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Microsoft unplugged: Company touts wireless plans

An executive speaking for the software giant at the Chase H&Q Technology Conference skirts antitrust issues and instead launches into a speech detailing the company's wireless initiatives.

    SAN FRANCISCO--When it comes to that pesky little antitrust lawsuit sapping its stock price, Microsoft today reverted to a time-honored public relations stance: Mum's the word.

    A top Microsoft executive who addressed hundreds of analysts at the 28th annual Chase H&Q Technology Conference in San Francisco said by way of an introduction that he wouldn't discuss the government's attempt to break up the software giant for abusing its monopoly.

    Paul Gross, senior vice president for "collaboration and mobility," then launched into a speech detailing Microsoft's wireless initiatives--piecemeal projects meant to persuade investors that the company has a coherent business strategy beyond desktop dominance.

    Microsoft has changed its mantra from "a PC in every home," Gross said, to "empowering people with great software anytime, anyplace, any device."

    When asked afterward why his PowerPoint presentation didn't allude to the landmark antitrust cases, Gross was glib.

    "The general feeling about the antitrust issue is to let Steve and Bill and the lawyers take care of it," Gross said, referring to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and chairman Bill Gates.

    After the presentation, in a closed-door breakout session between

    Gross and analysts, the lawsuit also didn't seem to be a top concern. Gross said some analysts brought it up, but the bulk of the discussion centered on Microsoft's attempts to break into the wireless sector--currently hot with investors and one of the only segments that hasn't been categorically battered by a month-long market slump.

    Analysts who attended the session, which was closed to journalists, said they didn't feel the need to pepper Gross with questions because the case is out of Microsoft's hands and back in the hands of the courts and government officials.

    Microsoft announced yesterday that it would accept restrictions on its business practices if a federal judge dismisses a government proposal to break the software giant in two. The government is expected to file its response to Microsoft's proposal by May 17.

    Analysts who attended Gross' presentation and the private breakout session said they didn't seriously expect Gross to address the antitrust issue at the Chase H&Q event--the largest gathering of analysts and executives in the technology industry.

    Although a breakup would certainly distract the company from its business plan, Ray Frankel, an analyst at Glickenhouse & Co., also was concerned about Microsoft's late start into the wireless sector. The company has

    focused on software for PCs and only recently expanded into other devices, such as handheld computers and network infrastructure.

    "There are so many conferences that they try to send one guy to one conference and another guy to another conference," Frankel said with a shrug. "This guy is the wireless guy, so that's what he talked about. The company is trying to broaden its reach, but it's tough. No one thinks of Microsoft as being in wireless."