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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Microsoft photo)

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is bordering on obsessive when it comes to Apple these days, or at least that’s the way he comes off in these excerpts from an interview with the CRN trade publication at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.

“But we are not going to let any piece of this [go uncontested to Apple],” shouted Ballmer, according to the CRN story. “Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch.”

Exhibit A is Microsoft’s new Surface tablet, which breaks with tradition as the Redmond company gets into the hardware business, adopting a page from the Apple playbook. Speaking at the event, Ballmer set the target at “a few million” Surface computers sold in the first year.

So what about a Microsoft-developed phone? The company has downplayed that possibility in recent weeks, but Ballmer was more coy in response to the CRN question. From the article …

When asked if Microsoft might make its own smartphone, Ballmer paused and then replied: “Right now we are working real hard on the Surface. That’s the focus. That’s our core. Look, we’ll see what happens. We have good partners with Nokia, [HTC] in the phone space. I love what we’ve got going on with the Surface. We are going to focus on Surface and our other Windows 8 Tablet partners and see if we can go make something happen.”

Microsoft is walking a fine line at the conference this week as it tries to show partners the cool stuff it has in the works, trying to convince them that it’s on the cutting edge, but at the same time assuring them that the company won’t step on their toes.

The Microsoft partner conference today turned its attention to areas including Windows Server and Windows Phone, recapping the company’s recent announcements. See the WPC site for more.

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