Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer wants lots of enterprise customers. That is not news to anyone. The news is the willingness of the company to make alliances with former competitors to get those customers. Thanks go to a customer base firm in its commitment to a mixed computing environment, the Linux alternative and IBM for getting Sun and Microsoft to end their acrimony and seek harmony on the golf course.
A few days after Microsoft reached a settlement with Sun that included a $1.6 billion payment and a new range of technology-sharing plans, I, along with two other eWEEK editors, had the opportunity to sit down with Ballmer and a broad group of other Microsoft executives to talk about the enterprise marketplace.
"We like lots of customers," Ballmer said. Even early on a Monday morning, it does not take long for Ballmers trademarks of increased volume, reddened face and occasional table pounding to become evident. The agreement with Sun, he said, is customer-driven and is not some vaguely worded, halfhearted pact. Instead, it is a firm deal with serious dollars changing hands, even for a company like Microsoft with its vast cash resources.
What does Microsofts desire for many customers mean for the company, and how does the Sun agreement enhance that strategy? Ballmers well-known shouts of "Developers! Developers! Developers!" accompanied by an enthusiastic dance will have to be replaced by shouts of "Integration! Integration! Integration!" if he is going to get all the customers he needs to fulfill his revenue goals for the company. The agreement with Sun fixes some issues for both companies that needed resolution.
The alternative for customers seeking to move off the Sun Solaris platform has been to look toward Linux rather than Microsoft. The cost of converting to a Unix-like platform is a lot easier for Sun customers compared with a transition to the Windows operating system family. Sun has recognized this and is trying to move on two fronts: reduce the cost differential between Solaris and Linux and offer Linux options to prevent customers from heading to another vendor.
It took a bit longer for Microsoft to come up with a strategy. Rather than offer a front-to-back Windows environment as the only alternative, Microsoft recognizes that it has to show it can play well in a mixed computing environment if it is going to continue to make inroads into the enterprise.
Those lots of customers—represented by new client and server operating systems and, especially, mobile device operating systems—only become available as customers feel they dont have to toss out what they have and can incorporate new systems into their old infrastructures. That is much easier when two of the big vendors, Sun and Microsoft, have stopped slugging it out in court and trash-talking each other on the street.
It also makes it easier for Microsoft to focus on its two biggest competitors, which Ballmer said are "IBM and community-developed software." IBM is "less credible an IT player than 10 years ago," said Ballmer, who sees that company as trying to get more and more dollars out of fewer and fewer companies. In Ballmers scenario, Microsoft wants lots of customers paying a comparatively small amount for software, whereas IBM goes for more dollars from a smaller base.
The open-source issue is more difficult. Ballmer and other Microsoft execs are busy contending that free software is a technology myth; that the true cost of deploying Linux is equal to or greater than a Windows alternative; and that Microsofts closed, focused development program is a better enterprise alternative.
The issue for Microsoft now is to prove that the agreement with Sun will result in greater interoperability and that the companys development engine can be tuned to outpace the community process. Microsoft must also prove that business applications created as a result of the companys new integration mantra are sufficiently innovative to woo those customers that Ballmer hopes to gain.
Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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