Steve Ballmer: We don't need to be cool! (Or maybe we do)

Steve Ballmer is neither cool nor innovative. That is why Microsoft continues to struggle.

In a clear sign that Steve Ballmer has lost touch with reality, at a recent partner event Q&A the Microsoft CEO addressed the issue of "coolness" and how Microsoft competes in coolness.

On one hand, Ballmer recognizes that Microsoft is not cool and that the enterprise buyer wants safety, not necessarily coolness. But on the other hand his comments reveal an earnest desire to be cool...yet he clearly doesn't recognize what will get his company there.

The way we [will] be newsworthy, if we're successful, in and out, every day, all the time for the next 10, 20, 30 years, we're not going to make it on, hey they're brand new, we've never seen them before. We're going to have to surprise people. And I think we will. I think we'll surprise people with the quality of new PCs people see, where we've worked really hard with Vista, and people say, wow, these things are actually lighter, they actually have better battery life, they're cheaper, they're more affordable, they're more flexible, they come in more sizes, wow, that's cool.

I think you'll find people, as we get to our next generation of Windows Mobile devices, people will stop and say, not everybody gets by well without a keyboard. I don't know about the rest of you, I actually find it easier to have one when I'm typing a piece of e-mail. So what we need to do is have products that surprise people, that delight people, and particularly on the consumer side....[W]e haven't surprised people quite as much as we need to, to surf the cool wave. But, man, you take a look at where Vista is going, you take a look at Windows Mobile, and watch us watch this space for news on search.

No, Mr. Ballmer, Vista really doesn't inspire "Wow!" at least not in a positive sense. Nor is it lighter/etc. What Ballmer is actually describing is the Linux experience in ultra-portables, but that's another matter....

Microsoft's stunted mobile experience is not cool or innovative. Microsoft's consumer experience is particularly abysmal, contrary to the claim made above: Just ask the Live team, which continues to struggle to find any consumers that actually want to use Microsoft's web properties.

This is precisely why Apple is getting rave reviews and market share. It's innovative. It's cool. It's breaking new ground rather than trying to monopolize the old ground.

It's not about cool so much as about building things that people actually want to use. Microsoft may continue to do well in the enterprise where people are forced to use its products, but even that is starting to change with consumers demanding their Macs inside the firewall.

This isn't going unnoticed. Developers are following the cool crowd, with 92 percent taking a pass this year on Microsoft's not-so-cool Vista . Microsoft may well find that by shuffling down its road of "tried-and-true" may well translate into "tried-that-but-want-something-new."

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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