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October 24, 2007

CTIA: Six questions with Steve Ballmer

Posted by Tricia Duryee at 9:18 AM

SAN FRANCISCO -- Microsoft Chief Steve Ballmer delivered Tuesday morning's keynote at CTIA during, focusing on a couple of enterprise announcements, as mentioned in today's paper. But he also relayed the message that Microsoft is building products that will span both a person's work and life style.

Following his speech, CTIA CEO Steve Largent asked Ballmer six questions. The questions covered a lot of topics and were quite telling on where Microsoft may be heading. I included one in the story, but here are the other five.

Because the answers are long, they have been edited down. For the full transcript go here.

Largent: How will Microsoft partner with mobile operators and device manufacturers, many of whom are here today, and how will that compare to your competition?

Ballmer: Well, I think if you sort of ask where's our DNA, where did we grow up. We grew up actually in a world in which we partnered quite broadly with a hardware ecosystem to really enable an industry. That's kind of where we came from on the PC side. That's also kind of our approach to the mobile industry.

Largent: Steve, as you probably know, we have a big spectrum auction that's about to take place in hopefully the end of January. It's scheduled now for the end of January. Does Microsoft have any plans in the spectrum auction?

Ballmer: No. We don't have plans to participate in the spectrum auction. At the end of the day, we think we may be broader in what we do than almost any company out there, but we think we have a core competence, and we think that the telecom industry and the service providers have a core competence.

[Applause by one person in the crowd.]

Thanks, dad [to that one person]. No that was a joke.

So what would it buy us to own a piece of spectrum? One piece of spectrum in one country, it would probably do a lot to alienate the telecom industry. It does not do a lot to advance our goal, which is to try to take some very exciting technology and spread it everywhere. Nobody knows what will happen out of some of our competitors, because they're rumored to be doing a lot of different things, and we'll just have to wait and see. But I think compared to anybody else participating in the industry, we are trying to provide a critical mass of solution, but really be an enabler of third parties.

Largent: What role will mobile advertising play in Microsoft's future, and what will your partners play?

Ballmer: I think mobile advertising is going to be a great revenue source for all of us. And exactly how the pie gets split up, that will be a first=rate problem for our industry to have, and we need to first really do the things it's going to take to have mobile advertising be relevant and important and high-impact. That will create revenue, and that will give us all the kind of opportunity that we want.

We're investing in the technology for advertising in general, and for mobile specifically. We bought a company earlier this year, aQuantive, $6 billion, it's an ad platform company. We bought a couple of companies, MotionBridge, and ScreenTonic in Europe that provide specific technologies around mobile portal and mobile advertising. So we think there's a bit opportunity there.

Largent: How important is Windows Mobile and mobility in general to the future of Microsoft?

Ballmer: Very. I think that if we think about, and there's two ways to explain that. One, I think there's a big opportunity for us financially. If we can really be in a position where hardware makers, and operators wanted to put some of our software in someday hundreds of millions of devices, that can be a great business for us, a great business, very different than the business that some of our competitors have, but a great business for us.

No. 2, I don't think we can serve our customers' broad desire to bring together desktop, devices, enterprise and online if we sort of ignore the mobile area. So Windows Mobile is both a great financial opportunity, and sort of a necessary strategic ingredient for us.

Largent: This last question is of a more personal nature. Do you think the Seahawks are going to be in the playoffs this year?

Ballmer: I was going to ask you that as the last question, but I have to say absolutely, positively, 100 percent. I've been in Seattle a long time now, long enough that when Steve mentioned it's been almost 20 years since he retired from the Seattle Seahawks, it kind of surprised me, but, absolutely, the Seahawks are going to make the playoffs, and our No. 2 shareholder, Paul Allen, who owns that team, is going to be very happy. You knew my answer in advance.

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Tricia Duryee
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