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$14bn tax hit, Surface Pro screens keep dying – but it's not all good news at Microsoft

Frustrated fondleslab fans forced to stick kit in freezers

Updated Microsoft Surface Pro 4 owners are up in arms over what they claim is an ongoing epidemic of screen failures blighting their expensive fondleslabs.

Disgruntled punters on the Redmond support forums and the dedicated independent website say their tablets are prone to a hardware glitch that causes the display to become blurry or annoyingly flicker, rendering the gear useless. The electronics cockup was first complained about around this time last year, however, the underlying issue doesn't appear to be fixed, and people are to this week upset that their tablets are still going bonkers.

They claim the touchscreens usually go nuts one to two hours after powering up, making the screen all but impossible to read and operate. This usually kicks off after about a year of use, we're told. Here's a video demonstrating the irritating gremlin:

Youtube Video

One Surface Pro 4 owner complained on the official support board that the flickering even crops up all by itself when no one is interacting with the keyboard or touchscreen.

Over on, netizens said they have had to replace their screens multiple times, only to have the flickering problem return. Some folks have even stuck the slabs in freezers with ice to cool down the hardware to, in some cases, temporarily alleviate the issue.

"Unfortunately no software fix is available for this problem," the webpage stated. "Some of users were offered replacements as fix by Microsoft but the problem still remains there as users reported on the official forum of MS that they had the same problem with 3, 4 consecutive replacements."

El Reg asked Microsoft for comment on the product screw-up, or for pointers on how to correct it, but at the time of publication we have yet to hear back.

Taxing times

Meanwhile, Redmond on Wednesday reported what would have been a solid second quarter of fiscal 2018, were it not for the gaping hole blown in its finances by changes to America's taxation system.

The biz incurred a one-time $13.8bn tax charge for repatriating its profits made overseas back to the US. It had kept the cash abroad to avoid having to pay substantial levies on the money when bringing it back. A US law passed in December, and championed by President Donald Trump, brought that tax rate down, giving Microsoft the green light to transfer home its profits. Apple announced it would do similar earlier this month. The tax law also cut corporation tax.

That repatriated moolah will make a small dent in Uncle Sam's $4tr annual budget, and give Redmond a little more cash to splash around in the States. Here's a summary of Microsoft's three months to December 31, 2017:

  • Revenues of $28.9bn were up 12 per cent over Q2 FY2017 and ahead of analyst estimates of $28.38bn.
  • Thanks to the tax hit, the IT titan recorded a net loss of $6.3bn. Absent the tax charge, Microsoft said its operating income was $8.7bn, or up 10 per cent from the year-ago figure.
  • Non-GAAP earnings per share were $0.96, topping the $0.86 estimates. Though in non-GAAP terms (read: reality) there was a $-0.82 per share loss.
  • Cloud revenues of $7.8bn were up 15 per cent year over year, led by Azure revenues that almost doubled over Q2 2017.
  • Productivity and Business Processes – the unit that includes Office, Dynamics, and LinkedIn – logged revenues of $9.0bn, a jump of 25 per cent on the year-ago quarter.
  • The More Personal Computing category that includes Windows and Xbox grew revenues by two per cent, with OEM revenues up four per cent and gaming up eight per cent.

"This quarter’s results speak to the differentiated value we are delivering to customers across our productivity solutions and as the hybrid cloud provider of choice," offered CEO Satya Nadella. "Our investments in IoT, data, and AI services across cloud and the edge position us to further accelerate growth."

On a conference call with analysts, Nadella added that mitigating the Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws will continue to be a top priority. The Windows giant just had to issue emergency patches to correct Intel's broken microcode fixes for its insecure processors.

Investors weren't happy. Shares in Microsoft were holding steady after the results, trading flat at $95.01. ®

Updated to add

A Microsoft spokesperson has been in touch to acknowledge the Surface Pro 4 display faults: "We are aware that some customers have experienced a screen flicker on Surface Pro 4 and are monitoring the situation closely. Customers impacted by this should contact Microsoft support."

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