Ballmer bullish on future, bearish on Linux

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer touted his company's vision for a bright future, while casting doubt on alternatives to...

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer touted his company's vision for a bright future, while casting doubt on alternatives to his company's Windows operating system, in particular Linux when addressing a gathering of software industry leaders.

Ballmer said he was excited about the promise of technological advances in the next decade. Ballmer then took shots at the open-source software development community and warned participants to think twice before adopting open-source products such as Linux.

"I am as fired up now as I have ever been in 24 years at Microsoft," Ballmer said. Noting the rapid adoption of technology such as PCs, the internet and mobile telephones in the preceding decade, Ballmer said a new generation of software and hardware, driven by advances in speech recognition technology and multimedia, will revolutionise the way individuals work and live.

"In the next 10 years, you are going to see more positive change than in the last 10," Ballmer said.

Advances in software in coming years would make such features practical, making "information workers"  and those in fast-growing fields like healthcare more productive, he said.

Ballmer promoted his company's products as a key to that transformation, including the next version of the Windows operating system, dubbed "Longhorn", and the company's .net computing architecture.

Joking about recent news regarding a curtailed list of features in Longhorn, Ballmer said that cutting back on the promised features at least allowed the company to announce a release date for the product, which was a "major accomplishment".

Despite the focus on the next version of Windows, Microsoft is also working to make its offerings more interoperable with products using other software platforms such as Linux, Unix and Extensible Markup Language (XML), Ballmer said.

Ballmer singled out XML and web services as the "big breakthrough" of the next decade that will spur innovation.

"The fact that companies like Oracle, IBM and Microsoft have bet on an architected approach to interoperability is huge," he said.

Even while promoting interoperability, Ballmer scoffed at arguments that his company's operating system creates a computing "monoculture", and took a swipe at those who would see Linux replace Windows on servers and desktops within companies.

Microsoft's platforms offer better interoperability with the company's other technology, such as .net, reducing the total cost of ownership of Windows compared with Linux, which is available free, but often requires significant effort to integrate and maintain, Ballmer said. He cited a Microsoft-sponsored study by analysts Forrester Research and a similar study by Gartner to bolster his claims.

Technology research groups have published different findings about the cost benefits of using Linux compared with Windows, with some, including IDC, finding the cost of owning Linux to be less than Windows, and others finding the opposite true. 

On the touchy issue of security, Ballmer also dismissed the notion that Linux is more secure than Windows, saying that Linux would be attacked just as frequently as Windows if the open-source operating system had as large a share of the operating system market as Windows.

"If you have two popular operating systems, both will get attacked - whatever is popular is going to be attacked," he said.

While not perfect on security, Microsoft has a defined process for addressing security vulnerabilities, compared with the open source community, which he called "all over the map", when it came to addressing vulnerabilities in Linux, Ballmer said.

Finally, Ballmer argued that companies should be wary of the lack of indemnity from lawsuits, such as the suit filed by SCO Group against DaimlerChrysler, IBM, Novell and others over parts of the Linux operating system that SCO claims infringe on elements of the Unix operating system that it owns.

"In the Linux world, nobody stands behind patent claims," he said, noting that Microsoft could be forced to swallow a $550m (£307m) judgement if it loses its ongoing case with Eolas Technologies, but that its customers would be protected.

"I am not trying to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt," Ballmer said. "I just think people should go out and research this for themselves."

Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service

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