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Microsoft Kinect (NASDAQ: MSFT) is Virtual Goldmine

Not long ago, the future of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) was slipping through its grasp.

Then it introduced Kinect.

Today, the tech giant is using Kinect to win big on a breakthrough that will literally touch millions of lives.

It is one of the reasons why Microsoft's stock has gained more than 20% this year.

What is Kinect?

You may recognize it as the best-selling add-on to the Xbox 360 video game. But it's much more than that.

It represents a revolution in how we will communicate with our computers, our TVs, and our smartphones.

For Microsoft, Kinect is literally a game changer. They lead the world in the technology behind it and it promises to be big.

But not just for Microsoft...not by a long shot.

The Promise Behind Microsoft Kinect

The magic behind Kinect is that it responds to body gestures.

And while Kinect did debut to rave reviews, Microsoft executives really didn't understand how Kinect could change the world -- and rack up new sales.

But since its introduction in 2010, hackers have found dozens of very cool uses for Kinect-- none of which did much for Microsoft's bottom line.

This got the software giant to thinking that maybe they were sitting on a potential gold mine.

That's why Microsoft is now tapping the genius of young entrepreneurs to better monetize the technology behind Kinect.

You know, the type of guys who live and breathe cutting-edge high tech.

In fact, Microsoft recently picked 11 startups to work at its Kinect development offices in suburban Seattle. It's a savvy move.

After all, these guys get out of bed every day looking to create the Next Big Thing.

Already, the program shows great promise. Here are some of the slick high-tech ideas these young turks are already tackling:

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The Antitrust Curse: What Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) Can Learn From Microsoft, IBM

On the surface, it would appear that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) has little to fear from the antitrust lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice last week.

The DOJ accused Apple of colluding with several major publishers to fix the prices of electronic books in its iBookstore.

The evidence was strong enough that three of the five book publishers settled before the DOJ filed the suit. Two, Macmillan and the Pearson PLC (NYSE ADR: PSO) Penguin Group, decided to fight the charges along with Apple.

The antitrust case itself poses little threat to Apple. With $100 billion in the bank, it can afford to fight government lawyers until doomsday.

Even losing the case wouldn't make much of a dent in Apple's pocketbook. The three publishers that settled paid a combined $51 million, hardly a concern to a company that earns an average of $120 million every day in profits.

Likewise, a remedy that forces Apple to lower prices for e-books in its iBookstore would have almost no impact on earnings. Nearly all of Apple's profits come from sales of high-margin hardware like the iPhone and iPad. Profits from all iTunes Store segments, which include the far more voluminous sales of apps and music, account for less than 4% of Apple's profits.

And yet this antitrust suit poses the biggest threat Apple has faced in years, as former tech kings Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT) and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) can attest.

"This echoes back to the peak in Microsoft," Sean Udall, author of Minyanville's TechStrat Report, said in a Yahoo! Finance interview. "Microsoft had a monopoly and was doing great and was the star tech stock of yesteryear. And you can almost draw the peak of their stock when they had major DOJ issues."

The problem with being in the DOJ's gunsight is that it distracts management, makes the company hesitant to innovate, and blemishes the company's public image.

While antitrust woes may not have been entirely responsible for Microsoft and IBM ceding their dominant positions in tech, they were clearly a major factor.

And worse for Apple, the e-book case could be just the beginning.

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Microsoft, Intel and Cisco Follow Path Predicted in 'Leaders to Laggards' Series

Money Morning subscribers who read our Leaders to Laggards series on the flagging fortunes of Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) weren't surprised by subsequent developments, since we told you exactly what to expect.

The Leaders to Laggards articles described how each company's failure to anticipate changes in their markets undermined their ability to grow revenue. Consequently, their stocks - which many investors rode to massive profits in the 1990s - have languished for the past decade.

Those tribulations have continued since the publication of our series. Microsoft and Cisco have struggled mightily, and as predicted, only Intel has managed to make headway.

Why Intel Is Still a 'Buy'

Intel surprised Wall Street with better-than-expected earnings last week - its standout divisions pointing the way to the future growth that for years had eluded the company.

Profits were up 2%, while revenue jumped 21% year-over-year. And gross margins edged up to 64% from 61% in the previous quarter.

