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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp chief executive officer Steve Ballmer is expected to distance his company from past business practices at the CeBIT trade show in Germany this week by stressing that the company must be seen as "responsible" in dealings with other companies.

Ballmer, who recently insisted Microsoft had never retaliated against OEMs that sell rival products, will tell CeBIT delegates that Microsoft must emphasize partnerships to prosper, he told the Financial Times.

Ballmer's words are an attempt to mend the company's reputation among partners and the press, after its ongoing antitrust action with the US government and prosecuting states that has exposed Microsoft's business practices.

Microsoft has always had a reputation for hard bargaining, but among its activities exposed to public scrutiny by the US legal action is licensing. A US appeals courts last year demanded that the Redmond, Washington-based company introduce uniform licensing with OEMs.

Ballmer will speak just days after Sun Microsystems Inc initiated a $1bn legal action against Microsoft for allegedly attempting to control the internet by killing Java. The case, which exploits last year's ruling by a US appeal court that Microsoft practices over Java were predatory and deliberately misleading, is likely to rehash old hostilities and put partners in the firing line.

The FT said that Ballmer will tell delegates that Microsoft wants to be an industry leader. "The industry wants us to be more responsible. We can't have business policies that are capricious or variable. We have to be reliable and consistent. We must redouble our emphasis on partnership," he told the newspaper.

"It's fair to say that we thought that we had behaved in an appropriate way in the past. But the company has grown up since then. In the past we saw ourselves as the underdog that had to battle harder. We are now an industry leader and that implies a sense of responsibility," he said.

The outspoken Ballmer recently used his deposition in the antitrust case to deny that Microsoft had entered into favorable licensing agreements with OEMs or taken retaliatory action against partners when they had supported rivals' products. However, Jim Allchin, Platforms vice president, appeared to contradict Ballmer's testimony, when he conceded that Microsoft had engaged in "unlawful" practices to maintain a monopoly in the PC operating system space.

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