Ballmer Vs. Linux, IBM and Novell

TORONTO — Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer came out swinging — verbally and even physically at times, at the Worldwide Partner Conference where he mocked open source technology, Linux in particular, while touting opportunities on the company’s own platforms.

During a keynote address here Tuesday, Ballmer also identified Novell customers as prime targets for Microsoft’s partners to pick off as potential new customers.

At once an energetic mix of salesmanship and showmanship, Ballmer’s appearance kept the Microsoft faithful entertained throughout his discussion, which included Microsoft’s security focus and opportunities for partner development and his fists in the air while referencing Linux and Open Source technology.

As is customary at Microsoft conferences, the keynote began with a spoof, in this case a rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Instead of the song’s refrain, “Oh mama mia mama mia let me go,” the audience heard: “Please Unleash the Marketing Juggernaut now,” as well as: “The penguin will lose to Windows.” The audience roared.

I don’t want to just “blah, blah, blah,” he told attendees, while admitting that Microsoft is not where it needs to be yet in terms of security in some of its products. But the company is working hard, is focused on the fixing problems and they are a priority, he said. Ballmer touched on some of the security enhancements that are about to roll out in Windows XP Service Pack 2 next month.

Asked during the Q&A portion about open source, Ballmer, who was seated at the time, clenched his fists and sprung to his feet. “It’s either the iced tea, or I’m a bit of a caged animal on this,” he said. At times pounding his fists or waving his arms, Ballmer criticized open source and faulted it for what it does not offer to partners, compared to Microsoft.

Ballmer asserted that (currently) Microsoft is responsible for more customer wins and innovation than anyone else. In his view, he continued, this can be traced to commercial software rather than open source projects.

“Linux is a good clone of UNIX,” he said, but it has not been responsible for any “breakthrough technology” and merely replicates what commercial vendors have already produced.

“Who will stand up and stand behind open source?” Ballmer shouted. “Microsoft provides a clear chain of responsibility. No such line exists in open source.”

Go-to-market strategy? With Linux? Ballmer scoffed. “Who do you go to market with on Linux? Oh, IBM??, I bet that will work well for your business.” Ballmer suggested that IBM makes most of its Linux money from services, which would clearly infringe on a partner’s ability to make money with Linux.

Pointing to Novell, the parent company of Linux distributor SUSE as well as open source desktop project Ximian, Ballmer called the company an opportunity ripe for partners to pick. “Novell’s installed base is ready to move,” Ballmer said of customers still using Novell’s proprietary products. “It’s time to help them come into the real world.”

If anyone in the audience of Microsoft developer and ISV partners was mulling open source alternatives, Ballmer anticipated the arguments. When considering open source, he said, consider the following.

“What’s the technology engine, the innovation you’re betting on, the intellectual property, the customer support and response that you’re betting on,” he said. “Can I make money today?”

Ballmer said he does not believe there is anything “magic” about competing against Linux. In his view Microsoft and partners need to “put the pedal to the metal” and move better, faster, keep the lead and build on it. Open source competition is good for Microsoft, he added. “It’s keeping us on our feet.”

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