Revenue from data centers, which provide the infrastructure for the cloud-computing trend that is now beginning to dominate mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones, was up 15.2% and accounted for nearly 20% of total sales.

Intel sees data centers as a major source of growth. The company expects sales to rise to $10 billion this year and to $20 billion within five years.

An even bigger surprise was the strength in the chipmaker's PC business, which accounted for 64% of Intel's revenue. Sales of the PC division rose 11% despite sluggish growth of about 2.5% in the overall PC market.

"We knew that there would be strength in the servers, but to see double-digit growth in their PC unit is great," Michael Shinnick, a money managerat Wasatch Advisors Inc.,told Bloomberg News.

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Verizon iPhone On the Way – But Not Before Christmas

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) will escalate the war for smartphone dominance in early 2011 by releasing a new version of its iPhone to run on the popular Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ) network, the biggest U.S. carrier by subscribers.

However, the phone won't make it out in time for the Christmas season, as many had hoped.

Apple will be ramping up to mass produce the new touchscreen handset by the end of 2010 and release it in the first quarter of 2011, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal. While the phone would be similar to the iPhone 4 sold by its current carrier, AT&T (NYSE: T), it would be based on an alternative wireless technology used by Verizon, the people said.

The Verizon iPhone will mark the end of AT&T's agreement with Apple that gave the telecommunications giant exclusive rights to market and sell the handset since 2007, when Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs introduced the original iPhone.

Verizon has been testing its networks and capacity to handle the heavy data load by iPhone users, seeking to avoid the kind of bad publicity that plagued AT&T after booming sales of data-hungry iPhones crippled its network.

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Buy, Sell or Hold: With $44 Billion in Cash and a Focus on Shareholder Value, It's Time to Buy Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

The last time I recommended Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Bill Clinton was in the White House. But it's time to take another look at the "cash-flow-engine" that Bill Gates built - and to explain why Microsoft is a "Buy" in today's stock market.

Microsoft is one of the safest investments in the world, but the software giant's stock price has done essentially nothing for the last 10 years. But the company is still a monopoly, has no debt, and continues to generate a torrent of cash.

In fact, Microsoft now has one of the largest cash hordes in the history of capitalism - more than $44 billion, and growing.

So what's different? What's the catalyst that promises to break this giant out of its somnambular state, to make its shares a "Buy?"

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Hot Stocks: Windows Phone 7 Will Give Microsoft a Boost

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) has unveiled a lineup of smartphones that use its revamped Windows Phone 7 mobile-operating system in its boldest move yet to return to prominence in the mobile business.

The new operating system, which it spent two years developing, is the software giant's latest assault on the crowded smartphone market, where it has struggled to gain a foothold.

Microsoft's earlier mobile software was based on the design and interface of Windows desktop operating system. Although those phones showed early promise, the system's growth slowed dramatically as the company was upstaged by competitors like Apple Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone and Google Inc.'s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android software.

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The Bright Future for Cloud Computing is Becoming Much Clearer

The cloud computing industry has yet to fully take off, but for an indication of its potential, look at the players getting involved.

Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL), Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG), and Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) - the biggest names in the tech sector - are all racing to take the lead in this burgeoning industry.

So what's all of the excitement about?

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Nokia Needs More Than New CEO Stephen Elop to Reverse Its Steep Market Decline

Nokia Corp. (NYSE ADR: NOK) on Friday announced it was replacing its chief executive with Microsoft Corp.'s (Nasdaq: MSFT) Stephen Elop, in an effort to reverse its steep decline in the U.S. smartphone market.

The world's largest mobile phone maker said Chief Executive Officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo will step down and Elop, head of Microsoft's business software unit, will take the reins Sept. 21. The move represents a drastic shift for Nokia, which until Canadian Elop had never hired a non-Finnish executive for the top spot. But the company needs a strategy and management overhaul to compete in the profitable future of smartphones.

The move should appease Nokia's frustrated investors who have watched its market value slip 70% in the past three years as Apple Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone, Research in Motion Ltd.'s (Nasdaq: RIMM) BlackBerry, and phones using Google Inc.'s (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android platform stole the smartphone spotlight.

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Buy, Sell or Hold: Despite Challenges, Innovation Will Provide Long-Term Boost to Software Leader Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

Thanks to some shrewd maneuvering with its first major software contract in the early 1980s, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) built itself into a tech giant and software powerhouse. But the global financial crisis and increasing competition are eroding that longstanding dominance.

