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Is Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) One of the Best Companies in America? – Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NOK), Research In Motion Ltd (BBRY)

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The Motley Fool recently released its list of The 25 Best Companies in America, naming the best businesses the nation has to offer. Yet even among companies that didn’t make the final cut, some stocks distinguished themselves with their high quality and promise. Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) is one of those companies, and it definitely deserves at least an honorable mention for its achievements.

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

The case for Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)
Hacking has multiple meanings in the tech world. Most famously, it means to break into a secure system. But for Bill Gates and Paul Allen, hacking was just what they did. The pair, friends since childhood, were looking for a way to cash in on their programming skills when, in 1975, they pitched Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, or MITS, on a tool for helping its new Altair computer interpret commands written in the BASIC programming language.

The resulting deal introduced the world to Altair BASIC. Microsoft would later develop Windows and grow to dominate the market for personal computer operating systems so completely that, in 1998, the Justice Department sued to stop the company from what they asserted were abuses of monopoly power. The business hasn’t been the same since, which turns out to be good news for most of Microsoft’s stakeholders. Indeed, Mr. Softy garners an honorable mention for its commitment to investors, employees, and the world at large.

Employees
While Microsoft has lost its share of high-profile executives in recent years — former chief software architect Ray Ozzie, product marketing veteran Don Dodge, and one-time Windows chief Steven Sinofsky, to name three — workers tend to give the company high marks as a place to work. More than 77% would recommend Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) to a friend, according to Glassdoor.

But that’s also half the story. Workers are far less enthused by CEO Steve Ballmer. Only 48% approved of his performance as of this writing. “If there was a good performance measurement system then a forced stack ranking wouldn’t be necessary. Poor performers would be fired and good performers wouldn’t be forced out of their jobs,” wrote one employee identified as a “curriculum manager.” Another’s advice was simply to “fire” current CEO Steve Ballmer. Investors tend to agree.

And yet with so many executives gone, there appears little chance Microsoft will seek to replace Ballmer. Nevertheless, it’s troubling to see otherwise satisfied employees join a growing chorus of detractors.

Customers
Seeing once-hobbled competitors rise from the ashes can’t be helping improve Ballmer’s image. He famously derided Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)‘s iPhone, only to see it become one of the world’s most popular handheld devices. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG)‘s Chrome browser has unseated Internet Explorer as top dog in certain regions.

Smartphones are more important than browsers to Microsoft’s fortunes — for now at least — which is why the company has teamed with Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK) for creating a compelling iPhone alternative. Trouble is, Samsung already has that position locked up thanks to the success of its Galaxy S series. Meanwhile, Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) has introduced a reimagined Research In Motion Ltd (NASDAQ:BBRY) that could steal some Windows Phone sales.

Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) hasn’t done enough to win customers to Windows Phone, and the new Surface — which looked like a hit initially — is beginning to look like an also-ran. Which brings us back to Microsoft’s core business (i.e., Windows and productivity software) and the Xbox. The former tends to comprise the vast majority of operating profits while gaming ekes out a meager gain despite wide enthusiasm for the Halo series and the Xbox 360 console.

Shareholders
Some investors are understandably tired of seeing Microsoft’s stock barely budge over the past decade. They’ve watched Apple and Google soar as Mr.Softy’s share price took a turn for the worse in the years after the dot-com bubble burst.

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