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Q&A: Steve Ballmer On Windows 7 Enterprise Deployment

In a one-on-one interview, Microsoft's CEO encouraged CIOs to carve out money for Windows 7, saying end users are going to demand it.

InformationWeek: For years when we would talk to you, security was the number one talking point. Do you feel that you've kind of won that battle?

Ballmer: No, I don't think we've won the battle. I think that's a battle you're on top of for your whole life or you're going to lose. I do think that in the broad mindset, security has less prominence today than it would have four or five years ago. If you look at in our engineering teams and our approaches and what we're doing, security remains very high up on the list. In popular culture, out of sight is out of mind. Today it's identity theft, which is another security problem very much at the top of people's minds. But these kind of raging virus problems of a few years back, while they're not gone and they could certainly reemerge, they're just less in the popular mindset.

InformationWeek: There has been a lot of talk that cloud computing is the new model for IT efficiency. Where does that fit into your new way of looking at IT investment?

Ballmer: I think the reason people will embrace cloud computing is for the new efficiency--productivity and innovation, cost and agility. It's not all about cost, it's about the combination of those things. That said, there will be a pace of adoption, and we've got to stay ahead of the pace of adoption, but no matter what we do, the pace of adoption isn't going to be instantaneous. People have to get comfortable; IT people have to get comfortable with the model, with their data, their programs living outside their companies. We all have to make what I would call the incremental improvements, because some of these application workloads you're going to want to split between on-premise and in the cloud.

So, there's a set of factors that I think will gate adoption. Certainly we're seeing much more rapid adoption even for our Exchange and SharePoint Online offerings. Those things are going really quite quickly. The Azure product line, which is more at the line-of-business platform level -- Windows Azure, SQL Azure -- that stuff will go just a little more slowly because there's a little bit more education and comfort level that has to be built with IT managers, but no doubt cloud computing is also part of the new efficiency.

InformationWeek: Our research shows that only 16% of IT pros have plans to deploy Windows 7 in the first 12 months, and about 50% had no plans or don't know of their companies' plans. That seems to suggest that you have your work cut out.

Ballmer: You always do. I happen to believe there's not much education to do. It's not like people don't understand that there is a Windows 7. It's not like most of the customers haven't tried the Windows 7.

I think there is a set of issues that says, hey, can I deploy this independently, should I deploy this independently of a hardware refresh cycle? And will my hardware refresh cycle continue to look like it has looked, will it be a little slower because of budgets? So, the numbers you cite, they don't scare me. It's software business as usual. IT is going to be thoughtful and kind of careful in its embrace of anything new. I don't think this will be a question in the case of Windows 7 of, should we? It will be when should we, which is a very different question. There will be a strong view very quickly that says we should; yet I'm not sure that that will ring an alarm bell that says we must do it immediately.

InformationWeek: As you talk to CIOs, what's your sense of their readiness to move in this direction?

Ballmer: I think the real question is, are CIOs ready to refresh machines with Windows 7, and when? Are they willing to live with a mixture of Windows 7 machines and Vista and XP machines in the installed base? And selling that transition and supporting customers through that transition is important. Frankly, if you ask me, anybody who's thinking that they're ready for Vista should just deploy Windows 7, tomorrow morning. Now, that may not be where the customers are and we have some work to do to really invest with the customers in getting them confident about that.

So, we're not going to come in there and say, hey, there's a huge big new investment for you. What we're really trying to say is, let's leverage the investment you're already making and help you be more productive with it. Let's help you save that 100, 150 bucks a PC; let's help you get the users the thing they really want. And let's not even spend another dime. Let's try to do that just with what you already have budgeted. And then if you really spend a couple more dimes, we can help you make it all happen a little bit faster. That will be a bigger challenge for our guys, and that's something we'll get after.

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