Saying that customers don't expect the same quality in a browser as they do in other software products, Microsoft's number two executive declared Internet Explorer 4.0 "a tradeoff." Ballmer admitted that the IE 4.0 team was as concerned with getting the product out on time as it was on fixing problems.
"I'm not trying to say there's some excuse for bugs, but the reality is, you're always making a set of tradeoffs about the probability of problems--unknown problems--versus when you ship," Ballmer said.
"Customers have different expectations for a major new Windows release than the expectations of leading--edge guys who take the first version of new browsers," he said. "The IE team thinks they made the right set of tradeoffs, and I think they know they're doing some more work to continue to improve that product."
Microsoft recently released an interim release of IE 4.0--version 4.01--to fix bugs and address other user concerns.
Ballmer said that IE 4.0 taught Microsoft some lessons and that the company would definitely not ship Windows NT 5.0 until it was ready. When asked when NT would ship, he replied, "I'd say roughly, roughly a year from now. Roughly."
Ballmer attributes delays in Windows NT 5.0 to Zero Administration for Windows (ZAW), which was started late. The directories services features, he says, are ready.
"Without the ZAW and IntelliMirror stuff, I don't think we're doing the seminal step forward that people expect out of NT 5," Ballmer said. "It's absolutely essential we get that product right. If it's a few months later, I'd hate it--I'd love to have it now--but we're better off getting it right.