Microsoft backs off new interface
SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft is trying to avert slumping PC sales and growing criticism of its flagship operating system with the release of a revised version of Windows 8. On Wednesday, Microsoft made a preview version of Windows 8.1 available for download. It includes alterations meant to address consumer dissatisfaction with the operating system. Analysts believe users' frustration with Windows 8 is partly to blame for the biggest drop in personal computer sales in nearly two decades. At a conference in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer acknowledged that the company pushed to get people to adopt a radical new tile-based user interface in Windows 8. Microsoft is now making it easier to reach and use the older interface.
Monsanto's earnings slide
ST. LOUIS — Monsanto's fiscal third quarter earnings slipped 3 percent, as hits to the agricultural product maker's cotton and soybean segments weighed on results. The St. Louis company also said Wednesday that it tried to plant a seed for future growth by eating some drought-related expenses in the recently completed quarter. Monsanto said the 2012 drought that parched stretches of the United States forced it to use South American greenhouses more often to produce corn seeds. That contributed to a 7 percent increase in the cost of goods sold in this year's quarter. Monsanto swallowed the higher expenses tied to seed production instead of passing them along through price hikes.
BP prepares for settlement battle
NEW ORLEANS — With an ad blitz and a tersely worded letter, BP is mounting an increasingly aggressive campaign to challenge what could be billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses following its 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In letters that started going out Tuesday, BP warns lawyers for many Gulf Coast businesses that it may seek to recover at least some of their clients' shares of the multibillion-dollar settlement if it successfully appeals a key ruling in the legal wrangling spawned by the nation's worst offshore oil spill. The London-based oil giant says it is sending hundreds of the letters to attorneys for businesses the company believes received excessive payments from the court-supervised settlement program.
Dish withdraws bid for Clearwire
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Satellite TV operator Dish Network Corp. is withdrawing its offer to buy wireless network operator Clearwire Corp. Dish had offered $4.40 per share for Clearwire. But Dish said on Wednesday that it is ending its bid, which had the option to be withdrawn based on Clearwire's recommendation. Last week Sprint raised its offer to buy the portion of Clearwire that it does not already own to $5 per share. Clearwire's board recommended that shareholders accept the new offer. It had previously endorsed Dish's offer. Shares of Clearwire fell 11 cents, or 2.2 percent, to $4.98 in after-hours trading following the announcement. Dish shares lost 9 cents at $40.11.
Delta is fined over excessive ‘bumps'
WASHINGTON — The government is fining Delta Air Lines Inc. $750,000 for bumping some passengers involuntarily, without offering compensation or seeking volunteers first. Airlines sometimes sell too many tickets for a flight, and have to “bump” some or move them to a later flight. If travelers don't volunteer, the airline has to compensate them. The Transportation Department says Delta has a widespread practice of noncompliance in how it handles bumped customers. Delta says the incidents were isolated, and that it has been training its employees in how to handle overbooked flights. Atlanta-based Delta can use $425,000 of the penalty to buy tablet computers to record whether customers volunteer to be bumped. Delta has already been planning to buy tablets for that job. Delta was fined $375,000 in 2009 for similar violations.
Europe seeks sustainable farming
BRUSSELS — The European Union has agreed on an outline for a drastic farm reform program that seeks to boost environment-friendly agriculture. The seven-year program is to kick off next year. It seeks to move away from the subsidy-heavy policies that lead to excessive red tape and are kinder to huge companies than to the small farmers. Irish Farm Minister Simon Coveney said Wednesday that the negotiators from the member states and the European Parliament “have delivered a policy that I believe secures the sustainable development of the sector up to 2020 and beyond.”
GM invests in Mexican factories
MEXICO CITY — General Motors says it will invest $691 million in its assembly plants in the Mexican cities of Silao, San Luis Potosi and Toluca. GM Mexico's president Ernesto Hernandez said Wednesday the investment will help build a new factory in Silao to manufacture 8-speed transmissions and expand the factories in San Luis Potosi and Toluca. Hernandez added that the automotive sector is one the pillars of Mexico's economy, representing more than 20 percent of manufacturing gross domestic product. GM has operated in Mexico for 78 years.
From wire reports