Microsoft emphasises security problems

Security is 'the biggest threat to the growth of our company and our industry overall', according to a senior Microsoft executive

The head of Microsoft Australia has labelled security "the biggest threat to the growth of our company and our industry overall" amid a raft of indications the software heavyweight is struggling to stay on top of the area.

Steve Vamos told attendees at an Australian Information Industry Association event in Adelaide yesterday the security issue was "essentially... the only thing that can stop us, in terms of really getting back on track in terms of driving growth in the industry".

He said Microsoft was "engaging every aspect of what we do" in security in an effort to avert the threat it posed to the company and the industry.

Vamos' blunt comments come as Microsoft struggles to deal a raft of flaws uncovered in its Web browser, Internet Explorer, attempts by malicious code writers to disrupt its monthly patching cycle and security researchers' with preparedness to disclose vulnerabilities to all community members at the same time rather than give the vendor some lead time to devise a fix before going public.

The Microsoft Australia boss also launched an assault on the software heavyweight's other bugbear of the moment, competition from Linux and open-source solutions.

The use of open-source software by government agencies was very much at the forefront of the recent federal election campaign, with all major political parties detailing publicly their policy stance on the issue. The federal government in late August released a guide saying it was preparing a range of tools to help agencies evaluate emerging open-source solutions against more familiar proprietary software "on an informed basis". During the campaign it was forced to rule out mandating the use of open-source software by agencies, saying there was no discrimination between open-source and proprietary software by the government on ideological or philosophical grounds.

The open-source versus proprietary software debate has also received recent play at state level, with the New South Wales government releasing a tender for a panel of suppliers of Linux solutions to agencies.

"My view is very straightforward… that whatever alternatives our customers have, be they open source or not, if they are better value for money and better fit for purpose than what Microsoft have, then we've got a problem. We need to deal with that and I don't think that's pretty much different to anyone in the industry," Vamos said.

"That's the way we should go about it."

"Certainly, some of the debate… has pretty much quietened down, but there were some suggestions that there should be preference towards open source," he said.

"I have certainly made no secret of the fact that I don't think there's any technology that anyone in government should try and legislate or favour because, at the end of the day, the industry is not that good at picking winners, so… if you're a customer, I'm not sure that's the business that you really want to be in".

Vamos said he viewed the shift to the use of software as a service as "a much bigger movement" than the open-source community.

The Microsoft boss also said in the corporate arena, rather than just having the chief information officer pushing the IT agenda in the top team, every member of that team had to sign up to it.

"That's just like every person on the top team has to sign up to the HR agenda because those are holistic business concerns."

"They're not a functional concern of IT or of HR."

"But that integration with strategy, that ownership at the top is really fundamental".

Iain Ferguson of ZDNet Australia reported from Sydney. For more ZDNet Australia stories, click here.