Microsoft ( MSFT) announced Thursday that it will hire up to 7,000 new employees in the coming fiscal year to help fill existing and anticipated vacant positions and newly created jobs.

Microsoft, which currently has a staff of about 57,000, does not break out how many of those new employees will be hired to account for attrition. The company hired roughly the same number of employees last year.

At the same time, Microsoft is focusing on cost-cutting. Earlier this month, CEO Steve Ballmer told employees that the company plans to save $1 billion this year by slashing costs and operating more efficiently.

The hiring announcement Thursday came as Microsoft kicked off its annual analyst day meeting, attended by about 300 financial analysts, investors and journalists at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters. The theme of the day is growth through innovation. Microsoft has been trying to combat investors' perception that it is becoming a more mature, slower growth company.

One major source of growth that investors are looking forward to is Longhorn, the next version of the company's Windows operating system. Microsoft offered few additional details about Longhorn Thursday, but did say the beta version of Longhorn will ship in the first half of 2005.

The analyst day also culminates a busy week and a half for the world's largest software maker. Last Thursday, Microsoft posted an impressive 14% growth in revenue in fiscal 2004 at a time when other software vendors are still suffering from shrinking sales.

Two days earlier, Microsoft announced a bold three-pronged cash distribution plan to share its enormous cash hoard, sitting at $60.6 billion at the end of June. The plan includes a one-time special dividend of $3 a share, a $30 billion share buyback program over four years and doubling the company's regular dividend on an annual basis to 32 cents a share.

Shares of Microsoft were recently down 5 cents, or 0.2%, to $28.53.

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