Microsoft Execs Tout Product Roadmap to Approving Shareholders

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Unlike previous years where cantankerous stakeholders fussed about shareholder value, dividend prices or various legal entanglements, shareholders at this year's annual meeting raised no controversial topics and instead questioned Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer about features in upcoming versions of Windows, Office and Xbox.

That emphasis on core business issues seemed to be the exact focus Microsoft was hoping for in the presentations, which included unusually detailed demonstrations of Windows Vista, Internet Explorer 7, Microsoft Search, MSN and Xbox 360.

"Fiscal year '06 is shaping up to be a good year, a good starting point to multi-year product cycle," Chris Liddell, at his first shareholders meeting since being named CFO. Execution of product launches, including the upcoming Xbox 360 console, will be critical, he said, noting Microsoft is poised with "the strongest multi-year product line in the company's history."

Ballmer repeated the theme saying the company has "placed bets in all the right places," and he predicted a "blockbuster" holiday season for Xbox sales. In one of its largest product events of the year, Microsoft released new versions of its database software and developer tools on Monday. SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 are expected to be significant, multi-year revenue generators.

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Without naming Google, Yahoo or America Online, Ballmer nodded to the competition, saying "There are only a few big players in the online advertising market and our company aims to be one of them."

Pushing the theme of shifting to offering software and services over the Internet, Ballmer pledged that upcoming editions of Office Live and Windows Live "will make the Web and desktop experience a seamless natural flow."

During his remarks, Gates plugged the upcoming Office 12 and said it featured "dramatic interface improvements." He also noted that long-term investments in television technologies and advanced software such as speech recognition were beginning to show results in product roadmaps. "All of these are bets and they are paying off," Gates said.

During the brief question-and-answer session, shareholders raised numerous product and feature-related questions. One woman asked if security levels would be raised in upcoming versions of subscription-based software services. Ballmer responded to her saying security was major focus of both research and development and acquisitions, and that the matter would be addressed in another forthcoming security subscription service called Windows OneCare.

Microsoft stock, MSFT on the Nasdaq, has been trending up in October, particularly since an upbeat quarterly earnings report, rising from $24.30 on Oct. 16 to $27.05, where it closed on Tuesday, according to Forbes. The stock's 52-week high was $30.20 and 52-week low was $23.82