Ballmer Calls Linux Threat Overblown, Touts Progress With Office, Security


When it comes to Microsoft, IT pros still want to hear more about security, Linux and product futures. CEO Steve Ballmer did his best to accommodate them Wednesday morning in a keynote speech at the Gartner Symposium ITXpo in Orlando, Fla.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor is sticking with its story that the integrated Windows stack is more secure and less pricey than Linux alternatives. Ballmer contends that Linux has yet to get a toehold on the desktop.

"There is no appreciable amount of Linux on the client anywhere in the world," Ballmer said in response to questions from Gartner analysts. "People can read the drama stories. ... They read about the city of Paris. It said it would adopt Linux. Well, the study came back, and there's no ROI case for Linux for the next seven to eight years."

Ballmer said similar stories of Linux adoption in Brazil and elsewhere around the globe also have been blown out of proportion. He pointed to the city of Munich, Germany, which drew lots of media attention by opting for Linux over Windows clients. "Now, Munich is Munich. We lost the city of Munich," Ballmer said, with a caveat. "You hear 65,000 stories, and there's still only one customer. And [Munich] ... what's a polite word for this? They're still diddling around, deciding on whether to do the migration."

Industry observers also cite China as a Linux stronghold, a contention that Ballmer blasted. "Our products have a higher market share in China. Most of it, of course, is not paid for. We didn't adopt a conscious pricing strategy in China to match Linux. It's just that people don't pay," he said.

Microsoft will build on its prodigious desktop strength by flowing new functionality into upcoming Office System releases. "Office should be the definitive product that helps any information worker--workflow, portal, business intelligence, speech recognition, natural language. It will help with all of the broad, horizontal functions that a knowledge worker needs," he said.

With the next version of Office, "you'll see a number of technologies I just talked about show up," Ballmer added. Microsoft is now working on Office 12, which is slated to ship in 2006. The new version is expected to support the current Windows XP and 2000 platforms as well as some features of the upcoming Longhorn client.

Microsoft, too, is working on more Office-labeled servers that will be tapped by rich client-side applications such as Excel, Word and PowerPoint. The just-announced Istanbul instant-messaging client, which integrates VoIP support, is yet another component of the Office System, Ballmer said.

Some conference attendees expressed frustration with continued security woes in Microsoft products. Ballmer said the company has made inroads on security but has to keep working at it.

"If I can say nothing else, we've learned a lot more about security than anyone else in the world. That's the good news and the bad news of being in our position of market share," he said. "We need to engineer in fewer vulnerabilities going forward and have a whole new set of development tools to do so. To spot potential vulnerabilities, we've trained our engineers differently, and it makes a dramatic difference, as seen in [Windows] XP SP2 and Windows Server 2003. I can't say all vulnerabilities will be eliminated. Hackers get smarter, too, and threats get more sophisticated."

Companies that rely on the most up-to-date, Microsoft-only software stack can be very secure, according to one large Microsoft-focused integrator at the event. "The problems come in when you run [IBM] WebSphere [or other products] atop Windows. That mixed stack opens up lots of vulnerabilities," said the integrator, who requested anonymity.

Still, observers noted that large companies willing to lock themselves in to a single vendor for their entire IT infrastructure are few and far between.