Is Ballmer right? Is consumer and enterprise one industry, indivisible?

Is Ballmer right? Is consumer and enterprise one industry, indivisible?

Summary: In an interview with ZDNet's very own Mary Jo Foley, Steve Ballmer told us everything we need to know about Microsoft's behavior in trying to compete with the iPad...

TOPICS: Microsoft
Steve Ballmer was very, *very* keen on Office. He liked it a *lot*.

In 15 minutes with Mary Jo Foley, we learnt more about Microsoft and its devices and service strategy than a thousand hours of spin doctored PR ever taught us.

In her two-part piece -- "Ballmer's biggest regret" and "Why Microsoft doesn't want to be IBM", we first learn about Ballmer's personal journey at Microsoft, then about Ballmer's thoughts on Microsoft's possible journey after he leaves.

We know that Microsoft wants to be all things to all people -- to be a business based on delivering devices and services to both the enterprise and Consumerland, but there are some fascinating insights in both pieces.


Ballmer talks about how he's proud of being a "significant part even of the birth of intelligent personal computing, the notion that people use computing technologies, whether that's phones, PCs". And so he should. Much as I'm often harsh on Microsoft in the pieces I write, it's only because I want them to do better. 

What he says next though is fascinating. He immediately goes on to say (with my emphasis) "the notion that people use computing technologies, whether that's phones, PCs".

Given Microsoft's position in our industry, and given that Microsoft essentially invented the PC as we know it, Ballmer is listing "phones" ahead of PCs.

That… is… huge.

In combination with this quote — "I would say a billion plus people and now more with phones, even if they're not all our phones, I'm very proud of what we've accomplished there" — that tells you everything that you need to know about the death of the PC.

That sucker (the PC) is over. Even Ballmer is agreeing with me here.


The other hugely thought-provoking part of the interview comes from Foley asking about enterprise. She asked: "I'm curious why you guys are so taken with being a player in consumer. Why not 'just' be IBM? You're already so successful in enterprise, why not just focus there?"

This is something I've been going over round and round over for the past 24 months, and spinning like a neutron star with frustration over the past 12 months as I've seen nothing but naff products issue forth. If Microsoft want Consumerland so badly, why are they making such a hash of it? (Exhibit A: a billion dollar Surface write-down.)

I'm going to present Ballmer's comments out of order on this. He closes this section of the interview by saying "We grew up with a horizontal experience called Windows and Office that's equally applicable to people in their personal lives and their professional lives".

That describes a span -- that someone working in an enterprise and experiencing Windows and Office will want to take that experience to their entire digital life.

What Ballmer is saying here is that, in his worldview, there is no delineation between the consumer and enterprise worlds -- or that if there is, the membrane between them is permeable and there is value in allowing people, users, and experiences to pass between one and the other.


But is he right?

All of this comes down to his last point that Windows and Office are "equally applicable to people in their personal lives and their professional lives." Again, my emphasis.

How do you feel about that statement?

He said "equally applicable" -- i.e. a user's experience of Windows and Office in the enterprise translates in equal force and magnitude to their digital life outside of work.

Does that sound right to you? Does someone taking a break at their job as a barista jumping on Facebook whilst sneaking out the back for a cigarette to catch up on the days news feel like they could do that equally well on a laptop with Windows and IE?

To me, these post-PC usage scenarios -- ones which are described as being always available, always connected, relationship-centric, and rooted in digital social networking services -- are the bread and butter of post-PC. They are what people buy post-PC devices for.

I think Ballmer's wrong. Moreover, he's been leading Microsoft in the wrong direction because of this position. Frankly, it explains a lot.

Whoever comes into take over needs a more nuanced position. I do think Ballmer's right that in order to be successful for their shareholders, Microsoft needs to span consumer and enterprise. (Consider how Apple doesn't do this. I think Ballmer is right in that they should.)

But that new CEO needs to develop new products that span the worlds with more grace and elan than just Ballmer's two-dimensional view of slapping Windows and Office on everything.

PC for work, post-PC for life. And there's no reason why Microsoft can't do rather well out of both with the right leadership.

What do you think? Post a comment, or talk to me on Twitter: @mbrit.

Topic: Microsoft

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  • I agree with your assessment.

    "To me, these post-PC usage scenarios -- ones which are described by being always available, always connected, relationship-centric, and rooted in digital social networking services -- are the bread and butter of post-PC. They are what people buy post-PC devices for.

    I think Ballmer's wrong. Moreover, he's been leading Microsoft in the wrong direction because of this position. It, frankly, explains a lot.

