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Why Is Steve Ballmer Downplaying Windows 7?

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been downplaying Windows 7's potential impact on the foundering PC hardware market, but Microsoft partners say that's just part of his strategy.

In a Wednesday press conference in Munich, Germany, Ballmer was asked whether he expects Windows 7 to provide a catalyst for sagging PC sales. And, as he has done for the past several months in response to that very question, Ballmer seemed to intentionally avoid any bold predictions.

"There will be a surge of PCs but it will probably not be huge," Ballmer said in answer to a question at a news conference about the likely effect on the market of the new system, as reported by Reuters.

Ballmer's demeanor at the unofficial Windows 7 business launch event in San Francisco earlier this month was equally subdued, although that probably had more to do with the fact that he was speaking to a nattily attired audience of business customers as opposed to partners or employees.

After the Windows Vista debacle, it's not surprising to see Ballmer take a more pragmatic approach to promoting Windows 7. But in the opinion of some Microsoft VARs, Ballmer is merely engaging in a good old fashioned marketing stratagem. "It's a reverse psychology tactic," Brad Kowerchuk, president of Bralin Technology Solutions, based in North Battleford, Saskatchewan.

At the San Francisco event, Ballmer acknowledged that migrating costs may stall some companies' upgrade plans and said it's Microsoft's responsibility make a clear business case for Windows 7. Companies that deploy Windows 7 will see savings of $90 and $160 per PC annually from reduced help desk, desktop management, deployment and provisioning costs, Ballmer told attendees.

Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, a Fairfax, Va.-based Microsoft Gold partner, says that by setting modest expectations, Ballmer is endeavoring not to repeat its Vista mistake by marketing Windows 7 too heavily.

"Ballmer gains nothing by jumping around and screaming about Windows 7," Sobel said. "By being quiet, and letting the product speak for itself, Microsoft will look even better when Windows 7 exceeds expectations."

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