Microsoft's Ballmer Talks Windows 8, Skype, Windows Phone at WPC

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer opened the 2011 WPC in Los Angeles with a broad-based discussion of everything from Windows 8 to the Skype acquisition.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer opened this year's Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles with a rundown of his company's various operations, including its forays into cloud computing and mobility.

Although offering a broad-based summation of current and future projects such as Kinect and Windows 8, he seemed reluctant to share many new details beyond what's already public knowledge. For example, any sales numbers related to Windows Phone went unmentioned; although considered innovative by many, the smartphone platform is widely rumored to suffer from poor sales.

In any case, Ballmer also used his July 11 keynote speech to highlight Microsoft's continued dedication to the cloud. "We're moving forward to the cloud public and private," he told the audience assembled in the Staples Center. "We're all in and we want partners who are all in with us."

On the cloud front, Ballmer emphasized the evolution of Bing, the company's search engine that he described as first and foremost a "cloud application." Bing helps users "decide and take action," he said, and has seen growth both in its overall market share and in the number of user queries served. Microsoft has been leveraging its minority stake in Facebook to make Bing more "social," integrating data from the social network (such as denoting which Websites your friends liked) into the search engine's results.

He also defended Microsoft's recent acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion, suggesting the communications company's assets will act as a force multiplier for existing Microsoft products such as Lync. "One of the great motivations in acquiring Skype is to allow the enterprise all the control it wants," he said. "Skype [is] a strategy that will allow the consumerization of IT to proceed with full ... vigor."

As anxious as he was to tout Microsoft's successes-including the 100 million Office 2010 licenses shipped since last year, and Xbox Kinect's impressive sales run-Ballmer did his best to sidestep some trouble areas for the company, including sales of Windows Phone. "We know we've got a lot to do," he said. "We're all in when it comes to mobile devices."

After that, he retreated back to an area of comparable safety: Windows, which he described as "the backbone product of Microsoft." Windows 8, the company's next operating system, is apparently a "true imagining" of the two-decade-old franchise.

He then ceded the stage to Microsoft Corporate Vice President and CFO Tami Reller, who offered a brief run-though of Windows 8's user interface, emphasizing the whole time that nothing on the enormous screens above her head was different from the first glance provided in June. The next true Windows 8 update will apparently come at the Build event in September.

"We designed Windows 8 from the ground up to be excellent for touch-only tablets, and for keyboard and mouse," she said. App stores are apparently an important factor in the operating system's construction, as is ensuring it'll run on a wide variety of machines.

In place of the "traditional" Windows desktop and Start button, Windows 8 will offer a variety of color tiles designed to be equally tablet- and PC-friendly. In many ways, the system takes cues from Windows Phone, which also embraces a tile-centric architecture.

Ballmer then re-took the stage to conclude the keynote, sending the attendees off to the conference with visions of Microsoft's roadmap in their heads.

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