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Ballmer pitches cloud to fellow CEOs

At Microsoft's CEO Summit, Steve Ballmer talks about the role that cloud computing will have for his fellow chief executives.

A screenshot of Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, speaking at the company's CEO Summit on Wednesday. His speech--though not the rest of the event--was streamed over the Internet. Ina Fried/CNET

With a high-power crowd in the audience, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer went hard-core with his sales pitch on the role cloud computing will have for businesses in the coming years.

Speaking to about 125 chief executives and other leaders, Ballmer said that truly big shifts in technology actually don't happen all that often.

"The really big ones you have to totally jump on," Ballmer said during a speech at the company's annual CEO Summit, which runs through Thursday at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Wash. "We are, right now, all of us in the midst of a big one."

Among those Ballmer was speaking to were CEOs like Amazon's Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway, as well as other leaders ranging from Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to Jordan's Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who was given an award from the Tech Museum.

The cloud computing pitch was not a shocker, especially since Ballmer declared Microsoft to be "all in" on the cloud during a March speech at the University of Washington. Microsoft is in the midst of moving toward offering nearly all of its server products--and some of its desktop software--as a service, in addition to being offered as traditional software. The company also has its relatively nascent Windows Azure, which it's pitching as an operating system in the cloud.

As in the past, most of the event itself was off-limits to the press and public, but Microsoft did stream Ballmer's keynote over the Web. Microsoft has been hosting the event yearly since 1997.

Ballmer also talked about the pitfalls of being too early in technology, as well as taking too long to update products, as he said the company did when it went five years between Windows XP and Windows Vista.

"It wasn't because we were wrong-minded," he said, noting that the company actually bit off too much with what was then known as Longhorn and had to start things over before ultimately releasing what became Windows Vista.

While it was nice to hear Ballmer's keynote, missing out on the full event always leaves me wanting more, especially given Ballmer's introductory words.

"That last session just fired me up," he said, without offering any details. "Even some of the words which you are not really allowed to use when you have been in business longer were really gratifying."