updated 1/25/2007 6:00:50 PM ET 2007-01-25T23:00:50

The long-delayed launch of the Windows Vista operating system cut into fiscal second-quarter profits at Microsoft Corp., which reported a 28 percent drop in earnings Thursday despite revenue growth that exceeded forecasts.

In the last three months of the year, earnings fell to $2.63 billion, or 26 cents per share, from $3.65 billion, or 34 cents per share, during the same period last year.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker to post a profit of 23 cents per share.

Revenue rose to $12.5 billion, a 6 percent gain from $11.8 billion in the year-ago quarter. Analysts were expecting just shy of $12.1 billion in sales.

“Overall, it was a strong quarter,” said Robert Breza, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Microsoft shares fell 64 cents, 2.1 percent, to close Thursday at $30.45 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, ending an uneven day in which the stock also hit a 52-week high of $31.48. In extended trading after the earnings release, the stock initially shot up 3 percent but later was trading at $30.50.

Although Windows Vista and Office 2007, the latest editions of Microsoft’s flagship products, do not hit the consumer market until Tuesday, they have been available for businesses since Nov. 30, two-thirds of the way through the company’s second quarter.

Even so, Microsoft’s “client” division, responsible for Windows, posted a 25 percent drop in sales to $2.59 billion. And the business division, which includes Office, saw a 5 percent drop to $3.51 billion.

The falls were expected because Microsoft had warned it would be heavily deferring Windows and Office revenue from the second quarter to the current period. That was done to account for coupons that recent computer buyers got to let them upgrade their existing software to Vista and Office.

The deferrals trimmed $1.64 billion from Microsoft’s second-quarter revenue, and $1.13 billion, or 11 cents per share, from profits. If not for the deferrals, Microsoft said revenue would have leaped 20 percent in the quarter.

“That’s impressive growth for any company, let alone one of our size,” Chief Financial Officer Chris Liddell said in a conference call.

Previously, Microsoft had said the deferred revenue would be around $1.5 billion. Analysts interpreted the higher result as a sign that more consumers snapped up new PCs than expected, meaning the upgrade coupons helped stimulate demand.

Previous evidence of PC demand had been unclear. Two leading analyst firms, Gartner and IDC, reported last week that PC sales rose 7 percent to 8 percent worldwide in the end-of-year quarter but declined in the United States.

“The deferred revenue number for Vista is pretty good. It gives us some sense of the early level of interest in Vista,” said Sid Parakh, an analyst at McAdams Wright Ragen.

A huge reason for Microsoft’s overall revenue gain was the performance of the entertainment and devices division, which includes the Xbox 360 video game console and “Gears of War,” December’s top-selling game, according to market researchers at NPD Group.

The entertainment division saw revenue hit $2.96 billion, a 76 percent jump. The unit lost $289 million, however, roughly even with last year.

Also in that division is Microsoft’s new Zune music player, which hit the market in mid-November to soft reviews. Liddell said the company remains confident it can sell 1 million Zunes by the end of June.

Microsoft’s server division, which sells software for corporate data centers, was the other standout performer. Its revenue leaped 17 percent to $2.85 billion, while its profits rose 35 percent.

“It’s a continuation of a very good trend in our business,” Liddell said in an interview.

Microsoft also updated its outlook — Liddell predicted “an excellent year overall” — but appeared to give analysts little reason to alter their expectations.

In the current quarter, Microsoft predicts earnings of 45 cents to 46 cents per share on $13.7 billion to $14 billion in revenue, helped by the deferrals from the second quarter. Analysts already were expecting 46 cents per share and $14 billion in revenue, according to Thomson Financial.

For the full fiscal year, which ends June 30, Microsoft foresees earnings of $1.45 to $1.47 per share, with revenue of $50.2 billion to $50.7 billion. That was slightly ahead of the estimates already held on Wall Street: $1.45 per share and revenue of $50.5 billion.

For the first half of its fiscal year, Microsoft earned $6.10 billion, 61 cents per share, on revenue of $23.4 billion. In the comparable period a year earlier, Microsoft’s profit was $6.79 billion, 63 cents per share, with revenue of $21.6 billion.

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