...adds 10,000 in past year's hiring binge

Updated: Jul 31 2006, 05:30am hrs
Microsoft bulked up for battle with Google and other rivals by adding more than 10,000 employees worldwide in the past year the largest annual increase in the company's history.

New employment figures, quietly disclosed on an informational section of the company's Web site, represent twice the amount of growth that Microsoft had publicly projected at the start of the fiscal year. The single-year increase is more than Google's entire work force.

In the Seattle area, Microsoft boosted its employee ranks by 3,938 - a net addition reminiscent of the regional growth the company experienced at the height of the tech boom in the late 1990s.

"That's a very healthy increase," said Chang Mook Sohn, Washington state's chief economist. "I am so pleased to see that. We were expecting about half of that, so the pace has quickened."

With the net addition of 10,081 employees, Microsoft says its work force totaled 71,553 people worldwide as of the June 30 end of its 2006 fiscal year, up 16% from the same point the previous year. In the Seattle region, employment is 33,333, an increase of 13%.

At the beginning of the fiscal year, the company had said it expected to add about 4,000 to 5,000 people worldwide.

The big growth comes as the company prepares to launch new versions of its flagship products, Windows and Office, early next year. At the same time, Microsoft is investing heavily in new online services under the Windows Live and MSN brands, to compete with Google, Yahoo and other companies. It's also pushing into new areas such as Internet-based telephones, and competing aggressively in the video-game console business.

While the annual employment increase is a record in raw numbers, Microsoft's previously smaller employment base meant larger percentage job growth in some years but not many.