Ballmer wants to make Windows sparkle

13 Oct 2005

Amidst the Indian summer sunshine that beat down on the Irish Management Institute’s campus in Sandyford, a large crowd of badged-up executives conversant in acronym soup milled excitedly. Steve Ballmer (pictured), CEO of the biggest software name on the planet and the 11th richest man in the world, was in town on what an observer would describe as the cross between an inspection tour and a mission to spread the Microsoft creed.

Setting the stage like a master magician, Ballmer reminded us of what the Seattle behemoth has become: “We talk about our mission as enabling people and businesses to realise their full potential.

The only way you get to assess that — it’s not financial, it’s not what you shift, it’s what people use. And we’re excited about the impact we’ve made over the past couple of years. Whether it’s becoming the No 1 blogging site in the world in the past six months; what we’ve done with the Xbox — we’ve 400 million users right now; our database SQL outsells Oracle and IBM DB2; we have 200 million Hotmail users and 170 million MSN Instant Messaging users.

We are excited because of the innovation we do and the impact it has.” Innovation led by research and development (R&D) was foremost on Ballmer’s agenda for the year ahead: “The next 12 months will be the most exciting 12 months we’ve ever had in terms of innovation.

“We have a new version of our flagship Windows product, the most significant Windows version certainly since Windows 95. We have got the most significant version of Office that we have ever done — taking Office out of its traditional realm and into business work flows, process management and business intelligence — coming in the next 12 months.”

Ballmer said that the company’s Irish operations — straddling the complex worlds of R&D, product development, localisation and sales and marketing — are playing an integral role in the creation of the new Windows operating system.

“We have a different relationship with Ireland than we do in most countries in which we do business. Most countries that we do business in have sales and marketing and technical support and a few countries that we do a little bit more. We have almost the full-service Microsoft in Ireland. We do product development, localisation, operations and of course also sales and marketing support. We’ve got about 1,200 full-time people and 600 contractors within our premises full-time (they’re on someone else’s payroll but it comes back to us eventually) and frankly we couldn’t be more delighted with the output of our operation here in Ireland, the quality and talent of people and the support and cooperation of Irish Government.”

Commenting on the decision by Microsoft in the past year to boost its investment in R&D with the creation of 30 high-calibre jobs, Ballmer warned that globally good R&D talent is proving to be scarce and acknowledged that India and China, because of their large output of computer graduates, are winning IT investment but said Ireland is still holding its own.

“We’re doing core global Windows development here in Ireland. We’ve hired 30 people; half came from outside Ireland and the other half originally from Ireland. We need to get the best talent in the world. We have very multicultural focus in all operations in US, India and China. Can we do more here? Yes. The first thing we got to do is invest and do it well, and that will be the base for hundreds of development applications.”

By John Kennedy