Microsoft Corp has been muttering under its breath about how European business could be better, but the company ended 1996 with its shares near where they began – at slightly more than $80 a time. But that is after the share split, so that in fact, the shares are up a remarkable 91% on the year – remarkable in that $10,000m a year companies are not expected to put on that kind of performance. And while it is not likely to be repeated this year, the company has plenty up its sleeve, starting with the launch of the latest version of Office, to be followed by its first major Internet software pitch. As for that failure Windows NT, it has turned into a real ugly duckling and now forms the core of a business that could account for 25% of the company’s sales for the year to June 30. On average, analysts expect Microsoft’s earnings to rise about 20% to $2.06 a share in the current fiscal year and then another 20% in fiscal 1998 to $2.48 a share, according to the First Call service.