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July 24, 2008 10:28 AM

Microsoft analyst meeting: The donut report

Posted by Brier Dudley

The most remarkable thing about Microsoft's analyst meeting is always the way Wall Street types cluster around top executives in the hallways and at meals, straining to hear some valuable piece of extra information like groupies seeking autographs from a rock star.

Bill Gates always drew the biggest clusters, or donuts as the 'Softies refer to them. But he's not attending this year.

The year's donut king is Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, who drew a four-deep cluster of starched shirts in the hallway after his presentation in Microsoft's on-campus briefing center.

It continued at lunch. Ray Ozzie had the start of a donut at his table, but Ballmer was the main attraction witha a crowd peppering him with "off the record" questions, including comparisons with competitors such as Google and Apple. The answers were mostly colorful reiteratations of Microsoft earnings highlights.

It's inside baseball, but the best seats in the room, on each side of Ballmer during the meal of salmon and asparagus, were held by analysts Adam Holt of Morgan Stanley and Sarah Friar of Goldman Sachs.

Friar's predecessor, Rick Sherlund, always landed the spot next to Gates or Ballmer before he left for a hedge fund. He doesn't give up, though. At this year's lunch, Sherlund pulled up a chair so he was just behind Friar, still in the donut hole, an arm's length from Ballmer.

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