There's no doubt the company has made successful strategic decisions for decades.

Founder and Chairman William H. Gates III established Microsoft in 1975 and made it the worldwide leader in software products and services, including operating systems for servers, personal computers and intelligent devices, server applications, business solutions applications, software development tools and video games. It offers product support and consulting services on its impressive array of products, including its widely used Windows operating systems and Microsoft Office software suite.

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Tech Stocks Priced for Bargain Deals, Edge Higher on Analyst Upgrades

Analyst upgrades lifted the technology sector on Monday, as cheap valuations and strong balance sheets in tech companies are making for good buys, as outlined in Money Morning's Midyear Forecast on tech stocks.

Analysts say tech stocks haven't been this cheap since 1992, excluding a brief period before the March 2009 bull market started, and now is the time to buy.

"Tech stocks have some of the strongest balance sheets in the S&P 500," Bruce Bittles, chief investment strategist of Robert W. Baird & Co., told Bloomberg. "The valuations are inexpensive - that's another plus. It's a good time to invest in tech."

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Hot Stocks: Can Apple Be a Gentle Giant?

Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) yesterday (Thursday) supplanted Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) as the largest technology company in the United States. Apple now trails only Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) in size, but that size will only make the company a bigger target if it fails to use its newfound market position prudently.

Just last month, Microsoft's market capitalization exceeded Apples by some $25 billion. But Apple has finally overtaken one its great archrivals. But being the new standard bearer for the technology sector brings with it more than bragging rights. It also will make Apple a bigger target for its competitors and government scrutiny.

As far as competition is concerned, there's no question that Apple has outdone Microsoft.

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HP Shakes Up Smartphone Market With $1.2 Billion Palm Buyout

Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) today (Thursday) bought Palm Inc. (Nasdaq: PALM) in a $1.2 billion deal that marks a giant step by the computer firm into the burgeoning smartphone market and brings to a close speculation about a struggling company that was running out of options.

The deal will catapult H-P, the world's largest tech company in terms of revenue, into direct competition with a handful of other tech giants - including Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Microsoft (NYSE: MSFT) - in the rapidly growing smartphone market.

H-P said it would pay $5.70 a share in cash for Palm, representing a 23% premium over its Wednesday closing price.

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Hot Stocks: The iPad Proves It's Not What Apple Sells, It's How Apple Sells It

Apple Inc.'s (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPad has lived up to the hype, garnering rave reviews and meeting sales expectations. That success is particularly impressive because previous attempts by other companies to launch similar products were met with abject failure.

Because they make up less than 1% of the personal-computer market, few observers realize that so-called tablets have been around for about twenty years now.

The first models offered detachable keyboards, pen-based applications, and were priced in the thousands. A few contributed to companies declaring bankruptcy shortly after their debuts. Most were as pricey as a laptop but without nearly as much memory or competitive features - "underpowered and overpriced" were the usual complaints.

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Pacifying the Panda: U.S. Companies Must Take a New Approach to China

There's no question about what kind of profit opportunities the Chinese market offers. Moreover, the willingness of U.S. companies to partner with China in the pursuit of profit is equally blatant.

So why is it that more U.S. businesses feel less welcome in China now than they did four years ago?

The fact is that in the past four years, China's economy has continued to grow by leaps and bounds, while a humiliating financial collapse and soaring debt have tarnished much of the shine that once adorned the U.S. market.

Indeed, for the first time in perhaps more than a century China has the upper hand. How long that will last is a difficult question to answer, but right now, China wants to use its leverage to support domestic companies - and it's doing so unapologetically.

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Hot Stocks: Apple's Acquisition of Quattro Puts It on a Collision Course with Google

With its acquisition of Quattro Wireless, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has opened the door to competition with Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO), Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), and especially Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) in the mobile advertising market.

And Apple's venerable App Store will play a key role in the company's expansion.

All Things Digital, a tech blog affiliated with The Wall Street Journal, reported the deal's value at $275 million, citing several anonymous sources. It is the 24th acquisition in Apple's 34-year history, and is characteristic of the previous 23: buying a small company that can easily be integrated into its existing projects.

In this case, Apple can use mobile web ads developed by Quattro to generate income from outside advertisers.

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