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CoDe Talks: Q&A with Steve Ballmer

From offshoring and open source to the Tablet PC and the promise of Longhorn, it's always enlightening to hear a few candid remarks about the state of the industry from the CEO of Microsoft. Steve Ballmer spoke to CoDe Magazine Publisher, Markus Egger via email about these subjects and several others.

CoDe (Markus Egger): Mr. Ballmer, There is so much written about offshore development these days—I know Microsoft has offshore development operations in various parts of the world...how is it working out, and what advice would you give to US software engineers that might enable them to remain valuable?

Ballmer: As a global company, we are constantly working to improve our ability to serve our customers worldwide as efficiently and cost-effectively as we can. Although the majority of our core development work will stay in Redmond, we are growing our presence in key regions to enable us to increase local customer satisfaction and our ability to innovate. And by tapping into the growing technical talent pool outside the U.S., we can optimize for cost efficiencies that allow us to employ more people in the U.S., and invest even more in innovation.

In today's economy, software engineers—like everyone else—must continuously hone their skills and enhance their areas of expertise. The global economy offers great opportunities if we're prepared and flexible enough to take advantage of them.

CoDe: Steve, do you feel that INS and Homeland Security restrictions are in any way negatively affecting the US with regard to our ability to acquire the worlds best software engineering talent? How is Microsoft adjusting its business practices given that work visas are harder to get than they used to be?

Ballmer: We obviously understand and support the government's security efforts. We're continuing to create new jobs, and most of our new hires are U.S. citizens, but some of the people with the skills we need are from other countries. Many of the foreign citizens we hire are graduates of U.S. universities, yet the U.S. is just not graduating enough engineers overall to meet the needs of U.S. technology companies. China, India, and Japan all graduate a larger percentage of the world's software engineers, compared with the U.S. And we owe it to our customers to recruit the most qualified engineers we can find.

Like many other technology companies, we bump up against the current limits on visas that allow us to temporarily employ highly skilled foreign nationals in the U.S. The allotment of visas for 2005 ran out in February. At this point, we're managing to get the people we need, but it's not easy.

CoDe: There have been many instances where Microsoft has faced operating system competition. The open-source movement is perceived to be one of Microsoft's toughest competitors in recent years. This is particularly true for Linux, and now Sun has indicated that they will open source parts of Solaris. In the past, you have made it very clear that Linux is another competitor that Microsoft is happy to compete with. Can you tell us a bit more about how Microsoft is trying to compete with the open-source movement? What are the unique challenges, and what, in your opinion, makes Microsoft Windows the better platform for developers to stick with?

Steve Ballmer
Ballmer: First, it's important to note that while we compete against Linux and specific open-source software products, we don't see ourselves competing against open source itself. We recognize the benefit of multiple development models, and support developers' choices in the model they select—though it's important to recognize the benefits and drawbacks of each model.

We've worked with our customers and the industry to provide access to source code in ways that make sense for everyone. Through our Shared Source Initiative we're providing access to code in a variety of ways—ranging from view and debug options under our Windows Enterprise Source Licenses to modification and full derivative licensing options under some of our Windows CE offerings.

To your question on competition, as open source has evolved, we've seen the dialogue go from an emotional debate to one that is now more fact-based and pragmatic. We are working to ensure that customers have access to evidence on how we are continuing to innovate and deliver products and technologies that offer them the very best business value—especially when it comes to cost and security. In a majority of cases, the Microsoft platform has a lower total cost of ownership than Linux, even though there is a widespread, erroneous perception that Linux is free. That's why our focus is on giving customers the facts they need to understand the overall business advantage and value associated with choosing Microsoft (for instance, take a look at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsserversystem/facts/default.mspx ).

For developers, we need to ensure they have the data that shows why they should continue to bet on Microsoft. We offer the best tools to make developers productive. The fact that our platform has the penetration it does gives developers lots of opportunities. We have great programs to support ISVs and developers, like MSDN, Channel 9, our ISV buddy program, and error reporting for ISVs. Moving forward, you'll see Microsoft deliver even better support for productivity, in the forms of the .NET Framework 2.0 and Windows Longhorn releases, and great tools such as the Visual Studio 2005 Team System.

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