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Saturday, July 10, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Editorial notebook
Buck up, Microsofties

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A FIRST sign that the treasuries of technology companies were descending to the ranks of conventional companies appeared a few years ago with fire sales featuring everything from computers to Foosball tables.

Microsoft offers the latest proof that hi-tech has reached terra firma. Exhibit A: They are getting as hawkish about their bottom line as Wal-Mart. Employees at Microsoft are inconsolable after learning that free sodas will be no more. In another cost-cutting move, the company had already replaced stock options with restricted stock grants in employee pay packages. What's next, employees wonder — stocking the company's celebrated cafeteria with canned vegetables rather than fresh? A frightening thought and not simply from a nutritional standpoint.

Yet, this is an opportunity for a reality check. The free pop and playground-like atmosphere that made outsiders look in with envy were always mere symbols. They were to attract and hold on to playful worker bees willing to pull all-nighters to create the next new thing. In real life, they made up for only so much.

Still, Microsoft workers are angry. They're due their emotions. They thought they'd latched onto the golden goose. Yet it was just a sweet moment in time now fading away much like the "greed is good '80s" and the "all about me '90s."

Microsoft is still an extraordinary company with a 20-percent profit margin and billions in the bank. It also resides in a world of collapsing companies like Enron and a not-too-distant recession.

Who knows if the company is sitting on its money in anticipation of future tough times, to reward shareholders or for new acquisitions? That isn't really the point. Company employees should remember that they lost things most employees never had.

— Lynne K. Varner

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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