Microsoft's Ballmer Has (Some) Nice Words For Open Source

Here's a news flash: Steve Ballmer has some good things to say about the open-source model.

April 8, 2004

4 Min Read
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Here's a news flash: Steve Ballmer has some good things to say about the open-source model.

"There are some advantages to [it]. You can peek through the door if you can't figure out how something works," the Microsoft CEO told a few hundred association executives gathered in Washington Thursday morning.

But Ballmer quickly returned to Microsoft's message that "integrated innovation" leads to lower cost of ownership and less complex computing.

He sought to dispel the notion that integrated innovation means closed systems or vendor lock-in, a common contention of rivals ranging from new partner Sun Microsystems to old partner and competitor IBM.

"Is integrated innovation the enemy of interoperability? No. The fact that something is integrated doesn't mean it can't talk to the rest of the world," he noted.Microsoft does not prevent users from running a rival media player atop Windows although Windows comes with its own media player. That particular integration is the focus of a lawsuit lodged by Real Networks against Microsoft and is also a focal point of the European Union's antitrust action against Microsoft.

"Do you want to use WordPerfect [instead of Word] in Office? Hallelujah,"he said.

Of course, the history of the market shows that bundling more capabilities into its operating system and its application suite spells very big trouble for third-party ISVs that specialized in selling those capabilities in their own products.

As for the claims by the open-source crowd that the collaborative nature of their software development means safer, sounder products, Ballmer was dismissive. "Some say isn't it great that every Tom, Dick and Harry contributes, but I'd submit that you don't know who every Tom, Dick and Harry are or if they've copied other people's work. At least with Microsoft, you know who to get upset with," he said, before offering up his e-mail address to the assembly.

Still, Microsoft is taking some baby steps into what could be called a more open-source model. Last week, as part of its Shared Source Initiative, it released some development code to Sourceforge, where developers could have their way with it.For some solution providers, Microsoft's integrated innovation drumbeat is worrisome because they see losing billable hours now spent tying together piece-parts of software into a whole solution. But many solution providers also agree that with fewer low-level integration tasks at hand, they can focus more on higher-value customization and application development.

Ballmer also used the occasion to push the company's evolving business solutions that can be customized for use by the wide array of associations and trade groups that call Washington home. In the next calendar year, the company is updating its Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, Solomon and CRM brands, But longer term, he reiterated the company's promise to offer an "integrated ERP/supply chain/CRM platform. CRN first reported on this Project Green plan last year.

As for the interim releases, Axapta 4.0, Great Plains 8.0 and Navision 4.0 are all due in the third quarter of this year, Solomon 4.0 in the first quarter of 2005 and CRM 2.0 in the second quarter of next year. It's currently difficult for even Microsoft solution providers to parse out the differences between the often-overlapping features and functions of this stable. Generally, Axapta is the high-end ERP offering targeting multinational manufacturing companies. Solomon's strengths are in project management and accounting. Navision is a midmarket ERP offering that is highly customizable and is strong in Europe. Great Plains offers more "out-of-the-box" functionality, he said.

Ballmer conceded that these offerings now constitute a "motley portfolio" at this stage because they resulted from acquisitions. "It's hard for me to talk about integrated innovation and then say we need four different ERP systems," he acknowledged.

But he maintained it makes sense for Microsoft to continue updating these offerings until Project Green is ready for action.Great Plains 8.0 with its Outlook-like interface is the biggest Great Plains update since the product moved to Windows years ago, he noted. But Ballmer promised continued updates and a smooth migration path to the merged platform, which remains a few years away.

Last fall, Microsoft Business Solutions Senior Vice President Doug Burgum told CRN that Project Green was linked to the Longhorn release, and thus would not surface until after that next-generation Windows arrives.

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