"We don't have our heads in the sand, in this context Microsoft is working on everything that you think we should be working on," Ballmer said. The meeting, the first held in over two years with analysts, is webcast here.
“Windows will always be our platform of choice for Microsoft applications. But executives have less religion than people think … and keep their eyes wide open with regards to the opportunities for generating additional revenue by porting products like Office to other platforms,” he said.
In a question-and-answer session, he said, "Our devices carry our services, and our services will be available on a number of people's devices."
He mentioned SkyDrive, Skype, and OneNote are available for other operating systems (OS) but part of the difficulty was the policy constraints other vendors placed on app stores. "They know they have to avoid competitors getting too much traction with their services on their devices, but we're working away on it and it's very, very important to us," Ballmer said.
Analysts have surmised in the past that Microsoft was withholding Office for other OS so as not to hurt Windows 8 and RT sales. Finally Microsoft get that those who buy other OS devices do so because they want to – and make a decision to use other productivity apps instead.
Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft is in third place in the smartphone and tablet OS markets and it will try again with Windows 8.1, due mid-October, with the acquisition of the Nokia smartphone business, and with an upcoming second generation of the Surface devices.
Ballmer specifically listed four areas in which Microsoft must deliver in the coming years: Office 365 (sold US$1.5 billion this year) and the Azure cloud platform (software as a service), defend the Windows PC desktop, bring the best Windows experience to smartphones and tablets; and innovate in "high value" opportunities.
“The PC will continue to be the device of choice for consumers and business when they need to be productive, as opposed to tablets, which are more content-consumption devices,” according to Ballmer.
He was also bullish about Microsoft's Bing search service and said it had won 440 enterprise customers back from Google online software. Microsoft, once a prominent target of U.S. antitrust regulators, continues to argue there are aspects of Google's business practices that are questionable. "I do believe that Google's practices are worthy of discussion with competition authorities," Ballmer said. "We certainly have discussed them with competition authorities."
As previously reported Microsoft has streamlined ‘One Microsoft’ comprising four engineering groups organised by function - operating systems, applications, cloud computing and devices. Centralised groups support these - marketing, business development, strategy and research, finance, human resources, legal and operations. Some critics maintain that Microsoft's product line is too diverse and that far from unifying the company, it would be wiser to make certain units more autonomous.
No insight was offered into the replacement process for Steve Ballmer in the next 12 months.
“If there’s one thing I guess you would say I regret, I regret that there was a period in the early 2000s when we were so focused on what we had to do around Windows that we weren’t able to redeploy talent to the new device called the phone. That is the thing I regret the most. The time we missed is the time we were working on what became [Windows] Vista and I wish we had resources slightly differently [deployed]. It would have been better for Windows.”
Next big thing
Ballmer has some insights into the NBT.
“The next big thing … will require companies that have certain capabilities … understand natural user interface and hardware. Hardware and software will need to evolve together. Whether it's wearables, or what's going on with screen, or input technology, without the right hardware and software skills, without the right machine learning and cloud infrastructure, without the right focus on applications and platforms, without the right appreciation of consumer and enterprise, I think it's hard to do. When you write down the list of companies that have the capabilities … Microsoft … probably Google … you might say, hey, Apple is there in many dimensions, but they don't have the investment in cloud infrastructure, they don't have the investment in machine learning. And then it just starts to slide from there.”