Microsoft Corp.s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles last week was perhaps the Redmond, Wash., companys most important event of the year, as officials try to sell developers on the value of creating new applications for the companys next generation of products. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked with eWEEK Senior Editor Peter Galli at the show about these upcoming products.
A lot of enterprises are unconvinced or unaware of the benefits Windows Vista will bring them. What do you tell them is compelling for them in Vista?
Ballmer: I always talk about the security, reliability and performance benefits, which are the underlying benefits to IT. Performance and management benefits are harder to sell as you are managing, changing something that as an overhead. I also talk to them about the new kinds of applications they can do with things like the Windows Presentation Foundation, Internet Explorer 7 and Atlas. I also talk to them about the user benefits: the user interface, the information, storage, search and query capabilities.
When you talk to enterprises about addressing security issues and making your products as secure as possible, do you talk about the fact that there is no ceiling on the security front?
The IT people understand that, but they want you to be able to attest that it is perfect, and I dont think you can actually ever attest that something is perfect. People understand that we have made a lot of progress and are world-class in understanding these types of issues.
You talked recently about extra value-added high-end versions for Windows Vista and Office 12. Customers are questioning how you can differentiate and add value to these products even more. Can you explain your thinking in that regard?
I got a little ahead of the troops in talking about the Enterprise Edition of Vista. There are features and capabilities that enterprises want that are really not that interesting outside of the enterprise. There are capabilities I know that our enterprise customers want that make a lot less sense anywhere else, and we will introduce those in the Enterprise Edition. But there are concerns about down-level applications and compatibility and the way you image and build and distribute this stuff, which are very unique to the enterprise.
Do you think enterprises will be willing to pay more for that specific technology?
Well, we havent said what the packaging and pricing is. I have just said that it is additional value, and we will figure out a way to let the enterprise get that value. You dont think about this in the context of some big pricing change to Windows for enterprises. Its more complex and nuanced than that.
Is your goal to increase the number of Windows and Office SKUs or rather to look at shifting around the value in those that already exist?
Mostly shifting, but I think there may be one or two new SKUs by the time we are done that we will have in the marketplace. I think that is fine, but it wont be a dramatic expansion as we already have a number of versions of Windows in the market, all of which are well targeted and focused, which makes life simpler.
Some Microsoft critics say that many of the features in Longhorn already exist in other operating systems. How do you respond to that?
I dont hear that from enterprise customers, as they dont look at the Mac. They just dont. Some people will say some of the features are kissing cousins to features theyve seen elsewhere and that is true. Im not apologetic about the fact that we should, in a way that doesnt offend anyone elses intellectual property, study and learn and benefit from the work others have done. At the same time I am super proud of the innovations we have that you dont see anywhere else. We have a lot of unique innovation, and Im proud of those things. We have a lot of unique innovation, but we are also not above learning from others either.
Are you at all concerned by the fact that some competitors have a quicker turnaround time and are able to get new features included quicker than Microsoft?
We have been pretty open and transparent for a while now. We had a longer product cycle than I would have liked this time, and let me say that is not going to be the case again.
If you take that issue off the table, which I do because I wont let it happen again, the truth is that other people maybe able to hear about something were doing and dash it out a little more quickly, but it wont be as integrated or as well tested. We wont let this cycle time repeat itself, but I dont think there are going to be other people beating us to market with the kind of characteristics our customers want.
Why has the development and release cycle taken so long this time?
There are two reasons for this. The way we originally saw Longhorn, it had far more in it than we have in Vista, so in a sense you could say we overshot and then had to fall back, so theres a churn factor. Its not linear to overshoot and fallback. This is an amazingly large release, but we were trying to completely boil the ocean, and I know why we did and I thought there was goodness to it, but that wound up not being the right approach for us to take. So thats one reason we lost a little bit of time. We did do a major release of Windows in between XP and Vista, called XP SP2, and it doesnt get brownie points from the new feature crowd, but it sure got a lot of brownie points from the security and reliability crowd and it absolutely took time that otherwise would have allowed us to accelerate Vista.
So are you personally going to more tightly monitor the Blackcomb release cycle more tightly?
I think we have all learned and we took a direction and we all learned from that and well do it differently next time and keep the cycle tighter. It doesnt mean that we are going to do less innovative work; its a question more of how you stage innovations into the market.
PDC is a developer show, so what is your call to them today?
I would say that today more than anything else, its about technologies that allow you not just to write your applications faster and better, but about technologies that enhance the actual applications that you show your users. It is about the user interface. You can actually impress your users more because of the incredible stuff in Vista and Office 12, from the presentation foundation or the way that you integrate in with our search metadata, we can substantively help you enhance the overall applications experience.
You could say that over the past few years we have been working on the foundation, on the infrastructure, primarily the .Net management security level and now weve up-leveled to what the user sees in your application.
IBM is aggressively targeting developers in emerging markets. Are you at all concerned by this?
Well, no and yes. No, IBM doesnt cause me any concern. Yet, of course, in emerging markets people are looking at open source alternatives and IBM does promote Linux, but they also promote a bunch of expensive software that they write that sits on top of Linux.
In aggregate it is far more expensive. Any IBM solution is more expensive than any Microsoft solution, even if it weaves in a little open source software. So, I have no particular fear of what IBM is up to, but I know we are going to have to work hard to stay in front with developers, out in front of open source in general for developers in emerging markets. So far so good.
We actually have greater uptake of .Net in China and India even than we do in the United States, where we have done phenomenally well. I know we are going to have to run and work hard, but it is really the general competitive phenomena with Linux and other open source technologies than it is about IBM itself.
What is your reaction to the decision in your legal battle with Google?
We are real pleased with the victory in court today. The judge certainly recognized that the conduct Dr. Lee and Google had engaged in was improper and we felt vindicated by that. The injunction prohibits Dr. Lee from working on search, speech, natural language as well as on research and development matters for Google in China. The injunction also restricts Dr. Lee in his recruitment efforts in China. But the injunction does allow him to be involved in picking office space, which is fine by us.
You are obviously pretty confident that you will win when the case goes to trial next year?
Yeah. It would be great for us if they just took todays order and made it permanent that would be fine. If Google wanted to do that we could settle it and be done.
Some people are describing this case as the clash of the titans. Do you agree?
People always look for metaphors and this is a court case about the protection of our confidential information and the enforcement of an agreement that Dr. Lee signed with Microsoft. Its not more than that, and its not less than that. Other peoples metaphors are their metaphors.
All sorts of allegations have surfaced in the documents. Is there anything you want to clarify or say on the record about them?
Yes. The whole declarations from [Mark] Lucovsky [a Microsoft senior engineer who left for Google in November 2004] was a gross, gross exaggeration. Did I want him to leave? No, I did not want him to leave. Do I throw chairs? Ive never thrown a chair. Ive just never thrown a chair. That was a gross exaggeration. Lets leave it at that.