Microsoft's push into cloud computing, which is accelerating under new Chief Executive Officer Satya Nadella, paid off in the fiscal third quarter.

Net income in the period that ended March 31 was $5.66 billion, or 68 cents a share, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft said Thursday in a statement. That topped the average analyst estimate of 63 cents, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Sales were $20.4 billion, matching projections.

Nadella, who took the helm two months ago, is leading a shift to focus on selling devices and software delivered over the Internet, both for Microsoft's own Windows operating system and rival programs. Rising sales of Web-based tools, such as Office software and Azure cloud services, are helping the largest software maker grapple with shrinking personal-computer demand and a failure to gain ground in tablets and phones.

"Cloud continues to be a pillar of strength," said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets & Co., who rates the shares the equivalent of a hold. "It's not a great PC market at all, but it has become less bad."

Microsoft shares rose as much as 2.9 percent to $41 in extended trading following the report. They advanced less than 1 percent to $39.86 at the close in New York. The stock climbed 9.6 percent last quarter, compared with a 1.3 percent increase in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

Sales from Office 365, the cloud-based subscription version of Microsoft's productivity programs, more than doubled, as did revenue from Azure, the company said.


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Microsoft beat profit estimates by saving money on the costs of running cloud services, as well as marketing, said Chief Financial Officer Amy Hood. Gross margin in the Commercial Other segment, largely cloud products, increased 80 percent.

"It's an ongoing effort," she said in an interview. "We meet monthly to go through this data and we set bars and raise them."

The consumer version of Office 365 gained 1 million subscribers during the quarter, Hood said.

Since replacing Steve Ballmer on Feb. 4, Nadella has rearranged his leadership team, making changes in areas like marketing, Xbox and hardware, and business development.

He has also overseen the release of a cloud version of Office for Apple's iPad, and he pledged Microsoft's attention to developing quality versions of its programs for rival operating systems -- a departure from the company's past approach.

Microsoft has cut the price to free on versions of Windows for phones and small tablets, seeking to juice demand for handheld devices that run the program in a market now dominated by Apple and Google Inc.'s Android software. Microsoft will bolster its smartphone offerings through the acquisition of Nokia's device and services business for $7.5 billion, a deal that the companies expect to close Friday.

"I look forward to being able to do the real work" on Nokia, Hood said Thursday. "Planning is just that."

Third-quarter sales from devices and consumer hardware, including Xbox and Surface devices, rose to $1.97 billion, compared with an average analyst prediction of $1.95 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg First Word.

Devices and consumer licensing revenue, including copies of Windows sold to PC makers, increased to $4.38 billion, compared with the $4.2 billion average analyst estimate. Other revenue from devices and consumer businesses, such as the Bing search engine and video games, came in at $1.95 billion, compared with a $1.81 billion projection.

In the Commercial Licensing unit, revenue from software like server programs and corporate versions of Windows and Office rose to $10.3 billion. Analysts on average had predicted $10.5 billion. Other commercial revenue, which includes cloud software like Azure and Office 365, was $1.9 billion, compared with an estimate of $1.82 billion.

Unearned revenue, which comes from sales of multiyear deals that will be recognized in the future, was $19.5 billion for the quarter, compared with the $18.6 billion average analyst projection, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

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