IBM and Linux combined represent a threat and inspiration as Microsoft Corp drives into enterprise computing, top company executives said yesterday.
Computing giant IBM wages war against Microsoft in lucrative corporate accounts while Linux, the low-cost threat to Windows, wins supporters in fertile developer communities.
Speaking at Microsoft's 2002 Financial Analysts Day yesterday, executives heading-up Microsoft's developer and enterprise server divisions spoke with frankness. They also revealed product and strategic initiatives to combat the double-headed threat.
Eric Rudder, senior vice president developer and platform evangelism, set the tone. "IBM is our greatest competitor. In the way they sell products and compete in corporate accounts," he said.
Paul Flessner, senior vice president .NET enterprise servers, called IBM and Linux a "formidable" challenge. "It's not just IBM alone, it's not just Linux alone," he said.
He said it had been a tough year for server companies. "The number that scares me the most, is that the number of servers shipped [this year] was down," he said.
However, Flessner articulated Microsoft's response to Linux. "Linux is free like a puppy. It looks free but when you get all the pieces around it, it doesn't work out so free. There's a lot more than I/O and memory management to make up an operating system."
Flessner said IBM has a "slight lead" in e-business infrastructure, with WebSphere running on Linux. A second threat to Microsoft is Tivoli, and Flessner hinted Microsoft is gearing-up a systems management product. "It's solid competition. We are working to get in there," he said.
He believes the planned Windows. NET Server will issue a further challenge. New features for the operating system, scheduled for the end of 2002, include wizards to improve configuration, management and deployment of Windows .NET Server and Active Directory, and better process isolation so processes cannot knock out applications.
Rudder said in 2003 Microsoft must ensure .NET becomes the preferred architecture for application development. To achieve this, Microsoft must convert millions of developers using existing versions of C/C++ and Visual Basic onto .NET versions of the company's languages. These .NET languages underpin Microsoft's servers.
One way is to build greater support in the community for Microsoft's programming languages, tools and servers. Microsoft believes Linux has cracked this nut, and explains Microsoft's ASP.NET Web Matrix Project - a community development tool for building ASP.NET Web applications available for free download.
"We need to build a vibrant and healthy developer community. That's the lesson Linux has taught us. Having people to help. Knowing where to get questions answered," Rudder said.
Rudder also revealed more details of future versions of Visual Studio.NET, highlighted on Wednesday's .NET Briefing Day. Visual Studio.NET Everett will for the first time include the .NET Compact Framework for developers of mobile applications. Delivery is scheduled for the time-frame of Windows .NET Server.
Visual Studio.NET Yukon, will feature an improved integrated development environment (IDE), "community support" and integration with SQL Server enabling developers to build database features like stored procedures in languages like C++, Visual J# and TSQL, used in SQL Server.
Visual Studio.NET Longhorn is scheduled to ship with the Longhorn operating system, supporting a new storage system and user interface.
Microsoft plans budget and staff expansion to woo corporates. Research and development will grow more than 20% in 2003 to $5.2bn, with $2bn going on server technology.
The company will increase its employee base by 5,000 during the coming year. This includes a 15% increase in account management, to reduce the number of accounts staff manage, and a 47% increase in sales people. Also planned is a $200m worldwide TV advertising campaign.