In addition to the launch, the media was given the opportunity to engage in a dialogue session with Ballmer, in which the Microsoft CEO answered various questions ranging from Microsoft’s strategy towards the changing technological landscape, protection of intellectual property and the growing popularity of tablets as computing devices.
Responding to a query that the freely available version of Office Web Apps might affect revenue from the stand-alone copies of Office 2010, Ballmer claimed that he did not foresee any problem with having a free, online version of the productivity suite, saying that customer needs will be the determining factor.
“The fact of the matter is, there will be versions of Office that we offer along the so-called premium line, so if you want to use our lowest (version) of Office and you’re willing to store your information in our Windows Live servers, there is a way to use Office for free. You want more capabilities and flexibilities…you buy a copy of Office,” he said.
He also spoke about Microsoft’s strategy in moving into the tablet market in light of the cancelled ‘Courier’ project and HP’s decision to bundle WebOS into its upcoming Slate tablet instead of Windows 7 as originally planned.
“We have tablets in the market today…there are different kinds of tablets. Some of them may not look like the competition, a lot of them will be better in the various portability aspects,” he said, using the iPad as an example in what he perceived as weight issues in certain aspects.
“If you want to watch a long movie, the iPad is a very heavy device. A laptop is lighter, because you just set it down on your lap. Otherwise, you hold 1.6 pounds, wheras you rest 2.5 pounds on your lap. So there’s a wide variety of tradeoffs,” he explained.
When asked about how Microsoft was coping with competition in the cloud space, especially against Google, Ballmer believed that the company had its own set of advantages which set it apart from the others.
“In the consumer side, I would agree Google is a good competitor. They’re a little ahead on the email side, in terms of customers and base, they are way ahead. On the search side, we’re working hard with Bing, and we try to differentiate Bing by really focusing not just on searching, but helping people decide and take action…sometimes we actually give you less results if we think it’s going to make you more productivce,” he explained.
However, he criticized Google’s business offerings as “pretty weak”, citing examples in which customers who have tried out Google’s solutions often switched back to Microsoft for their needs.
“On the business side of it, Google has a pretty weak offering; if you really look at the capabilities of their cloud applications…and Gmail for their corporate account…from management to security, i think we are quite a bit out front,” he said.
He also claimed that Amazon was Microsoft’s real competior to the business side of the cloud and not Google as most people believe.
“The other aspect of the cloud really has to do with the platform for building applications. Windows Server and SQL Server on our side become Windows Azure and SQL Azure where developers build applications. Google has an offer, but it’s not strong enough. The real strong conpetition we see there comes from Amazon. With the Amazon web services, they’ve done a nice job, they haven’t tried to do anything to fundamentally change the world. They’re just trying to let you take things that you might want from your own data centres and put it in theirs. But they have done a nice job on it, and we compete with them.”