Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer told shareholders Wednesday he expects the company's move to slow its hiring will continue beyond the middle of next year.
Headcount, he said, will experience "much, much slower growth for the remainder of this financial year and I suspect into next year." Microsoft's current fiscal year runs through June, with the coming fiscal year stretching until mid-2010.
His comments came at the company's annual shareholders meeting Wednesday in Bellevue, Wash., not far from the company's Redmond headquarters. Ballmer's address was also offered live via Webcast.
Microsoft has denied an all-out hiring freeze, but the company has significantly curtailed its hiring and it appears some departments have halted hiring.
As could be expected, Ballmer made the case that Microsoft should be able to weather the storm better than most. "Our strong financial position allows us to reinforce our competitive advantage by continuing to invest" in research and development, as well as to make careful, targeted investments, he said.
Still, he said that both Microsoft and the industry will suffer the effects of the bad economy.
"They certainly will," Ballmer said. "Our industry and our company will not be immune. We are looking at every aspect of our business" to cut costs, he said.
Ballmer was joined at the meeting by Chairman Bill Gates, who talked about where technology is headed as well as his own transition away from full-time work at the company.
Gates joked that he thought it would be so hard to leave Microsoft that he might find himself driving to Redmond out of habit.
"I do get there for some important meetings, but I haven't driven there accidentally yet," Gates said.