Ballmer pledges $4.5 million for Canadian IT training

OTTAWA — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer capped his visit to Canada’s capital city Tuesday with a $4.5-million commitment to educational and training initiatives across the country.

This funding will go toward partnerships with schools and community organizations through two existing Microsoft programs, Partners in Learning and Unlimited Potential. The investment will involve software donations to learning centres, along with support for activities such as research, teacher training and development, and curriculum repositories. The donation will be spread over three years.

Ballmer was in town to attend Can>Win 2005, a one-day summit featuring executives from education, business and government. This year’s theme was Canada in the World: Economic Prosperity and Productivity through Innovation and Skilled Workforce. The agenda included talks by Microsoft Canada president David Hemler, Strategic Counsel chair Allan Gregg, and Conference Board of Canada president Anne Golden, as well as the presidents of General Motors, Bell Canada, and TSX Venture Exchange.

Earlier in the day, Ballmer also addressed an audience of 750 people attending a Technology Executive Breakfast, part of an ongoing speakers series mounted by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation. There he outlined some of the challenges and opportunities of the information technology industry over the course of the next decade.

By providing individuals with access to computer technologies and training, Ballmer explained, life-long learners can achieve their fullest potential.

“We can help make each and every one of us as individuals more productive,” he said. “We can help make businesses more competitive. I know there’s a big dialogue here in Ottawa about prosperity and productivity and the Canadian economy. I do believe that investment in information technology has been key to productivity advances where they’ve occurred in most parts of the world.”

Ballmer spoke at length about the potential of software to solve business problems, including data management. He pointed out that Internet search engines only offer useful information about half the time, and people have an even harder time assembling data from within their own companies.

By way of example, Ballmer pointed out that when talks such as his are recorded and uploaded, it can be all but impossible to find them. He also wondered if it might be possible for him to gain on-line access to amateur video footage of a basketball game at his old high school in Detroit. This kind of material and much more will ultimately be available, he promised.

“Anything that can be made into bits will be, in the next 10 years, and will be available electronically,” he predicted. “TV, advertising, movies, books — you name it, any business information you want. Absolutely everything will be available to you online.”

Moore’s Law will help us get there, he added, just as this continuing growth of processing power has ushered in progress throughout the last decade. Ballmer recalled that when Windows 95 emerged, desktop computers and cell phones were still rarities, monitors were as likely to feature a DOS-prompt as a Graphical User Interface, and many people had little awareness of the Internet, never mind whether they wanted broadband access to it.

But while it may be the hardware associated with information technology that has changed the way you do things at home or in the office, Ballmer is keen to remind us that software is what makes this equipment perform.

“This is where things get switched on and turned on for end-users,” he said. “It’s software that’s going to change fundamentally the way we all write applications and the way they get deployed and managed. It’s software that’s going to be key to changing the way people communicate and collaborate.” 

And, when asked about how his own company intends to compete against its most obvious rival, Google, Ballmer referred to Microsoft’s world-leading position in services such as instant messaging, e-mail, and blogging. As for Internet searching, he accepted third place but highlighted how much room for improvement remains in this whole field.

“We’re the best number three you can be, and I don’t want to be number three,” he concluded. “There’s a reason why I always remind people that 50 per cent of searches don’t lead to any answers.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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