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Ballmer eyes bright future

Ballmer eyes bright future

What Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer finds exciting is the future we can only see glimpses of just now. Natural language, touch screen, real time access, everywhere.

Visiting Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer is a big guy with a footballer's presence and boisterous knack for resolving that

complicated nerdy eye-glazing stuff around computers and the web to

simple concepts.

And as a former football coach, Ballmer also has a skill for turning

the many criticisms about how slow-moving the world's largest software

maker is against the hip, quick competition from the likes of Apple

and Google into his own best form of defence - attack.

"If someone is going to change the model of the way we do things, its

going to be us, he told a CEDA lunch in Sydney on Friday. "Get

excited, let's get after them. I think the opportunity for us to

continue to lead is incredibly strong."

But even News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch says Microsoft has lost its

dominance to the universal Google, which has become the gateway to the

online world.

"If what Rupert is really saying is: 'Let's have somebody else, say

Google, have all the antitrust problems', I say hey! I'm with Google.

Let's go," he says.

Sitting down with the Weekend AFR, Ballmer counters that it is

consistent effort over time that will work for the company.

More than three decades since Ballmer's nerdy Harvard sophomore buddy

Bill Gates founded the company - which has turned Gates, Ballmer and a

generation of workers into billionaires and millionaires - Microsoft

has a market capitalisation of $US230 billion ($339 billion), more

than $US60 billion in revenues and $US17 billion in net income.

It's a mammoth machine with about 90,000 employees.

The software company and maker of the successful Xbox has been

lampooned for Zune, its slow-moving answer to the Apple iPhone, and

for problems with its Vista software. It is pinning its hope for

growth on Windows 7 and the new domain of cloud computing.

Ballmer reckons there's a lot more innovation to come in the search

department, and that the dominant operator has been pretty slow-moving

itself. "When you go search are you really usually looking for a set

of websites?" he asks. "No. You are looking to get something done.

You're trying to buy some flowers, not 10 links to a place to go to

buy flowers.

"Search hasn't changed for six years. You still get the same dull,

boring 10 blue links. Can't we do anything better than that? The

opportunity to innovate is high.

"Either we will be successful or the market will stagnate, because we

know everyone needs a good competitor.

"We just want the other guys in this business to have a good

competitor that they have to think about every day."

Asked about the financial crisis and the impact on the United States

economy, Ballmer says he's worried less about the downturn that the

company's own particular issues.

"We have some things we need to do, and will do, in terms of slowing

the rate of expense growth in the company, becoming more efficient in

some areas we probably should be more efficient in anyway," he says.

"But at the end of the day, the key message I put out to employees is:

Hey, we have a bright future. Let's keep pursuing it."

Ballmer says he is surprised at the levels of fear afoot."Certainly we

are not immune," he says. "The IT business overall has more potential

to see volatility in terms of its overall results, but there is a lot

of fear in the market."

Does he get fearful? "About the economy, not at all," he says. "Can't control it. Can't do

anything about it. It affects our competitors the same way it affects

us. Doesn't scare me at all.

"The things I spend my time thinking about is: Do we have the right

people? Are we investing in the right areas? Do we have the right

innovation strategies to grab the future to compete with the guys we

have to compete with?

"Our business is one in which things do suffer dislocation over time.

Are we embracing the big trends and changes or do we get stuck in past

success formulas? Those are the things I make sure I am putting plenty

of my energy and brain power on, as opposed to: I can't control the

economy."

What Ballmer finds exciting is the future we can only see glimpses of

just now. Natural language, touch screen, real time access,

everywhere. "At the end of the day, most of what's going to happen in

the next 10 years hasn't been invented yet anyway," he says.

Do they have the right strategy?

"I think so. We improve our strategy and we improve our execution.

This week Google, the No. 1 search engine, and second-placed Yahoo!

failed in a bid to tie up after threats of a legal battle with the US

Justice Department.

"Yahoo! CEO Jerry Yang was quick to say he was ready to return to the

bargaining table with Microsoft."

But Ballmer, who offered $US33 a share for the company not too long

ago, say's he's no longer interested.

"We made an offer," he says. "We made another offer. It was clear that

Yahoo! didn't want to sell the business to us and we moved on. We

tried at one point to do a partnership around search and that didn't

work either. We are not interested in going back and relooking at an

acquisition. They turned us down at US$33. Move on."

Fairfax Business Media

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