Q&A: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer On The Imminent Vista, Office, Exchange Product Blast
Ballmer talks to InformationWeek about next week's major product launches, incentives to upgrade, Vista security, "software and service" vs. "software as a service," and competing with Apple, Linux, and purpose-built appliances.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will be in New York on Nov. 30 to introduce major upgrades to three of Microsoft's flagship products: the Windows Vista operating system, Office 2007 application suite, and Exchange Server 2007 e-mail system. In advance of that announcement, Ballmer talked with InformationWeek editor John Foley about the significance of the product launch to Microsoft's business customers. We also asked about Microsoft's plan for continuing to develop innovative products amid fundamental changes in how software is delivered and accessed.
InformationWeek: You describe this product launch as a new era for business computing. What's the big deal?
Ballmer: It's Vista and Office and Exchange, but it's also the launch of a wave of products, some of which ship immediately and some of which come out over the next year or so. Number one, we enhance our traditional value proposition, in terms of end-user, individual productivity. When we say things like, the Ribbon changes everything, I really mean it. The Ribbon [part of Office 2007's user interface] changes everything. There are things in both Windows Vista and in Office that dramatically enhance individual productivity.
Number two, what we're shipping with SharePoint, with Exchange, with enterprise content management, in terms of workflow and document management, we also make this the transition between individual productivity and people being able to tie their individual productivity into the information and workflow of their business processes. Exchange is critical to that. SharePoint is critical to that. Excel Services is an important piece of that for business intelligence. Enterprise search is an important part of it.
The third piece is bringing this all home for IT people by reducing the cost of management, improving the security of these systems, and the level of compliance and the tools for information compliance that are built in. And of course it's all available in a way that developers can tailor.
IW: It all sounds good. Yet we also know some of your business customers are running old software, Windows 98, NT, Windows 2000, and Exchange 5.5. What's going to be the thing that grabs their attention and really drives adoption?
Ballmer: In the business market, people are grabbed at different times in different places for different reasons, and maybe even inside an organization for different users. It requires alignment of the following factors: We've got to fit in the [upgrade] cycle of the customer. Customers' cycles are determined in part by our upgrade cycles and in part by other business requirements. Number two, we've got to galvanize people with the business value these technologies bring so that they're motivated to move up their cycle times or to include these products as they go through their normal refresh cycle. A lot of people will move in the first year, a lot will move in the second year, and yet there will probably be people who still haven't moved in years 3, 4, 5.
As you point out, there is a lot of NT workstation still in a number of businesses and there's still some Exchange 5.5. In a sense, the guys with the older infrastructure are actually most likely to be among the early adopters.
IW: Our research shows that 39% of IT professionals plan to do some Vista upgrades in the first 12 months. How does that jibe with your own numbers?
Ballmer: That would be fairly comparable. It all depends on how much they move--one machine, lots of machines. If you looked at it in aggregate, 35% to 45% would be approximately right.
IW: How does that track with XP?
Ballmer: I think we will get an adoption cycle around Vista that may be a little bit faster than XP because of the importance of security, which was sort of a lesser issue when XP shipped. And the transition issues are no bigger by and large with Vista than they were with XP.
IW: How confident are you that the security of Windows environments is going to take a real step forward here?
Ballmer: Very sure of that, very sure. That's different than saying, Do we have the first system in the history of the planet that has no issues? I'm not saying that. But I am quite sure that this is the most secure version of Windows we have ever built, the most reliable version of Windows that we have ever built, and the version of Windows which is most able to protect itself from attacks.
IW: You describe Vista and the Office System and Exchange Server 2007 as a new era of business computing. Some people describe it as the old era of business computing. By that, I mean big pieces of software that run on a company's own computers and that take years to build and deliver. How do you respond?
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