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This week in the tech workplace

As Hewlett-Packard announces job cuts, Microsoft threatens to take Google to the mat over a new hire.

Hewlett-Packard this week announced plans to ax 14,500 jobs, and Microsoft and Google tussled over a worker.

As part of a strategy to reinvent itself, HP announced that it will lay off about 10 percent of its staff under a restructuring plan designed to bring the company's costs in line with those of competitors such as Dell and IBM.

HP said the broad changes will save the company about $1.9 billion each year starting in the summer of 2006. Though the job cuts will be felt throughout the company, the majority of staff reductions will come from sales and from support functions, such as IT, human resources and finance.

A striking fact about HP's latest staff-slashing news is that the company has already returned to its mid-2002 size, despite reported job cuts in the past few years totaling more than 22,000. What's behind the bulge? Some analysts suggest bureaucratic bloat and a growing presence offshore are factors.

Trying to retain employees has touched off a new chapter in the rivalry between Google and Microsoft, as the software giant sued the search giant and a former Microsoft executive who has been tapped by Google to run its China operations.

Kai-Fu Lee
Source: Microsoft
Kai-Fu Lee

The suit names Kai-Fu Lee, who until Monday was the corporate vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Services Division. Google said Tuesday that Lee was joining the company and would head up a new research effort in China.

In the suit, Microsoft seeks monetary damages as well as an injunction upholding the noncompete clause and other provisions of Lee's contract, including terms barring him from sharing Microsoft trade secrets.

The suit against Lee garnered a variety of reactions from CNET News.com readers. Betty Roper wrote that "corporate noncompetes are serious business, and this guy knew exactly what he was getting into when he signed his. I'm guessing his career at Google will be...brief."

Thomas Carley, on the other hand, wrote that Microsoft has done its share of aggressive hiring from rivals. "I think it's a hoot that Google has used Microsoft's own tactics on them," he wrote. "Turnabout is fair play." (Click here to join the discussion.)

Meanwhile, at Microsoft's annual gathering with university researchers, executives bemoaned the lack of computer scientists, both globally and in the United States. Part of the problem, say both academics and Microsoft executives, is that the technology field just hasn't done a good job of positioning itself as hip and exciting.

There needs to be more of a sense of romance and magic, said Kevin Schofield, general manager of Microsoft Research communications and strategy. "You don't have to go to Hogwarts to learn magic," Schofield said in an interview with CNET News.com, referring to the fictional school in the Harry Potter series.

Maybe getting a little more Harry Potter into Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., headquarters would be an employee recruitment incentive. The company recently qualified a 9-year-old Pakistani girl as a Microsoft Certified Professional.

Arfa Karim of Multan, a city in northeast Pakistan, has officially become the youngest Microsoft Certified Professional in that country, and one of the youngest in the world.

Arfa, now 10, met with Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates last week--an experience she later described as second only to visiting Disneyland.

To attain the credential, a person has to display technical proficiency in areas such as .Net, Visual Studio 6.0 and Windows Server 2003.

Regardless, some CNET News.com readers were unimpressed. Greg Klebart wrote: "OK, so a 9-year-old can answer some multiple choice questions correctly. Dumb luck."

Reader Roy Stewart, however, congratulated Arfa in News.com's TalkBack forum. "You have achieved a very significant accomplishment," he wrote. "Ignore any detractors to your prowess." (Click here to join the discussion.)