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Ballmer hints at licensing changes

Ballmer made the comments in response to a question from a Microsoft partner during a briefing in Toronto with Microsoft Canada partners.

“We have to be careful about the unintentional consequences of our actions,” Ballmer said of the controversial Licensing 6.0, a revamp that was introduced to less-than-stellar reviews in the summer of 2002. “Clearly it wasn’t a big financial boon for us, or we’d be seeing that in our balance sheets now. But it was a big pain in the neck for some of our customers.”

The partners grumbled that the program was unwieldy, and was becoming too hard to administrate and maintain for customers. Ballmer drew applause from the assembled partners, many of whom indicated their concern with Licensing 6.0, when he hinted that a new version of the company’s licensing program would simplify terms for purchasing software, making it easier for partners to administer licensing for their customers. He said that the future model would likely have two predominant modes of purchasing — a “buy it and you’re done with it” license, and a license which includes support and upgrade options over time, with an annual bill attached to it. “The reason for having other programs are getting less and less,” he said.

The boisterous executive did not offer any timeline for changes to the licensing program, or say what point such a rollout is at, but did say the company would be rethinking its licensing offerings for partners, and that simplicity would be the name of the game.

Showing Microsoft’s increasingly serious belief in Linux as a serious competitor, Ballmer called the open-source operating system “the biggest competitor to Windows at a server level,” and said “we have all of our best thinkers thinking how to compete, how to differentiate.” A primary goal, he said, is for partners to migrate Linux customers to Windows, particularly those running “easy to migrate” applications such as Web serving, network management and file and print serving.

“If you’re a partner with skills in these technologies, we’re investing to make sure we’ve got the best Web server, the best technology for networking, for security, for file and print,” he said. “Every place we’re losing to someone else, we’re asking how to build a better mousetrap. Particularly on the Web, which is the biggest usage for Linux. I’d argue with my last breath that we have a better solution [with ASP.Net] and that’s an opportunity for everyone in this room.”

Ballmer said the key to competing against Linux was innovation, and claimed that “nobody can tell you an innovation roadmap around Linux.” The executive dismissed Unix as an operating system without a future, and “even Novell is trying to get off of the Novell platform and onto Linux.”

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