If Microsoft investors are frustrated with the company's lackluster stock performance, they held their tongues at the annual shareholders...

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If Microsoft investors are frustrated with the company’s lackluster stock performance, they held their tongues at the annual shareholders meeting Wednesday in Bellevue.

In contrast to the skeptical tone of last year’s gathering, none of the roughly 700 investors at Meydenbauer Center asked about the stock. They mostly inquired about new products and investments the company is making.

Critics may have been silenced by the upbeat presentations, including demonstrations of the new Xbox 360 and upcoming advertising-supported Web services that take aim at Google and other rivals.

“The outlook for our company has never been brighter, and we’ve never been more excited,” Chief Executive Steve Ballmer said.

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The services, unveiled last week by Chairman Bill Gates and discussed in an internal e-mail released Tuesday, include free small-business Web sites, customizable personal home pages and improved e-mail and messaging services.

Ballmer said they have “the potential over time to be a major new revenue stream.”

He indirectly acknowledged concerns about the company’s stock, explaining Microsoft has never used the stock market as “a barometer of our success.”

Instead, he pointed to a long list of new products being released, including a new database that debuted Monday, the Xbox coming later month and new versions of Office and Windows Vista next year.

“This year is shaping up as one of our strongest years ever,” he said.

Ballmer and Chairman Bill Gates said Microsoft’s “foundation businesses” of Windows, Office and servers remain strong.

Gates said personal computer sales are expected to grow 12 percent this year, which translates to about 200 million new machines.

Yesterday, the stock closed at $26.96, down 9 cents for the day and up 14 cents since the beginning of the year.

Several shareholders said afterward they still hope the stock rises again, but some simply enjoyed the chance to see Ballmer and Gates in person.

“I think it’s going to break out; I don’t know when,” said Dave Weber, who drove from Florence, Mont., for the gathering.

After the one-hour meeting, Weber stood near the stage watching Gates sign autographs for a small crowd.

“This is one of the big dogs,” Weber said. “Gates, Bill Gates and company, they’re like the rock stars of the business world.”

Nearby, shareholder Meredith Pool of Preston questioned why executives didn’t talk more about the company’s continuing antitrust troubles. They said more about it at previous shareholders meetings, she said.

“This time it was all roses,” she said.

Seattle investor Carol Pang was impressed with the presentation and said she may buy more of the stock.

“I see their future looking better,” she said. “You see some new products coming up that should hopefully increase the sales and [make] the stock price go up.”

Seeing Gates and the other folks from Microsoft was “entertainment” for Dave Malmquist of Federal Way, who attends various company meetings with his friends.

Malmquist said it’s hard for Microsoft to grow much faster because it’s so big.

“If they grow at 10 percent a year, that would still be a very, very good year,” he said.

William Bumgardner of Seattle, a former civilian worker at Fort Lewis, took early retirement after some sharp investing in options on Microsoft stock in the 1990s.

“I don’t know what’s going to bring it back,” he said. “Everybody’s sort of resigned to the fact it’s going to be flat. They have boffo earnings, but it will stay flat for a number of reasons.”

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com

Microsoft, AP plan video feed

Microsoft will develop a news video-distribution network for The Associated Press and share in advertising revenue generated by newspapers and broadcasters that use the footage.

The AP Online Video Network will be available to the news service’s more than 3,500 U.S. newspaper and broadcast members at no charge in the first quarter of next year, the companies said Wednesday.

The Associated Press, a non-profit cooperative based in New York, initially will provide about 50 video clips a day covering national, international, entertainment, technology and business news. AP said it will retain editorial control over the content.

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