Microsoft beat Wall Street expectations for both revenue and earnings per share for its fiscal 2008 second quarter, attributing this to Vista, Office 2007, Exchange and SharePoint sales.

Microsoft reported revenue of $16.37bn, an increase of 30 per cent year over year and exceeding the $15.95bn Thomson Financial analysts had estimated. Last year for the same period Microsoft reported $12.54bn in revenue.

Microsoft's year-over-year percentage growth is higher than normal due to a deferral of $1.64bn in revenue and operating income, as well as $0.11 of diluted earnings per share from the second to the third quarter of fiscal 2007. Without the deferrals, second-quarter growth rates for revenue, operating income and earnings per share would be 15 per cent, 27 per cent and 32 per cent, respectively, for the quarter reported on Thursday.

Analysts had been expecting the company to report a strong quarter even among economic uncertainty and fears that the US economy is entering a recession.

Microsoft's client business, on sales of Windows Vista, was especially strong in the quarter, with $4.34bn in revenue compared to $2.59bn a year ago. According to Microsoft, its client business has grown 20 per cent on average since Windows Vista was made available nearly a year ago, and the company believes Vista began hitting its stride for adoption in the second quarter. According to Microsoft, it has sold more than 100 million licences for Vista.

Looking ahead to the next quarter, which ends March 31, Microsoft said it expects revenue in the range of $14.3bn to $14.6bn; operating income in the range of $5.6bn to $5.7bn; and earnings per share in the range of $0.43 to $0.45.

Full fiscal year

For the full fiscal year ending June 30, Microsoft expects revenue in the range of $59.9bn to $60.5bn; operating income in the range of $24.2bn to $24.4bn; and earnings per share in the range of $1.85 to $1.88.

Microsoft's chief financial officer Chris Liddell noted that 60 per cent of the company's revenue in the second quarter came from outside the US, and said emerging markets are becoming increasingly important to the company. In the past several years, Microsoft has made significant investments in selling its technology in developing countries such as India, Brazil and China.

Microsoft's online business, which analysts are watching closely, grew 38 per cent in the quarter to $863m in revenue, with $154m that being attributed to Microsoft's $6bn purchase of digital media services firm aQuantive last year. Online advertising revenue grew 38 per cent.

Though the online growth is encouraging for a business that has been flat for several years, financial analysts questioned whether Microsoft is growing that part of its business fast enough to compete with Google, which shows no sign of losing its solid lead in online advertising.

Online business

Liddell defended Microsoft's online business, saying that while it's "not the size or critical mass we'd like to see," the company's investments in that segment will begin to pay off in a few years.

"We make decisions on investments now that have multi-year implications. If you look at our revenue performance over the past couple of quarters, it didn't happen by accident," it was the result of investments from several years ago, he said.

Liddell also took time to welcome Stephen Elop to Microsoft. The former Adobe and Juniper executive will join the company next month to replace longtime executive Jeff Raikes as head of Microsoft's business division. Raikes is retiring from Microsoft in September.

Liddell said Raikes had "redefined the role of business productivity software" at Microsoft. It was Raikes who helped transform Office from a fledgling desktop productivity product to a full suite for collaboration and business intelligence, and who built up Microsoft's ERP (enterprise resource planning) and CRM (customer relationship management) businesses. In fact, Liddell noted that the Microsoft Business Division that Raikes led currently generates the most revenue at Microsoft.