    At CES, I always felt Balmer missed the point when he would talk about MS's 3 screen world. He believed in the Windows everywhere concept with the same exact interface everywhere. He never saw the vision of the UI needing to follow the form and function of the devices and not the other way around.
    • Windows (and office) reminds people of work, not fun

      Plain and simple. Most non IT people out there equate Windows with work. Who wants to check office emails or run MS Office when they want some fun? MS keeps harping that their OS runs Office. Why would I want to run Office in my leisure time? If my boss wants me to run Office at home for work purposes, then he/she better get me a laptop paid for by the business. I am not going to invest in a Windows and Office computer, I want to have quality time with my computing device and do not want to be reminded of work.
    • Ditto. This article sums it up.

      Their direction is wrong because the underlying belief is wrong. One size does not fit all. An interface tailored for the form and function of a device is far superior to a homogenous mess of compromise while catering to the minimum common denominator.

      I certainly hope his successor has a better understanding of the vast differences between desktops and personal portable devices. They need to abort Ballmer's ill-conceived vision and direction ASAP, if they want to regain user mind share. A huge number of previously-loyal Microsoft customers just cannot get on board with the insanity they've been pushing on us for the past year.
  • Seems to me that you are over inflating what Ballmer said. He said he sees

    Enterprise and Consumer as a horizontal (i.e. a connection). I don't think he went to far as to say "Indivisible" and your "no delineation" comment seems too strong also. From what I know of Ballmer, he isn't afraid to say something if he believes it, so I am not sure why some journalists/bloggers feel a need to put too many words in his mouth. FYI, I am not a Ballmer or Microsoft defender, just prefer it when articles don't overreach on conclusions.
    • Actions speak louder than words.

      Windows 8 integrates a lot of non-Enterprise tools; tiles for chat, skyping, and others that many in Enterprise would prefer to block given the choice. Also, it takes in no consideration for re-training or learning curve as it doesn't even give the option of using the old interface...something MS has always done all the way back to adding Progman from 3.1 to XP. I think that in combination with his quotes at least suggests he believes these tools "Indivisible" or "no delineation". That or he's just copying whatever works at Google, Apple, etc blindly. Something I think implies an impossible level of incompetence.
    • The author is just yapping away

      The author is definitely over reaching by concluding that because Ballmer listed phones before PCs in his statement, Ballmer believe the PC is over.

      The author then goes off the deep end with Ballmer's following statement:

      "We grew up with a horizontal experience called Windows and Office that's equally applicable to people in their personal lives and their professional lives".

      What is wrong with this statement? It was absolutely true until the iPad was released. That is after all why MS got into hot water with antitrust regulators. If you wanted to do computing and get onto the Internet, Windows PCs were largely the only show in town. Ballmer's above statement is becoming increasingly less true at the advent of cheap tablets, but that is not to say things cannot be turned around. In the consumer market, people gravitate to the latest and greatest (user experience innovation). All that is needed is for MS to do, is user experience innovate the PC, specifically in the areas of the OS, hardware, and software (consumer AND PRODUCTIVITY) by making them all touch based. If MS does the above, then it should be able have Windows span the enterprise and consumer spaces equally well as before.

      People are overly harsh with Ballmer. For example if you look at retail stores and PC OEMs, they are almost all clueless on how to transition over to this touch UI / tablet dominated world. Ballmer has to lead the PC industry across waters that are almost completely unfamiliar to it, and he is expected to do this enormous task which is very complex, in a manner that is next to flawless. Even Apple which started the touch revolution, doesn't know how to navigate the new waters with its own PC business. Also it took years of trying before Android finally started to take off in the tablet market.

      Quite frankly, if Ballmer was pressured to leave MS, I think it was unwarranted. Ballmer is expected to do almost everything perfectly, where other companies are not. It took years for Android to take off on smartphones and on tablets, and people scratch their heads at why MS is not able have immediate success as it goes into new areas. MS is expected to outperform every company, in every area, and if it falls short, its failures are magnified, while the failures of other companies are ignored.

      I think Ballmer has been one of the best tech leaders in the industry, but he has suffered from overly high expectations. Did Ballmer make mistakes? Yes. But who hasn't? Does anybody think Tim Cook, Meg Whitman, Larry Page or even Steve Jobs could do a better job running MS? Steve Jobs who showed no understanding of the enterprise? I think Steve Ballmer has been greatly under appreciated; though I don't believe this will be last time something like this will ever happen in our industry. If MS has to select a new CEO, I can't think of a better person than Stephen Elop. I believe he has shown us through experience, that he has the smarts, adaptability, and heart for the position.
      P. Douglas
      • re: get on Internet, windows was only...


        It was YEARS after other platforms when Windows finally got access to Internet. It was pathetic, too.
        And it is still, to this day the most unreliable and insecure platform to use Internet on.

