Microsoft Xbox One To Launch In China On September 23

xboxMicrosoft Corp will launch its Xbox One gaming console in China on September 23, making it the first foreign company to start selling consoles in the world’s third-biggest gaming market after a ban on the devices was lifted this year.

The Head of Marketing and Strategy for Microsoft’s Xbox group, Yusuf Mehdi, announced the launch date at an event in Shanghai. The console will cost 3,699 yuan ($600) without the Kinect motion detection system and 4,299 yuan ($700) with Kinect.

In the United States, the Xbox One with Kinect costs $499 and without it is $399, a difference of more than $200 compared with the respective prices in China.

In September 2013, Microsoft reached a deal with Chinese internet TV set-top box maker BesTV New Media Co Ltd to form a joint venture to manufacture the consoles in Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone.

A Senior Vice-President at Shanghai Media Group, the parent of BesTV New Media, Zhang Dazhong, said at the event that the Xbox launch had been approved by the government.

Microsoft is forging ahead with the launch despite Tuesday’s government announcement that the U.S. software giant is the subject of an anti-monopoly investigation.

China is the world’s third-biggest gaming market, where revenues grew by more than a third from 2012 to nearly $14 billion last year, but piracy and the dominance of PC and mobile gaming may leave little room for legitimate console and game sales.

This year, the government lifted a 2000 ban on gaming consoles.

Microsoft Investors Push For Chairman Gates To Step Down

Three of the top 20 investors in Microsoft Corp are lobbying the board to press for Bill Gates to step down as chairman of the software company he co-founded 38 years ago, according to people familiar with matter.

While Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer has been under pressure for years to improve the company’s performance and share price, this appears to be the first time that major shareholders are taking aim at Gates, who remains one of the most respected and influential figures in technology.

A representative for Microsoft declined to comment on Tuesday.

There is no indication that Microsoft’s board would heed the wishes of the three investors, who collectively hold more than 5 percent of the company’s stock, according to the sources. They requested the identity of the investors be kept anonymous because the discussions were private.

Gates owns about 4.5 percent of the $277 billion company and is its largest individual shareholder.

The three investors are concerned that Gates’ role as chairman effectively blocks the adoption of new strategies and would limit the power of a new chief executive to make substantial changes. In particular, they point to Gates’ role on the special committee searching for Ballmer’s successor.

They are also worried that Gates – who spends most of his time on his philanthropic foundation – wields power out of proportion to his declining shareholding.

Gates, who owned 49 percent of Microsoft before it went public in 1986, sells about 80 million Microsoft shares a year under a pre-set plan, which if continued would leave him with no financial stake in the company by 2018.

He lowered his profile at Microsoft after he handed the CEO role to Ballmer in 2000, giving up his day-to-day work there in 2008 to focus on the $38 billion Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In August, Ballmer said he would retire within 12 months, amid pressure from activist fund manager ValueAct Capital Management.

Microsoft is now looking for a new CEO, though its board has said Ballmer’s strategy will go forward. He has focused on making devices, such as the Surface tablet and Xbox gaming console, and turning key software into services provided over the Internet. Some investors say that a new chief should not be bound by that strategy.

News that some investors were pushing for Gates’ ouster as chairman provoked mixed reactions from other shareholders.

“This is long overdue,” said Todd Lowenstein, a portfolio manager at HighMark Capital Management, which owns Microsoft shares. “Replacing the old guard with some fresh eyes can provide the oxygen needed to properly evaluate their corporate strategy.”

Kim Caughey Forrest, senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, suggested now was not the time for Microsoft to ditch Gates, and that he could even play a larger role.

“I’ve thought that the company has been missing a technology visionary,” she said. “Bill (Gates) would fit the bill.”

Microsoft is still one of the world’s most valuable technology companies, making a net profit of $22 billion last fiscal year. But its core Windows computing operating system, and to a lesser extent the Office software suite, are under pressure from the decline in personal computers as smartphones and tablets grow more popular.

Shares of Microsoft have been essentially static for a decade, and the company has lost ground to Apple Inc and Google Inc in the move toward mobile computing.

One of the sources said Gates was one of the technology industry’s greatest pioneers, but the investors felt he was more effective as chief executive than as chairman.

Microsoft renames Hotmail as Outlook

Microsoft Corp has unveiled a revamped, Facebook-friendly version of its free, online email service; Hotmail, renaming it Outlook in an attempt to reverse market share losses to Google Inc’s fast-growing Gmail.

The world’s largest software company is renaming its Hotmail service Outlook, giving it a sharp new look, social network links and new features for handling the tide of junk and mass mail that swamps many users.

The revamped service will help sort messages as they arrive and allow users to make internet calls on Skype.

It said the move would help tackle the problem of “cluttered” inboxes.

In addition it is taking steps to link the Outlook account with other services the user might have subscribed to.

“We are giving you the first email service that is connected to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google, and soon, Skype, to bring relevant context and communications to your email,” the firm’s Chris Jones said on its blog.

“In the Outlook.com inbox, your personal email comes alive with photos of your friends, recent status updates and tweets that your friend has shared with you, the ability to chat and video call – all powered by an always up-to-date contact list that is connected to your social networks.”

Hotmail was still the world’s largest online mail service as of June, according to the latest comScore figures available, with 324 million users, or about 36 percent of the global market.

But it is losing customers to Google’s Gmail, the fastest-growing rival, which now has about 31 percent of the market. Yahoo Mail is static with about 32 percent.

In a bid to recapture growth, Microsoft is renaming the service Outlook, a name familiar to most corporate workers who use Microsoft’s Office email application, and sprucing up the whole experience. Hotmail users will be prompted to switch over to the new service over the next few months.

Hotmail, launched in 1996, was one of the first online email services, but it has not been updated by Microsoft for eight years.

“A lot has changed in the last eight years, and we think it’s time for a fresh look at email,” Chris Jones, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of Windows Live said.

The new look is clean and uncluttered, featuring lots of white space, reminiscent of Google’s recent makeover of Gmail. Relatively unobtrusive advertisements appear in a column to the right of the screen when looking at folders. They do not appear when a message is open.

Users can link up with their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ accounts, to see the latest updates from friends and contacts. Online chat is available via Facebook.

Newsletters, offers, daily deals and social updates make up over 80 percent of a typical inbox, according to Microsoft’s own research. To help combat that overflow, the new service automatically detects mass messages and puts them in separate folders. Users can customize the process to sort mail any way they want to.

The new mail service also allows easy use of Microsoft’s Internet-based products, such as SkyDrive for storing documents, Office Web Apps for working away from a PC and will eventually have Skype video chat built in.

“This is about the battle of where people will make their communication home,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at tech research firm IDC. “The big online players are connecting their online assets together and hoping to provide convenience and functionality of a one-stop-shop of cloud services.”

The success of Microsoft’s new service will depend on whether it can develop it quickly enough “to keep up with a brutally fast Google and a potentially re-invigorated Yahoo,” said Hilwa.

Users can access the service at www.outlook.com. Microsoft said the service is currently a “preview,” meaning more features will likely be added before the final version is fully launched.

In what may be perceived as a dig at Google, Mr Jones added that the firm would not scan email content or attachments in order to sell the information to advertisers or others.

He also announced that web versions of the firms Office apps were built-in, potentially helping it counter competition from other web-based application suits such as Google Docs and Zoho Docs.

Outlook.com also links up with Microsoft’s Skydrive cloud storage, allowing users to send photos and other documents via the service to avoid the risk of going over their attachment size limit.

This could pose a threat to the rival Google Drive service as well as Dropbox, Sugarsync and others.