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SharePoint hot? 'Clouds' rolling in? - Ballmer speaks at partner event

SharePoint momentum, cloud computing and open source were on the agenda when Steve Ballmer spoke last week at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer pointed to growth in SharePoint as an example of Microsoft's recent strength last week at Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Houston. SharePoint has quickly hit the 100-million user level, he said.

The SharePoint collaborative portal is "one of the most remarkable successes we've ever had," said Ballmer, adding that the growth was "all really fueled by partner power."

The program "is almost hotter than we're all able to manage," said Ballmer, who after Bill Gates' departure, is now the sole operational head of Microsoft. All and all, Ballmer delivered a typically enthusiastic speech to representatives from the partner companies that work with Microsoft, although he also pointed to challenges.

A major theme centered on Microsoft's plans for 'the cloud.''Cloud computing' is a term generally used to describe an Internet-based services architecture in which devices link to large server farms.

Cloud or Software plus Services schemes could conceivably threaten both Microsoft and its partners' business plans.

Ballmer stressed that new technologies and skill sets must necessarily develop. "The future is about having a platform in the cloud, just as we have an operating system for the client, for the server, for devices," he said. He anticipated concerns among his audience about the possible obsolescence of many of today's most common technologies, saying, "This world of Software Plus Services is not a world for our partners that should be scary, or problematic."

Ballmer addressed the issue of open-source, contending that Microsoft would "encourage open source innovation on our platforms, and around our platforms." But, Microsoft, being profit-oriented, obviously would not make open-source its ultimate modus operandi.

Ballmer provoked applause with the observation that "open source also implies free, and free is inconsistent with paying for lunches at the partner conference."

Characteristically upbeat, Ballmer remarked that viewing the recent U.S. Olympics Track Trials inspired him to be extra-prepared for the conference. Whether the tenor of his remarks would have been markedly different without the track meet is an open question. As Fortune magazine's Geoff Colvin, moderator of the Q&A follow-up, later joked, "I've always had the impression that motivation isn't really an issue for you."

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