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Microsoft's Ballmer spars with analysts

Software giant's leader defends practices and products

The antitrust case hasn't changed Microsoft's practices; the continually increasing prices for Office are justified, and the software giant won't release its intellectual property anytime soon, says Steve Ballmer, president and CEO.

Ballmer was in the firing line of questions from analysts yesterday at market research company Gartner's ITxpo conference in Florida.

Ballmer, who doesn't shy from confrontation, was on the defensive but clearly enjoying himself, making the keynote interview one of the more edgier chats at ITxpo.

The Gartner analysts returned repeatedly to Microsoft's licensing policies and practices, which they say some customers find restrictive.

Microsoft is committed to using open standards and protocols in its products, but when it comes to sharing proprietary intellectual property the company is, and will be, restrictive in its licensing terms, Ballmer said.

The company isn't in business to give away its intellectual property, he said.

He further defended price increases, specifically for Office work-productivity software.

Office costs three times more now than it did five years ago, noted Gartner analyst Tom Austin.

But Microsoft has enhanced the product, and that's why customers keep buying it, Ballmer answered.

He also questioned the percentage increase, noting, "the notion that there's been a 300 percent increase is not reflected in our financial results."

No interview with a top Microsoft executive would be complete these days without covering the government's antitrust case against Microsoft.

Ballmer insists that the case has not altered the company much, save for how top officials phrase their email exchanges.

Internal email was at the heart of the Department of Justice case against Microsoft.

Executives now are much more conscious of "tone, what words you use in e-mail."

Microsoft won't be split into two, Ballmer predicts. He says the "final outcome" most certainly will not strictly follow Judge Jackson's order.

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