Ballmer Beats Security Drum

BOSTON — Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer believes the software industry will
create more positive change in the next 10 years than it did in the
previous 10 — provided that security threats are effectively handled.

“Security is the one issue that could stand in all our ways,” Ballmer said
in an address to the Massachusetts Software Council today. “To the degree
that people don’t feel they can rely on [applications] is a major
impediment.”

Beset by a wave of recent code flaws, Microsoft has made security its top
priority, Ballmer said. It derailed its Longhorn OS development plan to issue
Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2), shifted some programmers onto other
security projects and began analyzing glitch feedback from users to spot
trends.

“[Security is] a little thankless,” Ballmer said, comparing it to Y2K
preparations. “The best anyone is going to say about security is, ‘We
didn’t have a problem.'”

It’s as much a business issue as it is a quality-control problem. Ballmer
said security comes up “at least twice as much” in discussions with
enterprise customers.

Ballmer returned to theme during his litany of reasons why software partners
and businesses should develop on Microsoft platforms rather than Linux.
(Total-cost-of-ownership and exposure to intellectual property lawsuits were
among Ballmer’s other swipes at open source operating systems — claims
refuted by Linux devotees).

“We can stand behind our stuff. We are not a distributed group of developers
that may in some cases respond well but in some cases respond in their own
sweet time,” Ballmer said. “That doesn’t mean we’re doing an acceptable job,
it just means we are doing a better job than the other guys.”

While security will remain a major source of concern, there are reasons to
believe the software industry’s best years are ahead of it. For example,
the emergence of XML-based Web Services
is important, Ballmer said, because it allows developers to build on the
work of others and share data.

Ballmer is also sanguine about Microsoft’s Longhorn operating system, which
is now scheduled
for a 2006 launch after its features
were scaled back to avoid further delays.

The Redmond, Wash., giant is investing R&D money with an eye toward several
opportunities, including: small and medium business; television and phones; the
health care industry; and advertising and entertainment.

That last item, inevitably prompted a question about search, where Google
recently parlayed strong search functionality and
targeted ads into a successful IPO.

Ballmer acknowledged that search was “probably an area where we
under-invested,” but it’s by no means conceding the field to Google and
Yahoo . He said the technology has not topped out and can become
more effective and intuitive.

It’s pulled together fragmented search-related assets and is exploring
search technology that spans the Internet, corporate networks, e-mail
software and other archives.

“We’re pretty hell-bent and determined to be the innovation and market
leader in that area,” he said. “It should be a lot of fun for you to
watch.”

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