Ballmer plays up business focus

Microsoft wants to make office workers more productive, and it's earmarked $500 million to tell you all about it.

NEW YORK--Microsoft will spend $500 million this year to promote upcoming products designed to make business workers more productive, CEO Steve Ballmer said Thursday.

Software due to arrive over the next year will cater to information workers in corporations, he told an audience at a Microsoft-organized customer event here. The event was specifically targeted at business executives, such as CEOs, rather than IT workers or developers.

Credit: Microsoft
Microsoft CEO Steve
Ballmer speaks to
business customers in
New York.

In the past few years, information workers "haven't had all that much" in terms of product innovations, Ballmer said during a press meeting after the conference and his keynote speech.

Microsoft is expected to release Windows Vista and a suite of Office 2007 products by the end of the year. In addition, the company is getting ready to launch an expanded communication product line around its Exchange e-mail server software.

Ballmer said that Microsoft's sharpened focus on end-users this year goes back to the company's roots of appealing to end-users during the early days of the PC.

"In many ways, we are still feeding off the core vision of (Microsoft founders) Bill Gates and Paul Allen, which is the notion of empowerment," he said.

Ballmer sought to draw a contrast with IBM and its approach to selling to businesses. He said that IBM is increasingly a consulting-led company, rather than a technology company.

"We're talking about making people in business more productive every day. IBM is talking about doing a project," Ballmer said.

He added that Microsoft's forthcoming software puts the company into new product categories, which will help drive revenue growth.

In particular, upcoming editions of its Office productivity suite and server products, such as Microsoft's SharePoint portal software, will enable the company to offer software for tasks such as business intelligence and collaboration.

During a presentation, Chris Capossela, a corporate vice president in Microsoft's business division, demonstrated how future products might improve efficiency in typical business situations, such as searching a company network to prepare a sales presentation and analyzing sales numbers. These tasks were done with Office-based applications, rather than specialized tools.

Gartner analyst Tom Austin said that although IBM does indeed actively seek out consulting business, it is still developing software to make office workers more productive.

Austin said Microsoft does have a stronger focus on individuals and provides a great deal of value through a combination of its products. For business customers, however, the value of well-integrated products comes at the price of greater reliance on Microsoft, he said.

"Nobody locks you in as much in delivering all that value as Microsoft, but nobody delivers as much value," he said.

Other analysts at the event noted that Microsoft faces a challenge in convincing customers to upgrade to new versions of Office, because many customers do not take full advantage of already available features.

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