“IT people all got their budget whacked,” according to Steve Ballmer. “If I don’t defer to that powerful market, these people will really think I’m out of touch.”
The CEO of Microsoft Corp. was in Toronto on Wednesday to officially launch Windows 7, Windows Server R2 and Exchange 2010, a triumvirate of products he said will create huge efficiencies and cost savings within enterprise IT departments.
In his keynote address Q&A and in a conversation with a handful of journalists from national media organizations, Ballmer directly responded to the top three questions our readers wanted him to address. Here are his answers:
In the normal course of events Windows 7 would simply be considered a service pack for Vista, why should the users who made the switch to Vista now be forced to pay again? It seems to me that those are the people that were already on side but now you are going to make them pay for your mistake.
‑ Jim Banks
Ballmer: I’d stay on Windows Vista. I don’t think Vista was a mistake at all. I think it was controversial – we did break compatibility in the interests of security, there’s no question. And I probably would have handled some things different, but if you take a Vista product today, with the service packs we’ve made, with the work that was done with device manufacturers and software vendors, it’s a good product. Windows 7 is another turn of the crank – there’s always another turn of the crank – but I wouldn’t recommend for people who have got Vista deployed, or IT managers, to feel compelled to move forward. We’re supportive of Vista now, we’ll continue to support it, I have to acknowledge that there was more “hubbub” shall we say in the market that perhaps I would have liked, but I just came from a room of some 650 IT people, and about 30 per cent of the companies in the room have Vista deployed. We’ve happy they have it deployed. If they want to move to Windows 7 great, if they want to say on Windows Vista that’s great too.
Given that the world, largely enabled by firms like Microsoft, is on a trajectory to digital knowledge, why would Microsoft release Office products that don’t read old versions of files created in previous releases. Powerpoint would be an example. I can’t open Powerpoint 95 files, for example in Office X. You release utilities to go the other way, presumably so you can sell new product – why not the other way which many of us would find just as, or more important?
Ballmer: In every product we’ve ever built, there is what I would call (the issue of) efficiency vs. capability, simplicity vs. capabilities. Those are just balance points you have to hit. IT is always under efficiency pressure, it’s just more acute right now. IT is always trying to get more done, so there’s always a capability issue. Users always want things that are simpler, that’s the equivalent of costs right now to the consumer, and the consumer wants things that are more capable. They don’t say, “I want more power,” but then if they want to get something done if the software doesn’t do it, they say, “Why doesn’t it have this feature?” I get this with Microsoft Office. I get IT directors who say, “Our users don’t use it.” Well, I’ll say, “That’s not true.” We’ll go into the finance group and they’ll have a list of features as long as your arm. You go to the sales department and they have a list of things that PowerPoint doesn’t do. It’s just that not everyone wants all the same features. So have to design to that sweet spot of efficiency, simplicity and capability. And we’re going to have to continue to do that.
I just want the products to be right the first time again. They’re not, and I won’t hang up my equipment and go home, but the goal is get things right out of the shute. But I think it is important to also say you’re willing to continue even if the first incarnation of things is not right. SAP didn’t get it right the first time with ERP. Oracle didn’t get it right the first time with databases. Google didn’t get it right the first time with search. It took seven years for them to pop. We’re trying to make sure we get things right as fast as we can and at the same time not be so impatient that we can’t learn and benefit from getting feedback.
DP / IT Manager
Carpenter Canada Co.
Ballmer: Our strategy is our strategy – to work on software and to partner with the hardware industry. I think we have the right model to focus on, because a lot of people have different ideas of what should be in a mobile phone. Some people want a touch-screen, some people want a slide out keyboard. It’s different for everyone. I do think we have to pick up our game in that area. If there’s really a market for a five or six-inch screen, you don’t want the phone UI on that but you don’t want the PC UI. Right now I think people want devices that are smaller but big enough to be useful as a real PC.