ITXPO - Microsoft not worried about Google Apps

CEO Steve Ballmer talks about future of Web computing, Vista problems

Google's much-hyped entrance into the office tool market dominated by Microsoft doesn't seem to have worried CEO Steve Ballmer, who dismissed competitors as not "even as good as 'me too'" in an interview Wednesday.

When asked about the challenge Google poses to Microsoft, Ballmer acknowledged that Google is the clear leader in search and advertising. Then he said Microsoft's products for productivity and business computing remain far superior to competitors.

"In that area we haven't seen a whole lot out of the other guys," Ballmer said. "What we've seen from the other guys isn't even as good as me too."

Ballmer didn't mention any specific Google business products, but in February Google launched a set of office tools known as Google Apps Premier Edition to compete with Microsoft Office. Ballmer's remarks came in response to questions posed by analysts during a keynote interview at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2007 in Orlando.

Just a few months ago, one Microsoft executive admitted feeling heat from Google Apps, and said the search giant's innovations in enterprise products were forcing Microsoft to adapt its own offerings.

"We actually see [Google] as a great competitor in this space," Rob Curry, director of Microsoft's Office business platform group, said at a conference on enterprise 2.0 technologies in June. "And they bring a good spirit in terms of simplicity, ease of use and things we're trying to leverage as we go forward in our development cycle."

While Ballmer seems unconcerned about Google Apps, he acknowledged Microsoft is playing catchup in the search and advertising market, and that Web-based computing will play a major role for Microsoft going forward.

"There's the world of search and advertising, where Google is the leader and we are an aspirant, we're No. 3," Ballmer said.

Commenting on the trend toward "cloud" or Web-based computing, Ballmer said the world is no doubt moving in that direction over the long term. The key, he said, is combining the advantages of Web-based computing with the advantages of the PC, mobile devices, and the strengths of enterprise computing, such as security.

But the operating system and desktop computing won't disappear, he said after being asked if it's time to reconsider the role of the operating system.

"The truth of the matter is you will never be able to do as good a job on Microsoft Office if it's just browser-based," Ballmer said.

Operating systems will gain "real-time extensibility" via the Internet, but "if you want the full capabilities of what Windows and the Mac have you need to have Windows or the Mac. There's no free lunch here," Ballmer said.

The Microsoft CEO also fielded questions about Windows Vista lacking value and being difficult to implement.

"End users appreciate the value we've put into Vista," Ballmer said. "We have better security. We've had fewer vulnerabilities with Vista in the first six months than any operating system that preceded it."

Device drivers were a problem, though, he acknowledged.

"Fewer device drivers were ready for Vista than I would have liked, but we've constantly worked with the device makers to get new drivers available," Ballmer said.

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Jon Brodkin

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