By eweek  |  Posted 2006-11-30

Ballmer: Biggest Launch Ever

Microsoft announced the availability of Windows Vista, Office 2007 and Exchange 2007 for businesses on Nov. 30, an event company CEO Steve Ballmer said was the "biggest launch weve ever done."

After delivering a media address at the Nasdaq Stock Exchange in New York to celebrate the product availability, Ballmer sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli to talk about why he feels this is a new day for Microsoft, developers and its customers.

He also talked about the way software will be delivered in the future and how services enablement within Windows would play out. This is part one of that interview. To read part two, click here.

I have been talking to a lot of developers and customers, some of them skeptical, and they are asking how the release of these three key products and the associated 30 technologies brings a new day. To them it is more of the same: more products, greater cost and complexity for them to integrate, deploy and manage. What do you tell those people?

I would say a couple of things, particularly to the developers. Number one, we are actually making building powerful applications simply far easier. We have more machinery for developers to take advantage of.

I think we have done a good job on integration, so not only is there more machinery there, it is relatively simple for a developer to stitch together and really put in place a solution that can get people awfully excited.

At the end of the day, the biggest advance that ever happens in software development is more reusable pieces for people, and I think we are doing a very good job on that, whether its the presentation foundation, being able to use Office as a development platform, what weve done with Excel and SQL for business intelligence, search, etc.

On the flipside, for folks who are involved in IT and will think about deploying these things, on that dimension, which is one of the least glamorous aspects of the new end-user facing product, but if you look at what weve done with System Center Configuration Management, operation management, what weve done with the Forefront security technologies, both at the server and the client, what weve done in Vista itself around security, image management, USB technologies, I actually think we have taken huge strides forward to make it simpler.

To read more about the buzz surrounding Vistas ship date, click here.

At the end of the day, the simplest thing to do from a deployment standpoint is to deploy nothing new; on the other hand, from a business perspective, people have needs for new business capabilities and functions.

We have given them a lot out of the box as well as great tools to developers to put that stuff in place, along with a powerful infrastructure for IT to take care of it all.

Do you think people want some of their technology to be delivered increasingly as add-ons rather than added and integrated into the core kernel. How do you decide what goes into the kernel and what is made an add-on?

People want things to work well, and I dont mean to be silly, but they want things to work well. Integrated can be integrated in a commercial sense or not.

Integrated can be modular or not, but if people do want things they want them to work together and to work together well.

I think what we have done with the product line here, particularly for the business customer, is really very good. Theres a basic SharePoint and theres a SharePoint that has a set of enterprise add-on capabilities. Same thing with Exchange and Windows and Office.

So I think that we have tried to find the correct line between everything in one product and things that plug together easily and give customers more flexibility and modularity.

In a way, it is an interesting question: Some days people say we have too much built in, and now you are asking me in a sense if we have too little built in.

They need to work together technically, whether stuff is built in or not and everything else is a combination of simplicity, choice, pricing and a variety of issues of that ilk.

Next Page: Deployment.


Gartner and other research firms are advising their largest business customers that they should expect to take 18 months to plan, test and pilot before undertaking mainstream Vista deployment. Do you think that timeframe is about right?

Well, it depends when you started the 18 month clock. A lot of people [early deployers, technology adoption partners] are 12 to 15 months into that process.

Now, Gartner has to say exactly what they meant, but we have many customers who are well down the road, such as customers like Verizon and others.

So you are going to have customers who do things essentially right now, some who do things in six months and there will be some customers who, for whatever set of reasons, probably dont do anything with some of their seats for several years yet, like a bank branch environment, that dont want to upgrade for a few years.

So we are going to have people that are kind of all over the map, but we will certainly have people who get right on it.

So, for an enterprise who started testing today, do you think 18 months is a fair test time?

I dont, but I work at Microsoft and I know what we have done. I know that this is the highest quality, most reliable stuff we have ever done so, of course, Im going to have a particular view.

You have said that Microsoft will never again take five years to deliver a version of Windows. But the question that begs to be asked is how you make the Windows development process more agile. Is it a matter of smaller, more frequent updates, of reducing bureaucracy in the development and management structures? Is it a combination of these? Something else?

The truth is that if you look at why Vista is where it is relative to XP, it is sort of three stories that all get linked together, particularly in press reports.

The first story is the story of the first couple of years after XP shipped, where we were trying, with 20-20 hindsight, to incubate too many new technologies and integrate them together at the same time.

