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You mentioned today that a resurgence of rich client applications is in the offing. From the average consumer side, we really haven't necessarily seen that. Even when Vista was released, we didn't see applications that really pulled us away from the browser.
Ballmer: I don't think that's true. Would you say that the applications you're seeing are richer and richer? Whether they happen to run in the browser or not, applications are getting richer.
Ballmer: That is certainly resurgent, whether it's Ajax or it happens to be Silverlight or Flash, AdobeScript, you know, Windows Presentation Foundation. I think what we see is that there's a lot of technical approaches people are using to do rich user experience. Rich user experience is, let me just say, a big deal in terms of differentiation for Web sites you take a look at. You know, they're mostly rich client applications.
Whether they run in the browser or not, that's sort of a deployment question. I don't even know if you call it a deployment question. Do Flash applications run in the browser? I don't know. Sort of they don't because you have to download Flash. So the deployment is not all browser-based, but I think the interest of developers and users in rich client applications is high. Some of those will be native Windows applications, some of those will be Silverlight or Flash applications, some of those will be Ajax applications, some of those will be terminal services-style rich presentation.
There are a lot of different ways--some of them will be software-style application virtualization approaches. There are all sorts of ways to do the development deployment of various applications. I think simple HTML is a low-level kind of experience.
Maybe I was misunderstanding, then, but do you foresee a resurgence of Windows client applications coming along with?
Ballmer: No, I see Windows applications staying strong. That doesn't mean other applications aren't also strong. Certainly browser-deployed applications, Ajax, Silverlight, many forms are also important. But you know, certainly there are things that people want Windows applications for. People are still moving forward for every high-end kind of design, creation analysis application--those are rich client applications. And yet, a lot more of what people are doing percentage-wise also just involves consumption, reading, consumption of information.
And many of those applications are browser-deployed, not HTML, but they're browser-deployed. Even the Kindle--if you take a look at the Kindle device from Amazon, it's a rich user experience application.
What are you hearing from IT customers these days? Has there been a renewed focus on things that are going to save money, given the economy?
Ballmer: Well, we haven't really seen a shift back to cost. Cost was always important, cost got a little less important during the dot-com bubble. Cost got a little more important right after the dot-com bubble. Cost remains important...People haven't seen enough of this so-called economic downturn that we've really seen it re-emerge as anything other than a very significant issue.
Mostly what we hear about are new applications, how to get new market, new value, unlocking the information in their system so people can use it. It's a pretty consistent dialogue with what has been on people's minds the last three or four years. A lot of focus (is) on driving top-line in the business and taking cost out, not just in IT, but in other places across the cluster.
Has Google at all emerged on the business side of things in your conversations with customers? Or is it more you can just connect the dots of where they're going and know that they will be a player in some of those markets?
Ballmer: I think it's more the latter. They (Google) don't really have much concretely that's valuable to sell. Google's a big player in our business and there's a lot of fascination and interest among our customers in what all the big players are doing, and people kind of try to draw the dots and expect stuff to come, and certainly people are glad to bring up Google Apps anytime we're having a price discussion and we think we have a very good value. But by and large, not a big factor yet.
A couple of years ago you reiterated that IBM was Microsoft's biggest competitor and you said not just on the business side, but overall. If I ask you who is Microsoft's biggest competitor now, who would it be?
Ballmer: Open...Linux. I don't want to say open source. Linux, certainly have to go with that. Perhaps Google on that layer, although frankly speaking, most of what we have there is upside. We're small and they're big. (With) most things, we're big and the other guy is small, so we have more to lose than gain. In this case, we have more to gain than to lose with Google.
Would Apple would be on the list?
Ballmer: Apple--yeah, they've done nice work. They're really a competitor in many ways. And then there's other guys, like IBM, that are hard not to put at the top tier. But we have 5-year-old businesses at Microsoft and--you ask the leader of each business, they'd give you a different name.
Right. (Entertainment and Devices division head) Robbie Bach wouldn't say Sony?
Ballmer: Robbie...well, I don't know. I think Robbie would be more likely to say Apple probably than anything. Now if you ask Kevin Johnson (president of Platforms and Services), he'd probably say Google. You ask (Servers and Tools unit head) Bob Muglia, he'd probably say Linux or Oracle, maybe IBM. If you ask Steve Elop (president of Microsoft's Business Division), who replaces Jeff Raikes, I just think he would say Open Office, potentially Google. And certainly Kevin Johnson (might add) Apple and Linux.
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