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Microsoft Pri0

Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

January 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM

New Outlook apps arrive for Android, iOS devices

Microsoft is bringing new versions of its Outlook email service to Google- and Apple-powered mobile devices, the latest effort to get the company’s products in front of people who aren’t using Windows.

The free Outlook apps will be available for download on Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating system starting on Thursday, the company said.

The apps are based on code written by the team at Acompli, the maker of well regarded email programs that Microsoft purchased in December. Acompli was among the companies working to unclutter the deluge of email that modern life brings with next-generation email and organization software.

“Today the average business user sends and receives 121 emails per day, but more email doesn’t mean more productivity,” Javier Soltero, a manager with Microsoft’s Outlook group and the former chief executive of Acompli, said in a blog post. “We need to be able to send better, more useful email, more easily.” 

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Comments | More in Outlook | Topics: Acompli, android, ios

January 28, 2015 at 12:41 PM

Bill Gates takes on AI, Bitcoin in Reddit chat

Bill Gates, in the latest stop on his January media campaign of sorts, took to Reddit to answer some of your burning questions.

Among the topics the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist addressed:

  • Microsoft’s recently unveiled  HoloLens is “pretty amazing,” but it will take a few years of software development for it to reach its full potential.
  • While digital currencies could be used to help the developing world get better access to banking, the anonymity of services like Bitcoin presents some problems.
  • The development of supercharged artificial intelligence could be worrying…
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Comments | More in Bill Gates | Topics: bill gates, hololens, machine learning

January 27, 2015 at 4:44 PM

Apple, Microsoft going opposite ways in China

Microsoft and Apple are having very different weeks.

The same day Microsoft’s stock plunged the most in 18 months on a middling earnings report and gloomy outlook, old rival Apple released a spectacularly good earnings report. The Cupertino, Calif., company earned more profit in the last three months of 2014 than any publicly traded company has ever reeled in during a quarter.

Microsoft sold $26.5 billion in software and devices, taking home $5.8 billion of that in profit. Apple, propelled by sales of its iPhone 6, logged sales of $74.6 billion, and a profit of $18 billion.

Nowhere is the contrast between the rivals clearer than their diverging fates in China.

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Comments | More in Apple | Topics: apple, china, iphone

January 27, 2015 at 9:09 AM

Microsoft stock plunges as investors digest earnings

Update 1:49 p.m.:

Microsoft’s stock recorded the largest decline in 18 months after the company lowered the bar for its financial year ahead.

Microsoft released a mixed set of quarterly financial results Monday. The company’s profit met Wall Street expectations, but the report brought some signs that Microsoft’s Office and Windows businesses were stumbling more than investors had expected.

On a rough day for stocks across the board, Microsoft was hit particularly hard. Shares fell $4.35, or 9.3 percent, to close at $42.66 a share. The decline wiped out about 40 percent of the gains made in the 11 months since Satya Nadella was appointed as Microsoft’s third chief executive.

Tuesday’s swoon came as investors reacted to Microsoft’s dour outlook for the rest of its fiscal year.

The company’s expectations for how much cash it will bring in during the current quarter were “shockingly low,” John DiFucci, an analyst with Jefferies, said in a note to clients.

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Comments | More in Financial | Topics: earnings, microsoft, stock

January 26, 2015 at 6:06 PM

Microsoft’s earnings: Looking under the hood

Microsoft’s most recent quarter was a good news, bad news affair.

The company’s business-focused cloud-computing unit continued its pattern of double-digit sales growth, weighing in as a $5.5-billion-a-year business. But Microsoft’s biggest moneymaker — its commercial licensing group, which sells businesses Windows, server products, and Office — stumbled a bit. One-time charges, from employee severance bills to a tax adjustment from the IRS to the pain of a stronger dollar, wiped out a few hundred million dollars in profit.

Our big-picture story on the 11% drop in Microsoft profit during the three months ended in December lives here. For a geekier take on how Microsoft’s two main business units fared, read on.

