ple also spooked in­vestors with an un­ex­pected de­ci­sion to stop dis­clos­ing how many iPhones it sells each quar­ter. That move has been widely in­ter­preted as a sign that Ap­ple fore­sees fur­ther de­clines in iPhone sales and is try­ing to mask that.

While smart­phones caused the down­turn in per­sonal com­put­ers years ago, sales of smart­phones them­selves have now stalled. That’s partly be­cause with fewer in­no­va­tions from pre­vi­ous mod­els, more peo­ple choose to hold on to the de­vices for longer pe­ri­ods be­fore up­grad­ing.

Mor­gan said Mi­crosoft is out­per­form­ing its tech ri­vals in part be­cause of what it’s not. It doesn’t face as much reg­u­la­tory scru­tiny as ad­ver­tis­ing-hun­gry Google and Face­book, which have at­tracted con­tro­versy over their data-har­vest­ing prac­tices. Un­like Net­flix, it’s not on a hunt for a di­min­ish­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tional sub­scribers. And while Ama­zon also has a strong cloud busi­ness, it’s still more de­pen­dent on on­line re­tail.

Min­utes after touch­ing down on Mars, NASA’s InSight space­craft sent back a “nice and dirty” snap­shot of its new digs. Yet the dust-speck­led im­age looked like a work of art to sci­en­tists.

The photo re­vealed a mostly smooth and sandy ter­rain around the space­craft with only one siz­able rock vis­i­ble.

“I’m very, very happy that it looks like we have an in­cred­i­bly safe and bor­ing land­ing lo­ca­tion,” project man­ager Tom Hoff­man said after Mon­day’s touch­down. “That’s ex­actly what we were go­ing for.”

A bet­ter im­age came hours later and more are ex­pected in the days ahead, after the dust cov­ers come off the lan­der’s cam­eras.

The space­craft ar­rived at Mars after a per­ilous, su­per­sonic plunge through its red skies that took just six min­utes.

“Touch­down con­firmed!” a flight con­troller called out just be­fore 3 p.m. EST, set­ting off ju­bi­la­tion among sci­en­tists at NASA’s Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­tory in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia, who had waited in white-knuckle sus­pense for word to reach across 100 mil­lion miles (160 mil­lion kilo­me­ters) of space.

It was NASA’s eighth suc­cess­ful land­ing at Mars since the 1976 Vik­ing probes, and the first in six years. NASA’s Cu­rios­ity rover, which ar­rived in 2012, is still on the move on Mars.

Be­cause of the dis­tance be­tween Earth and Mars, it took eight min­utes for con­fir­ma­tion to ar­rive, re­layed by a pair of tiny satel­lites that had been trail­ing InSight through­out the six-month, 300-mil­lion-mile (482-mil­lion-kilo­me­ter) jour­ney.

“Flaw­less,” de­clared JPL’s chief en­gi­neer, Rob Man­ning. “Some­times things work out in your fa­vor.”

InSight, a $1 bil­lion in­ter­na­tional project, in­cludes a Ger­man me­chan­i­cal mole that will bur­row down 16 feet (5 me­ters) to mea­sure Mars’ in­ter­nal heat. The lan­der also has a French seis­mome­ter for mea­sur­ing quakes, if they ex­ist on our smaller, ge­o­log­i­cally calmer neigh­bor. An­other ex­per­i­ment will cal­cu­late Mars’ wob­ble to re­veal the makeup of the planet’s core.

Late Mon­day, NASA re­ported the space­craft’s vi­tal so­lar ar­rays were open and recharg­ing its bat­ter­ies.

Over the next few “sols” — or Mar­tian days of 24 hours, 39½ min­utes — flight con­trollers will as­sess the health of InSight’s all-im­por­tant robot arm and its sci­ence in­stru­ments. It will take months to set up and fine-tune the in­stru­ments, and lead sci­en­tist Bruce Ban­erdt said he doesn’t ex­pect to start get­ting a stream of solid data un­til late next spring.

Ban­erdt called InSight’s first snap­shot of the sur­face the first bit of sci­ence, al­beit “nice and dirty.” He said the im­age would be cleaned and the black specks would dis­ap­pear. That photo came from a cam­era low on the lan­der. Late Mon­day, NASA re­leased a clean photo taken by a higher cam­era that showed part of the lan­der and the land­scape.

The 800-pound (360-kilo­gram) InSight is sta­tion­ary and will op­er­ate from the same spot for the next two years, the du­ra­tion of a Mar­tian year.

“In the com­ing months and years even, his­tory books will be rewrit­ten about the in­te­rior of Mars,” said JPL’s di­rec­tor, Michael Watkins.

NASA went with its old, straight­for­ward ap­proach this time, us­ing a para­chute and brak­ing en­gines to get InSight’s speed from 12,300 mph (19,800 kph) when it pierced the Mar­tian at­mos­phere, about 77 miles (114 kilo­me­ters) up, to 5 mph (8kph) at touch­down. The dan­ger was that the space­craft could burn up in the at­mos­phere or bounce off it.

Many Mars-bound space­craft launched by the U.S., Rus­sia and other coun­tries have been lost or de­stroyed over the years, with a suc­cess rate of just 40 per­cent, not count­ing InSight.

The three-legged InSight set­tled on the west­ern side of Ely­sium Plani­tia, the plain that NASA was aim­ing for.

Mu­se­ums, plan­e­tar­i­ums and li­braries across the U.S. held view­ing par­ties to watch the events un­fold at JPL. NASA TV cov­er­age was also shown on the gi­ant screen in New York’s Times Square, where crowds hud­dled un­der um­brel­las in the rain.

“What an amaz­ing day for our coun­try,” said Jim Bri­den­s­tine, pre­sid­ing over his first Mars land­ing as NASA’s boss.

Mars’ well-pre­served in­te­rior pro­vides a snap­shot of what Earth may have looked like fol­low­ing its for­ma­tion 4.5 bil­lion years ago, ac­cord­ing to Ban­erdt. While Earth is ac­tive seis­mi­cally, Mars “de­cided to rest on its lau­rels” after it formed, he said.

By ex­am­in­ing and map­ping the in­te­rior of Mars, sci­en­tists hope to learn why the rocky plan­ets in our so­lar sys­tem turned out so dif­fer­ent and why Earth be­came a haven for life.

Still, there are no life de­tec­tors aboard InSight. NASA’s next mis­sion, the Mars 2020 rover, will prowl for rocks that might con­tain ev­i­dence of an­cient life. The ques­tion of whether life ever ex­isted in Mars’ wet, wa­tery past is what keeps driv­ing NASA back to the fourth rock from the sun.

After InSight landed, the two ex­per­i­men­tal satel­lites zoomed past Mars, their main job done. One took one last photo of the red planet that the satel­lites’ chief en­gi­neer, Andy Klesh, ti­tled “farewell to InSight ... farewell to Mars.”

Im­age: Elaine Thomp­son

Im­age: AL Seib

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