Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told Australian media he was unfazed about the threat of open source or scepticism by business towards technology and defended the security of Microsoft's software products.
Gates addressed a number of issues in a press conference with technology journalists in Sydney on Monday, ranging from security threats, open source, piracy, spam, web services.
But his address kept circling around the central theme of Microsoft's focus on seamless computing and continuing innovation.
Taking a retrospective look at the history of the computer industry, Gates said over the next decade it will be the software industry that is going to tackle the big problems of security, ease of use and increased productivity for both business and home users.
When it comes to countering the open source threat for the desktop space, Gates said Microsoft's proposition is a value proposition, which is tied up in the fact that it is the largest spender in the world when it comes to R&D with the exception of one drug company.
“We spend it in a very focused way. We spend it on software… Overwhelmingly the thing that we are the best at is driving software forward,” Gates said.
“When you buy the software from us, the kind of improvements, the power, the reliability provides, we believe, a dramatically higher better choice than anything you get in that open source realm,” he said.
Microsoft has been competing with open source for the past decade, added Gates. Gates recalled that about 10 years ago there was a free spreadsheet application around which has since disappeared. People said: 'Oh my God! What are you going to do about a free spreadsheet?' I can't even remember the name of it now. Can you?”
“There is lots and lots of free [open source] software out there but the basic proposition that a worker deserves the very best tools, say it is a couple hundred dollars a year to give them the very best tools so that they can do their job most effectively. If we're innovating in the right ways that is the simplest buying proposition there's ever been,” he said.
Gates said his toughest competition is pirated software: “Believe me, if you really look around you'll find way more pirated Windows than you will find open source software, way more.”
When asked about a backlash by big business customers in Australia against the technology sector not delivering on promises, Gates said scepticism is normal, and when it comes to technology there are always dreams unfulfilled.
“I do think if you're totally sceptical you will miss very important advances,” Gates said. “Whenever you talk about technology it's a glass half full. There are dreams that are unfulfilled.”
“When or if I ever come here and say: 'hey, we cut our R&D budget to zero. We're just going to keep selling the same old stuff', then you might think: 'Wow! They really finished all that stuff. These computers are smart and perfect now and that's it'. My job is very much about the missing pieces, whether it's easy of use or security.”
Microsoft Australia managing director Steve Vamos added that the local IT industry and customers “were very much caught up in exuberance around dot com”.
“Rather than say that there's a backlash, what I would say is that our customers are really wanting to see the business value of their investment in information technology. That as things have washed through over the last couple of years that's really come back, and we're seeing much greater interest and much more optimism about investment in the sector, but it has to be aligned with the value that technology will contribute to the business.”
Gates could not be drawn for comment on his opinion of various governments' IT policies, but said most governments around the world are not anti-or pro-IT, rather it is a matter of allocating budget resources towards IT.
On software procurement, Gates said: “I think every government has a notion that you should buy whatever software provides for the overall project the best value and not have some bias towards one type of software or another type of software,” he said.
Gates said Microsoft is a non-partisan company, and does not take a position on political issues such as the re-election of Bush.
Vamos added: "We don't think legislating on technology is a high priority for any government".
On security, Gates said the company had made a "phenomenal" improvement in its security technology over the past year to alert customers to problems sooner.
He said the company was able to issue rapid responses to new viruses and other security fears within 48 hours. However, he did not guarantee Microsoft always would issue fixes within that time frame, acknowledging that the company had a big challenge in convincing customers to switch on the auto update function.
Overall, Gates had an upbeat message on innovation in the computing industry: “Are we half-way towards what we need to do? Maybe. And, hey, we have been in business for twenty-five years, the pace of improvement is much faster today than it's ever been.”
"No industry has improved its product while bringing prices down like the computer industry."