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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: Some companies unloaded Vista from new PCs and replaced it with XP. You have a customer base that's grown to respect XP, but is XP kind of coming to end of life?

Ballmer: I think IT people will be able to get comfortable with Windows 7 with its user interface characteristics, security, management, costs perspective pretty quickly, and end users are going to say, we want it. We didn't have as much of the end users demanding Vista that I expect we will have with [Windows 7], but let's see.

There's going to be some phenomenal new PCs running Windows. You'll see some of these ultra thins running Windows 7, and you'll go, woo. You'll see a netbook or two running Windows 7 and you'll go, whoosh, let alone the things you're going to see that go next to TVs, at home, and all-in-one form factors and a variety of other things. You'll see those things and say, that's the machine I need to get my job done.

Again, assume flat budgets. I assume we're not going to get some big increase in IT budgets. That's when people say to me, are we going to get a big corporate refresh cycle? If we do, it's going to be because we're eating away at the budget that would have been allocated to something else. So, I don't count on that, but I do count on our ability to convince people that the best thing to do with that money that they got allocated for new PCs is to put it into these beautiful new Windows PCs at very economic cost.

InformationWeek: One of the things your 'new efficiency' message implies is that businesses can drive through this economy by investing in IT, which is kind of a bold statement.

Ballmer: I do believe that very strongly. It may not be the only answer, but at the end of the day the only way for the economy to grow isn't going to be from debt, it's going to be from productivity and innovation. If you look at the source is of innovation in many industries, IT is fundamental. It's fundamental to new exploration, new invention, new science. IT is a fundamental part of the innovation process, so I think it part of the new efficiency in that sense. And certainly from a productivity perspective, the only provable source of systemic productivity gains in the world economy over the last 30 years has come from IT.

Yeah, I'm sure I'm a booster for our industry, but I don't feel over the top in making the assertion that when it comes to innovation or even take your industry [media], the key innovation in your industry is all information technology. That's where we get the Internet, the blogosphere. It's what we're seeing in the entertainment business, it's what we're seeing in the telecom business, it's what we're seeing in financial services, in shopping, in science-based businesses. We're part of the innovation and productivity that's driving the world economy. We're one of the bedrocks of productivity and economic growth.

InformationWeek: Three years ago, you were optimistic that companies would adopt Vista and drive innovation. As it turns out, there was less of that than expected. Why is your optimism this time is more warranted?

Ballmer: It's one of these things where my optimism about our industry is independent of the products I'm talking about. My optimism about our products is always about what I know about what we've built, coupled with an understanding of what the user reaction has been leading up to the announcement. That was compressed in the Vista timeframe; it was not compressed in the Windows 7 timeframe.

I'm optimistic by nature, but at the end of the day it doesn't matter whether I'm optimistic or I'm pessimistic or I'm FU or I'm BAR; it only matters what the customers say today, three months from now, six months from now, a year from now. So far, the early "tryers", if you will, have been optimistic and positive. So, let's just wait and see what the customers say.

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