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Behind Ballmer's latest bloviating

He can diss Facebook all he wants, but Microsoft's CEO faces a bigger challenge as he surveys a rapidly changing software landscape.

It was not what a prospective buyer normally says--unless of course you're aiming to drive down the sales price.

"I think these things (social networks) are going to have some legs, and yet there's a faddishness, a faddish nature about anything that basically appeals to younger people," Steve Ballmer told The Times of London.

If we take Ballmer at his word, I'd say that qualifies as a public dousing of last month's speculation about Microsoft considering a 5 percent stake in Facebook.

Then again, maybe not.

In the same interview, Ballmer allowed that there was value in the "network effects" that comes with a Web site's accumulation of over 40 million users

But then it was Ballmer being Ballmer. The big fella just couldn't resist taking that dig.

"There can't be any more deep technology in Facebook than what dozens of people could write in a couple of years. That's for sure," he said.

For the sake of argument, let's assume Ballmer's right. What then prevents Microsoft from deploying its vaunted development prowess and "out-Facebooking" Facebook?

It's not as if Microsoft lacks for good engineers. If it were a technology question, Microsoft long ago would have trained its Death Ray on Facebook, Google, North Korea--who could match up? He can diss Facebook all he wants but Microsoft's CEO faces a bigger challenge as he surveys a rapidly changing software landscape.

Maybe one of the Wall Street sharpies who follow the company one day will have the guts to call it like it is: Microsoft just can't get out of its own way. Anyone can see that management is struggling to manage a mega-company that's grown too large for its own good.

It's no exaggeration to say that it's been quite awhile since Microsoft was even close to fighting trim. Do you recall the last time Microsoft delivered a "wow" software product? (A colleague says "Hearts" back when Windows 3.1 came off the assembly line.)

If you had to think about the answer for a long minute, I rest my case.