Microsoft's $500 Million Message: People Are The Business - InformationWeek

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Microsoft's $500 Million Message: People Are The Business

CEO Ballmer says security and usability of its upcoming products are the focus of the company's R&D efforts.

Marking Microsoft's 20th anniversary as a public company, CEO Steve Ballmer was in New York City Thursday talking up the company's upcoming products to improve businesses' ability to connect from the data center to the desktop to the Web, and promising to spend $500 million over the next year to market those products.

The software that Ballmer discussed and demonstrated, including the Vista desktop operating system, Longhorn server, and Executive Office 2007, is old hat to anyone following Microsoft over the past few years. Ballmer's intent, however, was to show how these products will work together to promote productivity.

Thursday's catch phrase, "People-Ready" business, is one the market will hear a lot of over the next year. It addresses how the "best businesses work hard to facilitate their people's success," Ballmer said. Software is at the heart of this success, supporting teamwork, fostering compliance, improving information visibility, and enhancing processes, he added.

A demonstration conducted by Chris Capossela, corporate VP of Microsoft's business division, illustrated how coming versions of the company's Outlook, Exchange, Office, and Business Intelligence products will let workers check not only their own E-mails and voicemails from PCs and mobile phones, but also on the availability of co-workers and business partners working in Microsoft environments. A green dot next to a person's name on a directory means they're online and ready to receive instant messages or collaborate on PowerPoint presentations. Capossela even demonstrated how he could call his E-mail from his mobile phone and have a computer read him his messages.

The demo didn't realistically address the sluggish performance users generally experience when they open multiple applications simultaneously on their overtaxed desktops. But Ballmer pointed out that Microsoft has spent $20 billion in R&D over the past three years to make Thursday's demo a reality.

Fashion designer and businessman Tommy Hilfiger briefly addressed the audience to endorse Microsoft's products as supporting his company in the fast-paced fashion industry, "where customers expect new merchandise on the shelves every four-to-six weeks." Ballmer, decked out in a red, white, and blue Tommy Hilfiger tie, joked that he was nervous about sharing the stage with Hilfiger. "I am generally not a fashionable guy," he said.

Ballmer also used his presentation to seize on a key issue that's certain to make or break many software companies over the next few years, noting that Microsoft has "made security a job-one priority." He gave few new details about the company's security strategy, but it's clear that security and usability are critical components to Microsoft's ability to grow its business and fend off advances made by open-source software, which has provided robust competition on the desktop, the Web, and in the data center. Google is also turning up the heat on Microsoft, having last week announced the acquisition of Writely, a maker of online word-processing software.

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