What to watch for in Microsoft's quarterly earnings

Microsoft reports its fiscal second-quarter earnings later this week--the first fiscal quarter for a handful of products, including Kinect and Windows Phone 7.

Josh Lowensohn
Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
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Microsoft reports its fiscal second-quarter earnings tomorrow afternoon, and much has changed for the company since its last, both good and bad.

There are some big new products in the pipeline like Kinect and Windows Phone 7, as well as enterprise-oriented tools like Lync. But there are also some new questions about the future of PC growth and Microsoft's health as a company with more key employee departures that are likely to have Wall Street asking some tough questions during the Q&A.

As far as expectations go, analysts surveyed by FactSet peg Microsoft's second quarter at 69 cents per share on $19.2 billion in revenue. That's compared with 74 cents per share on $19 billion during the same quarter last year. As blog TechFlash notes, that $19 billion from last year included $1.7 billion in sales that had been deferred from the previous quarter because of Microsoft's Windows 7 coupon program, potentially pushing Microsoft's growth into the double digits if the analyst estimates hold true.

While we wait for the actual numbers, here's a breakdown of some things to look out for ahead of Thursday's call:

Impact of new products
Joining the lineup of consumer products that pushed Microsoft to a $5.41 billion net income in the previous quarter (mainly Windows 7, Office 2010, and the Xbox 360) is the Kinect. Microsoft launched its Kinect motion camera accessory in November, and at CES, the company announced it had moved 8 million units in just 60 days, making it a hit. That's joined by a similarly rosy six months at the top of console sales for Microsoft's Xbox 360, which now commands an installed base of 50 million.

Another new product for this quarter is Microsoft's Windows Phone 7, which was launched in Europe in late-October of last year and in the U.S. and Canada during the second week in November, giving it only a few weeks to make it into this quarter's records. Microsoft has kept fairly mum on Windows Phone 7 sales since launch, short of saying that it had sold more than 1.5 million of the devices to mobile operators (though not necessarily end users) within its first six weeks on the market.

We're likely to have a clearer picture of how the phone business is shaping up (or isn't) during Microsoft's third-quarter earnings, slated for late-April, though for tomorrow, expect the company to field a handful of analyst questions about the company's plans to turn around Microsoft's position among its smartphone rivals. Some more obvious answers to that question would be Microsoft's plan to bring Windows phones to CDMA carriers, as well as update the software with additional features and functionality, as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laid out during his CES keynote.

PC market share and tablets
Microsoft is likely to have to answer questions about slowed growth in the PC industry, due in part to what analysts and research firms attribute to people flocking to Apple's iPad, and doing computing tasks on devices that aren't PCs. To Microsoft's credit, Windows 7 has proved to be a much better seller than its predecessor, but the fact remains that a growing chunk of users are buying non-Windows machines, and the company's plan to bring a version of Windows that fits into machines running ARM processors has no release date.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at 2010's CES.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at 2010's CES. James Martin/CNET

Expect similar wash of tablet-oriented questions to crop up based on a the dearth of tablet devices running Windows 7. During the previous quarter's conference call, Microsoft's CFO Peter Klein said the company had seen a shift from low-end PCs to higher-end models, but that there had not been a significant impact from tablets. Based on a leaked marketing presentation from earlier this week that had Microsoft comparing Windows slates to the iPad for enterprise users, analysts are likely to ask the company whether that's still the case.

Of special note will be Microsoft's Server and Tools business, which posted a $1.63 billion operating profit on revenue of $3.96 billion in the previous quarter. Despite the successes, the division's president, and 23-year Microsoft veteran Bob Muglia is set to leave the company this summer. Ballmer announced Muglia's departure earlier this month, though little has been said about a replacement.

Microsoft has had to do some considerable rejiggering of its execs over the past year. Last year's departures of Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, as well as Business Division President Stephen Elop, Entertainment and Devices unit president Robbie Bach and Chief Experience Office J Allard, left some large gaps Microsoft was forced to fill.

More recent departures that will likely be on the minds of investors and analysts alike are: Brad Brooks, who left his spot as a corporate VP for Windows consumer marketing to work for Juniper Networks; Matt Miszewski, the general manager of Microsoft''s government business who left to work for Salesforce.com; and Johnny Chung Lee, the famed Wii hacker who joined up with Microsoft's Applied Sciences group to help develop the Kinect and last week announced that he left to go work for Microsoft rival Google.

Other items to watch:
The Yahoo partnership. Expect Microsoft to talk up its partnership with Yahoo to power its Web search using Bing. The organic part of that transition took place last August.

Patents. Microsoft holds more than 25,000 patents and pending patent applications in the U.S., and is in the middle of trying to acquire 882 more as part of Attachmate's buy of Novell from last November. Microsoft, along with Oracle, EMC and Apple make up CPTN Holdings LLC, a consortium organized by Microsoft.

Piracy. Certainly not a new topic for Microsoft. But last week, Ballmer attended meetings at the White House for the visit of Chinese President Hu Jintao and stressed there being rampant IP piracy problems in China. The company estimates were that only one customer in every 10 had paid for a Microsoft product they were using, a problem that's long cut into the company's bottom line.

Microsoft will host its quarterly conference call with investors at 2:30 p.m. PT.