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Ballmer: Open Windows code still possible

Microsoft has not ruled out opening at least part of its Windows operating system code in response to the growing Linux movement, president Steve Ballmer says.

SAN FRANCISCO--Microsoft has not ruled out opening at least part of its Windows operating system code in response to the growing Linux movement, company president Steve Ballmer reiterated today.

Speaking at Tibco Finance Technology conference here today, Ballmer said the possibility of releasing at least some Windows source code is still being debated within Microsoft. "We're thinking through what strategy to make our source code, or parts of our source code, more available to customers, so customers can be more effective," Ballmer said.

The debate centers on "the notion that parts of our source code--if we published it on some basis, on the Web site, or licensed it to customers--will help you build applications more quickly and support deployment and management of your environment," he said. "And we're trying to figure out what it means."

Under an open-source plan, the original programming instructions for a piece of software are made freely available for anyone to modify or use. The model has proven successful in debugging and advancing Linux, a Unix-like operating system many see as competing with Windows.

While Ballmer did not identify which parts of Windows might be released for development, he did indicate at least one area under consideration. "I'll pick on database connectivity," he said, adding that software developers find that area of Windows complicated.

Ballmer added that he believes that there are downsides to open source code, and Linux in particular, such as no guarantees of quick fixes.

It's not the first time Microsoft has floated the idea of releasing some of Windows' source code. As reported, such a move would be contrary to Microsoft's core philosophy. And it would mean that open-source proponents would have to make room for a company that has been a lightning rod for the many in the movement.

Ballmer's talk today was primarily about how the Internet changes business models and how companies need to adapt constantly to increase Net revenue, he said. Consumers see the Net as the cheapest place to buy many products, but in the future, it's the tool for getting the best customer service, Ballmer said.

Companies need to realize that the Internet forces companies to change their businesses models and that a higher-price, better-service model will thrive on the Net in the future, Ballmer said.

"Any notion that the Internet is simply low-price, lower-service models--it's just [wrong]," he said. "For the business who wants to provide a higher-price, higher-service customer experience, the Internet is a fundamental part of that."

For example, in terms of email, Microsoft used to focus on selling software seats, but it is now also offering free advertising-based e-mail through Hotmail, he said. And online banking has moved from a fee-based service to free services.

"We have to learn to evolve our business models," he said. "It's the case where nobody can be a stick in the mud. We all have to be alert. Sources and nature of revenue could change dramatically in the world of the Internet."

The Internet, he said, is a good vehicle for giving personalized advice and information. As an example, Ballmer said he can get better customer service by buying clothes on the Gap's Web site than if he went to the retail chain's local store at the mall.

From the Web, he can find clothes in sizes that fit, which is sometimes a problem at the mall. "I am a customer service nightmare," he said jokingly as he pointed to his ample physique.

"It reminds me if my wife's birthday is coming up, do I remember her size, do I remember what I bought her last time," he said. "I don't get that high service experience when I walk into the mall."

Future technologies will allow e-commerce sites to offer streaming audio and video and a chance to talk to customer service representatives directly through the Internet, he said.

When asked what other goals the company has, Ballmer said he wants Microsoft to be recognized as a portal company. "We have a good position today with Hotmail and MSN on the Internet, but we're not really known as a portal although we're [ranked] No. 3 [in visitors].