Ballmer Swipes At, Then Praises Open Source Competition

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 07, 2008

Much is being said about Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's comments on open source in Australia this week. As GigaOm notes, Ballmer took a bold swipe at Google's Android platform while speaking Down Under, but he also directly said he found open source browser engines "interesting."  Among other things implied here, there could be some big changes in how browsers compete.

I've written before that the serious innovation going on in the browser market is coming from open source browsers. Firefox, in particular, is leading the way, but Google Chrome and Webkit--found in Apple's Safari browser--are delivering innovation as well. In recent speed tests, the beta version of Internet Explorer 8 is slow as molasses compared to the open source browsers, and in the case of Firefox, all the incredible extensions give the browser more muscle than Mozilla could ever do on its own.

That's why Ballmer has to consider an open source browser code base. Here is what he said:

"There will still be a lot of proprietary innovation in the browser itself so we may need to have a rendering service. Open source is interesting. Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that, but we will continue to build extensions for IE 8."

With Firefox at about 20 market share now, and so much innovation going on in the open source browsers, I can't see how Microsoft can afford not to move toward a solution such as Webkit quickly. The beta version of the upcoming Firefox version 3.1 is already far faster--especially in JavaScript tests--than the beta of Internet Explorer 8.

The JavaScript performance promises to have a profound effect on online hosted applications, such as those from Google and Zoho. People who work with those applications, among many others, won't tolerate a pokey browser. The CEO of Zoho even suggested to us that the JavaScript performance improvements in the open source browsers may change how features are implemented in online applications.

Ballmer also trashed Android while in Australia. "I don’t really understand their strategy. Maybe somebody else does,” he said, as GigaOm reports here. I agree completely with Om's comments in reaction: "What’s there to understand, Steve? It is simple. It is free, and it is meant to eat Windows Mobile for lunch."

With Symbian going open source, Android open sourced, and Linux-based LiMo devices appearing, Microsoft has to feel the pressure. Windows Mobile stands on very shaky legs in the face of this type of competition. Look for Microsoft to make more big changes in its stance toward open source--and soon.