Microsoft: Time for Big, Bold Bets

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In the News

- Microsoft: Time for Big, Bold Bets

- Intel Seeks to Bridge Digital Divide

by Paul Thurrott, thurrott@windowsitpro.com

Microsoft: Time for Big, Bold Bets

When Microsoft released its quarterly earnings last week, financial analysts cried foul when the company revealed that it would be spending an additional $2 billion or more over the next year to accelerate market growth. The extra spending will occur during the launches of Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 and will lower revenues and earnings during that time period, which will result in lower than expected returns for investors. Since the announcement, Microsoft has been hammered by complaints, and its stock price has dropped 11 percent. Last week, the company lost $32 billion in market value alone.

On Friday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer addressed the complaints in an internal memo to employees. "Throughout our history, Microsoft has won by making big, bold bets," he wrote. "Now isn't the time to scale back the scope of our ambition or the scale of our investment. While our opportunities are greater than ever, we also face new competitors, faster-moving markets and new customer demands ... We provided guidance \[for fiscal year 2007, which begins in July\] that indicates our willingness to be aggressive when making investments where they are strategic for future growth."

"The bottom-line result of these investments created a shift in our near-term profitability that was a surprise," he continues. "The change in our stock price reflects this. But I've never been more confident that we are making the right investments. In addition to adding a third manufacturing facility to enable us to meet market demand for Xbox 360, we are investing heavily in our services strategy; in our readiness programs for the launch of Windows Vista, Office 2007 and other products in the pipeline; and in a number of other areas where we see opportunities for rapid growth. We've accelerated the pace of our hiring and increased spending to ensure that we continue to bring the world's brightest minds to Microsoft."

Microsoft has made several "bet the company" promises in the past. Whether Ballmer's "big, bold" characterization holds water is debatable--$2 billion is, in many ways, a drop in the bucket for a company the size of Microsoft. Meanwhile, traditional software products like Windows and Office remain the company's biggest money earners, but those products are mature and have arguably peaked from profitability and market saturation standpoints. Not coincidentally, a lot of Microsoft's focus these days seems to be on software services, such as Windows Live, Office Live, and Xbox Live. These services compete directly with similar services offered or planned by industry heavyweights such as Google and Yahoo!.

Intel Seeks to Bridge Digital Divide

This week, Intel announced that it will spend more than $1 billion over the next five years to help provide developing countries with computers, Internet access, and other technologies. Under a program it calls World Ahead, Intel will provide wireless Internet access to 1 billion people, train 10 million teachers to use technology in their classes, and provide more than 10,000 PCs for use in classrooms.

"This clearly is viewed by us as being good for the world and for Intel," said Intel CEO Paul Otellini. But Intel isn't spreading technology for the good of humankind alone—the company also believes there's a profit to be had. By helping developing nations acquire technology, Intel is growing its market. "There is a solid commercial payoff for it," Otellini said.

In addition to its World Ahead efforts, Intel is also helping design low-cost PCs specifically for developing countries. The company has already demonstrated a prototype PC designed for India, where heat and dust cause unique problems for electronic devices such as PCs. And soon Intel will unveil a $400 prototype laptop that it believes PC makers will begin selling in 2007. Unlike other PCs currently being designed for developing countries, Intel's design focuses on full-featured computers with hard drives and modern CPUs.

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