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.