April 20, 2005 11:55 AM PDT

Ballmer grins and bears Linux--a little

Despite his fondness for Windows, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says the company will make it easier for businesses to manage a wide variety of machines--including those running Linux.

Ballmer said Wednesday that Microsoft has listened to customers who've demanded better support for non-Windows machines in Operations Manager software, Microsoft's key management product. Also, he said, the company will step up support for running Linux-based virtual machines in a service pack update to its Virtual Server product later this year.

A Microsoft representative demonstrated Virtual Server running instances of Red Hat Enterprise Linux as Ballmer delivered a keynote speech at a management conference on Wednesday.

"Much as that hurts my eyes, I know that's an important capability for our Virtual Server customers," Ballmer said, speaking at the Microsoft Management Summit 2005 in Las Vegas.

Although the current version allows someone to run Linux or another operating system, Microsoft plans with the update to add support when customers run into trouble with a non-Windows operating system.

The company also showed Microsoft Operations Manager, or MOM, controlling Solaris servers. Ballmer pulled out the fans from a Solaris box to show the resulting alert messages that pop up inside the MOM console.

"We've worked closely with Sun--yes, Sun, the people we never worked closely with before," he said, adding that Microsoft and Sun Microsystems would soon give an update on the progress made by the two companies since their detente was announced a year ago.

Using MOM to oversee the Solaris box occurred via the WS-Management Web services standard, meaning that no special software was needed for the management program to identify the Windows machine. A reverse demonstration could also have been done. "Just as easily, Solaris could manage a Windows box using the same protocol," said Bob Kelly, Microsoft's general manager of infrastructure server marketing.

Still, Kelly said Microsoft's goal is to make sure Windows is the most cost-effective way to manage any number of Windows and non-Windows systems. Although the management piece is new, the interoperability has been there for some time, something for which the company doesn't get enough credit, he said.

"It's really kind of 'shame on us' that the perception is that we don't interoperate well with others," Kelly said.

In his speech Wednesday, Ballmer also talked about the next generation of Windows for desktops, known as Longhorn. He reiterated some of the points made last week by Windows chief Jim Allchin about planned advances in manageability and lower operating costs when the operating system debuts in the second half of next year.

In addition, Ballmer offered a little more specificity on the timing of Longhorn Server, saying it would arrive about six months after the desktop version. Historically, that schedule has proved a challenge, given the longer testing time typically needed for server releases.

Kelly said the development cycles of the client and server versions of Longhorn have been synchronized, meaning the six-month time frame should allow for the additional testing he acknowledged is needed for server releases. "We are working hard to make it true," he said.

Ballmer's talk came a day after Microsoft laid out a road map for future versions of its management software, scrapping plans for a unified System Center product and instead planning updates to its existing MOM and Systems Management Server, or SMS, products.

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