Ballmer in Toronto: We’re all about small business

In Tuesday’s keynote address at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference 2004, CEO Steve Ballmer declared the interests of small business were “”at the top of the list”” for the software firm.

Ballmer said this particular business community, marked by a services infrastructure that is not as

robust as other firms’, was perhaps the most underserved part of the information technology landscape.

“”People have been banging their head”” to come up with ways to make money serving companies that are in the pool of small- and mid-sized companies, he said. He added Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft Corp. has the “”deepest involvement”” in this segment of any organization in the world.

Microsoft plans to redesign its product line for smaller companies and help partners “”bring it to life in new ways,”” explained Ballmer. One idea he suggested to help small firms was hosting applications because it’s cheaper than customization.

In his typically animated style, Ballmer also waded into the open-source debate. He said company resellers considering which technology to use need to ask themselves what product will allow them to complete work more quickly, whether it is backed by a responsive technical team, whether it is supported by technological innovation and requires investments that will be able to deal with the issues and problems surfacing tomorrow, not just today.

The No. 1 message for partners, however, is they should choose a system allowing them to go to market effectively, he said. He raised the question of whether a technology provider like IBM could sustain a long-term investment in Linux when “”the only money they make is on services, not software.””

“”Microsoft commercial software will prevail,”” said Ballmer, adding most technological innovation has stemmed from commercial software rather than its open-source counterpart.

Microsoft’s top boss later touched on the long-awaited release of Longhorn, the next major Windows desktop version, and helping partners integrate new and existing customers. He said although some partners favour a more incremental approach to innovation instead of one characterized by big innovation, the software industry traditionally brings both together.

“”The day we ignore step function is the day someone else will do a step function. We’re trying to enable a new wave of new applications”” that are more integrated and better connected to other machines, he said.

Although Microsoft cannot predict Longhorn’s debut, “”We’re charging ahead with beta,”” promised Ballmer, and later plans a “”massive discussion”” of the operating system’s benefits. He also pledged to deliver enough data so Microsoft partners can make the best decision about when to invest in the next generation of Windows.

Today, however, Ballmer was able to play up the benefits of another service, Windows Marketplace, which allows customers to find partners for their projects.

“”It should probably be the best thing we do for our partners in years. All of our partners will have a way to participate,”” he said.

In other news, Microsoft announced new security measures at the conference. Network Access Protection, a standards-based technology that aims to enable users to more securely access their network, has support from more than 25 industry partners.

Mike Nash, corporate vice-president for security business and technology at Microsoft, said two principles underscore the software firm’s new security products: ensuring customers feel safe from external attacks and software has no vulnerabilities, and reducing costs of network management through simplicity and automation.

Nash said Microsoft’s network-protection strategy is based on several pillars dictated by customer feedback. He said customers were tired of installing patches and wanted a more resilient system.

“”The goal of security and trustworthy computing is to make the product secure by default right out of the box.””

Microsoft’s track record has improved somewhat. Although Windows Server 2003 required 13 extra critical or important updates during the first year it was shipped, for example, that was a decrease from the 42 extra updates needed for the previous version, said Nash.

Another pillar is comprised of greater customer guidance, responsiveness and education. Nash said customers had complained Microsoft guides to solve problems business faces were inadequate, so the company created 150 new guides for large enterprises and small firms. It also trained 525,000 technical professionals, some of whom are partners.

Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference wrapped up Tuesday.

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