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Ed Bott's Weekly Wrap: Surface reviews, Ballmer disses Amazon, MSFT earnings surprise

A small army of reviewers delivered their mixed judgments on Microsoft's new Surface hardware this week. Also in the news: Steve Ballmer talks like it's 2007, Google gets kinder and gentler, and Wall Street loves it when Microsoft quietly lays off 1000 people.

This week's news was topped by a wave of Surface reviews, some vintage Steve Ballmer smack-talking, layoffs in Redmond, and a surprising exodus from Mountain View.

New Surface hardware debuts to mixed reviews

A small army of tech journalists came away from Microsoft's Windows 10 devices event two weeks ago with the new Surface Book and Surface Pro 4. This week the embargo on reviews lifted, and the reviews were collectively mixed, with extra helpings of disappointment for the highly anticipated Surface Book.

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Our own Mary-Jo Foley wasn't won over by the hybrid design of the Surface Book: "I'd rather see Microsoft make a laptop that's just an excellent laptop," she concluded.

My review of the Surface Pro 4 was more positive: "This hybrid device isn't for everyone, but the small changes add up to a significantly better user experience."

Additional reviews:

  • Tom Warren reviewed the Surface Book for The Verge, callig it "seriously impressive" but also wondering why Microsoft didn't just build a laptop.
  • Joanna Stern had multiple issues with her review units, including SSD failures, which she documented in a thorough Wall Street Journal review.
  • Brad Sams says, after two weeks with the Surface Book: "This will be the laptop I use going forward."

Ballmer disses Amazon

When Steve Ballmer was Microsoft CEO, he had a penchant for delivering eye-rolling commentary about the competition. Like that time in 2007 when he declared, "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance."

He's at it again. In a Bloomberg interview this week, Ballmer dismissed archrival Amazon: "I think they are a place that people don't want to work. Anybody who ever left Microsoft you could count on them, to Amazon, we could count on them coming back within a year or two because it's not a great place to work, to do innovative stuff as an engineer."

Ballmer also declared that "Microsoft will give them [Apple] good run for their money" in hardware.

That clickety-clack sound you hear is Amazon and Apple execs copying those quotes for future reference.

Microsoft earnings include a not-so-pleasant surprise

Meanwhile, Ballmer's replacement as CEO, Satya Nadella, has led the company to another quarter that Wall Street liked. The results were so strong, in fact, that Microsoft's stock soared to a level it hadn't seen since the year Ballmer took over as CEO.

The downside, buried in the numbers, was another round of layoffs, representing roughly 1000 jobs, as well as additional reductions among contractors.

"The new Google"

And this generally positive profile of Google's CEO Sundar Pichai is worth reading if only for the kicker from an anonymous ex-Googler:

The Indian-born executive is often described as possessing both hard and soft skills, equipping him to understand products and manage their maintanence. Pichai is also showing a preference for execs with similar traits. Earlier this month, he gave his first promotions as CEO, naming top lieutenants for the Android and ads businesses. His picks were company veterans, known inside and outside Google as talented -- yet, more critically, reliable, low-key and congenial.

A former Google exec put it less charitably: "All the assholes have left."

Ouch.

What was noteworthy in the news for you this week?