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Five things to watch for in Microsoft earnings

There's a lot more to pay attention to--particularly amid the economic uncertainty--than just how much profit the software giant raked in.

With Microsoft earnings due after the market closes Thursday, here's my top five list of things to watch for:

1. The economy
It's obviously top of mind for everyone right now and it will be interesting to see how one of the companies with the strongest balance sheets and most predictable revenue streams expects to be affected.

2. Hiring plans
Microsoft has already said it is "rethinking" its staffing plans in the wake of the economy. Word is that some departments have been told to put the brakes on hiring, while Microsoft has said there is not a companywide freeze, and indeed, it is still adding lots of jobs in some areas, particularly its online services area. Still, it's been a couple of weeks since Microsoft offered its assessment and it may go into more details.

3. Sales/contracts pipeline
Microsoft gets a good chunk of its sales from multi-year sales agreements with big businesses. I'm curious to see how it is seeing renewals in that area and whether companies are holding off signing new contracts.

4. PDC
Microsoft's big developer conference is next week and perhaps the company might let out a few more product details on the call. Steve Ballmer has been dropping hints for about a month now, but he's not usually the one speaking on the conference calls, so this one might be a long shot.

5. The earnings themselves, as well as guidance
This is usually the least interesting part for the tech crowd, especially since Microsoft's earnings tend to be so predictable. That said, it will be interesting to see what the company turns in.