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Ballmer shows humble side in memo

In an e-mail to customers, Microsoft CEO's sounds contrite about the company's antitrust conduct while predicting a big future for the software maker.

In a memo to customers, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sounded contrite about the company's antitrust conduct while predicting a big future for the software maker and the industry at large.

Ballmer's e-mail--seemingly calibrated to project humility following the favorable antitrust settlement--was intended for wide public consumption. The company published the message to its Web site, and the remarks are substantially similar to comments Ballmer delivered in a speech to the Brookings Institution Tuesday.

Both the speech and the shorter e-mail referred to the recently approved settlement between Microsoft and the U.S. Justice Department.

The settlement "puts new obligations and responsibilities on our company, and we fully embrace them," Ballmer wrote in the e-mail. He enumerated a handful of restrictions Microsoft now must follow, as well as steps the company has taken to ensure compliance.

In an observation notable for understatement, Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft's behavior with respect to its competitors didn't win it many friends or allies in the computer technology industry.

"During the antitrust lawsuit, not everyone in our industry raced to support us," Ballmer wrote. "As we listened to our supporters--and our critics--we learned that we needed to take a different perspective on being a good industry leader."

Ballmer's tone stands in stark contrast to remarks made during earlier years of the antitrust fight, such as his famed "to heck with Janet Reno" comment, which referred to the U.S. attorney general during President Bill Clinton's administration.

Ballmer reiterated a point he stressed in the Brookings Institute address--that Microsoft will tread carefully while continuing to think big. The company's research and development budget for this year will be increased to $5 billion, Ballmer said.