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Well, on a program called “Hard Talk,” it only makes sense that host Stephen Sackur didn’t accept Bill Gates’ standard response — that there are always areas where Microsoft is doing well, and areas where the company can improve. And the Microsoft chairman’s reply at least provided some interesting insights into his mindset about the company.

This is the same interview where Gates expressed his support for Microsoft’s $8.5 billion Skype acquisition, as we reported yesterday. In an extended segment made public today, the BBC journalist also used the opportunity to challenge Gates on the company’s prospects in the mobile market.

Q: All true, there are clearly areas where Microsoft has done well in recent years, but the phone, the tablet, the handheld revolution, Microsoft has been left behind.

Gates: Oh, I wouldn’t say that. I’d say there’s companies doing very good work in that area. I think the phone has become very software-centric. Three or four years ago, if you look what Microsoft was saying, they were saying the phone would become software centric. That’s really taken place. And so it’s software approaches that are succeeding there. The idea that reading and media are moving down on to the digital device. That’s good news and Microsoft has to create the best device for those scenarios.

Well, it has to, and right now, the market doesn’t believe that Microsoft is best-positioned to do that. If you look at valuations, relative to when you walked away from day-to-day management in the (company), the valuation of Microsoft compared with Apple, the graph goes like that. Apple now dwarfs Microsoft in terms of market valuation.

Gates laughs: I wouldn’t say dwarf.

Q: It’s tens and tens of billions of dollars more valuable.

Gates: Yeah, I think stock prices aren’t really the best gauge. Stock prices can go up and down. So I wouldn’t use that as a gauge, but I’d be the first to say, there’s several tech companies, including Microsoft, including Apple, including Google, doing fascinating work, and the importance of software is more evident to people than it’s ever been. In my new role, I think about that in terms of software to help kids get educated in a better way, or to track health systems in a better way. My chairman role at Microsoft is about 10 percent of my time, and I give them all the good advice I can come up with.

For the record, Apple currently stands at $313 billion in market value, Microsoft at $208 billion.

Tom Warren of WinRumors has the video highlights.

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