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Through a glass darkly: Microsoft's new financial reporting format

Juan Carlos Perez | Oct. 1, 2013
Analysts worry CIOs and enterprise IT leaders will struggle discerning the sales performance of specific products.

The analysts also don't like that the revenue streams of key products like Windows and Office have been bifurcated and mixed in with each other and other products. "There may be some math people will have to do to get the picture," Cherry said.

For instance, whereas before Microsoft had a Windows Division for the OS and a Business Division where Office sales were recorded, now in both cases the numbers will be more scattered.

Sales of Windows to hardware makers (OEMs) and to individual consumers will be reported in Devices & Consumer's Licensing subcategory, lumped in with sales of Office to consumers, Windows Phone and patent licensing revenue.

Meanwhile, Windows Server, Windows Embedded and Windows enterprise volume licensing will be reported in Commercial's Licensing subcategory. That tent is also occupied by non-Windows products like Office for businesses and enterprise servers and application development tools like SQL Server, Exchange, SharePoint, System Center and Visual Studio. Other dubious choices to put into this subcategory: Skype and the Dynamics enterprise apps.

As if this wasn't fragmented enough for those tracking Office, the Office 365 suites will be reported in two other subcategories.

The Office 365 cloud email and collaboration server suite — which includes online versions of SharePoint, Lync, Exchange and Office — will be reported in Commercial's "Other." It'll share the roof with a very diverse collection of products, including support and consulting services, Dynamics CRM Online, Windows Azure and a set of yet-undetermined commercial products and online services that don't fit in anywhere else.

And Office 365 Home Premium, the subscription-based edition of the desktop suite including apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, goes into Devices & Consumer's Other subcategory. Its housemates will be another motley bunch, including Xbox Live transactions, the Windows Store and Windows Phone Marketplace, online advertising from sites like Bing.com, Microsoft-developed Xbox games and Microsoft retail store sales. Microsoft will also include in this subcategory "certain other consumer products and services" not yet disclosed that don't fit in elsewhere.

Industry analyst Michael Osterman from Osterman Research said that while the segments align with the markets in which Microsoft operates, he foresees trouble tracking the performance, in particular, of Windows Phone, Exchange, SharePoint and Lync.

For his part, Cherry also worries specifically about clarity into Office 365, which is important in its various editions and bundles because it represents a new attempt by Microsoft to evolve from traditional software licensing into the cloud subscription model. He also predicts difficulty evaluating Bing's search advertising sales performance.

Additional complications in the reporting format may arrive when Microsoft closes its acquisition of the Nokia smartphone business.

For their part, Microsoft officials have been enthusiastic about the changes. Last week, Chief Accounting Officer Frank Brod said the new reporting format will let Microsoft provide better insight into its business model transition and economics and show progress in its devices and services strategy, as well as deliver increased accountability on gross margins.

 

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