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Microsoft share price “surprisingly high” warns Gates

But its more to do with PR than inflated IPOs

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Bill Gates this weekend claimed that Microsoft's share price is "surprisingly high" and investing in the company was a gamble. But while many observers chose to see Gates' comments as a response to recent concern voiced by the likes of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan over the massively inflated value of Internet stocks, in fact they're further evidence of Microsoft's new, more humble PR line. Speaking at the World Economics Forum at Davos, Switzerland, Gates said anyone buying Microsoft shares at 60-70 times annual earnings, typically the multiple at which the company's stock trades, were taking a very long-term risk, today's Times reported. "Statistically our chances of still being one of the top 25 companies in America 25 years from now are not very high," Gates went on to say. "I certainly hope we will still be there, but that will take at least three or four miracles." That's remarkably similar to the line trotted out by Microsoft VP Nathan Myrvold, speaking a few weeks ago on BBC Radio 4's In Business programme. While his statement that the successor to Windows would emerge within the next five years raised no eyebrows, what he said after did: "In the next five years the successor to Windows will come about... something may already exist. Maybe it's Linux, maybe it's Netscape Navigator -- they've had a plan to turn that into an operating system -- maybe its the Java operating system. We, of course, at Microsoft hope we're behind [the successor to Windows]. But if we don't work very hard, someone else will be." So, first we get Myrvold suggesting that the world's biggest software company, whose OS runs on over 80 per cent of the world's personal computers, might just miss the ball over the next five years. Then we get his boss, saying the company's long term survival will take "miracles". Not quite the bullish language we've come to expect from Redmond, but one that very clearly de-emphasises Microsoft's role as industry dominator and suggests the company might just end up the underdog -- 'Hey, guys, we're really fallible, you know.' That's always been a possibility (albeit a slim one) in an industry as swiftly moving as the IT business, but it is telling that Microsoft's senior executives are choosing to point it out. Windows 2000 might be delayed a bit, but that's hardly likely to hit Microsoft too hard. Linux may nab a lot of server OS market share, but it's unlikely to make it too big in the personal computer space. Or perhaps Gates and co. are more concerned about Apple's revival continuing to the point where everyone's using a Mac? No, we're really talking a strategy that's about making people come to believe Microsoft isn't as bad as a lot of folk seem to think it is. Gates pushes it to the business community; Myrvold to the techies. And, as soon as the DoJ trial is out of the way, presumably Microsoft will return to its old self. ®

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