CRN Interview: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke about the Vista challenge, how Microsoft has fared against Linux, how partners will play in the emerging software-as-a-service arena and how Microsoft can become what he calls the software industry's first "N-trick pony" in an interview with CRN Industry Editor Barbara Darrow and Senior Writer Paula Rooney.

CRN: First of all, there was news today about Adobe and Microsoft, and a story that Microsoft is dropping some PDF support from Office 2007 on Adobe's insistence. Can you comment?

BALLMER: I think we're talking about it pretty publicly The only thing I'd say is that PDF is a published open spec, and the second most-requested feature we got for Office is 'save to PDF'.

CRN: There's a software-as-a-service push now that Microsoft started talking about publicly last year. What is your take on where bread-and-butter Microsoft Gold partners will fit into that over time? There's always a fear of disintermediation.

BALLMER: Let's not start with the partners first. Let's start with the customers and then back into the partners. Let's talk about big enterprises, not worrying precisely how we define them. Then medium-sized customers, I'd say someone with at least three or four IT people. Then small businesses with an IT person and small businesses without an IT person.

Let's not worry about software-as-a-service yet. Let's talk about the partners who serve them. Large enterprises tend to be served by large or semi-large integrators and tend to be served by application development shops--big ones--or vertical ISVs.

Medium-sized companies with a decent-sized IT staff, that's the bread and butter [arena] of the Gold [partners]. Sometimes they'll be up in the enterprise. Then you get smaller application development partners in the fray. I'm just talking about service partners, not reseller partners.

The small business with an IT person or two is not basically served by our Gold-type partners. Some Golds go down there, but [that segment is typically served by] our certified channel and some of our registered members. For the small guy with no IT, we have a small-business specialist channel, but mostly it's Charlie the brother-in-law who takes care of the computer or maybe a small partner or maybe DIYers, the do-it-yourselfers.

Why did I go through that litany of things that you know perfectly well? Software-as-a-service has a different time frame and a different impact on each of the segments.

In big enterprises, I don't expect software-as-a-service to be a raging phenomenon [yet], except on a departmental basis, for some focused apps like has been. I don't expect it to be raging phenomenon except in specified ways for a number of years yet.


NEXT: Ballmer's take on the Vista delay and why it will never happen again.

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