Things We Wish Steve Ballmer Would Say

Wouldn't it be refreshing to get some honest, feisty answers from a chief executive? With Microsoft's Partner Conference just around the corner, we wondered what it would be like to have just such a conversation with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

With so many inflammatory topics swirling around the software giant these days -- Yahoo, Google, the egg incident -- here's what we'd really like to ask, and how we wish he'd answer.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: So, is Yahoo going to play ball? Is there still the possibility of a blockbuster Microsoft-Yahoo deal?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: Play ball. That's funny. We just played a little golf, but you know what? I'm actually sick of talking about it. I will say that we thought the offer was pretty good. Obviously Yahoo didn't. Apparently, Jerry and his buddies at Yahoo felt like they'd be making some kind of Faustian bargain if they accepted our offer. Well guys, I have a newsflash for you: Soon, all your base will belong to us.

Like Robert Deniro said in "Cop Land," "You blew it!"

But actually, Yahoo or no Yahoo, I don't think anyone can question Microsoft's commitment to becoming a major player in search and advertising. Yahoo would obviously have helped us drive that vision forward, but that's not to say we're not going to get where we want to be. Hey Yahoo, it's going to be fun watching Carl Icahn rip you apart!

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: What's going on with Google? It looks like some pretty serious competition brewing there.

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: We are going to destroy them! Someone get me a chair! [laughs])

Seriously, Google doesn't keep me up at night. Why would they? I sleep quite well, in fact. 8 hours a night! Oh, and that whole chair throwing thing? Never happened. It was actually an oak coffee table.

Look, if a Microsoft employee wants to go work for Google, that's fine. We've managed to hire away some of their people too. I have a lot of confidence in our recruitment process and ability to find the talent necessary to fulfill our goals. We have great people handling that search. Here's my message to Google: OK, maybe it's true that you guys are going all Ivan Drago on us in search right now. But we're Rocky Balboa, baby, and this time, it is WE who are going to crush YOU!

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: What was going on with that guy with the eggs in Hungary?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: [Laughs hysterically] That was crazy, wasn't it? Maybe scary for a minute there, but crazy. And friendly, in a strange way.

The best part was, at least eight people called me right after it happened, insisting that Jerry Yang had paid that guy. I don't know, maybe he did! If that's true, Jerry should have also paid the guy to take some egg-throwing accuracy lessons. That kid couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. And I'm not exactly a small target.

By the way, Jerry, you should probably focus your time on getting ready for Carl Icahn instead of small time PR stunts!

Actually, I think that egg-throwing kid was a symbol the misplaced anger against Microsoft that exists in the industry, for various reasons. Just take a look at Slashdot sometime, so much negativity whenever we're mentioned. I honestly don't get it. Look, in certain groups of people, Microsoft will get criticized no matter what we do. But I think our recent moves to embrace interoperability, especially our open source and standards participation efforts, really speak for themselves.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: Office SharePoint Server has become a billion dollar business for Microsoft. Surprised?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: Our competitors -- [cough] Google [cough] -- should probably start calling it 'ScarePoint', because they don't have anything like SharePoint to take to enterprises. And it should scare them. I hope they think of it as a giant boulder that rolling straight for them, because that's exactly what it is.

Seriously, I wasn't surprised at all. We've been focusing a lot of resources on collaboration, development platforms, portals, and business intelligence. And it's paying off.

We're going to keep adding to SharePoint. I was in Norway recently working with the people from Fast Search And Transfer [which Microsoft acquired in January for $1.23 billion], and I can tell you that their technology is going to be a key part of SharePoint's push into the higher reaches of enterprise search.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: Microsoft is playing catch up right now in the virtualization market. Will you catch up?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: Virtualization, oh yeah, bring it on! We're doing it at many levels: Hyper-V and server virtualization, client virtualization, and application and presentation virtualization. There's a huge opportunity for us to democratize virtualization and get it in the hands of everyone.

And we're not going to overcharge for our virtualization products like our competitors do. Yeah, VMware, I'm talking about you. Look at Hyper-V, for example. Who else is selling a virtualization hypervisor for $28? I can tell you who's not.

How big is the virtualization opportunity? Well, today, probably less than 5 percent of the world's servers are virtualized. Most companies haven't gone there because they think virtualization is too expensive and difficult to manage. So those are areas we're going to target, and I don't see anything stopping us.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: Vista. Yikes. That's been a bit of a rough roll out for you, huh?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: Well, I'll say this: Vista is selling at a faster rate than any other operating system in history. So the open source folks can say what they want, and sit around and bash Microsoft, but that's OK, because we're winning. More than 150 million copies sold thus far. Checkmate -- thanks for playing.

Have there been some areas in Vista that need to learn from? Absolutely. For example, as I've said before, five years, that was probably too long between releases. Application and driver compatibility were problems, but we've worked hard with our ISV partners to eliminate those issues. We also probably added too many new innovations to Vista and tried to integrate them all at the same time. But Vista is more secure, and with service pack 1, you're starting to see Vista be adopted by more and more business. So I actually think we're on the right track with Vista.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: You call software-as-a-service "software plus services." Do you really think that's going to make channel partners feel any better about the big squeeze they are facing?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: I wouldn't say our channel relationships are going to change that much. Clearly, the era of software plus services is now, and we're continuing to build out a services platform in the cloud, a services-based infrastructure, with a new management model and new development model. But the programming model is all .NET!

Microsoft's channel is one of our strongest pillars. And it's what sets us apart from competitors. I'm not sure, does Google have a channel program? And how will their channel partners fit into online services? Oh, that's right, Google doesn't have any channel partners.

Our partners will continue being successful in software plus services, it's that simple. Partners will help with deployment of servers, in the data centers, and with getting applications to those servers. There's a mountain of opportunity here.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: How about Apple's 'I'm a PC, I'm a Mac' commercials?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: As far as the commercials go, they surprise me, they really do. In terms of its corporate persona, I didn't think Apple could be any more arrogant. And I'll admit, the commercials show me that I was wrong.

I'm not going to take anything away from Apple, they make nice products. But where is Apple in the enterprise? Where are they in online services? They make nice products, but they're a bug on the windshield for Microsoft. Except for the iPod. Oh, and the iPhone. Yeah, the iPhone.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: Bill Gates is leaving soon. How do you feel about the departure of such a long time friend and former Harvard classmate?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: I'm tempted to say it'll be like the scene from "Risky Business" after Tom Cruise's parents leave. I mean, right after they leave, not the party at the end of the movie.

But, in all honesty, it'll be business as usual. Bill has been a good friend of mine for a long time and I wish him well. But not much is going to change at Microsoft. We're still committed to the same goals that Bill helped set. And it's not like he's going away to Pluto or something -- he's still going to be around.

The only thing I can think of is that Bill might have to show his ID to the younger security guards we bring on after he leaves, who might not recognize him when he comes back for meetings.

WHAT WE'D LIKE TO ASK: Adobe: friend, foe, or 'frenemy'?

WHAT WE HOPE BALLMER WOULD SAY: Well, they're definitely a competitor, and Adobe has been a strategic company in the industry with standards such as PDF. They get their panties in a bunch sometimes, like when they threatened to sue us over PDF support in Office, but we've managed to work out our differences.

Adobe is competing with Flash and Flex, but we're doing well with Silverlight and .NET. The key for us is driving more usage of Silverlight, and hopefully taking some market share away from Flash. But if that happens, they'll probably throw another public tantrum and start slinging antitrust accusations, which seems to be their preferred method of negotiation.

But we're seriously committed to working together.