Kara Swisher

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Liveblogging the Steverino (Ballmer) Show at Stanford: Soul Mates!

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BoomTown went down to Silicon Valley’s most exclusive country club–also known as Stanford University–where Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took to the stage today for a talk at Memorial Auditorium for the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar.

4:32 pm PDT: Ballmer was pretty much on time, delivering a rousing hello and some good words about being back. He had attended Stanford Business School many moons ago, before dropping out and joining Microsoft (MSFT). Good move, I’d say.

He offered anyone in the room jobs, if they were smart, and then gave out his email. Although he did leave out the pertinent fact that the software giant just laid off 3,000 workers earlier this week.

Well, that.

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Then, Ballmer launched into his speech, which began with him talking about the “tough economy.”

The slide behind him was a picture of a glass half-empty or half-full, depending on your attitude, with the notes:

Economic “Reset”

Less debt, more innovation and productivity.

Optimistic about the future.

4:40 pm: Ballmer then told his “entrepreneurial” story. There was a lovely picture of the young Ballmer with some hair. Not much, but some.

Lots of chatter about old computers ensued. Zzzzzzzz.

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The early days of Microsoft were next, including how founder Bill Gates was worried about how Ballmer would bankrupt the nascent company by hiring more staff, a delightful story the pair told at our D: All Things Digital conference last year.

4:46 pm: Then the “emerging technology trends.”

Which are, according to Ballmer: many-core processing; screens everywhere; natural UI; all content digital.

Like All Things Digital! I always knew Steve and I were soul mates!

Because it is Microsoft, he moved into “software-powered experiences,” which means, according to Ballmer’s slide: a rich client + cloud, spans multiple devices and is persistent and personal.

“You world needs to be brought together,” said Ballmer. “You may not want to manage the cacophony of devices you deal with today.”

I may not. Or I may. Ballmer, may I?

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4:55 pm: It was not a long or much of a content-rich speech. Ballmer wrapped up with the idea that “The Time Is Now.”

He noted that it is a great time for start-ups, with “all the right ingredients” that “dream big.”

What ingredients? What dreams? Ballmer was not saying much about his secret cooking tips for baking a tech behemoth.

4:57 pm: Time for questions from the students.

The first was about whether big- or small-company experience is better.

Both, said Ballmer. Depending on the problem. “You want to blend those things pretty well,” he said.

It is all about the ingredients! And blending. Also sifting, in my humble opinion.

The next question was about the state of the browser business.

Ballmer said it will get more innovative. We’re waiting!

The next was about what the main problem typically is with companies that have trouble making it.

“Too many companies can actually hang on for almost too long because there has been too much money funding these ideas,” said Ballmer.

Yes, we are soul mates!

5:04 pm: The next question was about the culture of a company from its start and how Ballmer has shaped Microsoft’s culture.

“I would say I have shaped Microsoft culture a lot,” he said. “Sometimes for the better, sometimes worse.”

Ballmer compares himself and Gates to “parents” of Microsoft.

That was very Iowa of him.

(As I said: soul mates!)

5:09 pm: The next question was about how he decided to leave Stanford Business School.

“They still have a spot for me if I want to go back and finish my MBA,” Ballmer joked.

But, he noted, it was not much of a risk to leave school.

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When Ballmer did waver about going back to school, Gates convinced him to stay. Thank goodness, as he said he would have become an investment banker or a consultant.

The next question was about Google (GOOG), which was not named, I suppose for fear that it would set Ballmer off and there would be chairs a-flying.

“The No. 1 player [in search] is a lot bigger than us,” said Ballmer. “We are like a start-up.”

Well, a really, really, really rich start-up, which has been sued by the federal government for antitrust violations, and convicted.

5:14 pm: The next question was about ideas he might have missed.

Ballmer called himself “a mini-venture capitalist,” noting that figuring out what investments to make is tough.

He joked about the disastrous Microsoft Bob product. That always gets a laugh.

The next question was about how much attention Microsoft will give to cloud computing.

It gave him the chance to make a pun using the movie, “Three Men and a Baby,” noting that the “future is about three screens and a cloud.”

Ahahahahahahaha! Okay, not at all.

A question was asked about taking risks and tips for dealing with it.

“Valuable experience is valuable experience,” said Ballmer.

Say what? Is that a word puzzle? This is starting to feel like “Angels & Demons.”

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Ballmer advised the students to “love doing the work that you’re doing.”

It is apparently all about the love at Microsoft. Who knew?

5:22 pm:

Two questions about consolidation, which is code for Yahoo (YHOO).

“I’m glad we went down the road,” said Ballmer, waxing nostalgic about the failed takeover attempt.

But he added he still thought a partnership of some sort between the pair is a good idea. “There may or may not be appropriate discussions,” said Ballmer.

There may. Or may not. Carol, may Steve?

Then there is some love for competitors, Facebook, even Apple (AAPL) for the iPhone.

Feel the love!

5:25 pm: The last question is about what he wished he had done if he could do it over.

He would have taken more computer science courses.

We are so not soul mates.


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work