        Using false facts to build your conclusion is the most guaranteed way to arrive at the wrong one.
  • Ballmer again is wrong.

    Exhibit A, Windows 8. Enterprise clung on to XP beyond its expiration and got it extended. If they shunned Vista and only reluctantly went on 7, they won't jump the Windows 8 tablet shark, either.
    D.J. 43
  • sigh

    " that tells you everything that you need to know about the death of the PC."

    Except it says nothing about the PC being "dead."

    He still used the word, after all. It's still important enough to be mentioned. If thought PCs were dead, I doubt he'd use the word at all.

    I very much disagree with your assertion here.

    "Does someone taking a break at their job as a barista jumping on Facebook whilst sneaking out the back for a cigarette to catch up on the days news feel like they could do that equally well on a laptop with Windows and IE?"

    "To me, these post-PC usage scenarios -- ones which are described by being always available, always connected, relationship-centric, and rooted in digital social networking services -- are the bread and butter of post-PC."

    Well, the bread and butter of what bloggers think is "post-PC." Not that it reflects any reality outside the blogging world.
  • Money money money

    Balmer believes that people will pay a monthly fee for IT, just as they pay for insurance, cable TV, their cell phones, and everything else. That's the big change in the business model for PC makers. Instead of selling once with the buyer getting right of use for [ever], and maybe that same person will buy again in 3 to 5 years, they pay a monthly fee. Same for business. There's businesses out there, usually small businesses that still use Windows XP and purchased it 10 maybe 15 years ago and haven't bought since. Force these businesses to pay a monthly fee.

    As far as Balmer's biggest regret, Windows Vista, Microsoft along with PC makers and PC peripheral device makers, force PC owners and businesses to buy new equipment with Windows Vista. Businesses refused and PC owners, once they found out Vista wouldn't support their old printers, scanners refused to buy. Thus Vista was a flop. Not because it was particularly bad operating system, but it didn't support old peripherals.

    Bottom line is money, and if Microsoft, Apple, and the lot can convince the public to pay a monthly fee for what they used to buy once and use for years, then why not?

    The BYOD trend in business is simply a cost cutting measure for business. Why buy IT products for workers when the worker can buy their own IT product
    CG IT
  • GovComm8261119

    It makes no difference to us, all of it is one thing to us!

    We are the Government, we are here to help.
  • Post "post PC"

    Interesting how much you use the phrase 'post PC.' When Jobs first mentioned this concept very many people ... including some Apple/Jobs fan boys/girls were in an uproar and in total denial that such a thing could happen. Now "post PC" is a significant part of the IT lexicon. Hell, even Balmer gets it now.
    Herbal Ed
  • Software as all inclusive

    Software is the starting point then you move to different use scenarios. Marketing and sales teams specialize in industries and companies with consumers being a separate group which can also be subdivided. When you look at the financial industry and the conglomerations like JPMorgan, the experts are also looking to break them up which would probably make more sense than a software company. Win8 is opening the door for new use scenarios, new control modalities that will be used not only in the consumer market but the enterprise and military sectors.
  • The future is now.

    BTW, when "I" say post PC I don't mean that the PC is "dead" nor do I think it's kicking the bucket anytime soon.

    The physical appearance of what we now call a PC will definitely change significantly, but until they perfect voice interface/control there will still be billions of people ... esp. me ... still using a keyboard and, and a screen larger than a phone or pad, and some sort of mouse ... but the CPU will be very small. And all will be wireless (of course) and modular.

    I can easily see in the near future a tablet that's way, way faster and with much, much more memory that can be touch, gesture, voice controlled ... and also controlled by a keyboard and mouse. This is what "post PC" looks like to me.

    Actually, except for the maga speed and memory, a lot of people are already there ... i.e., the guy who uses only a tablet and/or smartphone, both by touch ... some voice (a la Siri) ... and sometimes a bluetooth keyboard.
    Herbal Ed
  • No separation between consumer and enterprise? REALLY?

    Ballmer may believe that, but Microsoft does not. I started and built a on site break fix repair company into a successful $40,000 annual business from 2002 - 2007. I now live in a different city and have an employer but still get the same newsletters, etc. Microsoft does not understand the issues a small consumer and SOHO business like mine faces.

    The most recent example is the cancellation of TechNet. What disturbs me about that is that the offline Knowledge Base that came with the better version of TechNet is being cancelled as well. Not every person has a high speed internet connection, and when I was researching a customer's issue, I found the offline KB valuable enough that I bought TechNet.

