Ballmer Talks Tools

Q&A: Microsoft's CEO predicts the company will wipe out its enterprise tools competition without breaking a sweat. And watch for more from Microsoft on the software-as-a-service and Web tools fronts, too.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft last week after his keynote speech during which Microsoft officially launched Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk 2006. The interview was two days before Microsoft released internal memos about the sea change the company was going through in its effort to attack the world of services. Ballmer, however, discussed that issue and a lot more.

When you guys began your enterprise play, a lot of your competitors said you werent an enterprise company and you couldnt compete. Youve proven that you could. But now youre entering the tools space with an enterprise toolset, which is not your heritage. How do you think youll be able to bring that famed Microsoft high-volume, low-cost, mass-market story to this arena?

Ill be shocked if we dont have super-high market share within a year. Ill just be shocked. If you take a look at the total number of customers that these high-end development suites have, its tiny.

We looked at Rational before IBM bought it. The number of actual seats and users they have is tiny. And so if you can take some of the good concepts and put them in an ease-of-use package and at a price point that you can get out, I think developers want this stuff you just have to make it easy enough to use and at the right price.

And I think with Visual Studio Team System we have that. And I would expect to see our share of high-end software life cycle seats to really climb quite dramatically for the next year.

So youll eclipse, and pardon the pun, but youll eclipse Rational?

Id be very surprised if we dont. Who knows? But I think weve got great products, and I think those things are so low-volume that in a sense it should be easy to bring those kinds of capabilities, I wont say to the masses, but to a much larger mass of people than those guys have reached.

Well, its always been an area sort of focused on heavyweight stuff for heavyweights.

Yeah, if you go back to the old Bachman and all the guys whove ever competed in this category, none of them has ever gotten to critical mass. But I think by the way weve done the integration with Visual Studio, I think we should get there.

You started out with sort of a joke about timing and product cycles, what do you think you have to do to get more agile in terms of delivering products?

Well, I think we have had an interesting Visual Studio release in between. So I wanted to take the issue head-on, but I think I maybe even over-accentuated in the remarks I made to the customers.

I think we have to decide that we want to turn the releases faster, and we can. What we did here is we said were not going to do our next release until we have a whole big bunch of stuff done, including the integration of the .Net runtime into SQL Server, which was a huge piece of work for both of those two teams, frankly. So you tie them both up.

And what we have decided is that were going to keep releases coming on a much more regular schedule. And if we have some big, thorny, hunky things that we need to do, were still going to do them, but were not going to necessarily tie the next release to them.

So well have a way to bring regular releases to market, while at the same time working on some things that have a longer cycle.

In some senses, I think we need three cycle times. With Community Technology Previews, were going to have some stuff that people see in the six- and nine-month cycle. We need our regular two-year cycle. And well probably always be doing some big, thorny stuff that is two releases out. And thats a change in mentality, but I think we can get there fast.

Weve always wanted to just do huge things, and we tie all the next release up with the huge things. We may have to do some of these huge things in a way that if theyre ready they go, but if theyre not we still have an exciting release.

Next Page: Models evolve.