Ballmer Touts Microsoft's Innovation Despite Longhorn Snafu

Speaking before the Massachusetts Software Council in Boston Wednesday, Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft scaled back the ambitious blueprint for its next version of Windows in order to meet its planned delivery date.

But the CEO, clad in a formal blue suit, red tie and white shirt, insisted that ISVs and developers will have substantial new opportunities with the innovations in the forthcoming Windows platform, code-named Longhorn.

"We announced a ship date last week--considered a breakthrough for us," said Ballmer, alluding to Microsoft's notorious reputation for delaying products. Still, he bypassed an explanation of the company's controversial decision to strip out one of the most innovative features expected in Longhorn--the next-generation file system and storage technology known as Windows File System (WinFS).

Microsoft said last week that it would move plans to integrate WinFS into a future release of the Windows client and server beyond Longhorn's release in 2006, and would make its next-generation programming model and toolset, dubbed WinFX, the highlight of the next release.

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With that, developers and ISVs will have access to the company's new Avalon presentation layer and Indigo communications subsystem to add value and build applications and Web services on the next Windows desktop.

"We're excited about Longhorn for rich client applications," Ballmer said.

While Microsoft is trying to be more responsive to customers and partners in matters of security and interoperability, it's not clear how that expanding list of priorities will affect product road maps going forward.

Microsoft needs partners and developers to deliver the full value of the Windows platform by developing innovative new products that meet customers' business and consumer needs.

Microsoft intends to file for 3,000 patents in the next 12 to 18 months alone, and is leading the charge for integrated innovation, Ballmer said.

"I see a world of incredible possibility and opportunity; we work with the broadest set of partners who have to build out that infrastructure," he said. "We love to partner with anyone who adds value to our platform. We have invested heavily to encourage ISVs and [we] go-to-market together. We need to take it to the next level."

Microsoft, for example, has invested in efforts such as Windows Marketplace to highlight products by third-party software developers and allow those vendors to network with service providers and customers.

Still, Ballmer said little about WinFS, the long-awaited file/storage subsystem that was expected to be a core subsystem in the Longhorn version of Windows.

By the time Longhorn ships, Microsoft's current Windows XP desktop will be five years old. Microsoft promises to release WinFS for both the Windows client and server sometime after 2006, but executives last week would not be specific about the new time frame.

Executives said Microsoft opted to push WinFS back because of an internal decision to provide the WinFS storage subsystem in the next Windows server.

But industry observers offered up a host of other possible reasons for the delay of WinFS, including pressure on Microsoft to provide an upgrade of Windows within the next series of Software Assurance contracts, to Microsoft's new search initiative.

At the Boston software council meeting, where hundreds of software companies and developers from the Bay State gathered to glean out new areas of opportunities, Microsoft's CEO said little about the reasons for the revised plans for WinFS but he did talk about Microsoft's other upcoming innovation: search technology.

"We see search as in the early phase of innovation and an area in which we underinvested," said Ballmer acknowledging that other smart ISVs, notably Google, spearheaded the category.

Ballmer pointed to AltaVista as Search Version 1.0, Yahoo as Search Version 2.0 and Google as Search Version 3.0. Microsoft, he said, will develop a next generation of search technology that would not only allow companies to search the Internet more effectively but search their computer networks, hard drives and e-mail more effectively.

"We're hell bent and determined to be an innovation leader in that," Ballmer said. "We had fragmented efforts and now we're pulling them all together."

Defeating Linux is another priority for Microsoft, said Ballmer, just hours before meeting with Boston Mayor Thomas Menino. As Massachusetts' top IT executives mull a move to open-source software for its public-sector needs, Ballmer Tuesday hosted a dinner with key CIOs in the state to extol the virtues of Windows. He told the CIOs and council members this week that Windows offers better total cost of ownership than Linux and offers none of the intellectual property risks associated with open-source software.

"I'm not just trying to spew FUD [fear, uncertainly and doubt]. Your product comes in combination with an underlying piece of system software," Ballmer said, warning ISVs to consider the intellectual property risks.