USA Today’s Interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer – CEO helps Microsoft enter its 30s gracefully

USA Today has a piece out today on their interview with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Although I was disapointed that Steve didn’t talk more about Media Center (hey, Bill has more than made up for this on his part though), the interview is still pretty informative and worth a read. The interview mostly focuses on Microsoft as a business and less on any particular product offering at present — although Ballmer does pay homage to the incredible significance of the Windows operating system as the true cash cow of the company.

As excited as I am about Media Center technology, you have to realize that at this point the revenue and earnings derived from these sales are a drop in the bucket when you compare them to something like Microsoft’s operating system business or Office. Ballmer talks about the general cultural and business changes at Microsoft. Microsoft’s new mission: “Enabling people and businesses around the world to realized their full potential.”

The article also talks about the significance of moving beyond the Steve and Bill show (or is it the Bill and Steve show) and that there is more talent in management at Microsoft beyond just Ballmer and Gates.

One area though where USA kind of calls Ballmer out is on his statement that Microsoft “loves to be first.”

“While it’s clear that Microsoft is changing, old behaviors die hard. When Ballmer gets talking about how Microsoft must be first with technology innovations — which, so far in Microsoft’s history, has not often happened — the exchange is more like vintage pugilistic Microsoft.

Ballmer: “You’ve got to be not just first in an area; you’ve got to be first with important innovations even in areas that you’ve pioneered.”

USA TODAY reporter: “Well, you guys have proved over and over again being first is not necessarily …”

Ballmer: “We love to be first.”

Reporter: “You love to be first but …”

Ballmer: “We love to be first.”

Reporter: “You certainly weren’t the first — you know, I mean, here looking at your …”

Ballmer: “We love to be first. Well, our big success is Windows. We were first. Windows, we were first — and then everybody faded out because there was a period during which the concept was — I mean, Apple stuck around with their concept of that, but everybody else faded out, basically.”

Tech people must be scratching their heads. Windows wasn’t the first graphical user interface — that was invented by Xerox and was first made popular by Apple Computer. Microsoft didn’t have the first browser or video player or cell phone operating system. Time and again, the company has come in late and, in many cases, won the day with tenacity. It is a strength Microsoft could boast about but doesn’t.”

I would tend to agree with USA Today. Microsoft’s real strength is in adopting technology created by someone else and less about being the innovator and being first.

Hey, at least he didn’t bring up that whole thing again about iPod users being thieves… wink, wink.

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