BARCELONA, Spain–In a keynote address that touched on issues of integration, openness and, naturally, the important roll Microsoft plays in the technological age, Steve Ballmer reiterated time and again his faith in innovation and the new ways technology is helping people connect with information and each other.
“The companies that recognize the fundamental importance of innovation have the chance to gain an advantage,” he said. “At the end of the day, the power of ideas and of innovation will continue to drive us forward.”
At the opening of the speech, Ballmer touched on the worldwide economic crisis, which he termed an “economic reset” that will affect everyone. He struck an optimistic tone, calling on the audience to be optimistic. “The chance to continue to make our digital lives even better is right here,” he said. “There’s no turning back from the connected world.”
More than anything, Ballmer said, consumers want experiences that extend seamlessly between their work lives and their home lives. He said the mobile industry is on the cusp of providing those scenarios. “A new generation of innovation is about to change the way technology interacts with people,” he said. “In the next few years we are going to take a leap into uncharted territory.”
Ballmer highlighted the concurrent trends of increasing ubiquity and power of digital devices, multi-core processing advancements, “natural” user interfaces, and a multiplicity of interactive screens. Ballmer predicted that soon, applications would be able to anticipate not only what a consumer asked for, but also what a consumer really wanted to ask for-a key design philosophy behind Nokia’s Ovi and Google’s Latitude applications. Perhaps more bombastically, he also predicted high-definition displays so lightweight and thin they could be rolled up and stuck in a purse or briefcase.
Transcending the barriers between devices, another major topic of discussion at this year’s congress, also featured prominently in Ballmer’s keynote. He described a world where one pervasive computing platform would be found on devices as small as a handset or as large as a data storage center. “We should then be able to connect seamlessly to people, information and applications, no matter where we are and what device we are using,” he said. “It will allow every person in the world to access information and participate in the knowledge economy.”
An engaging vision of the future, but what does this have to do with the open mobile ecosystem, the main topic of Ballmer’s speech and following panel discussion? “I agree that no single company can hope to create all the components that make it possible to provide the experience customers demand,” he said. “We need to work together to combine the best ideas and technologies.”
Ballmer made certain to mention Microsoft’s idea of “open” may not align perfectly with the vision of openness espoused by other organizations. Not terribly surprising, coming from the man who once referred to Linux as “a cancer.” However, he said he believed that degrees of openness would be essential in promoting choice and competition, which he said are the most vigorous drivers of innovation and technological progress. “Ultimately, the companies that succeed will be open,” he said. “Those forms of openness will provide the kind of choice that drives these innovations ahead.”
Ballmer briefly touched on the lessons he said Microsoft had learned through engaging in a partner ecosystem relying on cooperation and the sharing of ideas. He mentioned specifically the challenges of security, application compatibility and interoperability. “We have grown from the experiences and learned how to form partnerships to anticipate and avoid these issues,” he said. “We continue to support open networks and open access.”
In closing, Ballmer said all organizations need to build on the lessons of openness and interoperability to create the kinds of solutions that are best for consumers as technology moves forward. “That gives our company and our industry the greatest chance of success,” he said. “No matter what goes on in the economy in the next few years, technology and innovation is on a forward and exciting upward curve, and I know we’re all excited to be a part of that.”