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Steve Ballmer: The KRN Interview

The Klingon Radio Network proudly present Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.


KRN: Mr Ballmer! Good afternoon! Trip went OK?

Ballmer: Fine. It was exciting. Exciting! Exciting! Exciting! Stomach's a bit bad though. Gas I think.

KRN: Sorry to hear that.

Ballmer: Oh that's OK.

KRN: You're sure you can go through with the interview?

Ballmer: Oh yeah. This is exciting! Let's begin, OK?

KRN: OK.

Ballmer: OK, you start.

KRN: OK. First of all, there's an item about Microsoft dropping PDF support from Office 2007 on Adobe's insistence. Can you comment?

Ballmer: No. I can't. I'm organising a birthday party for John Warnock like I did last year for Eric Schmidt at Google. We'll tell all then. Boy, those guys at Adobe sure got lots of cars.

KRN: There's a software-as-a-service push now that you guys started talking about publicly last year. What is your take on where bread-and-butter Microsoft Gold partners will fit into that over time? There's always a fear of disintermediation.

Ballmer: Actually it's called 'pusher software'. It's part of our implementation of heroin economics. 'Disintermediation'? Wow! I love it! Did you just make that up? You could come work for us! In my office! Right next to me at my desk! In my lap!

KRN: Don't you have your children to do that with you?

Ballmer: Nah! They got too soggy.

KRN: So, anyway: Vista's been delayed.

Ballmer: No it hasn't.

KRN: We heard it was delayed.

Ballmer: Not at all. Vista is very exciting. It will bring clarity to our times.

KRN: And this deal with Best Buy?

Ballmer: That's Apple. Serves them right.

KRN: No, it's you too. You have a deal with Best Buy too.

Ballmer: No we haven't. If we did I'd be the first to know.

KRN: OK, we'll move along. Today customers don't see Microsoft as an upstart anymore. More like an IBM.

Ballmer: We're not IBM. IBM are in New York and we're here in Oregon.

KRN: Washington.

Ballmer: OK. Blah blah blah. We're different from IBM. IBM never invested in quality like we do. IBM don't have the skills in the security business we do. They've no experience building high end super-computer hardware like we do. And they've never won a chess championship like we do. And keep doing. IBM still think in terms of KLoCs - kilo lines of code. That's so archaic. You don't measure code quality in KLoCs!

KRN: So how do you measure code quality?

Ballmer: XLoCs - exa lines of code.

KRN: That sounds a bit like Ex-Lax, doesn't it?

Ballmer: Oh that reminds me! [Rushes off. Returns fifteen minutes later.]

KRN: Feel better now?

Ballmer: Oh if ever! Were we already talking about something?

KRN: No.

Ballmer: Oh good. I didn't want to miss anything.

KRN: OK: Mini-Microsoft.

Ballmer: Actually I'd like to meet him. I can take one of my office chairs and toss it to over where he's sitting and we can have a nice chat.

KRN: He says your products are stuck in the production line.

Ballmer: Absolutely not. Vista is in the paragons of all pantheons of all pythons that we've ever released. It's not stuck. [Winces.]

KRN: Have to go again?

Ballmer: I think something was stuck in the production line. [Rushes off. Returns fifteen minutes later.]

KRN: How are things now?

Ballmer: Even better! Can we begin? I'm sort of in a get up and go mood today.

KRN: Tell us about your one great product.

Ballmer: I can't. Not yet. It's still stuck in the production line.

KRN: OK, then tell us about the Xbox.

Ballmer: Isn't it great! I'm so excited about the Xbox! I love Super Mario Bros!

KRN: That's Nintendo.

Ballmer: No, it's Xbox. It's one of our own innovations.

KRN: But is it a 'de novo' innovation?

Ballmer: I'll have to check.

KRN: A lot of people give you credit for that Xbox.

Ballmer: Yes they do! I was out last night to get the family pizza and I left my wallet at home and the pizza guys told me 'oh we know you're good for the money - you invented the Xbox'. So yes, and it all helps.

KRN: How about the new MS Office?

Ballmer: We showed that at Walt Mossberg's D conference. It's the only thing that's ever got applause at a D conference.

KRN: Have you tried just phoning Walt and telling him you won't be coming?

Ballmer: We have all these issues swirling at once. It's like a rainbow. Except in one colour. The different textures are the colours. Some are sandpaper, others are silk. It's very exciting.

