Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt appeared separately this week at the Gartner Symposium ITXpo. And though one might naturally expect the two to offer differing visions for IT, they really didn't, once you get past their company-specific boosting: Both believe the future for IT is cloud-based services serving a variety of device types.
Ballmer's presentation has been widely quoted for his confirmation that Microsoft will deliver a version of Office for iPad once the "touch-first" version of the dominant productivity suite is completed for Windows. But this focus on the obvious—this schedule has been well understood for months—ignores the many other comments Mr. Ballmer made at the show.
Related: "Microsoft's Move to Devices and Services"
"The number one thing we're hearing from customers is that they want us to put it [all] together," he said on Tuesday. "We grew up as a company by dividing things into smaller, manageable problems." Microsoft can be an "instigator" in this area, he said.
Microsoft is working to combine its now separate Windows desktop/tablet and Windows Phone software, he said, but the move to a common user experience across its major platforms has already happened. But the future of computing isn't just about Windows, he admitted. "We see a world that's heterogeneous with Windows and things that are easier if we push forward with integration," he declared, explaining that the real thrust behind Microsoft's devices and services strategy involved non-Microsoft solutions, too.
Regarding IT specifically, Ballmer said that Microsoft had a "broad footprint." The firm is concerned with solving three key issues: how IT can manage infrastructure, business process, and empowering the workforce. Each of these issues involves non-Microsoft devices and services.
As with Mr. Ballmer, Eric Schmidt's appearance at Gartner Symposium ITXpo has been reduced to a single sound bite by tunnel-visioned bloggers: He declared that, contrary to wide-held belief, his firm's Android OS is "more secure than the iPhone." Of course, Schmidt was at Gartner to pump up Google's credibility with the enterprise. And perhaps not surprisingly, he also believes in the devices and services vision, and that the future of IT is heterogeneous.
He claimed that the old-school world of on-premises software licensing would fade in this era of cloud computing, and that the hybrid model that Microsoft is currently pushing—in which enterprises can implement a combination of on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure—is just a temporary stop on the way to full-on cloud computing. To compete effectively, businesses will need to shed their old, out-of-date ways of doing things.
"Moving to the cloud is not a questionable proposition," he said. "It's inevitable."
"The [next] phase [of enterprise disruption] is driven by tablets and it looks like the majority of enterprise computing will happen on mobile devices," he said. "You're going to have to dismantle existing infrastructure to work in the mobile model. It's happening right before your eyes."
And as I noted earlier this week in "Post-PC: When Will Then Be Now?" on the SuperSite for Windows, Android is now the dominant personal computing platform and will continue as such for the foreseeable future. This means that IT should be focusing its efforts initially on Android and not on other platforms. Not surprisingly, perhaps, this change will affect where Microsoft puts its own efforts going forward, as well. (I'll be addressing this issue in a second "Post-PC" article later this week.)
Ultimately, even though Ballmer and Schmidt present visions that emphasize their own company's strengths and goals, the overreaching theme is the same: As with the consumer market before it, IT will need to open up to a more heterogeneous future on the client side and end its historical, complex, and expensive emphasis on desktop versions of Windows. And these devices will interoperate with a variety of services from a variety of sources.