Ballmer takes on Linux

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took on Linux in a big way this week during the company's annual meeting with the financial analyst community, saying that "too much abuse has gone on for too long."

Ballmer cited that rough approximation of a line delivered by Robert DeNiro in the 1976 movie Taxi Driver after laying out a series of "facts" -- including analyst reports and security advisories -- designed to cast doubt on the notion that the open-source operating system is cheaper and more secure than Windows and can be patched more quickly.

The Microsoft CEO also described as "hogwash" the theory that the world is moving to services and that commercial software will disappear.

"Will the software business be bigger five years from now than it is today? Or will the work of people for free be as good as the innovation and value that the commercial companies create?" Ballmer asked. He responded by saying that he's "enthusiastic" about innovation, particularly with regard to Microsoft's integrated product set and "next-generation" collaboration system, and that he expects Microsoft to be able "to charge positive prices for software five years from now."

Ballmer also questioned IBM's "support" of its WebSphere application server on Linux. "Will IBM tell you the road map for Linux? Can they respond to your request for a new feature? No, they can't do that. They don't control Linux," he said.

"Does IBM fix Linux problems the way IBM stands behind and fixes the MVS operating system? Of course not," he continued. "Does IBM indemnify the intellectual property in Linux the way it indemnifies the intellectual property in every IBM software product? ... The answer is certainly no."

Linux's momentum clearly isn't lost on company executives. Microsoft's chief financial officer, John Connors, earlier had disclosed internal estimates showing that Linux server shipments had grown 23 percent during the fiscal year that ended July 1, while its own Windows servers experienced growth of 7.7 percent. Windows still held a commanding 53.1 percent to 16.7 percent edge in market segment share, according to the Microsoft figures.

"I'm not happy that we grew share and Linux grew their share a little bit more at the server level last year," Ballmer said. But he countered that Microsoft has logged important wins involving customers who migrated from Unix and Linux, including Safeway, Lexis-Nexis and the Hard Rock Cafe.

Ballmer also pointed to contracts with government entities, such as the cities of Riga, Latvia; Frankfurt; and Turku, Finland. He called Finland "the bastion, shall we say, of Linux," where the operating system's creator, Linus Torvalds, grew up. The new European contracts served as a counterpoint to the city of Munich's decision to opt for Linux.

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