RealTime IT News

Microsoft Booted! And by The Marriott?

Reporter's Notebook: Not everything went exactly as planned for Microsoft  this week, despite the considerable efforts it made to script its Vista release event as closely as a TV sitcom.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and company had a lot to celebrate: the 20th anniversary of its listing at the Nasdaq and its biggest product release, said Ballmer, since Windows 95 and Office.

Ballmer held a press conference on the first floor of the Nasdaq, with tightly managed cameo appearances from a half-dozen partners and customers, ending precisely at noon.

That was followed by lunch at the Marriott hotel two blocks away, where more than two dozen PR flaks shuttled reporters and analysts from the press room to conference rooms for one-on-one half-hour briefings with Microsoft executives.

What they hadn't counted on, though, was being pushed out the door by hotel staff a full hour ahead of schedule.

Diane Prescott, technical product manager for Exchange 2007, was all set to give me a demonstration at 3:30 when she was abruptly instructed to break down her equipment.

The hotel then shut down Microsoft's wireless and Ethernet Internet access at 4 p.m., leaving reporters scrambling to file their stories and Microsoft flaks looking on apologetically.

"They need the room for a birthday party," one of the reps explained.

What the heck is going on here? Doesn't the software behemoth from Redmond inspire fear anymore? Apparently not so much.

Even Ballmer's guests couldn't resist the chance to needle him at the podium.

Shaygan Kheradpir, CIO of Verizon, duly sang the praises of Vista to the assembled multitude. But even while lauding Vista's new security and multimedia capabilities, one of his compliments was back-handed, if only lightly.

"When I tell a laptop to go to sleep, it finally goes to sleep, so congratulations for that," cracked Kheradpir.

Ballmer chuckled, taking the love-tap in stride. Still, he must be wondering what he has to do to get some love. But all is not lost. If you can't inspire love, inspire hate, right?

Well that dart, too, has lost its sting.

Laurent Calixte, a journalist with French business publication Challenges, confided to me that the software giant is no longer Enemy Numero Un in France.Google  and Apple have taken its place as reprehensible representatives of American arrogance. Someone should notify the European Commission.

Even China seems to be cutting Microsoft a break. Lenovo, one of several Microsoft partners on hand to demonstrate their affinities with Vista, has close ties to the Chinese government.

I asked Deepak Advani, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Lenovo, whether the company's tight relationship with Microsoft was creating tensions with Chinese leadership, which has embraced open source software.

Advani denied that Lenovo was getting any push-back from China, saying that Lenovo's partnership with Microsoft was a "hugely successful program."

Here in the U.S., of course, Google seems to have replaced Microsoft as the bellwether of the tech economy.

I asked Microsoft business platform group vice president Kurt DelBene if he is feeling the hot breath of Web 2.0 companies breathing down his neck.

"No, I find it hugely exciting. I think of it as a source of innovation," he said. "We're taking concepts that are gaining popularity on the Internet and making it useful for the corporate intranet."

That echoed comments Ballmer made about the advent of wikis and other collaborative Web technologies.

"We want to bring into the business world the same kind of capabilities inside the company that [knowledge workers] can get as consumers," Ballmer said.

DelBene's responsibilities include SharePoint Server 2007, which is at the heart of Microsoft's collaboration suite.

He said that wiki templates are being included in SharePoint 2007 to be released in January.

Michael Hickins is a senior editor for internetnews.com.