Before a standing room-only audience of more than 6,000 attendees here at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Steve Ballmer was put on the hot seat (if you can call it that) as two of Gartner's analysts David Smith and Yvonne Genovese grilled him with a variety of questions regarding Microsoft's strategy moving forward.
Of particular interest to the analysts (and the audience) was how Microsoft plans to survive in a world where more and more functionality is delivered by way of the Internet into a browser, causing users to rely less and less on the local horsepower of a notebook or desktop PC. Ballmer responded, saying:
I do think that we're in a transition where software goes from something that's in its pre-Internet day to something we call Live where you have click to run capability on a Web site.... But software will still execute on a PC.
Ballmer backed that up with examples of how some of the software giant's biggest rivals such as Yahoo and Google have ultimately realized that they must rely on local compute power to do certain things:
The difference between software plus a service and software as a services is whether people will want to use the local intelligence in their phones, PCs, etc. Even if you look at some Internet services today, they all use power from the client... AJAX uses the power of the client and the Instant Messenger clients from us and Yahoo and Google use the client.
In addition to reiterating that security was Microsoft's top priority, Ballmer fielded questions regarding how long it has taken Vista to ship to which Ballmer responded with a discussion of how reinventing Windows from the ground up required both innovation and integration (at the component level): a situation which produced a bit of engineering chaos for Microsoft.
But, where Microsoft has faltered or has not been the first mover, Ballmer referred to Microsoft's "stick to it-ivness" that he believes is behind the company's chances to prevail in all of the markets in which it competes, and across the various initiatives in which it's engaged. Comparing Microsoft to a perseverant dog that won't let go of something important, Ballmer said:
The bone doesn't fall out of our mouth easily. We may not be first but we'll keep working and working and working and working and working..... and it's the same with search. We'll keeping coming and coming and coming and coming and coming. We are irrepressible on this.
Regarding competition against things that are free (a question that was asked by an attendee via pre-prepared video at the head end of the session), Ballmer once again reiterated how the company never gives up saying:
We're going to be competing against open somethings for a long time and that means we're going to push and push and push and push and push.
If there were some newsworthy tidbits, they had to do with Ballmer's thinking about the infrastructure that's necessary to support click to run software (see my earlier post) and the opportunity for third-parties to participate in Microsoft's newly launched Zune ecosystem.
According to Ballmer, as more software is delivered as a service, there will be a need to deliver that on the public Internet as well as from behind a firewall (in other words, corporations will want to deliver software as a service on a private level to their internal users) and this will have a certain impact on infrastructure requirements. Ballmer referred to a technology platform in the cloud and stratified that into commerce, community, and search, saying that "each one of those will have an analog that will affect our servers... and this is driven by Ray Ozzie."
Regarding Zune, David Smith noted how Microsoft had gone from running an ecosystem that encourage third party participation (PlaysForSure) to one that looks like it will mimic what Apple has done with its iTunes Music Store and its iPods where the system is entirely closed and controlled by a single vendor. Ballmer responded saying that a closed approach is a really bad idea and that an very open experience is sometimes accompanied by a lot of chaos (a comment that the various open communities will probably argue is precisely why open is good: because out of that chaos comes great innovation). Saying "not everyone can write an XBox game" (and referring to controls that Microsoft has in place to ensure the integrity of third-party developed games), Ballmer cited Microsoft's XBox as an example of the sort of ecosystem that Zune might follow where third parties can play, but where there's far more orchestration by a single entity.
Like the other initiatives where Ballmer said Microsoft will keep working and working and working and working and coming and coming and coming and coming and pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing, when it comes to the company's resolve to derail the Apple juggernaut, Microsoft is very likely to keep plugging and plugging and plugging and plugging away at it.