Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer on Wednesday acknowledged the threat Microsoft faces from Apple and offered some hints as to how Microsoft plans to fight back against its steadily strengthening nemesis. However, some channel partners were confused by the message.
In an email sent to Microsoft employees Wednesday, which first appeared in AllThingsD.com, Ballmer says Apple's success stems from its ability to deliver a complete user experience within the relatively narrow scope of its offerings, and suggests Microsoft could learn from this example.
"In the competition between PCs and Macs, we outsell Apple 30-to-1. But there is no doubt that Apple is thriving. Why? Because they are good at providing an experience that is narrow but complete, while our commitment to choice often comes with some compromises to the end-to-end experience," Ballmer wrote.
In the memo, and also in his Thursday keynote speech at Microsoft's annual financial analyst meeting, Ballmer suggested that Microsoft will change the way it works with its hardware partners. These comments are already generating buzz -- and some confusion -- within Microsoft's channel partner community.
Microsoft's battle plan is to provide users with "complete experiences with absolutely no compromises," according to Ballmer. "We'll do the same with phones -- providing choice as we work to create great end-to-end experiences," Ballmer wrote in the email.
"We're kind of being attacked from a single competitor with a point of view that is more closed and offers much less choice, that is much more narrow," Ballmer said in the keynote. "And yet, we have to tell our story, and you'll hear more about that versus where Apple is coming from, and [we'll] make sure that the Windows PC doesn't just offer more choice, but it offers every choice that you can get on a Mac, or other machine."
Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner, was somewhat perplexed by Ballmer's comments.
"My interpretation is that he's talking about hardware choice. Microsoft has always provided hardware choice, while Apple locks in the entire platform," said Sobel. "But is he implying that Microsoft is going to talk about a standardized platform? [The comment] implies many things that sound different from what Microsoft has said in the past."
Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based system builder, sees Ballmer's statements as a sign of Microsoft's desire to figure out how to provide the Apple experience, and to get its partners to provide that same experience to customers.
"This is something they recognize that Apple is doing well; i.e. the cleaner, more user friendly end-to-end experience," Swank said.
The Apple statements represent a refreshing change of course for Microsoft, and are a promising sign, says Vlad Mazek, a Microsoft Exchange MVP and CEO of Own Web Now, an Orlando, Fla.-based solution provider.
"It's nice to see that they actually recognize this now. For years Microsoft's stance was: 'Apple is not really our competition. IBM is'," Mazek wrote in a Thursday blog post.