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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was pretty mad about the performance of Windows Vista, which is his own words was "not executed well".   (Source: Tech Digest)

Listen up, adds Ballmer -- "There's nothing free about Android."  (Source: Yahoo Video)
Microsoft CEO's keynote was full of juicy comments

This week such noted guests as Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan and Jeff Bezos — chairman, president and CEO, Amazon.com — landed in Redmond, Washington for the annual Microsoft CEO Summit.  Unsurprisingly, the keynote speech was given by none other than the CEO of the world's largest tech company and protege of tech pioneer Bill Gates, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer is one of the most energetic and influential figures in the tech industry.  He is also known as one of the most polarizing, for his wild antics and unscripted sound bytes.  Thus you could virtually guarantee his keynote would be pretty interesting.

At the speech Ballmer let his fellow CEOs exactly how he viewed Windows Vista -- an overambitious product botched by a poor launch and poor timing.  He stated, "Just not executed well. Not the product itself, but we went a gap of about five, six years without a product.  I think back now and I think about thousands of man-hours, and it wasn't because we were wrong-minded in thinking bad thoughts and not pushing innovation. We tried too big a task, and in the process wound up losing essentially thousands of man-hours of innovation capabilities."

The admission was surprisingly forthright, when contrast with Ballmer's early statements on Vista's performance.  Initially, despite poor sales Ballmer blamed factors such as piracy, refusing to blame Vista.  As time has passed he has slowly grown more critical of Vista.  Of course the operating system is no longer Microsoft's flagship product, so that could have something to do with his changing attitude as well.

Many analysts have been highly critical of Windows Vista's performance.  The OS came at a $6B USD research and development cost to Microsoft, yet failed to come anywhere close to surpassing its predecessor, Windows XP, in market share.

The upside to that flop, though, was a rich operating system base that allowed Microsoft to push out Windows 7 -- essentially a performance tuned Vista with some extra gloss.  Windows 7, by contrast, has been a wild hit, passing Windows Vista in seven months and cruising towards passing Windows XP.  While that success can't entirely numb the sting of Vista among Microsoft's brass, it does provide a degree of vindication of their overall strategy.

Despite his candor about Vista, Ballmer had no qualms about saying that the super-hot selling Android smart phone operating system from Google was inferior to Microsoft's own smart phone operating systems.

In an interview with Fortune Ballmer commented, "I think what you mostly what you see in the market is that there's a lot of dynamism.  You know, people are up, they're down, they're sideways, they're this.  The whole market is growing.  But, in terms of share and popularity there's still a lot of opportunities for innovation."

"And I think Apple did some good stuff, but they're not number one in the market.  You know, number one is still Nokia, number two is still RIM.  And they did some good stuff.  And you know Android is done more of a... Google has done more of a software only approach.  Which has advantages.  That's our approach.  They hit the market with a good window relative to touch."

When asked about Android giving away Android for free versus Microsoft, which charges smart phone carriers, Ballmer took issue with that assessment, stating, "And there's nothing free about Android.  I mean at the end of the day as we certainly have asserted in a number of cases you know there's an intellectual property royalty due on that.  Whether they happen to charge for their software or not is their business decision."

Ultimately Ballmer is right -- Android isn't free.  It's certainly an expensive project for Google.  However, it's hard to deny that Ballmer essentially dodged the question.  At the end of the day Android is free to handset makers and consumers.  That answer would be a tough one for Ballmer to give, though, when the upcoming Windows Phone 7 comes with a fee, which is ultimately passed down to the consumer.  And then there's the additional fact that Android currently has some abilities that Windows Mobile does not, like copy and paste and multi-tasking.  Ballmer's response, while technically correct, thus left plenty unsaid.


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What Ballmer's "Android Not Free" really means
By abakshi on 5/22/2010 7:23:45 AM , Rating: 2
I think you missed the main point of what Ballmer was saying. Microsoft believes Android (like desktop Linux, but more so, given than Microsoft has over a decade of experience and patents in mobile devices) infringes on its patents.

HTC now has to pay Microsoft a license for every Android device it sells, so Ballmer's saying that Android is not free because you have pay Microsoft in order to be indemnified from potential infringement suits:

http://www.engadget.com/2010/04/28/microsoft-says-...




RE: What Ballmer's "Android Not Free" really means
By mckinney on 5/22/2010 12:14:51 PM , Rating: 2
So why didn't MS just take on Google instead of HTC and go to the source? Why didn't MS go after Motorola? LG is also starting to put out Android handsets.

There was also word of cross licensing between HTC and MS. Their IP complaint could have been about the Sense UI. I am thinking that there was something that MS wanted from HTC. Too much speculation and not enough facts.


RE: What Ballmer's "Android Not Free" really means
By abakshi on 5/22/2010 1:57:24 PM , Rating: 2
Whenever Microsoft has issues with OSS patent infringement, they only go after companies making money off of it, which in this case is phone manufacturers and not Google.

They are in talks with all Android phone manufacturers-- here's a quote from MS on the Engadget article linked:

quote:
"Microsoft has a decades-long record of investment in software platforms. As a result, we have built a significant patent portfolio in this field, and we have a responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to ensure that competitors do not free ride on our innovations. We have also consistently taken a proactive approach to licensing to resolve IP infringement by other companies, and have been talking with several device manufacturers to address our concerns relative to the Android mobile platform."


HTC also has to deal with the Apple IP suit, and by licensing MS patents, it could potentially be shielded from many of Apple's claims.

Microsoft probably did this in order to establish a precedent for Android manufacturers (having to pay MS for licensing) and to help out HTC, which is pretty much single-handedly the reason why Windows Mobile still exists today and is central to the company's Windows Phone 7 strategy.


By mckinney on 5/22/2010 3:03:04 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
we have a responsibility to our customers, partners, and shareholders to ensure that competitors do not free ride on our innovations


Google is a competitor of MS and Google does make money on the OS by using it as a platform for advertising. Google did sell a Google branded Handset. Its poor sales were due to marketing not the product. There is no guarantee that Google wont come out with another handset and sell it through a carrier.

If what you said was the case, MS would be allowing Google to use and re-license MS technology, something MS has never allowed and MS shareholders would not tolerate. MS shareholders could sue the company over that. This could merely be over the FAT license that is used on the microSD card for all we know.

What MS tells Gizmodo, and what MS is actually doing might be two different things. MS isn't telling and neither is HTC.


By SkateNY on 5/22/2010 8:33:43 PM , Rating: 2
Microsoft seems to be learning to be patient, despite their impulsive CEO.

Once Android becomes ubiquitous, and if it is in fact the case that there are patent infringements within the Android mobile OS, then MS will make the smart and financially expedient move of suing in lieu of collecting royalties.

Android seems to be doing very well, but in part due to the fragmentation of OS versions and devices, there is no central agency that has the capability of ensuring that they're not taking care of their own business.

A bit ironic, considering that MS has, at least in the past, suffered from the same "ailment" in terms of hardware fragmentation that is ostensibly Windows compatible.


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