Ballmer: Future is Web services

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer this week offered a preview of the coming year for his company, with corporate IT managers in mind, via an e-mail interview with Computerworld's Carol Sliwa. Excerpts follow:

Can you give us a synopsis of the movie trailer for coming attractions from Microsoft?

From my perspective, the theme over the next year is Web services, XML and .Net. . . . In terms of Microsoft specifically, we'll be following up the launch last year of Windows XP, Office XP and Xbox with a number of key offerings, including Windows .Net Server, Visual Studio.Net and the Tablet PC, as well as updates to a number of our .Net servers.

Microsoft has used the term .Net in many ways. How do you now define .Net?

I really think the best way to define .Net is as Microsoft's platform for XML Web services. It's the next generation of software that connects your world of information, devices and people in a unified, personalized way. What I mean by this is that the .Net platform enables the creation and use of XML-based applications, processes and Web sites as services. These services can then share and combine information and functionality with each other.

A year ago, you said Yukon would be key to your "next-generation storage, database, file system, e-mail and user interface work." How much progress has Microsoft made?

The development of Yukon, the next major release of Microsoft SQL Server, is on track, and we expect the first beta to ship this year.

Microsoft software continues to be plagued by well-publicized security problems. How will you convince corporations that your platform is ready for major new initiatives such as .Net?

This is obviously a challenge not only for Microsoft but for our entire industry. The fact is, all software contains vulnerabilities. What I can tell you is that we are 100 percent focused on building products and technologies that are safe and secure.

In the short term, we are committed to responding quickly and openly when vulnerabilities are discovered and work with customers to rapidly provide solutions to ensure system security.

In the long term, we're building secure software from the ground up through programs such as the Secure Windows Initiative, which is focused on providing Microsoft engineers with ongoing education, better tools, security-focused development processes and rigorous internal and external testing required to deliver the high-quality, secure software and services that customers demand.

The changes Microsoft made to its volume licensing and upgrade programs had corporate users up in arms last year. What do you say to those corporate customers?

One of the big issues for many customers was that this is [a] big change in how we handle upgrades and we didn't give them enough time to plan for the change. But we listened and extended the transition to the new program into the middle of next year, so folks have 14 months from the original announcement to review Software Assurance and plan accordingly.

How do you foresee the competitive landscape changing for Microsoft this year? How will you counter the challenge that Linux and Java present going forward? In the current economic climate especially, customers are demanding bottom-line value for their IT investments. We intend to deliver by offering not only value but also a clear technology road map for the future. I really believe that the companies that fail to deliver on these business basics will be paddling upstream. As for Linux, the overall [total cost of ownership] issues with Linux, coupled with its limitations, have caused many enterprise organizations to look elsewhere in their planning for the coming year. . . .

For Java, a big question remains around strategic innovation for Web services. With the .Net framework, Microsoft has developed a clear, well-articulated path designed from the ground up specifically for Web service development and deployment.

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