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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has worked at Microsoft for 32 years since he was hired as the company’s 30th employee by Microsoft co-founder and Chairman Bill Gates. Since taking the helm of Microsoft 12 years ago, Ballmer has been forced to navigate seismic shifts from the dot.com bust to the worldwide economic meltdown. After addressing some 16,000 partners at the company’s Worldwide Partners Conference, Ballmer spoke with CRN Editor News Steven Burke about Microsoft’s Surface tablet , Apple and the future ahead for Microsoft and its partners. Here are excerpts from the interview.
We did a little research with our readers in anticipation of the interview. We polled our guys before the Surface tablet on the Windows 8 tablet opportunity, and we polled them afterward. The number of solution providers rating Windows 8 tablet as an outstanding or good sales opportunity nearly doubled from 34 to 64 percent after the Surface launch. What is your response to those partners? They are excited, Steve, about the Surface sales opportunity. They want to know if they are going to have the opportunity to sell it.
Look, let’s just say this is new for us. We have announced that initial distribution would be off Microsoft.com as well as through Microsoft physical stores. So is there an opportunity? Is there some big distribution? Not initially. Look we just got to get [it] out the door.
But, if a partner says, "Hey look, I want to sell some of these things. I want to put them in a solution." They can order some off Microsoft.com and sell them. There is nothing that gets in the way of that. But, we have not set up what I would call industrial distribution as sort of a first element. We may get there. But, if a partner wants to order some and put them in as a solution [for] a customer, we’ll be excited to see that happen.
Why didn’t you give these guys a chance to sell it out of the gate, especially now? Apple is out there in the channel now. They are recruiting a lot of guys to sell the Apple tablet, granted low margin. But, why did you make the decision not to give these guys the product?
We didn’t make that decision. We didn’t.
We made a decision to get into the market in a way where we know we’ll have a perfect experience to get started, and then we can always do more -- go broader.
We had no idea what kind of a reaction we were going to get to the product, to the concept of us doing Surface. None of that. So we took our first step. It doesn’t mean we can’t take other steps.
We get to decide. Right now we are focused on executing well this first phase, which is to ship the Surface RT along with Windows 8 in October. We said it would be about 90 days later before we would have the Surface [for Windows] 8 [Pro], and those will just be in limited distribution to start.
Because we love our partners. But, just because we want to start out in a, let’s say, one foot in front of the other way.
It sounds like there is going to be only very limited product availability between now and the end of the year.
Limited availability is all a question of supply versus demand. So, we have got to see what kind of demand we have. We’ll make what we can.
I think [Microsoft President Windows and Windows Live Division] Steven [Sinofsky] actually showed a picture of our factory, which is set up, getting geared up for production in China. So, we’ll see what happens.
Who is building that?
I think the speculation is that Pegatron is -- I wouldn’t say building it -- is doing the transformation is the word they like to use; that is the final sort of integration.