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Originally published Thursday, November 2, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Business Digest

Microsoft announces business launch for Vista

Microsoft announced plans to launch its biggest products for business customers at a New York City event Nov. 30. The company said...

Microsoft announced plans to launch its biggest products for business customers at a New York City event Nov. 30.

The company said Wednesday it will launch Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange Server 2007 at the Nasdaq Stock Market. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is also scheduled to hold a news conference, along with major Microsoft customers.

Microsoft plans to make Vista and Office available to consumers in January.

Nov. 30, the last day of the month, barely meets its stated target of launching the product in November for business customers.

Microsoft

$8 million to settle Forgent lawsuits

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Forgent Networks said it will receive $8 million to settle lawsuits against Microsoft and two dozen other companies over claims its patent covered the main technology for digital-image compression on computers.

The company's ability to get more money from the patent is "substantially concluded," Forgent said in a regulatory filing Monday.

In June, U.S. District Judge Jeremy Fogel in San Jose, Calif., sided with computer companies in ruling Forgent's patent covers only video compression, not the still-data compression standard known as JPEG.

Forgent, based in Austin, Texas, had sued dozens of companies, claiming its patent covered basic JPEG technology. The company had collected more than $100 million in settlements before Fogel's ruling, making up almost all of its revenue for the past five years.

Nation / World

IRS

Deductible rate for travel raised

The Internal Revenue Service, reflecting rising fuel and vehicle costs, is raising the standard mileage rate used to calculate the deductible costs of driving for business purposes.

The agency said Wednesday that as of Jan. 1, the new rate will be 48.5 cents per mile for business miles driven.

That is the same as the 48.5-cent rate temporarily imposed during the final months of 2005, when gas prices spiked after Hurricane Katrina. The 2006 rate is 44.5 cents per mile.

The rate for figuring deductible medical trips or moving expenses in 2007 will be 20 cents per mile, up from 18 cents in 2006.

Automotive

Truck sales boost GM, Ford, Toyota

Lower gas prices boosted truck sales last month, helping two of the domestic Big Three and Toyota post sales gains Wednesday compared with a dismal October last year.

General Motors led all automakers with a 17.3 percent increase, fueled by a 33.2 percent rise in truck and sport-utility vehicle sales. GM car sales dropped 1.9 percent.

On a percentage basis, GM outperformed Toyota, which reported a 9.2 percent sales increase.

Ford also reported a big sales gain, but DaimlerChrysler posted weaker U.S. sales than in October 2005.

Toyota and Lexus sold 4.3 percent more cars last month, but their truck sales were up 16.3 percent. The company's performance, though, wasn't enough to unseat Ford as the No. 2 vehicle seller in the U.S.

Ford sold a total of 214,806 vehicles in October, compared with Toyota's 189,011. GM sold 297,401 vehicles.

BP

New leader named for Alaskan unit

BP will replace the head of its Alaskan unit after inadequate maintenance led to leaky pipelines, the shutdown of the largest U.S. oil field and an investor lawsuit.

Doug Suttles, president of BP's operations on the Russian island of Sakhalin, will become president of BP Exploration (Alaska) on Jan. 1, taking over from Steve Marshall, said spokesman Daren Beaudo.

BP Chief Executive Officer John Browne, seeking to restore the company's reputation, has already replaced the head of the company's U.S. operations and the manager of a Texas refinery where 15 people were killed in an explosion last year. Employees accused of participating in alleged attempts to manipulate U.S. propane and oil trading also have left.

Diebold

Call to cancel film on voting machines

Diebold demanded that cable network HBO cancel a documentary that questions the integrity of its voting machines, calling the program inaccurate and unfair.

The program, "Hacking Democracy," is scheduled to debut tonight, five days before the 2006 U.S. midterm elections. The film claims Diebold voting machines aren't tamper-proof and can be manipulated to change voting results.

"Hacking Democracy" is "replete with material examples of inaccurate reporting," Diebold Election System President David Byrd said in a letter to HBO President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Albrecht posted on Diebold's Web site. Short of pulling the film, the Oct. 30 letter asks for disclaimers to be aired and for HBO to post Diebold's response on its Web site.

"We stand by the film," HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson said in an interview. "We have no intention of withdrawing it from our schedule. It appears that the film Diebold is responding to is not the film HBO is airing." HBO is a unit of Time Warner Inc.

This is Diebold's second defense of its system since last month. On Sept. 26, Byrd wrote to Jann Wenner, editor and publisher of Rolling Stone, saying a story written by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., "Will the Next Election Be Hacked?" was "error-riddled" and that readers "deserve a better researched and reported article."

Time Warner

Adelphia deal gives lift to earnings

Time Warner reported sharply higher earnings Wednesday, thanks to a cable deal with Adelphia and an emerging turnaround at its AOL unit, but investors fretted over slower new-phone customer growth at the nation's second-largest cable company.

The leading media conglomerate, which owns the Time Inc. magazine publisher, Warner Bros., CNN and HBO, earned $2.3 billion, or 57 cents a share, in the third quarter, versus $853 million, or 18 cents a share, a year ago.

Revenues rose 7 percent to $10.9 billion, shy of the $11.1 billion estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

Excluding those items, per-share earnings came in at 19 cents versus 17 cents a year ago, a penny shy of Wall Street estimates.

AOL's gains in advertising weren't enough to offset a 13 percent decline in subscription revenues in the quarter, however, leaving the unit with a total revenue fall of 3 percent. Profits rose 21 percent as marketing and other costs declined.

The company's shares slid 24 cents, or 1.2 percent, to close at $19.77.

Compiled from Seattle Times staff, The Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

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