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CEO Visions: A $5 Billion Vote Of Confidence

The promise and opportunities of the next decade are every bit as good as they were in the last, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer says.

As CEO of Microsoft, I'm often asked about the future of technology. Given the current economic environment, customers want to know whether additional investments in IT will lead to worthwhile increases in productivity, reliability, security, and, of course, profitability. Partners want to know where we're placing our bets in the years ahead. And some pundits wonder whether the era of the PC has run its course.

While none of us has a crystal ball, I believe the promise and opportunities are at least as great in the Digital Decade ahead as they were throughout most of the last 10 years. The bursting of the Internet bubble has led some to speculate that the best of times for the high-tech industry are over. But consider the following:

  • The world computer industry shipped its billionth PC in 2002, and the next billion are expected to be built in the next six years, according to Gartner Dataquest.
  • More than 600 million people around the world have some form of access to the Internet.
  • E-tail sales in the United States totaled about $31 billion during the first nine months of 2002, an increase of 34%, compared with a 4% rise in retail sales overall.
  • Software and computer-services companies employ about 2.2 million U.S. workers, nearly twice as many as in 1995.
  • Investment in business equipment and software, which turned higher again in mid-2002, contributed 13% of the growth in the American economy during the third quarter, according to government estimates.
  • Underscoring Microsoft's confidence in the future of technology is our investment of about $5 billion this fiscal year in research and development. While some of this money is going toward pure research in promising areas such as advanced operating systems and user interfaces, artificial intelligence, and quantum computing, most of our R&D is focused on products that will be available to customers this year or in the next couple of years. This focus on research continues to produce breakthroughs such as ClearType, advances in data mining and natural language and speech, and Smart Personal Object Technology, which will enable an advanced generation of customizable watches that access personal messages, news, and other information.

    Nowhere has our focus been stronger than in the enterprise space, where our product road map reflects the strong interest customers have in technology that will enable new levels of operational efficiency and dependability. Most significantly, in April Microsoft will launch Windows Server 2003, a server platform for powering connected applications, networks, and Web services from the workgroup to the data center.

    There are many other significant products we'll be releasing this year, including the next versions of Visual Studio .Net, Office, Exchange Server, and SQL Server 2000 Enterprise Edition, as well as XML Web-services technologies, a unified E-business environment, an Office application called XDocs designed to streamline information gathering by teams and organizations, and instant-messaging management tools for the enterprise.

    When you look at all these things in aggregate and combine them with the phenomenal work being done by software developers and our partners throughout the industry, it's hard not to be bullish about the year ahead. While no one can say for sure when the global economic climate will turn, as we stay focused on what customers tell us they want and as we partner to deliver high-quality, affordable technology, great opportunities exist for customers and for our industry.

    Steve Ballmer is CEO of Microsoft.

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    Do tech stars like Michael Dell, Steve Ballmer, and Carly Fiorina see the future clearly? Check out what our complete panel of 32 visionaries have to say here.

    Columns By Other Hardware Company CEOs
    Craig Barrett, Intel Scott McNealy, Sun Microsystems
    John Chambers, Cisco Systems Inc. Sam Palmisano, IBM
    Michael Dell, Dell Computer Joe Tucci, EMC Corp.
    Carly Fiorina, Hewlett-Packard Dan Warmenhoven, Network Appliance Inc.

    Is the author right? Or out in left field? Have your say on this column and the rest of our Future Visions package at

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