Business & Finance

Microsoft launched Windows XP, the latest version of its flagship operating system, marking its biggest product release in six years with a $250 million marketing campaign. The widely anticipated XP, already preinstalled on new personal computers, is available as a separate product for $199 for the full version and $99 for the upgrade. Microsoft has bundled the system with an unprecedented number of applications, including a Web browser, an e-mail program, multimedia applications, an instant messenger, and a digital photo editor.

Chiquita Brands said it is far along in negotiations with bondholders on a restructuring plan that could lead to a filing for bankruptcy protection. The Cincinnati-based banana marketer warned in January it would restructure $861 million of public debt after eight years of losses totaling more than $1.5 billion because of a dispute with the European Union over imports. The dispute has since been resolved.

To try to avoid layoffs, Formosa Plastics, a division of Taiwan's largest company and one of the world's largest makers of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), said it will freeze hiring and withhold an annual bonus equal to one month's pay to all employees next year. The cut will be the first since the company was founded 43 years ago.

Telecommunications companies were especially hard-hit in the latest round of layoffs. Japan's Nippon Telegraph & Telephone announced it would add another 12,000 jobs to the 16,000 eliminated over the past two years. KPN of the Netherlands said it was presenting a plan to its unions to trim 4,800 jobs as part of a $625 million cost-cutting program over the next two years. Belgacom in neighboring Belgium announced it will lay off as many as 4,000 employees and ask others to agree to work part-time.

Citing market conditions brought on by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US, HypoVereinsbank, Germany's second-largest, said it will close 170 branches over the next two years, eliminating another 2,200 jobs. Earlier this year, the bank announced 7,500 layoffs.

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