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Ballmer woos Web publishers

The exec touts a series of gains Microsoft has made in the publishing world and demonstrates software that caters to Web publishers.

    SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft president Steve Ballmer no longer has to speak to publishers as an executive from an often-vilified software company that holds only a microscopic percentage of the market for tools to design snappy print and Web content.

    Addressing a largely filled hall at the Seybold publishing conference here, Ballmer touted a series of gains Microsoft has made in the publishing world--largely through adoption of its Windows NT Workstation and server-based operating system--and demonstrated company software that caters to the needs of Web publishers, specifically.

    Seeming at times like an infomercial for Microsoft products, Ballmer noted the classical strength of Apple Computer in the publishing niche, a market Apple has continued to target as a core strength. "Windows, as everyone in this room knows, is coming from behind in this market," Ballmer said.

    A recent survey completed by market researcher International Data Corporation, however, found that 41 percent of publishers use Windows NT Server today and 59 percent will install NT Server in the next year.

    Ballmer, who was recently promoted, wove the plight of publishers into a Windows-centric soliloquy that included references to the oft-mentioned "Digital Nervous System" and "Web Lifestyle" concepts promoted by Microsoft.

    "The heart and soul of having an electronic relationship is a publishing problem," he observed.

    Ballmer then showed off clothier Eddie Bauer's electronic commerce site as an example of a Windows-based Web publishing success story. The site uses Microsoft's Site Server Commerce Edition software package. The executive also showed off Chromeffects, recently announced graphics software currently slated for Windows 98 users and developers only.

    Ballmer, who called the software "mainstream technology for the future," said the Chromeffects package could appear for Apple's Macintosh, based on customer feedback.

    On a related note, Ballmer continued a trend among Microsoft executives to downplay the technology enhancements scheduled to appear in version 5.0 of NT. He said the operating system upgrade would not be "a radical breakthrough," but did characterize the set of new technologies scheduled for the release as "nice improvements." He also said delivery of the upgrade is "not as close as we'd like."

    Most expect NT 5.0 to ship sometime in the second half of 1999.

    During a question and answer session following his speech, Ballmer was asked if Chromeffects was another effort on the part of Microsoft to offer a proprietary Web technology to the market. "I don't think anybody can turn the Internet into a proprietary system," he responded. He also said the movement to use software distributed freely over the Net, "keeps putting pressure on us."

    Ballmer was also scheduled to address a group of grammar school students following his Seybold appearance and officially launch a new version of the company's Encarta Reference Suite 99, a CD-ROM collection of multimedia reference tools.