ORLANDO, Fla.—”The Longhorn wave” is on its way, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer assured a crowd of IT executives Wednesday.
Ballmer, who was interviewed by Gartner Inc. Senior Vice President Tom Bittmann and Group Vice President Daryl Plummer on a number of subjects at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo here, said the mass of technologies at Microsoft is so large that the company had no choice but to delay its next version of Windows, code-named Longhorn.
That said, he told the capacity crowd that various parts of Longhorn, “the Longhorn wave,” were on their way. For example, “WinFS is making good process, but not good enough for 06 delivery,” he said.
These developments, however, will mostly be of interest to ISVs. “Theres a lot in [the Longhorn wave] for software developers,” he said.
Still, Ballmer expects to see “64-bit Windows making a great deal of progress in the next 12 months in servers and high-end workstations. By the time Longhorn arrives in 06, 64-bit computing will be big.”
However, he said, “It will be driven as much by what [Advanced Micro Devices Inc.] and Intel [Corp.] do with their pricing and availability” as anything from Microsoft. If Intel and AMD can deliver the chips at todays 32-bit prices, “64 bits will be the default choice; who doesnt want it?” Ballmer asked.
The Microsoft question that was on the minds of many of the shows attendees was what Microsoft will do about security. Specifically, what can they expect between now and Longhorn?
“Weve learned more about security than anyone else in the world,” Ballmer said. “We need to focus in on a few things. We need to engineer in fewer vulnerabilities going forward. We have new development tools to spot security vulnerabilities. We will release those to users. These tools have made a difference in [Windows] Server 2003 and XP SP2.”
Looking ahead, Ballmer said that better security for servers will be provided by the first service release for Windows Server 2003. He also pointed at Microsofts new monthly patch release program. In addition, he said, “[There] wont be another client OS, maybe an SP, between now and Longhorn.”
Besides just protecting the operating system itself, Ballmer said Microsoft is working to help existing networks. As an example, he cited how Cisco Systems Inc. and Microsoft are working together to help protect VPNs (virtual private networks).by making Microsofts NAP (Network Access Protection) and Ciscos NAC (Network Admission Control) standards compatible and, later, interoperable.
Thats all well and good, but, Bittmann observed, “We thought Bill [Gates] had taken leave of [his] senses when he said security would be a non-issue in two years.”
Ballmer replied, “We are striving to do it. People,” he said with a smile, “can have varying points of view on whether we can do it. We think we can make a boatload of progress in the next two years.”
And if Microsoft cant do it? “Well keep it a Top 3 priority until its no longer a priority,” Ballmer said.
Plummer then asked if “Bill has taken leaves of his senses then?”
No, Ballmer replied, “some people would say its a management style.”
The questions led into a discussion of Linux, with Bittmann observing that theres a market perception that Linux is more secure.
“Its just not true,” Ballmer responded. “Were more secure than the other guys. There are more vulnerabilities in Linux; it takes longer for Linux developers to fix security problems. Its a good decision to go with Windows.”
Ballmer blamed the reason for people thinking Linux is more secure on Microsofts popularity. “People hackers hack for fame. If there were fame in hacking Linux, it too will get hacked.”
Moving on to open source, Ballmer denied that open source or Linux could be better than Microsoft and its proprietary ways. “Im happy to tell you why I think what we do is better than what any of our competitors can do,” he said. “I think we do deliver more value, we can stand behind our products in ways that open source cant.
“Who do you talk to for improvements in open source? No one indemnifies for IP [intellectual property] issues. If Microsoft has to pay off Eolas, which has a $500 million judgment against us, well do it. But, with Linux, youd pay. Where do you go for support?”
“That doesnt mean the other thing shouldnt exist,” he said. “If we arent better, Ill tell my people to make us better.
“There is no real Linux presence on the desktop anywhere in the world,” Ballmer continued. “There is no ROI [return on investment] case for the city of Paris. You hear all these stories, but theres nothing real there.”
Ballmer did concede, however, “Yes, there is the city of Munich. Yes, we lost it. But the story keeps getting told over and over again, and Munich is still dithering around with Linux.”
Ballmer said that people also talk about open source and China, but even there, he maintained, “in China, Microsoft is predominant. Of course, in most cases, no one has paid for it.”
From there, Ballmer talked about this vision for Microsofts Office System. “To a lot of people, Office is a spreadsheet, e-mail—its not. It should be the product to help any knowledge worker do any work they need to do. Its search; its natural language; its communication. This morning Microsoft announced Istanbul [its integrated instant messaging and telephony client for its Live Communications Server]. To me, its just another part of Office because it helps knowledge workers do their business.”
When asked if this locked users into Microsoft solutions, Ballmer replied that it didnt. “Its not closed. We can make it open to work with other partners.”
This is all part of a larger strategy. In it, Ballmer described a world where workers would use Outlook as a base station to do workflow work with Siebel CRM (customer relationship management) software. In short, Ballmers vision of office work in the future is one where Office becomes the gateway to all business process software.
That doesnt mean, however, that Microsoft is going after all IT business. Speaking of Microsofts own business line—Great Plains and so on—Ballmer said Microsoft sells “those products to small companies, like a six-person non-profit in D.C., to medium-sized companies and divisions of large enterprise. Were not bidding on re-engineering the supply chain for GM. So, while we target companies that include businesses in the 1 billion to 3 billion range, we recognize the boundaries.”
When asked about Microsofts relationship with Sun Microsystems Inc., he said, “Weve made six months of work in six months.” The one area Ballmer said anything concrete on the former adversaries partnership is that the two has made progress on identity management. Still, Ballmer said he hopes to have something concrete to announce soon.
Toward the end of the fast-moving Q&A session, Ballmer also talked about subscription pricing. “You could say we already offer it to business customers today with enterprise licensing. It can be done by the number of employees or PCs.”
Closing on a light note, Ballmer addressed perhaps the most burning question of the day, which came from a boy, who had asked him in a Gartner produced tape, “Can you tell me about the weapon mods in Halo II?” Ballmer replied, “Have him send me a note; Ill make sure he gets a copy of Halo II.”