Ballmer: PC is the ultimate empowerment

The PC is the ultimate symbol of empowerment, according to Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft Corp. And that will be even more true in the future.

“When Microsoft was founded back in the mid-70s, Bill Gates articulated for our employees, for our partners, for our customers, the notion that the PC was a very powerful device and someday there would be a PC on every desk and in every home,” he said. “We’re still far from that goal. If you look worldwide less than 50 per cent of all the desktops have personal computers.”

The PC, Ballmer said, is about empowerment. “And what we really need to do is take that notion of empowerment and extend it to anybody, anywhere, anytime, connected to the Internet, on any device,” he said.

Ballmer’s comments came during his keynote speech at the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference and Exhibition (WinHEC) 99 in Los Angeles, in which he outlined the company’s key initiatives for enriching the Microsoft Windows operating system.

The PC is a good foundation for the future, he said. “It has brought us all the success that we’ve had, and the personal computer is not getting less popular every year.” He said this year well over 100 million personal computers will be sold.

According to Ballmer, the cost of processing has gone from over US$5,000 per MIP down to about US$1.78 per MIP. “And that incredible innovation, that incredible foundation of power that’s been given to us by the semiconductor industry has allowed all of us to really push and pursue this dream of a computer on every desk and in every home,” he said.

“But that same power is now affecting or allowing us to affect new form factors, hand-held devices, living room devices. It’s affecting the communications industry. We see more and more new communications devices, routers, switches, etc., coming out with essentially personal computer architecture, chips, systems, peripherals and software as built-in componentry.”

Small-business servers are increasingly important, Ballmer said.

“In the United States today less than 20 per cent of all businesses with under 100 employees actually have a server,” he said. “And so the notion of…very specialized devices to help connect in the vast array of small businesses in this country and around the world is a great opportunity.”

According to Ballmer, the Microsoft’s Windows Server Appliance addresses this problem. Jointly developed by Intel Corp. and Microsoft, the Server Appliance for small business is scheduled to be available in Q2 for less than US$2,000.

The product will connect small groups of PC users. “They want to share some files, they want to share some printers, they want to share a connection to the Internet. How do you do that very simply?” According to Ballmer, before the Server Appliance, companies had to buy a server and pay somebody US$100 or US$120 an hour to set it up and configure it.

“In a small business, where everything is basically file and print sharing and Internet access, can we make that a totally simple experience, where literally you buy a hardware appliance that runs the thing, you turn it on, and you’re set up instantaneously, without the involvement of some value-added reseller?”

Ballmer believes PC architectures will someday extend from the desktop all the way back through the enterprise.

“We see opportunities in the businesses market for the PC architecture to grow up, so that literally the biggest, most powerful servers at the backbone of the Internet will run on PC architectures,” he said. “We see opportunities to have the PC replace in its entirety the minicomputer market as we know it. All of these are opportunities for innovative hardware design, software design, systems work and sales and marketing.”

The next frontier for Windows, Ballmer said, is 64-bit processing.

“We’ve had a lot of interest in the 64-bit server version of Windows. When will Windows be 64-bit? Today, Windows NT only allows you to target machines with up to 4GB of virtual memory. But with the Merced chip coming from Intel, with the work that Compaq has done with Alpha, there’s an opportunity to go full 64-bit.”

According to Ballmer, Microsoft will launch a 64-bit version of Windows, based on the Windows 2000 code base, after the shipment of Windows 2000.

“We do have a single source code base for Windows 2000 between the 32-bit version and the 64-bit version,” Ballmer said. “When we ship Windows 2000, we’ll also ship an intermediate form factor that actually supports 36-bits of addressability on today’s Intel chips.”

SIDEBAR

Also, according to Ballmer:

Microsoft Corp. president Steve Ballmer dropped two other bombshells at Winhec 99: there’s another Windows 9.x coming and the vendor may go open source.

Contrary to about a year’s worth of statements about its future plans, Microsoft will ship an upgraded version of Windows 98 next year after all, Ballmer said in his keynote address. The upgrade will be based on the Windows 9.x kernel and will be focused on the consumer but available to corporate buyers as well.

Ballmer also sent a message to the computer industry — as well as the U.S. Department of Justice — that the software giant is “thinking with great interest” about opening up Windows source code.

Ballmer’s comments marked the first time that Microsoft has publicly mulled over the possibility of using an open-source model for its prized operating system.

Ballmer said there were some drawbacks to making Windows code widely available, and many users such as company CEOs do not want their shops tinkering with the code.

However, Ballmer said the company was coming to realize that giving source code to users creates a “certain level of comfort” for many of them. “There is a comfort level, and we are, of course, thinking with great interest about that,” Ballmer said. He offered no further elaboration.

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