Steve Ballmer is a dissin' machine

Microsoft's CEO likes to have his opinions heard about his company's competition. And he sounds off more often than you might expect.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
4 min read

Microsoft's competition might be looking for a silent contender, but they won't find it in CEO Steve Ballmer. Rather than relying on the software giant's marketing professionals to dish dirt on competitors, Ballmer does it himself. And he does it quite often.

On Tuesday, Ballmer had some interesting things to say about Google and its upcoming Chrome operating system.

Steve Ballmer fielding a question from Fortune's Geoff Colvin. Screenshot by Ina Fried/CNET

Speaking in an onstage question-and-answer session following his speech at the Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans, Ballmer told those in attendance that he doesn't "know if Google can't make up their mind or what the problem is over there...The last time I checked, you don't need two client operating systems."

Ballmer couldn't quite stop himself there. He had a few more interesting things to say about Chrome OS.

"Who knows what this thing is?" Ballmer said. "To me, the Chrome OS thing is highly interesting--it won't happen for a year and a half, and they already announced an operating system (Android)."

With all those zingers flying around, it made me start remembering other instances in which Ballmer has taken a company or product to task. So I decided to search Google for all results matching "Ballmer disses." Amazingly, the search returned more than 125,000 results.

Microsoft's CEO likes to hit the competition with some pretty tough comments. Here's what he's had to say about some of his most prominent competitors over time.


Date: March 2009

Comment: After his keynote speech at Media Summit 2009, Ballmer was asked about Apple's market share growth. Ballmer told those in attendance that Apple could be broken down into two basic elements: a $500 premium and a logo.

"Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction," Ballmer said. "The economy is helpful. Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment--same piece of hardware--paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be."

Result: Mac sales growth is outpacing PC sales growth by a sizable margin. Mac sales in May were up 25 percent over April. PC sales were up just 1 percent. But overall, Microsoft still dominates the operating-system market.


Date: January 2007

Comment: After being asked to comment on the iPhone after it was first announced (and prior to its release), Ballmer indicated that his first reaction to Apple's product was skepticism.

A phone that costs "$500, fully subsidized, with a plan? That's the most expensive phone in the world, and it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good e-mail machine," Ballmer said laughing.

Result: More than two years later, the iPhone is in its third generation. Apple has sold more than 20 million iPhone units since its release. More than 65,000 applications are available in its App Store. More than 1.5 billion apps have been downloaded. It is gaining in popularity for e-mail use and has also had some success in the enterprise.


Date: March 2009

Comment: Ballmer hasn't been content to keep his mouth closed on Microsoft's on-again, off-again acquisition talks with Yahoo. On one occasion, Ballmer criticized Yahoo's management for the way it has handled the negotiations.

"That whole episode left me understanding how shareholders can get frustrated with management that isn't serious about performance," Ballmer said about Yahoo at Media Summit 2009.

Result: Microhoo still doesn't exist. Since Ballmer made his comments, Yahoo's search market share has remained relatively constant. According to StatCounter, Yahoo's June market share was 11 percent. It beat out Microsoft by almost three percentage points. It has also hired a new CEO, and its stock has risen in value.

Google Android

Date: November 2008

Comment: After seeing what Google's Android platform was all about, Ballmer said he was "confused" by Google's strategy and focus.

"I don't really understand (Google's) strategy," Ballmer said at Telstra's annual investment day. "Maybe somebody else does. If I went to my shareholder meeting, my analyst meeting, and said, 'hey, we've just launched a new product that has no revenue model!'...I'm not sure that my investors would take that very well. But that's kind of what Google's telling their investors about Android."

Result: Since Ballmer commented on Android, Google announced that the T-Mobile has sold more than 1 million units of the G1, the first Android-based phone. That said, Android has only been able to capture 6 percent of the market, based on operating-system use. Google hopes to have close to 20 Android-based devices on store shelves by the end of 2009 to capture more market share.

MacBook Air

Date: March 2008

Comment: Speaking at the Mix conference in a one-on-one interview with Guy Kawasaki, Ballmer took Kawasaki's MacBook Air out of an envelope and debated the value of the computer.

After Kawasaki asked him why he didn't want a light machine, Ballmer said his Toshiba laptop weighs less.

He went on to say that the MacBook Air "is missing half the features. Where's the DVD drive?"

Result: Today, the MacBook Air is still available from Apple. It has a fresh design and a more affordable price tag. The competition must believe Apple is on to something--Acer, Lenovo, Dell, MSI, and Asus have all announced plans to debut PCs that will compete with the MacBook Air.

So there you have it: just a small sampling of some of Ballmer's finest disses. Do you have any others you wish to share? Let us know in the comments below.

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