Ballmer Talks Cloud, Advertising, SAAS

Microsoft CEO outlines online advertising views, but warns against comparisons with Google.

ORLANDO—Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer laid off on rhetoric about Linux and open source, instead taking on Google and the opportunity that search, advertising and computing in the cloud represents for the software giant.

Speaking in a staged question-and-answer session with analysts at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo 2007 here Oct. 10, Ballmer addressed what appeared to be recurring questions among attendees: What is Microsofts strategy around SAAS (software as a service), and what is Microsofts answer to Google?

Ballmer made it clear during the session that seeing any similarities between Microsoft and Google would be a mistake. "We dont look alike at all," he said. There is a "world of search and advertising, where Google is the leader; were number three, working to be number two and then working to be number one."

Microsoft has been able to differentiate itself in certain verticals such as shopping and through its user interface, Ballmer said. He then said that in productivity and business computing, Googles offerings are "not as good as me-too. We havent seen a lot from the other guys."

Moreover, Ballmer said he sees the on-demand, cloud-computing world evolving differently in the short term than over the long term.

He focused on Microsofts four major business models: the PC, the Web, the enterprise market, and devices and entertainment.

"We need to bring them together, and as we bring them together, the cloud will get more important," Ballmer said. "But were not going to move to a world where everything is on thin client. We aspire to bring the rest of all of these models together."

Ballmer said Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., currently does more than $2 billion in ad revenues, and its growing. Of the major business models at Microsoft, the advertising platform has lower market share "than some of the others," he said.

Meanwhile, Ballmer said he believes the move to more Web-based applications is not due to what he referred to as operating system agnosticism. "I think the things people are moving to is not from OS agnosticism; they want an easy install," he said.

And SAAS is one of the facets of Microsofts Web strategy. Still, Ballmer said, users will never be able to do as good a job with a services- or browser-based version of Microsoft Office as with an OS-based version. "But we need to simplify deployment," he said.

Ballmer then put in a plug for Microsofts Silverlight technology, which is a cross-platform, cross-browser technology to enable people to "do rich and reach applications."

"The Web model will continue to get richer," he said. "At some point youll feel like youre downloading the whole OS. More and more, OS capabilities will flow down to you, and were doing some of that with Windows Live. So youll see more real-time extensibility via the cloud."

Meanwhile, Ballmer said Microsoft is perhaps, "the number one company in the world to have benefited from the consumerization of IT. … We believe in it, we have lived it, and we hope nobody else will do unto us as we have taken from others before."

Asked whether the departure of Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates will impact the ongoing evolution of the company, Ballmer said: "Our strategy, and what were up to is evolving independent of Bills transition. We were a desktop company; we broadened to the enterprise. Now were trying to do advertising and online, and were trying to do devices. Windows is still our central product—make no mistake about it—but were evolving."


Click here to read about how Microsoft is urging partners to embrace SAAS.

Yet, he said Microsoft will become a "little bit more cautious on promising dates and schedules" for delivering key software because the company has gotten in trouble for missing deadlines in the past. On consumer technology, Microsoft will not even talk about roadmaps going forward, he said.

Meanwhile, although Ballmer was quoted as saber rattling against Linux and open source technologies recently, he did not do so when given an opportunity here.

"There is a small minority of people in the world who are absolutely religious about business model issues," he said to a smattering of applause from various segments of the packed audience. "Were certainly going to see community development in the software world; we want people to do it on Windows over Linux."

In the way of projections, Ballmer said the next big businesses—as in $1 billion revenue makers—for Microsoft will be SharePoint and Microsofts management software offerings.

Asked if Microsoft will try to do more partnering with Oracle in the way that it has with SAP and others, Ballmer said: "Thats a good go-do. But that may be a little more difficult. There is not a lot of je ne sais quoi between us and Oracle."


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