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The Upshot at the JPMorgan Tech Conference: On Paperclips and Profits

Clippy Must Die

You might expect big things from the world's largest software company, but the biggest highlight of Microsoft's (MSFT) presentation at the JPMorgan H&Q Tech Conference was about the size of a paper clip.

In fact, it was a paper clip.

Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of Office at Microsoft, drew applause from the crowd here when he demo-ed Office XP, the next version of the company's ubiquitous work-place software. Not for the functionality of the software though. It was because Sinofsky announced that the new application would come sans Clippy. Clippy, for those of you who need educating, is that annoying little animated helper that pops up at exactly the wrong time in your Office applications.

"We've retired the Office paper clip. I'm sorry if that upsets anyone," said Sinofsky in a perfect deadpan. It obviously hadn't, though. Boy, those rowdy investment crowds sure do know how to have a good time.

Investors have been pretty cheery on Microsoft's stock lately, too, which closed today up $2.42, or 3.6%, at $70.17. That's 75% above its 52-week low of $40.25.

Sinofsky demonstrated the integrated functionality that will come with Office XP, emphasizing a feature dubbed "Smart Tabs" which will let different programs work simultaneously off of one another.

For example, if you're writing a letter in Word to a friend and you type his name, a smart tab from your Outlook address book will pop up, giving you the option to insert the address. Other neat-o stuff lets programs such as Excel grab real-time data from MSN Money Central, the company's financial portal on the Web, to make graphs or charts.

Beyond the gee-whiz features Sinofsky demonstrated, he also laid the price out for the product. Office XP, available worldwide on May 31, will cost $479 for the full standard version, and $579 for the professional license. Scaled-down versions of each will also be available for $239 and $329, respectively.

Oh, and for those investors who are wondering why another Steve didn't present at this conference -- and there were some in the company's break-out session -- don't worry. Microsoft's CEO is rarely on the company's own financial conference call. --Joe Bousquin

The Wonderfulness of Being PeopleSoft

PeopleSoft (PSFT) has no ego problem.

CTO Rick Bergquist skipped the modesty routine at the JPMorgan H&Q conference Tuesday in describing how his company met its numbers in "trying times." Being a techie, of course, the difference to him was the technical superiority of PeopleSoft's products. PeopleSoft 8 is Web-based and requires "no code on the client," a phrase Bergquist repeated as frequently as his competitors use the phrase "softening macroeconomic environment."

Investors asked if worried rivals were slashing prices and making life difficult, but Bergquist shrugged off the anxiety. He joked that Oracle (ORCL) discounting was "gimmicky," and compared any price reductions the database giant is offering to a sales-force automation giveaway last summer. " Siebel's (SEBL) business turned out just fine," he said, adding that price is not the most sensitive issue in big enterprise software rollouts. "No CIO wants to be remembered as the person who saved $50,000 but got the wrong application."

He added that the average sales price climbed in the first quarter. In other positive news, he updated a January report that 1,000 PeopleSoft 8 deployments had sold since September, saying sales have continued at that speed through April. PeopleSoft has several new products in the queue, most importantly a CRM upgrade on track for launch in June. No sweat. -- Tish Williams

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