KRN: Do you find people wanting to analogise all the time?

Ballmer: Oh do I ever! I meet people on the street and they come up to me and say excuse me Mister Ballmer can I analogise with you? It happens all the time.

KRN: And what do you tell them?

Ballmer: I tell them I'm happily married and don't go that way.

KRN: So Vista will be released shortly?

Ballmer: You bet! Right on schedule! We have Steven Sinofsky in there now. We're putting pedal to the medal! We're going all stops out! We're going Mach 2! We're going to have lots of new innovations in Vista - and some old ones too of course.

KRN: Can you tell us about the new innovations?

Ballmer: Of course not.

KRN: OK, can you tell us about the old innovations?

Ballmer: That I can do! First off, we have this text editor called NOTEPAD.

KRN: Notepad?

Ballmer: Yes, Notepad! Clever name, what? It edits text. It's very exciting.

KRN: Does it have a toolbar?

Ballmer: It doesn't need a toolbar. It's Notepad!

KRN: Can it search back and forth? And replace? And replace all?

Ballmer: It can search forward for 16 byte strings. That's all it needs.

KRN: Got anything else in the way of old innovations?

Ballmer: Well we have our old 'look and feel' back again. A lot of our customers thought we'd abandon that but we haven't. That'll be a nice surprise for everyone.

KRN: Anything more?

Ballmer: Menus. We hid them.

KRN: You hid them?

Ballmer: Right. We hid them. Now you have to click through a gazillion property sheet boxes to find the switch to turn them back on again.

KRN: Anything else?

Ballmer: Plenty. But we can't talk about this all day. Let me just say I feel very good about our pipeline of innovation.

KRN: Will Vista be released by February 2007?

Ballmer: I can't say but it hasn't and won't fall behind schedule. Quality, yes - but 'get it out'. Getting it out is the key.

KRN: I'll say! But if it did get delayed?

Ballmer: [Bangs fist on interviewer's head.] It won't! And besides, it's all about quality! Quality! Quality! Quality! Quality! Our second beta is out now. Quality! Quality! So I get a letter from a customer. He wants to know about certain issues as he calls them with the beta. That's what betas are about, I tell him. I tell him don't worry - it's quality! Quality! We're working on precisely that! Quality! Quality!

We'll ship quality, security, quality. Quality, security, quality. Security! Security! Security! Quality! Quality! Quality! Security! Security! Security! Security! Quality! Security! Security! Quality! Security! Security! Quality! Security! Security! Security! Security! Quality! Quality! Quality! Security! Security! Security!

The feature set is all there. It's all there. It's all there. Now it's about performance. Performance! Performance! Performance! Quality! Quality! Quality! Security! Security! Security! So I get another letter. 'Should I worry about what you're going to ship if you're forced to ship on blah blah blah?' And I say: 'blah blah blah blah blah quality quality'. That's essentially all I say.

KRN: Right. But if you were to give your customers with Software Assurance a pass, to mollify them?

Ballmer: No passes. They don't need it and we can't afford it. Not with Linux taking our market share. No. We're going to ship quality. We're not going to ship poor quality and a patch. We're going to ship quality. Quality quality quality.

KRN: OK, so as you brought it up, let's talk Linux.

Ballmer: Oh the question's about Linux? OK, let's talk about it. Four years ago people wrote that we'd be wiped out by Linux. Four years later how're they doing?

KRN: They're doing well on the server side. Fantastic even.

Ballmer: No they're not. They're not gaining share.

KRN: They have over 70% of the web server market.

Ballmer: No they don't. Whatever. And four years ago we were supposed to be wiped out. Maybe we've both gained share. We've not lost share to them - maybe we're down a point. Or fifty. I don't care. That can almost be all accounted for by the number of Linux servers Google's put in for gosh sake.

KRN: Ah, that's a bit thin.

Ballmer: So what? Look at it this way: it was supposed to get hot and it hasn't. I'm not saying it can't. I'm not trying to sound over the top or arrogant. What I am saying is there's no new news here, except that what people predicted hasn't happened. This is the year frankly where we're well equipped to come back into the Linux strongholds and take some share.

KRN: But I thought you said they didn't gain on you.

Ballmer: They didn't. But we'll take back the territory anyway. Quality.

KRN: Do you still have Rob Enderle on the payroll?

Ballmer: Of course. When we need to smear Linux there's no one better. Lovely wife too. They're coming to dinner soon again. We really enjoy their company. Quality people. They can really perform for us. We feel secure with them.

