U.S. stocks are mixed today after the Federal Open Market Committee released the minutes from its July meeting. Nearly all of the Fed's officials agreed that the $85 billion asset purchase plan that's kept long-term interest rates low should start to be pared back, or "tapered," by the end of the year -- meaning it could happen after the September, October, or December meeting. This has been widely expected by markets and has caused a slow decline in stocks over the past month, which isn't all that bad when you consider that the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) has returned 16.9% this year and the S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) has gained 15.9%. Stocks briefly plunged when the minutes were released, and they have since recovered slightly. As of 3:45 p.m. EDT the Dow is down 0.57%, while the S&P 500 is down 0.41%.  

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Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) is leading the Dow's losers just hours before reporting earnings. There are reports out that Dave Donatelli and Marty Homlish, two top executives, have been reassigned, indicating a management shakeup. That's not necessarily bad news, but a reorganization during a turnaround can make investors uncomfortable. The rubber really hits the road after the market closes, as we'll see whether HP clears the hurdles that Wall Street has set for it: $27.3 billion in revenue and earnings of $0.86 per share.

Moving in the other direction is Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), which is up 0.2% late in trading. The company found a use for 800,000 unused Surface RTs by offering them as a reward for schools who switch to its search engine Bing for Schools, which is stripped of ads and includes privacy protections. A school with about 60 Bing users could earn a Surface RT per month -- not a bad deal just for switching search engines. 

The Surface RT was a failure as a consumer product, but it has many of the capabilities that children need, and getting them used to using the Surface and Bing could be a big plus for the company. At least we know the company won't be sending the Surface RT to a landfill and has a goal of using it as a long-term marketing tool.

Fool contributor Travis Hoium manages an account that owns shares of Microsoft. The Motley Fool owns shares of Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.