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Microsoft’s Ballmer to Apple: It’s on (again)

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

One thing Apple(s aapl) fans know about Microsoft(s msft) CEO Steve Ballmer – he once mock-stomped an employee’s iPhone to oblivion at a company meeting. Ballmer also stated that he wouldn’t let his kids use an iPod (or any Apple or Google offering for that matter).

Now, with a story in a national glossy magazine excoriating his management style, claiming Microsoft has lost its ability to innovate and coming on the heels of a huge ($6.3 billion!) write-off of its Internet ad business, Ballmer remains …  well, Ballmer.

In an interview with CRN at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference this week, Ballmer said Microsoft will take the battle to Apple again, this time with Surface tablet devices that the software company will design and build.

“We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple,”  Ballmer said, after speaking to an estimated 16,000 Microsoft partners at the Toronto event.

Ballmer told CRN’s Steven Burke:

“We have our advantages in productivity. We have our advantages in terms of enterprise management, manageability. We have got our advantages in terms of when you plug into server infrastructure in the enterprise.

“But we are not going to let any piece of this [go uncontested to Apple]. Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.”

Kurt Eichenwald, author of the aforementioned Vanity Fair piece, appeared on American Public Media’s Marketplace, saying:

“One of the things I mention in the article is that the iPhone right now, something that didn’t exist five years ago, has more in sales than all of Microsoft combined.”

To be sure, Microsoft lags both Apple and Android badly in smartphones, but even some Microsoft critics say it’s got a better phone OS story now — the question is whether that’s too little too late. Microsoft has entered other markets late and clumsily but eventually dominated them. Does anyone remember the Netscape Navigator browser which Microsoft buried with Internet Explorer?

Then again, Microsoft often drops the ball once it gains dominance — and Internet Explorer is a good example here, too.

Eichenwald has been all over the place touting his story, appearing on CBS Sunday Morning two days ago and on PBS with Charlie Rose Monday night.

MSFT Chart

MSFT data by YCharts

That Microsoft can be slow and clumsy in its development is not new. Nor is the fact that Microsoft has had a rough go of it for the past few years. It’s stock price has languished compared to Google, Apple, and IBM (see chart.) But it remains a profitable, if not-super-inspiring, company. Ballmer has had prominent investors call for his head on a plate. But even some Microsoft critics say the company may be on the mend with Surface, a more credible phone OS and a better story around its Azure cloud.

All this negative press may lag Microsoft’s reality, a belief that led some contrarians to think now’s the time to buy Microsoft’s stock. 

31 Responses to “Microsoft’s Ballmer to Apple: It’s on (again)”

  1. “Ballmer also stated that he wouldn’t let his kids use an iPod (or any Apple or Google offering for that matter)”

    Just another of the MANY reasons it would suck to be his kid…

  2. great thread of comments. Ifyou have thoughts on why Microsoft can or can’t repeat its history of entering a market late and then dominating it, plse send me email at barb dot darrow at gigaom dot com or DM me on Twitter (gigabarb)

  3. Steve K

    Does anyone remember the Metricom fiasco? Balmer came out of that mess with millions. I think with him it’s about money and power, not creating anything useful.

  4. Bunyip

    “We have our advantages in something-or-other-which-sounds-important. We have our advantages in terms of blah-blah-blah. We have got our advantages in terms of when you plug into yabba-dabba-doo.”

  5. James Katt

    Once again, Microsoft is declaring that they are going to follow Apple’s lead and copy Apple wherever Apple goes.

    As Steve Jobs said years ago in mocking the process, “Microsoft, start your copiers.”

  6. Steve_S

    Ballmer didn’t leave the iPod or smartphone markets unchallenged either, but that didn’t impact Apple at all. Likewise, I’m not quite sure where all of his bravado comes from.

  7. Daniel Ruiz

    Metro because the UI helped Zune fly off the shelves. Surface because what I really wanted in a tablet was for it weigh 2 pounds, have a flimsy keyboard, and fans (I love fans). Windows 8 because having a touch UI on my non-touch work pc means it takes longer to get to work (work sucks).

  8. “We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.” – It’s already happened! It’s time maybe to get another watch!

    They should focus on what’s important right and not just develop for the sake of beating your competition alone! Make products because that’s what you like doing and your company/people have a passion for!

    They are getting their “mojo” back now – at least in the last couple of years. And it can only get better from here. Please for heaven’s sake don’t confuse things now!

    Focus! Focus! Focus!