    Another example is from a couple of years ago when MS jacked up the cost of an Action Pack subscription to double its previous cost if one wanted physical media instead of a download. In medium to large organizations the optical drive is rarely or never used - not so with consumer machines. Sometimes, a worn optical drive will read factory created discs reliably when it won't read a burned one. Don't tell me it costs $350 more than a download to manufacture 30 discs and a binder - I know it doesn't. They later dropped the price - but $500 is still steep for a small business like mine.

    Consumer machines often have a unique combination of software that would take hours to reinstall if a nuke and pave (reformat and reinstall) was done. I would try to save my customers money by bringing it back to my home lab but it was still a significant amount of money - especially as compared to the cost of a new computer.

    Microsoft doesn't have a clue about these and other issues I faced on a regular basis. IF they did, they would be creating products and services that would assist small shops like mine, not policies that hamper them.
    Marc Erickson
  • Balderdash.

    I use my desktop PC for several hours every day for both work and personal business. I use the one mobile computing device I own (a netbook) for a few hours once every other week. I don't own, use, want or need a smartphone or tablet. (I'm sure if I did pick one up I'd quickly become addicted to it, but that's not the same thing as NEEDING one. I'm already hooked on caffeine, sugar and wired Internet; I definitely don't need another addiction.)

    You folks who are always on the go, always connected and constantly see other people doing the same things you do need to remember that you don't see those of us who stay home with our desktops because we're not out there with you, we're home with our desktops! It doesn't mean we don't exist! Or that we don't still spend money on tech.

    Yes, mobile devices are a suitable replacement for a PC for some people in some use scenarios, and the market is adjusting to reflect that fact. Full-blown desktops and heavy-duty laptops may even become a niche market. But they're not going away.
  • PC's are far from dead

    Hello Matt,

    I appreciate your thought-provoking articles. However, I fail to see why you and many other writers insist on saying that the PC is dead. That is simply not true. People are not going to give up their PC's to do everything on a phone. There are many things you cannot and never will be able to do on a phone, like craete a spreadsheet, write a proposal, letter or job description, create graphics for an ad etc, write software, etc.

    All that you're seeing happen is that there is a new category of device, that being mobile that has entered the market and the market is adjusting to accommodate it. PC's are not going to stop being purchased. Sales may drop but they're not going away. Because real work beyond consuming and checking on information is still done on laptops and desktops.

    We will find if we haven't already that users will simply add more devices. I have friends who have laptops, tablets and phones and use them all.

    So please provide a bit more balanced reporting and don't make it seem like this utopian world of only mobile devices is upon us.
  • Post-PC? Try Post-IT

    The author is enamored with the phrase "post-PC" about "post-IT"? Don't confuse the adoption of touch-based technology, smartphones and tablets, with a coming mobile revolution. These are merely form factors facilitating convenience for the user, but they don't change the fundamental trend. That trend is toward consumers and enterprises moving to "good enough" technology.

    After Apple's initial success with touch, they're running into Android roadblocks; the cool factor is gone, people just want cheap. Microsoft is finding out that there's a ceiling for what people will pay for a new computer, and just because Windows 8 has a touch interface, the basic equation is not changing. And enterprise adoption of BYOD & cloud options is another indicator.

    I'm in the process now of converting about 30 small laptops, '08-'10 era, to Ubuntu. Long story short, a lot of people are fine with Linux for what they do on their laptop, and if the hardware configuration is right, they're happy not to give Ballmer a wad of cash, just because he says so (wait until more vendors want a rent payment for the laptop or tablet you just bought).
  • Chicken or egg

    How sure are we that Ballmer believes this stuff? The premise of the article seems to be that because Ballmer saw Windows and Office as equally applicable in consumer and enterprise, that led him (and Microsoft) to stumble in the mobile markets by bringing a "Windows everywhere" strategy to the game, and that has proven, erm, not that popular.

    But what if it's the other way around? Would Ballmer ever admit it? What if the thinking went more like "Windows is the thing we have always used to clobber competitors; people love Windows; or at least they are hooked on it. We're late to this 'tablet' thing but we've been late to a lot of parties, and the Windows 'hook' has always saved our bacon. Let's put Windows on the phones, and Windows on the tablets! We'll kill 'em!"

    Ballmer is now in the position of the salesman trying to tell you why the ugly industrial design is actually a feature. "Of course we made it this way. This is what everybody wants. It's highly popular. Everyone is buying it."
    Robert Hahn
  • MS NOT! invented de PC

    MS essentialy did NOT invented de PC as we know it. They bought an CP/M Clone OS (QDOS->Quick and Dirty Operating System) to sell to IBM and buyers and copied through time: Lisa and Macintosh OS, Lotus 123, Word Perfect, etc. It is really hard to find one original idea made by MS.