How Does Your Workday Compare to Steve Ballmer's?

Microsoft's CEO says that he only gets about 70 e-mails a day, and that he answers most of those himself.

LAS VEGAS-Ever wondered what drives Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, or what he does every day as head of the largest software company in the world?

Well, apparently, so do lots of other people. During a fireside chat at the annual MIX conference here March 5, moderator Guy Kawasaki, a managing director at Garage Technology Ventures and a former Fellow at Apple Computer, asked Ballmer those very questions.

He is driven by three primary things, the Microsoft CEO replied. Firstly, he loves what he does and loves the fact that the company is at the forefront of creating technologies that change the world.

Second, he has the chance to work with some of the smartest, most energetic people in the world and, thirdly, he enjoys good challenges "and we've got them."

Ballmer said he also had three kinds of workdays: those where he is out of the office meeting with customers all day, which is energizing for him; those where he is in the office and had back-to-back meetings; and those that are quiet, with maybe one meeting, where he can do research, think about and follow up on things that are important to him.

Ballmer also said he only gets about 70 pieces of e-mail a day, and that he doesn't have a range of filters controlling that. He also answers most of those e-mails himself, or forwards them to someone who can.

With regard to Chairman Bill Gates' transition to his foundation full-time this summer, Ballmer said he did not know what having Gates "working part time at Microsoft" actually meant, noting that the company had already changed in ways people were not always aware of.

"Many of the innovations today don't come from Bill, they come from other people. The whole needs to be bigger than the sum of the parts, and that will come from a small leadership team in addition to [Chief Software Architect] Ray Ozzie, [Chief Research and Strategy Officer] Craig Mundie and myself," he said.

Asked what was up with Vista, Ballmer said "you mean the second-most popular operating system in our history," to which Kawasaki responded, "Yeah, no choice."

Ballmer said Vista was very popular in the consumer world, but acknowledged that it had issues with application and hardware compatibility. "We made the choice to increase security at the expense of application quality and our customers have told us that caused them a lot of pain."

Great companies either move forward or became less relevant, Ballmer said, adding that Microsoft continues to push forward. Most companies just built one skill set, he said, unlike Microsoft.

When challenged by Kawasaki about that statement, Ballmer quipped that "the last time I checked there were a lot of government's that think we have a high market share." Kawasaki responded, "Especially in the EU."

"No comment," Ballmer said.

With regard to the browser market, Ballmer said Firefox had built some share over the years, but Microsoft was investing very heavily in its browser. "You've seen a little of what we have in IE 8 and there's a lot more to come. Expect to see a lot more browser innovation from us," he said.

Asked about making Internet Explorer available for the Mac, Ballmer retorted that it was smarter for Microsoft to innovate on new things as opposed to porting another browser to the Mac.