Ballmer: Trusting Vista, battling Google

Microsoft's product pipeline is ready to pump out "12 months of the greatest innovation," CEO says. And no, he doesn't throw chairs. Photo: Ballmer on the record

ORLANDO, Fla.--Steve Ballmer wants you to know one thing: He never throws chairs.

"I have never, honestly, thrown a chair in my life," Microsoft's CEO said in a morning keynote at Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo here. Ballmer was responding to a comment regarding well-publicized testimony by a former employee that Ballmer had tossed furniture and vowed to "kill Google" when informed of the employee's decision to leave Microsoft for Google.

Ballmer also touched on a variety of areas related to Microsoft's competition with Google. The software maker will compete "the good old-fashioned way, with innovation," he said. "There are many things--who knows?--Google may or may not do. If you read the papers today, other than curing cancer, Google will do everything."

Ballmer

He pointed to the strength of Microsoft's MSN brand outside of the United States as proof that the company is making strides in the Web search market. "People say 'I'm going to MSN you' in Holland and Korea. Not here. But globally, more people spend time online with MSN than any other site," he said.

Overall, Ballmer said Microsoft needs to continue to invest in research and development to deal with open-source software, Google, IBM and other competitors. But in years past, that sort of investment has been spread disproportionately between the companies' divisions. "The top priority for us is to be an innovative company. We need a variety of ways to innovate. We have gone through a period where we have not had all of the muscles working evenly, if you will."

Microsoft is "at the beginning of 12 months of the greatest innovation pipeline we have ever had," Ballmer said. "Vista, Office, Windows Mobile, (Internet Explorer) IE 7...I can point to a lot of things. We are in the middle of the best pipeline we have ever had as a company."

Microsoft on Monday launched an update to a community-based preview release of Windows Vista, which includes a number of new features, such as efforts to improve the Web browser and make the operating system more resilient.

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Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft

Vista is the first major update to the client version of Windows since 2001. The final version of Vista, which has also been known by its Longhorn code name, is due out in the second half of next year, Microsoft has said. A server version of the operating system is expected in 2007.

"I'm going to trust Vista on day one," Ballmer said. "I bet most people in this audience will trust it day one--on their home computer," he joked. "I'm trying to be honest among friends."

Ballmer acknowledged Vista's long gestation period and said it has taken Microsoft so long because the company had consciously decided to add several major features to the operating system. "Why have Vista and Longhorn taken so long? We made some big bets," he said.

The company scaled back its plans for Vista in August 2004 after it became clear that the development plan was too ambitious, Ballmer said. "We made a call 14 months ago...that the integration challenges of bringing together a new operating system with a new presentation, file system, communications system...and have all of those things codependent" was too much of a challenge, he said.

On software licensing, Ballmer said the company has made strides in simplifying its terms, but more work is needed. "The simplest thing we have today is our enterprise agreement. Used to take two years of postgrad education (to understand it), now it's a ninth grade education. We know we have a lot more work to do in terms of tools and license forms," he said.

Ballmer said the company continues to evaluate new client software programming techniques, such as AJAX, which is growing in popularity. "We think most users like the benefits of a rich local environment. I don't think that will go away. AJAX only lets you send Javascript down. You will see that extend to other capabilities in the Windows environment," he said.

The company is taking some cautious first steps to add new Web programming tools. Microsoft last month made available to developers a set of application programming interfaces to its MSN and other public Web sites. The software company hopes that developers assemble new applications that build on those sites--a technique used successfully at Google and at other Web companies to promote their properties.

The plan has raised questions over whether Microsoft eventually intends to promote the Web--via MSN and other properties--as a development platform in addition to Windows. Some analysts, such as Thomas Bittman at Gartner, say this is likely, although Microsoft will need to tread carefully so as not to diminish the appeal of Windows and Office, the company's most valuable franchises.

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