Ballmer bullish on future, bearish on Linux CW version

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer addressed a gathering of software industry leaders in Boston last month, touting his company’s vision for a bright future, while casting doubt on alternatives to his company’s Windows operating system, in particular Linux.

Speaking to members of the Massachusetts Software Council, Ballmer said he was excited about the promise of technological advances in the next decade. But Ballmer shed his visionary mantle soon after, taking shots at the open source software development community and warning participants to think twice before adopting open source products like Linux.

Noting the prevalent use of pen and paper by audience members, Ballmer wondered aloud why the content of his speech was not being captured and translated automatically, while also being synchronized with real-time video and a copy of his Microsoft PowerPoint presentation.

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.

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 XML (Extensible Markup Language), 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 (Corp.), IBM (Corp.) 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 for free, but often requires significant effort to integrate and maintain, Ballmer said. He cited a Microsoft-sponsored study by Forrester Research Inc. and a similar study by Gartner Inc. 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. “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 The SCO Group Inc. against DaimlerChrysler AG, IBM, Novell Inc. 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 US$550 million judgement if it loses its ongoing case with Eolas Technologies Inc., but that its customers would be protected. “I’m not trying to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt,” Ballmer said. “I just think people should go out and research this for themselves.”

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