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Ballmer in Gartner's Hot Seat

The Windows Future Storage (WinFS) technology is making good progress and will be included in a "Longhorn wave" of products, although it's still not going to be ready for the Windows Longhorn client release in 2006, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said at the Gartner Symposium and ITxpo 2004.

In a wide-ranging discussion with Gartner analysts Darryl Plummer and Thomas Bittman, Ballmer also touched on competition with Linux, 64-bit prospects and software piracy.

Ballmer's statements on WinFS Wednesday threw additional light on recent comments from Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates. At a speech this month at the University of California-Berkeley, Gates lumped WinFS in with other technologies coming in Longhorn even after the company made a public announcement in late August that WinFS was cut from the client. Microsoft's public plan is to ship a beta of WinFS when the Longhorn client reaches the market in 2006.

Ballmer on Wednesday expanded on the rationale for the August decision to cut the overhauled file system from Longhorn: "We made a fairly conscious choice to go from being completely vision-driven to saying now, let's decide what we're going to ship in this date, and then what we'll ship beyond that, and that was the reason we moved the WinFS component out."

The technology, which is a variation on a theme Microsoft and Gates have sought to build into Windows for more than a decade, is in a dicey situation. Although the project has a high-profile team leader in Peter Spiro and the ultimate executive sponsor in Gates, WinFS is no longer tied to the ship date for a product that will bring revenue to Redmond. As the 2006 ship date for the client looms closer and priorities are hardened, WinFS could struggle for resources.

Ballmer sought to portray the WinFS component as very healthy during his Gartner talk. "It's making actually quite good progress, but not good enough progress to make an '06 shipment," Ballmer said. "WinFS is yet another developer advantage in the Longhorn, I guess I'll call it a wave now, because it's not going to be in the Longhorn first release."

The Gartner analysts confronted Ballmer with several questions about Linux. Asked to name an area where open-source models work and provide value, Ballmer responded with an example of an area where Microsoft has plans to respond.

"We'll bring to market this next 12 months a version of Windows Server for high-performance computing. That's a very important product to us. Why? Because we have had an engineering value proposition deficiency versus Linux in some high-performance computing environments," Ballmer acknowledged. Microsoft plans to release Windows Server 2003, HPC Edition in the second half of 2005. The company intends to deliver an SDK for the HPC Edition around the end of this year.

Ballmer also used the forum to knock high-profile international deals where Linux has made inroads on the desktop.

  • On Munich: "Yes, we lost the city of Munich. But the fact that the same story gets told 65,000 times and there's still only one customer and they're still -- how do I use a good, polite word here? -- they're still diddling around to some degree -- to try to decide when they're really going to do the migration."
  • On Paris: "People said the city of Paris was going to adopt Linux. Well, the studies come back, it would be dramatically more expensive to move to Linux. There's no ROI case for the next seven or eight years to even consider a movement from Windows to Linux for the city of Paris. That's the real data."
  • The state of Pernambuco, Brazil: "Same thing, it was reported [as] going to Linux. No, in fact, the case is made."
  • China: "Our products have higher market share in China than they do in this country, most of it, of course, not paid for."

    After scoring some laughs from the audience on the reference to software piracy in China, Ballmer later dove into the complex issues of international pricing and software piracy.

    In the last few weeks, Microsoft named the five countries that will be eligible for the lower cost Windows XP Starter Edition, a stripped-down version of Windows for first-time computer users in countries that Microsoft defines as emerging markets and which also happen to have low per-capita incomes and high rates of software piracy. The five countries are India, Russia, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.

    Ballmer argued that the price for full versions of Windows in some of those countries, he cited China and India, should not necessarily be lower. "The people who are buying these machines are relatively affluent people, for those countries very affluent," Ballmer said. "This is a market where until the government and situational factors conspire to help reduce the amount of software piracy, I don't think those affluent people -- it's not a price issue. They can not pay, so they don't pay."

    But Ballmer acknowledged that a new paradigm is necessary to push computers down from businesses and affluent classes only into the general population of those countries. "There needs to be the equivalent of a $100 computer, not just a $400 computer, if this stuff is really going to go down market in some of these countries," Ballmer said.

    Turning to x86 64-bit platforms from Intel and AMD, Ballmer was bullish on the prospects for uptake. He said he expected "a lot of pickup" in the next 12 months on the server and high-end desktop level and that a number of server applications will become "red hot" for 64-bit x86 next year.

    "By the time of Longhorn in '06, I'm not going to say every machine everybody buys will necessarily be 64-bit, but I actually think that will happen sometime in '06 or '07," Ballmer said.

    For the full text of Ballmer's remarks, click here.

  • About the Author

    Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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