Ballmer: We're all about devices and services now

Microsoft's CEO makes the most succinct case yet that the software giant has moved to a new era where it will build devices and produce the services that run on them.

Jay Greene Former Staff Writer
Jay Greene, a CNET senior writer, works from Seattle and focuses on investigations and analysis. He's a former Seattle bureau chief for BusinessWeek and author of the book "Design Is How It Works: How the Smartest Companies Turn Products into Icons" (Penguin/Portfolio).
Jay Greene
2 min read
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer addressing the company's 2012 annual shareholders meeting. Jay Greene/CNET

BELLEVUE, Wash.--Microsoft may be best known for Windows. It's Office productivity suite runs on hundreds of millions of computers around the world. But Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer made it abundantly clear at today's annual shareholder meeting that the software giant should be thought of as a devices and services company going forward.

"This is really a new era for our company," Ballmer told shareholders today.

The devices and services line is a refrain that Ballmer has been repeating for the last few months, including in a note to shareholders last month. It's an important shift for Microsoft, one some might argue has come late, as the company works to compete in the consumer world against rivals such as Apple and Google.

Ballmer said the focus on devices and services will alter the way that Microsoft runs the company and develops its products.

"We will relentlessly focus on delightful, seamless services," he said.

The company will continue to sell services themselves, such as Office 365, an online version of its productivity software. And it will create devices that provide the best experiences when using those services, such as its new Surface tablet computer that runs Windows RT, the lightweight version of its new operating system.

"We've come a long way in the last year. I could not be more excited for what's ahead," Ballmer said. "We've never had a stronger product line."

After Ballmer's presentation, a shareholder pressed him on why Apple has jumped ahead in tablets, when Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates had championed tablet PCs years earlier only to see those products fail. Ballmer acknowledged that the company's earlier efforts didn't pan out as hoped.

"There are some things in hindsight that we would have done differently," Ballmer said. "Sometimes getting things right with hardware and software is hard to do unless you're doing both of them."

As a devices and services company, those problems won't happen again, he said.