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Tickers in this Article: FLSR, EXL, RNWK, MSFT, AAPL

First Solar, Inc. (FSLR) is definitely having its day in the sun as its share price leaped from $32.91 on Monday to $45.26 on Friday (or a gain of 37.5%). The producer of solar photo-voltaic cells surprised the market by releasing a quarterly earnings report that not only beat consensus estimates (analysts were expecting a loss of $0.07 per share), but had also proved to be profitable as well (earnings for the last quarter were revealed to be $0.12 per share). The company attributes the combination of continued strong consumer demand and the expansion of its manufacturing faciltiy in Ohio to this sizable increase in earnings.

Within the last couple of years, and while the price of crude oil bubbled up to new highs, both the government and corporations have stressed the importance of harnessing alternative forms of energy for mainstream consumption. During last year the biggest emphasis was on ethanol, but unfortunately, some of the players (notably Xethanol Corporation (XNL)) ran out of steam long before anything useful was produced.

Unlike Xethanol, First Solar is quite different; namely that the company was able to create, and sell a profitable product that actually delivers upon what it was touted to do. Furthermore, there is also a growing demand for the company's solar cells. For example, the company reports that a German company will be using its solar cells in constructing a 40 megawatt solar power plant.

Hopefully, First Solar's success is just as renewable as the energy its solar cells are generating which will allow it, and other companies in the renewable energy industry, to prosper.


RealNetworks Inc. (RNWK) is the latest casualty during this latest earnings season due to fears arising from lowered guidance for subsequent quarters. The provider of music and digital content's share price fell from $10.59 to $8.77 (or a decline of 17%) this week. More specifically, the earnings per share for 2007 will be in the range of $0.19 to $0.23, whereas analysts have previously predicted that full year earnings will be about $0.40 per share. Many analysts have also downgrade the stock as a result of concerns of floundering growth of new subscribers for its music services.

While RealNetworks Inc. did end up with an increase of 900,000 users since the last quarter, most of these new users (800,000) were a result of its acquisition of a company called WiderThan. Therefore, RealNetwork's music division (Rhapsody) only generated 100,000 new users, which is a drop of 25,000 compared to the same quarter of last year.

All in all, the slowdown in RealNetworks' user growth may indicate that they were a little late in getting on the whole music downloading business, which Apple (AAPL) maintains a firm grip on. The combination of having the first mover advantage of creating the iPod and iTunes continually allows Apple to gain new subscribers without too much difficulty. In fact, the popularization of the iPod phenomenon has also created podcasts, which iTunes supports by cataloging a wide variety of services and enables them to be downloaded for free.

While it is unlikely that RealNetworks will be able to be a source of serious competition for Apple digital music services in the foreseeable future, this is not to say that no one will ever overtake the iPod and iTunes. Some believe that if this were to happen, the most likely candidate would be Microsoft (MSFT). Microsoft released its own portable music player, the Zune, in 2006 along with Zune Marketplace. But the success of Microsoft's Zune Marketplace is totally dependent upon whether consumers will embrace the Zune. At this point in time, it appears that the iPod and iTunes is still reigning supreme, so we may be a ways off (or ever) before we will see a successful rival.

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