  9. José Manuel Peña

    “It’s stock price has languished compared to Google, Apple, and IBM (see chart.)” Hey tech guys! The important variable here is not Stock Price! It’s Market Cap!!! Please don’t confuse non financial people!

    • @jose In terms of market caps… msft doesn’t look so bad, as of today its market cap is about $250B. Apple is at nearly $567B, IBM at about $215B and Google (surprising me) at just under $190B.

  10. justsayin

    This is the rambling of a CEO without a clue. Instead of worrying about what Apple is doing, why don’t you change the face of technology yourself??? Oh thats right, you only copy what others do and then try to force them out of business.

  11. Somebody said the Surface is a jack of all trades, master of none and that seems right, but we have to see what the market says. They could surprise us.

    • Tony Williams

      Yes, MS is increasingly “myopic”… there were certainly days when MS would issue a press release, then all competitors would reel, their stock would drop, it would entirely befuddle them.

      Ballmer is trying to use that same playbook with the Surface, Windows Phone, Win 8, etc

      Difference is, MS is no longer powerful, they are fat and lazy like Ballmer, like IBM of the 1970’s.

  12. John Nemesh

    The biggest failure in computer history is shaping up right here. Instead of actually INNOVATING something new, they are going after last year’s king of the hill. Playing catchup to number 2 is NOT going to be a winning strategy, ever. But this is not the first time Microsoft has had this happen to them. It happened when PC use shifted to the Internet, and it took them YEARS to catch up. Now it has happened again with the shift to mobile computing, and AGAIN they miss the boat. Now, instead of trying to become the market leader, they are trailing after Apple with a “Me too” tablet platform. Worse, they are damaging their brand on the DESKTOP as well, forcing a Fisher Price (TM) UI on the masses. We are now told, after YEARS of being an open platform (just not open source), that the entire ecosystem will be locked down “for our safety”, giving Microsoft draconian powers to approve or deny apps that run on their OS. (not to mention a 30% cut of the gross profits!) I will be moving on to Linux or abandon desktop computing completely due to these changes, and this is after almost 20 years of being a loyal Microsoft customer. Good bye Microsoft, I wont miss you.

  13. Steve Ballmer has maintained a Microsoft corporate culture that can no longer succeed. Others have pulled the rug right from under them with superior tech and execution. But shh! We wouldn’t have it any other way those of us who want Microsoft to eventually collapse under the weight of it’s moribund leadership and products and services. Ballmer is the supremely incompetent blowhard of tech. Seems to still think anything he might say has validity. It’s actions and deeds that make a difference Monkey Boy, not on your say-so.

    • Hunter

      The problem is, this ham-fisted bloveating clown is so thoroughly unattractive on so many levels that he should not be the face of this company – whether he’s a moron or a genius. I suspect it’s the latter. That’s the bottom line. Put him in a cage somewhere and find somebody at that company who has some charisma to interface with the rest of the world.

  14. sixiron

    Ballmer is right and consistently on point as far as Microsoft goes. He is saying clearly they will not leave “any space uncovered” and there in lies the problem for MS.

    The problem is MS is a company whose executives have absolutely no courage. They will produce whatever it is, that will have keyboards, no keyboards, USB ports, this that and the other, they will provide every combination. They are unable to take a stance and say, people don’t really need optical drives or don’t need keyboards or what have you.

    So when he says “no space uncovered”, he is literally saying that.

    The other problem is they are unwilling to cannibalize their own products. So they are stuck to Windows. They seem unable to produce something else that possibly is streamlined to tablets. Its a problem for them.

  15. Hey Ballmer… Try turning that tablet and keyboard of yours vertically. Oh, you can’t? You mean that physical keyboard won’t rotate? Doesn’t that seem kinda, you know… Lame? When will you ever learn to keep that fat, sweaty mouth of your shut?

  16. Hari Seldon

    Isn’t this the man who mocked the iPhone when it was launched? now, 5 years later the iPhone is bigger than the whole of microsoft. He has demonstrated that he has zero vision, who cares what he thinks?

    • This is exactly what is wrong (well one of the things, anyway) with Microsoft. They have started to compete on too many fronts, against too many competitors.

      They want to beat Apple at computer hardware, and mobile services.
      They want to beat Google at Web search.
      They want to beat IBM at servers.
      They want to beat Sony & Nintendo at gaming.

      By trying to do everything, they end up doing none of them very well.

      As long as Ballmer is running Microsoft, Apple has nothing to worry about. ;-)