KRN: What kind of things are you seeing from Vista beta 2?

Ballmer: I'll tell you what I told analysts this week. It is early, you'll always get stories about people who have problems installing and stories about people who love the UI. I've got them both. We're in tens and tens of thousands of sites. One story here, one story there is insignificant.

KRN: What are you referring to?

Ballmer: I'm answering your innuendo. That beta 2 is wobbly and crash-prone.

KRN: I never said that. That's not what I was getting on about at all.

Ballmer: No? Oh.

KRN: I was referring to the nausea reports.

Ballmer: Nausea reports?

KRN: Nausea reports. Beta 2 testers finding the new UI so butt-ugly and disorienting they get nauseated. And supposedly get dysentery. Stuff like that.

Ballmer: Oh. [Winces.]

KRN: So the big question: who do you worry about most?

Ballmer: You're not asking that! I can't believe you're asking that! You promised! I don't want to answer that! I want to answer another question. I know you guys well enough that I'll be very frank.

And my question is 'how do we do it all'. The answer is we have capable leaders that can actually run, I won't say independent businesses, but run them in a way that's sufficiently focused and protected from a resource and economy perspective to get something done.

Robbie Bach is not coming to work every day and J Allard are not coming to work every day worried about the same problems that Bob Muglia is, that Steven Sinofsky, Kevin Johnson has different concerns and Jeff Raikes. And thank goodness. These are some strong leaders. And my grammar stinks. I'm still constipated. Anyway.

We do get a chance to get some technology synergy, brand synergy, sales force synergy, synergy synergy synergy, which is all good. When we go build something, I expect there to be a team of people, people people people, very capable, as capable as anybody in the world, at building great stuff and competing. Quality.

KRN: [Yawns.] And security.

Ballmer: And security.

KRN: [Yawns more.] And performance.

Ballmer: Exactly. When you ask 'what are you?' the problem with my not giving you that speech before I give you an answer to the question is then you'll say the rest of that stuff isn't key. And that's not true.

KRN: But I didn't ask that.

Ballmer: Yes you did. Anyway it's like this. What's key to me, the most important thing to me that keeps me up at night, is having the talent and technology approach and management approach and innovation approach that lets us be what I might best refer to as the only N-trick pony in the technology business. You may say what is an N-trick pony?

KRN: OK, let's suppose I did.

Ballmer: OK, I am. It's like this. Most software companies do one thing. We've proven we can do at least two, maybe three. We do the desktop, we do the server.

KRN: Yes, and both crash all over the place.

Ballmer: No they don't. And so what if they do. I'm trying to answer your question.

KRN: OK.

Ballmer: And I think we've almost proven, we haven't proven we can make a lot of money yet, that we can really do gaming. Sony is helping us in that with some of their announcements. I want us to prove we can do multiple things really, really well. The innovation around that, how does it flow? How does talent flow? The leadership, that's kind of job one. Ouch. Bloody XLoCs.

KRN: Job one.

Ballmer: Yes. And if I think where I apply most of my time and energy, spend most of my time at my level it's probably there. Ouch. Ouch ouch.

KRN: Job one.

Ballmer: Yes. Job one. And at the top of the business what we think a lot about is new business models. How do we embrace with them or compete with them? Open source is more a business model than anything else. Over the last several years, we can't embrace it being a for-profit institution but we've spent a lot of time thinking about how we can compete and focused on innovation, value and total cost of ownership. We've done a very good job competing and have plans to compete more.

If you look at other business model ships, in consumer market, advertising revenue can be an important source of funding. The notion of a technology ad platform, we probably could have grokked earlier in our lives, we totally grok it now.

KRN: Totally grok it?

Ballmer. Yes, grok it! Grok it! OK, let's see - oh: and how do we embrace it where appropriate, make sure we get critical mass, which we're doing, and succeed with an advertising platform, including the applications like search and others that would be built around it.

So what keeps me up at night? It's embracing or competing with new business models, the talent and approach and innovation that lets us be a multi-trick pony.

KRN: Multi-trick pony?

Ballmer: Yes.

KRN: What happened to the N-trick pony?

Ballmer: The what?

KRN: Mr Ballmer, sorry to be so froward, but I think your XLoCs needs to be working overtime again.

Ballmer: [Laughs.] How's that?

KRN: You're still unbelievably full of it.

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