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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times reporter Sharon Chan.

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February 23, 2009 5:15 AM

Microsoft news roundup: New work force training program; Severance benefits overpaid; More than half of Xbox 360 users pay for Live subscription

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Microsoft on Sunday launched Elevate America, a multi-part work force training effort starting in partnership with three states, including Washington. The program, billed as an expansion of existing job-training efforts, "provides immediate support in response to the current economic crisis," the company said in a statement. Starting immediately, job seekers can learn what skills they need for technology jobs and how to get them at a new Web site that starts with the basics, such as sending e-mail, and moves up to specific Microsoft programs. The three-year effort also includes vouchers for access to the company's eLearning courses and selected certification exams. See this story by my Seattle Times colleague Linda Shaw for more details.

In an administrative blunder making the kind of headlines Microsoft definitely wants to avoid, the company overpaid severance benefits to certain laid off workers. TechCrunch got its hands on a letter from the company to one laid-off employee asking for repayment and offering a sincere apology. Microsoft has confirmed the authenticity of the letter, acknowledged more than one individual was impacted and declined to comment further, calling it a "private matter."

Some 56 percent of worldwide Xbox 360 owners paid for a Gold subscription to Xbox Live last February, according to documents reviewed by Joe Tartakoff at the Seattle P-I. Buyers of the console are given a free Silver subscription; the Gold -- which is required to play multi-player games online and participate in the new Netflix on-demand service -- costs $4.15 to $7.99, depending on how many months are purchased at once. The figure is interesting because it appears to be the first time Microsoft's paid-subscription rate has been quantified. But, as Tartakoff notes, the figures are a bit stale. What would be more interesting is to see the change in paid subscriptions since Microsoft added the Netflix service last fall as part of its New Xbox Experience revamp. Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division, said in an interview last month that the Netflix deal drives Gold subscriptions. Earlier this month, the company announced that more than 1 million people were using Netflix to stream movies and television shows on-demand via their Xbox 360s.

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