Linux not accountable for security, Ballmer says

Jim Connolly, Executive Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. -- The rivalry between Microsoft Windows and Linux comes down to the basic question of whom customers should trust, according to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Ballmer on Tuesday acknowledged Microsoft turned its focus to matters such as patch management "probably later than we should have," but claimed that Microsoft has made dramatic strides in its

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Trustworthy Computing efforts, while users can question the quality of Linux security patches.

Ballmer made his comments during an executive interview before about 3,000 IT managers at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo.

What sets Windows apart from Linux in terms of development, security and patching, Ballmer said, is that Microsoft has an infrastructure that takes responsibility for Windows. "There's no roadmap for Linux. Nobody is held accountable for security problems with Linux."

Noting that Microsoft has professional developers working with a common methodology, he said, "Should there be a reason to believe that code that comes from a variety of people, unknown from around the world, should be somehow of higher quality than that from people who get paid to do it professionally?

"There's no reason to believe it would be of higher quality. I'm not necessarily claiming it should be of worse quality, but why should code submitted randomly by some hacker in China and distributed by some open source project, why is that, by definition, better?"

Reflecting on Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing effort, Ballmer said that Microsoft has "made dramatic strides" but that more work remains. "The patching process has to be more predictable. People want smaller patches. People want a simpler installation process for patches."

He added that users should have confidence in Microsoft's ability to improve security and the patching process. "We rarely fail at something that is our top priority," Ballmer said. "This is tougher, though, this isn't a game of horseshoes, you don't come close. One vulnerability can still cause a variety problems. ... So in every sense it's kind of a defining moment and issue for us."

Ballmer also spoke to a number of other issues. Among the highlights were:

-- Ballmer touted Microsoft's new Office System 2003, in particular its support for XML. "From a corporate perspective, the way we have built in support for collaboration, I think will really revolutionize the way people collaborate on business plans, marketing plans, product proposals, financial proposals, you name it."

-- Ballmer said there are no plans, and he currently doesn't see a business opportunity, for releasing a Linux version of Office. However, he said that he cannot rule out the possibility for the future.

-- Microsoft's experiment with deep discounts in poor countries -- with prices as low as 10% of what U.S. users pay -- has not been a great success, although discounts in markets such as education have been worthwhile, he said.

-- When asked about Microsoft making acquisitions in the XML and Web services sector, Ballmer said he has no announcement to make but that people should "stand by for news."


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