Ballmer rallies partners, targets IBM, Novell

Microsoft CEO tells partners Lotus Notes customers are a particularly easy target

Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer Sunday sounded the rallying cry that echoed throughout the vendor's annual partner conference this week, encouraging partners to take particular aim at legacy groupware and networking packages such as IBM's Lotus Notes and Novell NetWare.

Speaking with his usual gusto to a gathering of Microsoft resellers and solutions provider partners, Ballmer took direct aim at IBM in his morning keynote, identifying Big Blue as Microsoft's No. 1 competitor and criticizing every aspect of IBM's three-pronged strategy to provide hardware, software, and services to customers.

"Does IBM have the best hardware most of the time? Ask yourself that question, I say," Ballmer said, eliciting laughter from the audience. "Does IBM have the best software? They don't even have in my personal opinion the second-best software. Do they have the best services? No, they don't have the best services. IBM's product line is the weakest it's ever been. The value (of IBM) is significantly less today than at any time in my 25 years in the business."

During his talk, Ballmer vigorously, and repeatedly, thanked partners for their commitment to Microsoft and their role in the company's success, using an almost cartoonish display of appreciation to take another shot at Microsoft's Somers, N.Y.-based rival.

"People say, IBM has the biggest services army in the world, I say that's nonsense," he roared in his booming voice. "Our partner base is the biggest services force in the world."

Ballmer said Lotus Notes customers are a particularly easy target, reiterating a stance taken earlier in the weekend conference by Chris Capossela, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Information Worker Product Management Group, who stated Microsoft's intent to poach IBM's Lotus partners.

"The Lotus Notes opportunity, just to remind everybody, is coming out the ying-yang," Ballmer said. "I've never seen a customer base more ripe to be plucked. They're just waiting for us and our partners to do the conversions (to Microsoft)."

IBM wasn't Ballmer's only target during his keynote Sunday. He also encouraged customers to upgrade the significant installed base of Novell NetWare customers and even those using an older version of Windows to the latest Microsoft operating system software.

"Just in case anyone is confused, there is plenty of NetWare and (Windows) NT 4 out there," he said. "Get every last customer and bring them over to the new technology."

And though he didn't mention the company by name, Ballmer also took a potshot at Google by repeating one of Microsoft's favorite mantras of late -- its desire to be No. 1 in the Internet search engine business.

"The world can and will do a lot better job in finding and navigating all of the information in the world, and our company is dedicated to being the leader in that, if it takes us one year, two years, three years," he said. " We have the leading desktop search (product). We're not the leader on the Internet today, but it doesn't mean we're not serious about innovating. We're very serious about it."

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