Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) rules the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES: ^DJI ) today. The stock jumped as much as 2% higher this morning before settling down to a 1% gain by midafternoon. The Dow is trading up in general, but no index peer rose above Microsoft's mark.
In this random walk down Wall Street, stocks often jump or fall 2% for no particular reason. But this time, Microsoft has a veritable flurry of reasons to rise. In some ways, Redmond is hitching a ride with Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX ) and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) .
These are the three main reasons why Microsoft shares are rising quickly today.
Wait, what? Apple is helping Microsoft?
Yes, I pointed to Apple as a Microsoft booster. The longtime frenemies really are working together here.
Speaking at the TechEd conference yesterday, Microsoft's general manager of Office operations, Julia White, shared a juicy tidbit: The Office suite for Apple's iPad tablets has only been on the market for six weeks, but it has already notched 27 million downloads.
The app itself is free to download, but is then linked to Microsoft's paid Office 365 service.
That's some impressive adoption of iPad-based Office units, indicating that the product could become a serious revenue driver for the long term. And it's also a clear sign that CEO Satya Nadella's decision to break away from Microsoft-based hardware is a good one. Redmond can keep its software core healthy without betting the farm on Surface tablets and other Windows-equipped systems.
Refreshing the mobile platform
In other news, PCWorld found evidence that Microsoft is getting ready to update its mobile platform.
Documents on Microsoft's technical support site show a three-year life cycle for Windows Phone 8.1 -- starting on June 24, 2014. This upgrade has yet to hit any retail handsets, though it was announced more than a month ago without a firm release date.
Early adopters can already install a developer version of the platform, including the new Cortana voice assistant and an updated on-screen keyboard app. But that's just a rough pre-release update, not really meant for widespread adoption. The final release will have all the spit-shine of a retail product, and the clunky developer-grade installation gives way to customer-friendly, automated upgrades.
This one's not exactly a surprise, but it's always good to see firm release dates, That's especially true when the final date is just six weeks away. And the original announcement isn't all that old, either. The Windows Phone 8.1 release shows that Microsoft still can deliver major products on a reasonable schedule.
Unlocking the Xbox One
Finally, Microsoft is preparing to unleash the true potential of its Xbox One video game console.
Starting on June 9, Microsoft will sell a new Xbox One model for just $399. That's a $50 discount from the $449 the system will cost you right now, and the Xbox will finally price-match the Sony (NYSE: SNE ) PlayStation 4, dollar for dollar.
The lower price comes from excluding the Kinect sensor package. You could argue that losing Kinect removes a selling point from the Xbox One, but very few games actually depend on the motion-based controls. Short of Just Dance 2014 and Kinect Sports Rivals, which absolutely depend on motion-based controls, there's really no reason to get excited about Kinect.
This Kinect-less option should kick-start Xbox One's sales, unless Sony responds with a price cut of its own.
Moreover, the long-term cost of owning an Xbox One will drop significantly.
The console is a pretty great entertainment center, but only if you pay up for an Xbox Live Gold subscription. That service unlocks online services such as Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu. It also gives you access to the OneDrive cloud storage platform and enables the built-in Internet Explorer browser. But again, you have to pay for the privilege.
Well, not anymore. Coming in June (again!), the Live Gold requirement will fall away from all the online entertainment products I mentioned, and many more besides. Gold will presumably still be needed for head-to-head online gaming and whatnot, but you'll be able to enjoy Netflix and YouTube without paying for it twice.
That's not just good news for Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube, but another obvious value booster for the Xbox One. And a much-needed one, at that.
The console could use a serious kick in the pants to help it catch up to the PS4's dominant sales -- and Microsoft is raising its boot to deliver it all in June.
Your cable company is scared, but you can get rich
You know cable's going away, but do you know how to profit? There's $2.2 trillion out there to be had. Currently, cable grabs a big piece of it. That won't last, and when cable falters, three companies are poised to benefit. Click here for their names. Sorry, the Xbox One doesn't quite qualify Microsoft for this list -- yet.