Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Steve Ballmer’s Dr. Hyde and Mr. Jekyll

Whenever I know Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is going to speak at a major public event, I get two feelings at once: Excited anticipation that the chances are high that he’ll say something controversial and dread that the chances are high he will say something, well, controversial.

Which is just what happened at his opening keynote speech yesterday at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference, which is taking place in Los Angeles this week.

At the event, Ballmer got off several good ones, which always happen when he makes fun of himself or Microsoft products.

Most effective was the tiny market share of the very laudable Windows Phone 7, which replaced its failed Windows Mobile efforts.

Said Ballmer with verve about the situation: “We’ve gone from very small to very small…”

Funny, right? Especially when he also made it clear that he thought Microsoft had made the right bet in moving to Windows Phone 7, which was a deft way of both poking fun at the company and praising it at the same time.

Of course, like the skunk at the garden party he often can be, Ballmer also could not resist dragging out his oldest chestnut about how much bigger that PC market is than that of its longtime rival, namely Apple.

But because he’s Ballmer, he plays it cute and can’t ever seem to bring himself to actually say the name of the company that has always been top of mind at Microsoft and always has remained the target of grumbly frustration.

The solution? Pretend Apple does not exist by belittling the competitor’s weakest point.

Thus, he trotted out the usual stats about how big the PC market is in comparison — about 350 million units with the Windows operating system compared to about 20 million of Brand A.

All true, except it only makes Ballmer look petty and backward-thinking, since those 20 million represent so much more than just laptop computers.

In fact, when talking about Apple, it also means smartphones — where the iPhone dominates Windows Phone 7 handily — and also tablets, a market where there is no contest between the iPad and anyone else so far.

And it also leaves out the excitement and thrill that Apple always manages to engender among consumers, the media and techies alike when it launches new products, which will be happening just a week from now with Apple’s new MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs debut.

Because, while Ballmer can make fun of Apple’s laptop sales all he wants, it only makes him look silly rather than witty.

In fact, when you’re as big a company as Microsoft, it’s only funny when you are shooting at a behemoth like yourself over failings. Best of all, you never run out of material.

And, if you do, there’s always Google to kick around.

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There was a worry before I started this that I was going to burn every bridge I had. But I realize now that there are some bridges that are worth burning.

— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle