MS Analysts Steve Ballmer was the only person to raise the issue of Linux when he wrapped up Microsoft's annual financial analysts meeting in Seattle, although he put Sun and Oracle ahead in terms of being stronger competitors. They of course are 'civilised' competitors - but the Linux crowd, in the world of Prez Steve, are communists.
Ballmer wanted "to emphasise the competitive threat, and in some senses the competitive opportunity, that Linux represents. Linux is a tough competitor. There's no company called Linux, there's barely a Linux road map. Yet Linux sort of springs organically from the earth. And it had, you know, the characteristics of communism that people love so very, very much about it. That is, it's free. [Outlook Express is free, and also sometimes lets strangers share your hard disk - is this anarchism? - Ed] And I'm not trying to make fun of it, because it's a real competitive issue. Today, I would say, we still don't see a lot of Linux competition in most quarters on the desktop, and we see a lot of Linux competition in some server markets. And we could either say, hey, Linux is going to roll over the world, but I don't see that happening. That's not what's going on right now."
Ballmer though Microsoft should "go back into some of the ISP markets and ASP markets where Linux has been historically strong and start to compete more successfully. Not on price, not on the free nature of our stuff, but as we get better development tools, as we make it easier for people to debug their software, as we have sort of a development approach that facilitates the applications that ISPs have been writing, I think we have a real opportunity to, if you will, push back into some of the markets that have been real Linux strongholds. But Linux has too, with its free price point, and the fact that it runs on the same hardware we do, so we have no hardware advantage versus Linux, which we do tend to have with some of our other competitors, it certainly is something very, very much on our radar screen."
The rather unprepared Ballmer was a little more sensitive to the concerns of the financial analysts, and had chosen "Growth" as his title because there was clear concern that Microsoft might be running out of steam and be unable to generate sufficient revenue to satisfy Wall Street in the coming years. His message was essentially that Microsoft was "working very, very hard; very, very hard on new products". He said he would not give any percentages for growth, and said that the only dispute would be about "how quickly it will all come". All he saw was "upside". As to whether Microsoft would meet its targets, he couldn't make any promises, "but there is certainly no downside risk in the consumer market. The amount of revenue that we may get all looks like upside to me versus where we are today. The same is largely true in small business."
There was a hint that Ballmer was not overjoyed at the .NET caper, since he confessed "I have never felt better and I've never felt more nervous about something despite that fact in my career at Microsoft. When we launched .NET, frankly, I was saying, will they like it? Will the dog buy this dog food? Will it make sense to people?"
Ballmer was asked the classic teaser question: what he would have done differently. His great desire had been to have Windows 2000 ready for business and consumers at the same time. Apparently, Microsoft's Japanese subsidiary didn't agree that Windows 2000 was just a business product and as a result of its promotional efforts, had midnight queues when it was released, with Sony pre-loading it on consumer machines.
So Steve wishes he'd launched Win2k at the consumers as well as at business. But does he really? Win2k came under some fire for its initial lack of drivers, and it's not stellar at running existing Windows games. So is Steve regretting first that Microsoft cancelled Neptune, and second that it didn't finish Neptune and make it truly wonderful, or is he simply viewing the past through rose-tinted glasses? ®