WPC Microsoft's chief executive has served up some tough love to software partners concerned they'll lose business to rival web services offered by their software benefactor.
Steve Ballmer told partners Tuesday that the rise of online services was inexorable and that Microsoft would be one of many providers, along with Google and Amazon.
The trick will be to exploit new opportunities as they emerge. To prove his point, Ballmer drew on Microsoft's history.
"In 1991 the biggest opportunity for partners was either writing TCP/IP protocol stacks or integrating TCP/IP stacks into Windows. That opportunity is gone," he told Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana.
"If you wanted things that never change you probably shouldn't be in the IT business. The one thing you can count on in our industry is that things change. And yet for every opportunity that looks like it gets smaller there's at least three or four opportunities that look like they get bigger."
Opening his pitch - and having thanked partners for their hard work making Microsoft successful - Ballmer said: "The joint opportunity [for Microsoft and partners] will continue to grow as long as we continue to invest in the relationship and partnership together. You can count on us to be true to that core principle - that's super important to us."
Ballmer said partners should trust that Microsoft has picked a winner by investing in online versions of its software, products such as Office, SharePoint, and Exchange - applications many of Microsoft's software partners have made a decent business from through customization and integration.
He promised the "same old Microsoft approach" of long-term focus, tenacity, and being partner-centric. He pointed to Microsoft's tenacity in virtualization, unified communications, security, and management.
"You [partners] have to sit here and say: 'On anything where they are doing well, will they keep it up? On anything where they are not doing well, will they keep at it until they get it right or are they doing to go home?' We don't go home," Ballmer shouted.
"Our track record of having our tenacity turn into success is quite high," he said. "You can count on us for that."
Picking on Bing, Ballmer noted that Microsoft had taken "a lot of abuse" and partners might ask why Microsoft's new search engine is important to their world. "It's got two things to do with you," Ballmer barked. "Number one: it's as good a demonstration of our tenacity and commitment as you've ever seen, including Windows 1.0 - I'll put it on the list - and number two: it's my chance to tell you, you should set your default search provider to Bing.com."
In online services, Ballmer said opportunities would open up in the infrastructure layer in building and customizing applications, and in customized deployment to the data centers that will power Microsoft's online services.
Turning good cop for a second, Ballmer predicted most partners will have sufficient time to slowly switch over to support online applications because it would take longer than they currently plan for. He predicted partners would shift in the next five to seven years, saying they look just a year or two into the future, while Microsoft looks 10 years ahead.
Furthermore, he noted, customers themselves would continue to want offline software, so not everything would be pushed into a hosted or cloud-based delivery model.
Ballmer tackled Google's planned operating system, announced last week, during an scripted on-stage Q&A. Asked what he thought of the Google operating system, Ballmer charitably noted Google's product wouldn't be ready for a year and a half, and that it would be the search giant's second client operating system - it has Android.
"I don't know if they can't make up their mind or what the problem is over there. Last time I checked, you don't need two client operating systems. We tried it before with Windows 95 and Windows NT. I don't know what's really up."
Ballmer outlined Microsoft's philosophy on combining online services with client-side software. "We don't need a new operating system. What we need to do is evolve Windows, Windows applications, Internet Explorer, the way Internet Explorer works in totality with Windows, and how we build applications like Office and make sure we can bring our customers and partners with us," Ballmer said.
"About 50 per cent of the time somebody is on their PC, they are not doing something in the web browser." ®