CRN Interview: Steve Ballmer, Microsoft

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CEO Steve Ballmer spoke to thousands of attendees last week at Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto. Later, he talked with CRN Editor Heather Clancy and Industry Editor Barbara Darrow about licensing, the new Windows Marketplace and more. Here is an excerpt of the interview.

CRN: You talked about market segmentation this morning. Are there any licensing changes on tap to better serve these segments? Why are you smiling?

BALLMER: [Laughs] I'm a reformed man. I don't change licensing policies. I avoid licensing policy changes like the plague at this stage. Even positive change implies churn, and customers don't like churn. Even positive change, unless it's dramatic enough, you probably shouldn't make because the overhead is so high for our partners and everybody we should save all of our change management energy for things that make a huge difference. Bunches of tiny changes can sometimes be distracting to the overall mission of satisfying the customer. I don't really see any licensing changes, frankly. I do think--nothing to announce, nothing concrete--that the success we've had with Small Business Server, which was strong and really jumped dramatically with the new version, makes us ask the question even more forcefully: Is there a concept like Small Business Server for the next size company up? ... Maybe there's too much complexity vs. what we might get doing something like a concept like SBS for customers who want a little bit more flexibility than SBS can provide but aren't prepared to deal with as much freedom as our product line provides.

CRN: Large LARs, integrators and even some smaller solution providers say they've been telling you to simplify licensing. And we've been hearing about a proposed 'SuperCAL,' one license for almost everything. Is what you're talking about related to that?

BALLMER: Not really. There are people who would say, 'can't you just have a one-price-fits-all without me having to track software?' There may be such an opportunity, but we don't know a way to conceptualize that in a way that doesn't look underpriced for everybody or overpriced for everybody, at least not without custom negotiations. There are customers in the enterprise space that we've done custom negotiations with that I won't say are exactly like that, but they're more of an all-in-one, big-time deal.

CRN: Do you remember Microsoft's old Nitro store? Is the new Windows Marketplace the son of Nitro?

BALLMER: Maybe we didn't make this clear. It's not about the store. That's a part, that's nice, [and] in the consumer market, maybe that's a good deal, retailers are cutting back on inventory space for software. In a sense, it's harder to get distribution today for a software title than before that's in consumer. But in business, it's always been very hard for a buyer to find a seller, and there's no reason for that. The community can help steer others in the community to solutions that do what they say they're going to do. You don't want just a free text search thing, there's not enough taxonomy. You should be able to say, 'I'm looking for a health-care solution to help automate how I run an X-ray lab.' If you've written a product like that, and you're in the Netherlands, you want someone to be able to find you from Kansas City.

*To read the full Ballmer interview, click here.

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