Ballmer at the Microsoft Surface unveiling. (GeekWire file photo)

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is convinced that Windows 8 will be a winner, he doesn’t seem too impressed with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, and he expects Microsoft to build on its core capability in software to become more of a “devices and services” company in the next five to 10 years.

Those are a few of the takeaways from a wide-ranging interview with Ballmer published online by the Seattle Times this evening, providing some insights into the Microsoft CEO’s mindset as the company prepares for the pivotal launch of Windows 8 this fall.

At one point in the interview, Seattle Times reporter Janet Tu asked Ballmer what Microsoft will do if Windows 8 doesn’t take off. Ballmer said he doesn’t have any doubt that it will do well.

“I’m not paid to have doubts,” he said.

Of course, Ballmer wants strike a confident tone in public, but his comments as published don’t acknowledge the huge risk that Microsoft is taking by overhauling the default Windows 8 interface to make the operating system work better on tablets.

In my experience, Windows 8 works well as a tablet operating system, but I believe Microsoft executives are underestimating the potential for a backlash from users of Windows 8 on traditional desktop computers, where the experience can be highly disorienting.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire came up during the interview as part of an exchange about tablet pricing. Talking about lower-priced 7-inch tablets, the Microsoft CEO asked rhetorically if anyone would ever use the Kindle Fire to do homework.

He said, “The answer is no; you never would. It’s just not a good enough product. It doesn’t mean you might not read a book on it.”

Ballmer is making a distinction between different use cases, but the comment is notable in part because Microsoft has been in the tablet market for more than a decade, and Amazon has come along and made a noticeable dent in less than a year. For what it’s worth, Microsoft Bing is also the default search engine on Amazon’s new Kindle Fire HD.

Ballmer’s remark about Microsoft’s evolution came in response to a question about where the company will be in five to 10 years.

“I think when you look forward, our core capability will be software, (but) you’ll probably think of us more as a devices-and-services company,” he said. “Which is a little different. Software powers devices and software powers these cloud services, but it’s a different form of delivery.”

He cautioned that his remarks shouldn’t be taken to imply that Microsoft will make every device. The company, he said, will continue to work with hardware partners.

Other topics addressed in the interview include Microsoft’s competition for talent against Facebook, Google and others; its R&D spending vs. actual technologies brought to market; its return on its marketing investment; and the company’s stock price. Read the full interview here.

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  • gill bates

    fire him now

    • Michael Hazell

      Well that’s not a constructive comment. Do you have a reason to say to have Ballmer fired?

  • Reality

    Windows phone has a potential, but not in the hands of a used car salesman… MSFT needs a new leader…

  • Michael Hazell

    I’m not that much of a fan of Windows 8 because of its full metro UI (I like the new outlook and other Microsoft services redesigns, though), I wish them luck. Launching a new product can always be hard, and it is harder now that Microsoft is directly competing with their partners. What if their tablet is a huge success? What will OEM’s do? So many questions, all waiting to be answered when this tablet launches.

  • david prokop

    Having used Win8 for a few months, i think there will be a backlash from disabled users. The PC interface relies on small hits spots and exact tap/click timings

  • guest

    Just like there was no doubt that:

    – MS would prevail in its antitrust case with the DOJ
    – Nobody needed the cloud
    – Vista would be great
    – Zune would succeed against iPod
    – MS would catch Google in search within a year
    – iPhone had no chance of gaining any significant market share. No chance.
    – iPad was a toy
    – aQuantive was a great investment
    – [every year since 2000] was going to be the most epic year in MS history
    – Wall Street was wrong. His strategies would succeed, re-ignite growth, and increase shareholder value

    If there’s one thing Steve has done with consistency over the past thirteen years, it’s be wrong. The results speak for themselves. The company he took over, which dominated the industry, has been passed in relevance, revenue, profit, market cap, net cash, growth, and just about every other objective measure of performance.

  • Guest

    Not entirely true. My bitter ex-Microsoftie friend has doubts. Of course, if you told him that Steve Ballmer thinks the sky is blue, my friend would say the sky is red just out of spite.

    However, there is no _credible_ doubt that Windows 8 will be a success. We foresee more than 400 million copies sold in its first year.

    • guest

      Susan, the entire market has doubts. Which is why MS’s stock continues to perform worse than even the indexes while Apple and Google’s go vertical. It’s also the reason PC OEMs are reducing inventory levels instead of building them up in anticipation of a major demand jolt. You may think that retaining its still dominant but now long-term declining share (with those losses now accelerating) of the PC market is “success”. But it isn’t. MS is being disrupted and growth is already stalled because it blew two markets it helped pioneer: smartphones and tablets. The competitive imperative for W8 is to boost MS’s share in those two markets significantly. Anything less will be a failure for the company’s long term future regardless of whether it’s sufficient to retain MS’s declining presence on new PCs for one more year. And of course there’s a not insignificant chance it could fail at all three by alientating existing Windows users due to the UI changes.

  • VividJoy

    Ummm coming from the same man who laughed derisively and said the iPhone would be a flop . . . just saying!!

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