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Comments | More in Financial | Topics: earnings, microsoft, office

January 23, 2015 at 4:31 PM

Microsoft earnings coming Monday: Holiday sales, the cloud and freebies

Microsoft plans to release its quarterly earnings after the stock market closes on Monday afternoon.

Not to spoil the surprise, but Microsoft almost certainly pulled in a ton of money during the last three months of 2014. How much, and where, exactly, is what Wall Street analysts are going to focus on.

Here are some things to watch out for:

Holiday sales. Microsoft, as usual, flooded the airwaves with ads (this year focused on selling its Surface Pro 3 tablet), and offered discounts and software bundles to get folks to buy an Xbox. Microsoft’s occasionally maligned Surface unit narrowly turned a profit in the three months ended in September (by a metric that excludes advertising and other costs). Did the Surface, mammoth holiday ad campaign and all, turn in another positive performance?

Record revenue, lower profits. Analysts polled by Bloomberg think Microsoft racked up a record $26.3 billion in sales in the quarter. But Microsoft’s profit is expected to dip, to about $6 billion (71 cents a share, excluding one-time items), from $6.56 billion (78 cents a share) a year earlier. Why? Part of the reason is Microsoft is now firmly embedded in the hardware business after buying Nokia‘s phone unit. Hardware is typically a lower margin business than software. Think of it this way: for every phone or Xbox Microsoft sells, the company has to buy the parts and labor to put it together. Copies of Microsoft Office software can be sold by the millions with much less in embedded costs. Holiday sales, weighted as they are toward gadgets, tend to drag on Microsoft’s profitability.

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Comments | More in Financial | Topics: earnings, microsoft, second quarter earnings

January 23, 2015 at 10:31 AM

Microsoft to buy Revolution Analytics

Microsoft says it has reached an agreement to buy Revolution Analytics.

Revolution sells businesses software and services for “R,” the open-source programming language used by statisticians and other data crunchers. Revolution’s customers, Microsoft machine learning vice president Joseph Sirosh says in a blog post about the deal, include large banks and financial services firms, pharmaceutical companies, as well as manufacturing and technology companies.

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Comments | More in Deals | Topics: big data, deals, microsoft

January 22, 2015 at 10:46 AM

Bill Gates to guest edit tech site The Verge

Microsoft Co-Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates (Photo by Microsoft)

Microsoft Co-Founder and Technology Advisor Bill Gates (Photo by Microsoft)

Bill Gates, a man who on his own wields an impressive megaphone, will make use of a bit of a different platform next month.

The Microsoft-co founder, fresh off the release of an ambitious list of human development goals in an annual letter released this week, will guest edit technology and science site The Verge in February.

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Comments | More in Bill Gates | Topics: bill & melinda gates foundation, bill gates, microsoft

January 20, 2015 at 4:21 PM

Microsoft previews Windows 10 in Redmond

Microsoft's Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Operating Systems Group, demonstrates new features of Windows 10. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

Microsoft’s Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president of Operating Systems Group, demonstrates new features of Windows 10. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

Update: 11:39 a.m.: A quick Q&A with chief executive Satya Nadella and Myerson later, and that wraps up the program.

Some highlights: Asked by colleague Brier Dudley if the talk of subscription services meant that users would have to pay an annual fee for Windows, Nadella said “There is no fundamental shift to our business model.”

Another questioner asked Nadella if he could share the financial impact likely from the free upgrade offer. Nadella pointed to Microsoft’s quarterly earnings report, slated for release on Monday, and declined to share more details.

Update: 10:55 a.m.: Meet Microsoft HoloLens, the device said to bring holographic interactions to Windows 10. Microsoft introduces the headset — a wireless, see-through display that projects holograms into the world around its user.

“I know this sounds perhaps crazy, maybe even a little impossible,” said Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft. We’ll see. He hinted that the assembled journalists and analysts in the audience will get a chance to try one out later today.

Update: 10:39 a.m.: We have our first gadget of the day: The gigantic, 84″ touchscreen “Surface Hub.” Microsoft folks demonstrated how it can help facilitate meetings. It’s yet another nod to the workplace at a consumer-focused Windows event.

