Ballmer Depicts a Changed Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer depicted the software leviathan's new mission as one about relationships, communication and sensitivity.

Projecting a warmer, gentler—if not quite contrite—corporate image, Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer made his first public address since a federal court issued a decision in the antitrust suit that has dogged the company since 1998. In language bordering on therapeutic, Ballmer emphasized that Microsoft has learned and grown from the legal dispute, and he depicted the software leviathans new mission as one about relationships, communication and sensitivity.

"As a company, as people, I think weve changed and grown over the past few years," Ballmer said Tuesday at a forum in Washington sponsored by the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.

These days Ballmer spends most of his time and energy working on the companys foundation, including its values and the way in which it works with others, he said. The CEO underlined the companys intent to comply with the antitrust ruling issued by U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly on Nov. 1, and said the company has renewed its commitment to improve communications.

"Bill and I run a very different organization today than we did five or 10 years ago," Ballmer said. "We learned that we needed to take a different perspective on being a good industry leader. Even five years ago, I think we tended to think of ourselves as a small company that was just getting started."

The Redmond, Wash., software company has "affirmed a set of basic values" that are incorporated into each employees personnel review, Ballmer said. Employees are told that what they accomplish is not the only thing thats important, but how they accomplish it is important as well, he said, adding that managers now have a great deal of accountability to customers. "Were trying to forge new kind of relationship with our customers, out partners, the industry and the government," he said.

When asked about the complaints that some competitors have already brought to the Department of Justice over Microsofts adherence to licensing provisions in the antitrust settlement, Ballmer said the "level of care and thought and concern and reasoned judgment" that went into developing the licensing offers is very high. While not surprised that competitors have brought complaints to the government, Ballmer said that Microsoft is in discussions with a number of companies and that he expects these discussions "to bear fruit."

Demonstrating an awareness of the skepticism that has begun to infuse many Americans views on large corporations, Ballmer said Microsoft is sensitive to the issues of corporate governance that are increasingly important to the market. "If one of our products or one of our attempts falls short, we dont sugarcoat the problems," he said.

Highlighting the "record sums" that Microsoft plans to invest in research and development over the next five years, Ballmer frequently reiterated his optimism about the future of technology. With telecommunications becoming fully integrated with the Web, entertainment rapidly becoming digital and the Internet becoming ubiquitous, "new technology is emerging to rise to those opportunities," he said. "We think we are on the verge of the next quantum step forward."