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2009's harsh realities highlight losers - and winners

The first round of tech-sector financial results for 2009 are in. They prove Steve Ballmer right: we are not immune. The most sobering aspect of this realisation isn't the numbers, which are bad enough: it's the vulnerability of some - if not quite all - of the industry's biggest names.

Take Sony. While the market was buoyant, it talked a good game. A strong brand in TVs, good technology in the PlayStation 3, winner of the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD wars. But those strengths prove to be weaknesses in a tough environment. Premium consumer electronics brands do badly when there's no quality differentiation between them and cheaper options; cost-cutting is harder on the PS3 than on its rivals, and Blu-Ray is no match for BitTorrent.

Likewise Microsoft. The strongest financial area for the company is in annual licensing, where corporate inertia has seemed an inexhaustible source of free money. But in a market desperate to cut costs, it will be very hard for the company to answer one question: why should enterprises in a recession fund 15 percent growth in Microsoft's corporate licensing? Consumers, happily buying low-cost netbooks that frequently have no Microsoft software on them at all, have already found their answer. As a result, the company is looking at an eight percent drop in client revenues.

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