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Steve Ballmer says people don't want to work at Amazon

Technically Incorrect: In an interview with Bloomberg, the former Microsoft CEO says those who left Microsoft to go to Amazon, always wanted to come back. He has some words for Apple too.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Steve Ballmer believes that Amazon is, indeed, not a nice environment in which to work.

Bloomberg screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Local rivalries can bring out the harsh essence in people.

If you have a competing entity on your doorstep, you bristle at the mere mention of its name.

It's fascinating, therefore, that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has decided to bare his feelings about Amazon.

In an interview with Bloomberg on Friday, Ballmer was offered the perfect alley-oop to posterize Amazon. He was asked how he felt about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos referring -- in a controversial New York Times article -- to Microsoft as a country club.

Ballmer offered a controlled beginning: "Microsoft's culture is very strong." Then he spoke almost as the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers would talk about the Golden State Warriors.

"You've got to remember there's intense competition between Microsoft and Amazon," he said, referring especially to the fact that both companies are based in Seattle. But then he soared to an aggressive posture: "I think Amazon is a place where people don't want to work."

This was clearly a reference to The New York Times article that suggested some Amazon employees cry a lot and the culture is one of continual emotional brutality. (This article was this week rebuffed in robust fashion by Amazon.)

Ballmer wasn't finished: "Anybody who ever left Microsoft to Amazon, we could count on them coming back within a year or two, because it's not a great place to work to do innovative stuff as an engineer."

It's true that Redmond has been responsible for innovative things, but sometimes those things are capitalized on by companies other than Microsoft.

Talking of which, Ballmer was asked about Apple. He admitted that Cupertino has done a great job. He believes, though, that the only competition Apple has left is Microsoft.

"No one else is trying to compete with them anymore, really, seriously in hardware," he said. "Who's really going after the Mac? Who's really going after the iPad?"

He described the new Surface Book not as a direct competitor with Mac, but as a "new category."

Perhaps Ballmer is right that the only companies with real hardware and software imagination are Microsoft and Amazon. The Surface Book is an attractive thing and, under CEO Satya Nadella, Redmond has striven to be far more open in its attitude and its offerings.

He has to hope, however, that the Microsoft that he still so clearly loves can develop the cachet -- and therefore attract the appropriate talent -- to truly frighten Apple.

It's a little like his own Los Angeles Clippers. They've always seemed one or two players away from truly consistent excellence. (Disclosure: Warriors fan.)