Update: 10:09 a.m.: Windows 10 will indeed come loaded with a new web browser, codenamed, for now, “Spartan.”

Among its features: the ability to freeze web pages, annotate them with a stylus on a touchscreen device (or keyboard on a regular laptop), and share those pages with friends. The software will come with a reading mode that strips out extraneous web content to display text and save for offline viewing. Our new friend Cortana will also live in Spartan.

Update: 9:42 a.m.: Cortana, the search assistant released for Windows Phone last year, is coming to the PC.

The software — akin to Apple’s Siri, for the bulk of the world that doesn’t own a Windows Phone — will be integrated into Windows 10. Microsoft user experience executive Joe Belfiore demonstrated a few of the things Cortana can help with, from looking up files and applications (both on a user’s PC and their data stored on the web), to dictating a short email and turning on music with voice or typed commands.

Update: 9:24 a.m.: Operating systems chief Terry Myerson gives us our first glimpse of the Windows 10 business model.

In short: expect free upgrades.

For the first year after the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft will offer users of Windows 8.1, Windows Phone 8.1, and Windows 7 free upgrades to the new operating system.

The offer for Windows 8.1 users was expected. Few thought Microsoft would charge customers for the privilege of updating from the widely panned operating system. But in offering a free upgrade to Windows 7 users — who account for roughly 60% of the Windows customer base — Microsoft is indicating it’s going all in on Windows 10.

Follow along via tweets from the event by me and tech columnist Brier Dudley:

Earlier:

Microsoft is ready to give consumers a peek at the progress it’s making on its most famous product.

A daylong Windows 10 preview event in Redmond is set to begin at 9 a.m. Pacific Wednesday and will be webcast live. Expect to hear from Chief Executive Satya Nadella, operating systems head Terry Myerson, user experience designer Joe Belfiore, and Xbox leader Phil Spencer.

In Windows 10, Microsoft has at least three major goals:

  • Overcome the stumbles of Windows 8. That operating system, released in 2012, was a bold leap forward, an effort to woo the emerging tablet market with a touchscreen-optimized interface. But it went too far for many consumers (and had little appeal to businesses), creating a jarring transition between tablet-optimized mode and the old, familiar Windows desktop. Windows 10 is Microsoft’s bid to create a user experience that makes sense on the entire spectrum of devices, from smartphones to wall-sized displays.
  • Lay the groundwork for a resurgence outside of the PC. Microsoft is trailing badly in the smartphone and tablet markets. Part of the reason why: developers don’t see much of a need to spend the hours developing applications for Windows Phone or the Windows store after already releasing versions for Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. Microsoft brass hope Windows 10 will make it easier for developers to write applications that can be relatively painlessly re-purposed for the operating system’s smartphone, laptop, and tablet variants.
  • Persuade businesses to jump from Windows 7. Microsoft made its initial pitch to enterprises during the unveiling of Windows 10 back in September. And though Microsoft has telegraphed that Wednesday’s event will target individual consumers, the line between business and home computing is blurry in a bring-the-iPad-to-work world. Don’t be surprised if Microsoft execs also highlight their plans for software that helps people get things done, particularly under the catchall “productivity” mantra.
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Comments | More in Windows | Topics: microsoft, windows 10

January 20, 2015 at 9:47 AM

Microsoft buys text analysis startup Equivio

Microsoft seems to like something about Israeli data-analysis startups.

The company announced today that it has acquired text-analysis firm Equivio, a few months after buying cloud security machine-learning startup Aorato.

Equivio’s algorithms sift through documents and emails to group related documents and identify which ones might trigger a company’s confidentiality provisions or other legal labels. With email and computers facilitating an explosion in the amount of documents companies and governments produce, sorting through those can quickly turn into a task that requires many hours of work by humans.

The Rosh HaAyin-based company, which on its website also lists an office in Rockville, Md., says its clients include the U.S. Justice Department and auditing and consulting giants KPMG and Deloitte.

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Comments | More in Deals | Topics: deals, equivio, machine learning

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