Ballmer Courts French Small, Midsize Businesses

Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer took an hour out of his visit to Paris, Tuesday afternoon, to meet 50 French small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs). He had spent the morning with 15 of the company's largest customers.

The goal of the meeting was to tell those of Microsoft's customers that aren't listed in the French stock market's top 40 that "You count for us," said the meeting's host, Bertrand Launay, director of Microsoft France's business, local government and partners division.

These medium-size businesses, with between 500 and 1,000 PCs, to use Launay's definition, heard Ballmer explain Microsoft's strategy in a presentation mixing humor and energy. Thus, answering questions from the audience, Ballmer spoke of competition with Google Inc. in search, "where Google is a dominant player -- I think I can use that term" and in desktop productivity software, "where we are... very strong."

Recalling that in the past, Excel and Word profited from the lack of interest for graphical interfaces shown by the dominant players in the market at that time, Ballmer said that Microsoft would not make the same error: "We won't leave an opening for Google. We're embracing this notion of software plus services," he said.

The theme of software and services was at the heart of Ballmer's speech, although he revealed nothing new. To summarize, it's all about powerful PCs running thick client software to enhance individual productivity, linked with on-line tools to support collaboration and mobility. "The best of desktop, enterprise, online and devices," said Ballmer, at the same time criticizing simple on-line offerings accessible through a browser as "a step back" when "users want a step forward."

Marc Jalabert, head of the enterprise platform division in France, briefly demonstrated how Microsoft, its partners and the IT team at Quiksilver have redeveloped the sportswear manufacturer's Web site. He showed an e-commerce system built using Commerce Server, and a community site for surf fans which allows them to follow live HD video footage from the French stage of a surfing competition. The site used Silverlight 1.0 for presentation, and the Silverlight streaming server for video transmission. Ironically, said Jalabert, within Quiksilver only users of Apple Inc.'s Macintosh were able to access the site, as the PC users at the company are running Windows 2000, which does not support Silverlight

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