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Microsoft’s Ballmer talks tablets and phones

by Scott Bicheno on 4 June 2010, 14:49

Tags: Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), News Corp (NASDAQ:NWS)

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What is a PC?

This is a time of great transformation in the technology business and all eyes are on those companies that have dominated it for the past twenty years, to see how they're going to adapt. No company is more embroiled in this transformation than the biggest: Microsoft.

So it's fitting that in his live interview at the D8 technology conference, most of the questions Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (accompanied by chief software architect Ray Ozzie) had to answer concerned those areas Microsoft's arguably two biggest competitors are thriving in: tablets and phones.

Once more the quotes are taken from All Things D's live blog of the interview and there may be some paraphrasing. Ballmer was asked who Microsoft's competitors are. "The main ones are folks that people would guess: Google, Apple, Oracle, VMware. And of course, we still always have the things that come out of Open Source-Linux, etc."

In reference to claims made in the earlier D8 interview, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs, that people are moving away from PCs towards devices like the iPad, Ballmer said: "I think that people are going to be using PCs in greater and greater numbers for years to come. But I think PCs will look different...they'll evolve. They'll get smaller...they'll get touch...their innards will change.

"The real question is, ‘What is a PC?' Nothing that's done on a PC today will get less relevant tomorrow. I think there will exist a general-purpose device that does anything you want, because people don't want multiple devices, or can't afford them. I think the PC as we know it will continue to morph in form factor. So the real question is: Where do you push?"

So is the iPad a PC? "Of course it is. What do you do on it? Answer email. A guy tried to take notes on it at a meeting I was at yesterday - that was interesting."

Are we going to see iPad-like devices that run Windows? "Sure. You're going to have a range of devices over time that are light and don't have a keyboard and will run Windows. Depending on what you want, there will be devices that offer a similar experience to Windows.

"There will be others that will be more customized, more optimized. This will be a real competitive form factor of innovation. We will, with our partners, drive innovation in form factor. Windows Phone, for example. Apple has chosen to do this as well.

"Some people will want to have two different devices for two different purposes. But there has to be an option for an integrated device. The bulk of the market is going to stay with general-purpose devices."