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Interview with Steve Ballmer, Chief Executive Officer (CEO): Microsoft Corporation

Steve Ballmer is chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., the world's leading manufacturer of software for personal and business computing. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980 and was the first business manager hired by Bill Gates. Since then, Ballmer's passion and leadership have become hallmarks of his tenure at the company. Microsoft has done some innovative things lately with community such as releasing websites like the Hive.Net, etc. How has Microsoft been so successful leading the way with online bloggers and websites when other companies are just learning about community?

Steve Ballmer: We have known from the very beginning that one of the most important success factors for our business would be our ability to build a community amongst our partners, developers and customers.  From the start, Microsoft has looked to offer the ability for them to connect with one another and for us to reach them and hear from the directly.  So, in many senses the blogging phenomenon is nothing new to us and has been very natural for us to embrace.  Certainly, with the continued proliferation of the Internet and technologies like RSS, everything has been taken to an entirely new level.  You’ll see us continue to do even more, building on the success of sites like Channel 9, where we already have over 2.8M visitors every month. How do you feel Microsoft Windows Vista is redefining the future of the Windows operating system? Does Microsoft still have any surprises in store for us with regards to Vista?

Steve Ballmer: This is a blockbuster year for us and our customers in terms of the product innovations we are delivering into the market, and this will be capped off with the introduction of Windows Vista. I feel really good about the reception Windows Vista has been receiving, especially in forums like our Professional Developers Conference where the feedback was very positive.  I do think we’ll continue to impress people with the work we are doing on Windows Vista, as well as some of the other major releases like Office 12 which is coming this year.  Our goal is to deliver and then surpass what our customers want out of our software.  As far as surprises with Windows Vista, I don’t want to give anything away – but a lot of new items have been shown this year at CES. Microsoft claims to have made great strides in security, yet your critics still hound you over this subject.  What is Microsoft doing about security? Is this a battle you will never be able to win?

Steve Ballmer: Our commitment to making software more secure is not something that will ever diminish – we have made this job number one for Microsoft.  That said, I feel extremely good about the progress we are making and the impact that is having in the marketplace.  The combination of improvements in the technology, the industry-wide education and awareness have led to fewer severe outbreaks and a greater level of readiness amongst IT and home-based environments.  I will never say we’re done, or that there won’t be any more “bad guys” who figure out new ways of perpetrating malicious acts. But as important a priority as it has become for our company, our industry and our customers, I think we're at least well on the way to making significant improvements on the security front. A lot of Microsoft's success, at least from a business standpoint, has been a result of your and Bill Gates' leadership.  Looking forward, what does the next generation of leadership at Microsoft need to accomplish to keep the company just as, if not more, successful?

Steve Ballmer: We’re lucky enough to have a strong bench of leaders working in many different areas and at all levels at Microsoft.  For us - especially in the fast-paced markets that we do business in - we’ll continue to ensure our leaders have an uncanny ability to deliver on our customer needs, drive an industry-leading vision for what software breakthroughs can offer and then get those to market in a nimble fashion. Do you think your enormous success with Windows and Office has set up unrealistic expectations for every other product Microsoft releases?

Steve Ballmer: I think it would be shortsighted and unrealistic to think every business at Microsoft will scale to the level of a Windows or Office business. Inside the company we don’t necessarily use them as yardsticks for each and every business.  We have some pretty incredible franchises within the company that are market leaders and growing at phenomenal rates – SQL Server is a great example amongst many others.  It’s also important to understand that we are looking to deliver complete scenarios that empower our customers, and a lot of the investments we’re making enable us to do this.  Early on, many people questioned our investments in mobility.  We knew that over time the notion of a mobile workforce would absolutely be an imperative for any successful business.  Now, there is no question for us that this is an essential area of focus – but certainly, there were many folks at certain times that questioned the early investments.  We are a company that has always taken a long view and applied that view to the investments we are making across all of the businesses at the company. How do you feel differently about the launch of the Microsoft Xbox 360 console now than you did with the launch of the original Xbox four years ago? Do you feel the Xbox 360 will adequately withstand the competition, especially from Sony?

Steve Ballmer:  We’re on a path to redefine the gaming experience and in many ways have positioned ourselves as the technology leader in console gaming.  From the high definition experience that XBOX 360 delivers to its integrated online gaming with XBOX Live, we are well positioned to lead in this market.  I’ve never felt better! How do Internet-based services, such as Windows Live and Office Live, enhance already existing products?

Steve Ballmer: The ability to extend the experience and usefulness of these products, along with introducing new services is very empowering for our customers and delivers to them even more value.  The key is to do this in a seamless, natural way – and that’s exactly what Ray Ozzie and our teams in Redmond are hard at work doing.   We have a vision for putting people and what they need to accomplish at the center, with technology easily and transparently connecting them to the people, devices and information that matter most.  The only way we can achieve that is by extending the current software experience with Internet-based services like Windows Live, Office Live and XBOX Live. 

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Additional Information:

Steve Ballmer is chief executive officer of Microsoft Corp., the world's leading manufacturer of software for personal and business computing. Ballmer joined Microsoft in 1980 and was the first business manager hired by Bill Gates. Since then, Ballmer's passion and leadership have become hallmarks of his tenure at the company.

During the past 20 years, Ballmer has headed several Microsoft divisions, including operations, operating systems development, and sales and support. In July 1998, he was promoted to president, a role that gave him day-to-day responsibility for running Microsoft. He was named CEO in January 2000, assuming full management responsibility for the company, including delivering on the company's vision of "empowering people through great software - any time, any place and on any device."

Ballmer is known inside and outside the company for his devotion to building closer relationships with Microsoft customers and partners - and for ensuring their needs are heard, understood and served by every Microsoft employee. The foundation for this relationship - and the success of the company - is the reliable and powerful Windows 2000 platform, which was designed to support the most demanding enterprise and e-commerce needs.

Ballmer also is presently leading the most comprehensive reinvention of Microsoft in the company's 25 years. Together with Gates and the company's other technical leaders, Ballmer will lead Microsoft's development of a revolutionary Microsoft .NET platform for desktop personal computers, servers, non-PC devices and the Internet. Microsoft's goal is to provide the platform to enable a seamless experience across different computing devices, software services and data sources, putting a unified face on a wide variety of digital interactions.

Although Microsoft will provide some important customer services, the company's success will depend on thousands of new and current partners creating innovative customer solutions on the platform. Ballmer understands that Microsoft must be part of a community of partners, each providing a special focus and added value.

Described variously as ebullient, focused, funny, passionate, sincere, hard charging and dynamic, Ballmer has infused Microsoft with his own brand of energetic discipline and spirit over the years. Ballmer says, "I want everyone to share my passion for our products and services. I want people to understand the amazing, positive way our software can make leisure time more enjoyable, and work and businesses more successful."

Ballmer, born in March 1956, grew up near Detroit, where his father worked as a manager at Ford Motor Co. He graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and economics. While in college, Ballmer managed the football team, worked on the Harvard Crimson newspaper as well as the university literary magazine and roomed down the hall from fellow sophomore Gates. After college, he worked for two years at Procter & Gamble Co. as an assistant product manager and, before joining Microsoft, attended Stanford University Graduate School of Business. Ballmer jogs daily and loves basketball.

Steve Ballmer Speeches online at Microsoft:

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