Microsoft to tweak employee benefits and more news of the week

A "surprise" employee-only Town Hall meeting on benefits, the departure of a 24-year veteran Microsoft Technical Fellow and other tidbits round out this week in Microsoft news.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

It's been a crazy week for us Microsoft watchers. Microsoft stock started the week tanking based on a couple of Wall Street reports questioning the company's strategy and growth prospects. Then there was an employee study (based on a sample of 1,000 of the company's 90,000 or so employees) that found only half of all Softies approved of the performance of big-boss Steve Ballmer. Speaking of Ballmer, his comments this week on Windows slates hitting the market before Christmas set off a new round of nothing-new reports. And we're ending the week with Microsoft stock rising a bit, after a number of analysts threw cold water on speculation that Microsoft might be in the market to buy Adobe.

But the week's not over yet. Here's some more Microsoft news that's worth noting....

Microsoft is holding a "surprise" employee Town Meeting on October 8 where the subject is "the evolution of U.S. benefits." There's been some speculation on the Mini-Microsoft blog that the news isn't going to be good and that cuts are coming which may or may not appease Wall Street analysts looking for deeper savings. No word yet on whether free Talking Rain sodas, health benefits, or what may be on the chopping block.... I've asked Microsoft for comment and received no word back. If I hear any specifics, I'll provide an update.

Update No. 1: Microsoft told employees that it will be phasing in changes to its health plan over the next two years, according to reports I'm getting.

In 2013, employees will start be required to share part their health costs. For the next two years, current programs will remain in place, but after that there will be cost sharing with out-of-pocket maximums coming, starting at between $1,000 and $2,500 for catastrophic illnesses, I am hearing. Microsoft is encouraging its employees to set up health savings accounts to offset the changes.

To this point, Microsoft has offered its employees generous health coverage benefits -- even after cuts it made in 2004.

Update No. 2: Here's Microsoft's official statement from a company spokesperson: "Microsoft has begun to evolve its employee health care benefit. There will be no changes for the next two years, but in 2013, employees will contribute to their health care. A guiding principle in this evolution is that Microsoft will continue to offer market-leading health and wellness benefits that rank among the best in the country."

Microsoft Technical Fellow Brad Lovering has flown the Redmond coop. Microsoft is confirming that 24-plus-year Microsoft veteran and Technical Fellow Lovering left the company as of October 1 for "personal reasons." Lovering is another of the execs who was instrumental in constructing Microsoft's Oslo modeling strategy, which is in the midst of being deconstructed. When I interviewed Lovering in 2008, he was looking forward to working on Version 2 of Oslo. One of the only remaining new pieces of Oslo is the M language, and Microsoft isn't talking about what's going on with that, at this point. OData is the primary  focus of many of those who were working on Oslo, it seems.

The Windows 7 Family Pack is back -- until supplies run out (again). As of October 3, Microsoft reinstuted the deal via which users can buy Windows 7 Home Premium for $149.99 and install it on up to three PCs. For those outside the U.S., the Family Pack will be available for purchase on or after Oct. 22 in select countries. One of Microsoft's ERP product families will be getting an update in the second quarter of 2011. Dynamics SL 2011, which is focused at mid-size companies, will be shipping in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico by then. The new version will include Role-based functionality, as well as with Microsoft Project Server 2010, Microsoft SharePoint 2010, Microsoft Office 2010, Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 and Microsoft Dynamics CRM through Web Services, according to the Softies.

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