Microsoft said on Friday that it plans to hire as many as 7,000 people in its current fiscal year and increase spending on research and development. The software maker also said it is talking to potential buyers for Slate, its online magazine.Microsoft\u00a0said on Friday that it plans to hire as many as 7,000 people in its current fiscal year and increase spending on research and development. The software maker also said it is talking to potential buyers for Slate, its online magazine.The new hires will fill both newly created positions and jobs vacated by others, Microsoft said in a statement. About 3,000 people are expected to be hired in the Puget Sound area of Washington state, the location of the company's headquarters, and slightly less than 3,000 internationally, Microsoft said.In its 2004 fiscal year, which ended June 30, Microsoft hired 2,163 people for new positions and replaced 4,937 people who left the company for a total of 7,100 new hires. That's more than the approximately 5,000 new hires the company had planned at the beginning of the year.As of June 30, Microsoft's full time, regular headcount was 57,086 worldwide. At the same time last year, the headcount was 54,923. About two-thirds of the new positions during the year are based in the Puget Sound area, a Microsoft spokeswoman\u00a0said.Microsoft provided no information on the specific types of jobs it added over the last year, or which openings it expects to have this year. Some careers may be in research and development (R&D), because Microsoft is increasing its investment in that area by $200 million to $4.8 billion this year, the company said.The R&D investment amounts released on Friday exclude various charges, for example for employee stock-based compensation. Microsoft executives in the past year have talked up the company's $6.8 billion R&D investment for the 2004 fiscal year. The\u00a0earnings report Thursday\u00a0showed a $7.8 billion expense for R&D in 2004.Meanwhile, Microsoft is in talks with several media companies for a potential takeover of its online magazine Slate, a person familiar with the deal said. The negotiations are in early stages, the source said. Microsoft officials were not available for comment.Slate was founded with Microsoft's help in 1996 by Michael Kinsley, currently editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times. The online magazine is part of Microsoft's MSN business, which also includes the Hotmail e-mail service, the MSN portal and Internet search site.Microsoft reported an operating profit of $121 million for MSN in the 2004 fiscal year, the first full-year profit ever for the group. Microsoft attributed the turnaround to increased advertising revenue overall and a growth in paid search listing. The company does not provide earnings details for Slate, but the publication is said to be breaking even.