Microsoft's Ballmer Talks Windows Phone 7, Tablets, Ozzie Departure

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talked Windows Phone 7, tablets and the resignation of chief software architect Ray Ozzie at the Gartner conference.

ORLANDO, Fla.-Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke about Windows Phone 7 and the prospect of Windows tablets during his Oct. 21 keynote talk at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2010 here. Typically high-energy, and almost combative at moments with Gartner analysts, he also discussed the recent departure of the company's chief software architect, Ray Ozzie, and how that might affect the company going forward.

Although tablets-and the iPad's penetration of the enterprise market-have been a chief topic of conversation at the Gartner conference, Ballmer seemed determined to dodge the question of whether Windows-equipped tablets would make an appearance on the market by the end of 2010.

"Devices ship all the time," Ballmer said. "You will continue to see an evolution of devices. That's what you'll continue to see ... there's a next generation of things that will come with the Intel processors."

At the same time, he also claimed that Microsoft was more than capable of adapting to other form-factors. "We believe in the diversity of the form-factor. We need a little help with the hardware, we need a little help with the software. We obviously get touch; Windows Phone 7 has a wonderful touch UI."

In the meantime, Microsoft needs to focus on marketing Windows Phone 7. "We have a lot of work to do to get into the game," Ballmer said, while hinting that Microsoft would progressively incorporate more and more enterprise-centric features onto the smartphone platform. Windows Phone 7 currently lacks the capability for cut-and-paste, a target of early criticism, although Microsoft executives have promised to have that feature in place by early 2011.

"We will need to push for features that are not there on the first release," Ballmer said.

Gartner predicts that Microsoft will remain fifth in the smartphone market through 2015.

Ballmer also insisted that this week's departure of Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, would have zero effect on the company's cloud strategy. "We've taken a strategic direction anchored in the cloud," he said. "That vision is our company strategy. It doesn't live in any one head or mind."

Indeed, Ballmer added, Ozzie's vision for the cloud had infused the entire organization. "If you talk to the people who work in our server division-which is really our Azure division at this stage-or with Office 365 or Bing, they're all in and they're all talented."

Although never the most reclusive of CEOs, Ballmer has presented a particularly high profile of late. On Oct. 11, he headlined Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 rollout in New York City. And throughout 2010, his keynotes at a number of events have detailed Microsoft's efforts to retool itself as a mobile-focused, cloud-driven company.

However, 2010 has also come with its share of spectacular crash-and-burns. Microsoft's board of directors recently decided to award Ballmer only half his possible financial compensation for the year, citing the company's eroding market-share in mobile and its failed Kin phones initiative. The board did cite Microsoft's strong performance under Ballmer in more traditional product areas, including the release and marketing of Windows 7.

When asked by Gartner analysts whether he had contemplated retirement, Ballmer enthusiastically torpedoed the notion.

"I've got a lot of energy and passion for what I'm doing," he said. "If I ever thought there was a day when the company would be better off without me, I'd leave that day."