Microsoft Corp. Thursday posted a quarterly profit that topped Wall Street estimates as the software giant was boosted by stronger sales of its Windows 2000 software.

Microsoft, maker of the Windows operating system, said that for its third fiscal quarter ended March 31 it made net profits of $2.45 billion, or 44 cents a share, compared with $2.39 billion, or 43 cents a share, a year earlier.

That came in above Wall Street analysts' expectations, which ranged from 40 cents to 43 cents a share, according to Wall Street tracking firm Thomson Financial/First Call. The consensus estimate was 42 cents a share.

``Despite difficult market conditions they are continuing to do pretty well,'' said Pacific Crest analyst Brendan Barnicle. ''The initial reaction is very encouraging, I think the stock will do well,'' Barnicle said.

The Redmond, Wash.-based firm posted revenues of $6.46 billion, compared with $5.66 billion a year earlier. Analysts' estimates ranged from $5.9 billion to $6.35 billion, with a consensus number of $6.1 billion.

``Results were strong across all businesses and came in a little better than we expected,'' Microsoft Chief Financial Officer John Connors said in a statement.

Microsoft said revenues in its desktop platforms business, which includes Windows, rose 16.3 percent to $2.05 billion while desktop applications, which includes its Office suite of productivity software, rose 6.6 percent to $2.41 billion.

Sales of enterprise software, like the SQL database and Exchange e-mail server, rose 22 percent to $1.25 billion.

Its consumer software, services and devices unit, which runs the MSN Internet access and portal offering, rose 21.7 percent to $460 million.

Investment income fell 20 percent to $706 million as the company was hit by the steep stock market decline.

Microsoft's huge stash of cash and short-term investments rose to $30 billion from $26.9 billion at the end of its second fiscal quarter.

Shares in Microsoft rose $2.59, or nearly 4 percent, to $68.02 on Thursday, before the release of earnings.

The stock has fallen about 20 percent in the last year, more than the S&P 500, which has slid about 17 percent, but holding up better than the technology-laden Nasdaq index, which has plummeted more than 45 percent.