Microsoft’s Ballmer Stands Up For His Company’s Consumer Business

Steve Ballmer

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer is taking the stage at Microsoft’s analyst day to talk about the company’s consumer businesses, saying that “a lot of the issues we see in our consumer businesses are very much on the minds of the shareholders.”

That’s an understatement, considering that the lackluster state of Microsoft’s phone business and its position in tablets compared to Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) have weighed on perceptions of the company’s innovativeness and have even led to questions about how much long Ballmer will stay in his job.

And, indeed, Ballmer acknowledged that Apple had “done an interesting job” with the iPad and “certainly” sold more tablets “than I’d like them to sell.”

But he said that that Microsoft was pushing “right now” with its hardware partners to release a series of slates running the company’s Windows 7 operating system. When will they debut? Ballmer wouldn’t be specific, saying they would launch as “soon as they are ready.” But, he said, “nobody is sleeping at the switch” and “it is job one urgency here.” “We have got to make things happen with Windows 7 on slates.” Later on, asked to clarify the company’s approach to tablets, he pledged they would sell “like crazy” and that “If we can’t compete with (a) weird collection of Android devices … shame on us.”

Ballmer didn’t say as much about Microsoft’s phone strategy, which the company has outlined at length before. He did say once again that the company has “a lot of work to do” and that Microsoft isn’t going to reverse its position in that market “over night.” But he said there was an opportunity in the market for a differentiated operating system and the company will accompany the launch this fall of Windows Phone 7 with an “aggressive marketing” campaign. Asked what would happen if it turned out to be the next Vista, he said it wouldn’t be and that there was no contingency plan.

Ballmer started off his presentation by talking up the state of the company’s Xbox business — much like the company did during its earnings call last week, when it barely mentioned either tablets or mobile phones. He reminded analysts that at one point they were worried about the Xbox business and its losses — but said ir was now doing “wonderfully.”

As for its online division, which Microsoft has spent heavily on, Ballmer said that he wasn’t “confused” that investors saw the “big price tag.” But he said the company was “pushing ahead,” calling attention to the market share gains of its Bing search engine and specifically noting that Bing was doing very well among a “younger crowd.”

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