We needed more bake time before we tried massive integration. So, in a sense, there were two years of cycle time there that were kind of lost.

Then there was the one year working on what we happened to call a service pack [Windows XP SP2] in which we changed more lines of code than in any release ever, responding to the security issues of the day. And then we did a two-and-a-half-year release.

So you can ask, were we not agile? I think we would plan that last five years differently, but we accomplished, particularly in the last three and a half years, we definitely made three and a half years progress in three and a half years.

Its that first period where we had the greatest learning. We are going to incubate, or incubate and innovate, instead of trying to do all this integrated innovation.

Next Page: Incubation.


Talk a little more about the incubation of new technologies, rather than just having integrated innovation, going forward.

Let me give you an example: WPF, Windows Presentation Foundation, we have it in the marketplace, but the Windows shell doesnt use it yet. And thats OK.

If we tried to hold Windows until the shell could rewrite, then were back on very long cycle times.

Its a good example of incubate or incubate and innovate than opposed to innovating and integrating all in one big bang.

Take what were doing with advancing storage. You know were taking the WinFS and some of those principles and well have a release of SQL Server that includes those technologies.

We can bring it to the file system and worry about the shell and changing all the applications in the second phase.

So, in some sense, you could say it is what we did with .Net itself, which first shipped as an application runtime with developer tools and now its migrating to be system services, and I think there is good learning in that for us.

But Windows PowerShell is an example of a new technology that you managed, relatively successfully, to incubate and integrate successfully. How do you decide which new technology goes on which track?

Its all judgment at the end of the day about what is manageable, technological risk and where you go beyond.

I mean, it is not like we are not going to do any integrated innovation, its just that we are thoughtful and we have to learn from experience where we are crossing the line beyond the state-of-the-art innovations coming together.

If someone came out and said that Boeing was going to build a new airplane under a new design process, with jet engines that have never been used on any aircraft, with a new material for the shell that has never been used before in flight, Ill bet that is a project that takes longer than saying we are going to reuse more components from the past and only innovate in a few of the key component areas. It is the equivalent of that analysis.

Next Page: Service provider.

Service Provider

You mentioned earlier that Microsoft is concentrating on services enablement in Windows going forward. A lot of people want to know if you see the future of Windows as more of an Internet service than as software that runs on a PC. How do you envision Windows going forward in an era of growing services?

I think of Windows as a…theres Windows and theres Windows Live and those are separate—and I say that in a very formal, regulatory sense that they are separate products—but we think about them together, and we think about Windows-enabling service and then Microsoft will be one of the biggest service providers through Windows Live.

People want the power of a rich client and really everybody agrees on this. People love to shoot at us because that is our business, but the truth of the matter is, lets take Google and Yahoo, a lot of what they do is rich client software.

AJAX is actually local code, it runs on the PC. Dont tell anybody, but its rich client code. If you take a look at Gtalk or the Yahoo IM or ours, its rich client code.

So I think there is much more shared belief that you can deliver great experiences with rich client code than not.

So that platform, the end-user platform, the developer platform, for rich-client code, be it on PCs or phones—which are getting smarter, not dumber, thats important innovation that needs to be supported by service and enable service and were working hard on all aspects of that issue.

We are in a position today where we will divide things, some in exactly the same way we would have a few years ago due to our regulatory regime, which we will also factor into what goes into Windows and Windows Live.

How does becoming far more of a services provider play out with your partners and those traditional service providers?

Every innovation is both an opportunity and a threat for anybody in our industry, be it a partner or competitor.

If we add anti-spyware into Windows, theres a partner who is not going to like it. But, hey, there could also be a Microsoft group who thought they were going to make money selling anti-spyware.

So you can say thats a challenge, but it also creates a set of new opportunities. I think software as a service has exactly that same dimension.

The truth is, the number of things that companies and individuals want to do with technology is still limited by the ability to customize it.

If we can save people some routine customization and implementation so that the effort can be applied to the things that bring real value, then thats good.

My first real experience of this was when we integrated the TCP-IP protocols into Windows, which, of course, now, we would say, How could you not have done that?

But we had a bunch of partners who complained because their whole business was writing TCP-IP stacks or integrating them into Windows.

Well, in the grand scheme of things, partners have done fine, and the move to software as a service should again be an enabler of new and different kinds of creativity.

But things do change. Its not like its a static world for us or our partners.

Editors Note: To read part two of this Q&A, click here.

Check out eWEEK.coms for Microsoft and Windows news, views and analysis.

Rocket Fuel