Ballmer woos developers on 'reimagined' Microsoft

Chief executive makes a surprise appearance at Build developer conference, telling programmers that Microsoft is "rethinking, rebuilding, reimagining" the company.

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

ANAHEIM, Calif.--Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer made a surprise appearance today at the company's developer conference here, pitching developers on a "reimagined" Microsoft.

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer at the Build conference Microsoft; screenshot by Jay Greene/CNET

At the end of an hour-and-a-half presentation on Windows Server 8 and new developer tools, Ballmer stepped on stage to make the case that developers should focus their efforts on creating great programs for Windows. His key selling point: the fact that more than 350 million PCs will ship with Windows this year.

"There is no phone, (no) tablet, there is no operating system on the planet that will ship 350 million units of anything other than Windows," Ballmer said.

There are still plenty of developers creating applications for Microsoft's various platforms, particularly the desktop operating system. But Microsoft has been slow to seize the momentum on mobile devices that are growing at a much faster rate than PCs.

So Ballmer talked about "rethinking, rebuilding, reimagining Microsoft." Much of that is about creating the upcoming Windows 8 operating system that can support the touch-based computing of tablets. The company is also pushing hard to create and enhance its cloud-based services, he said.

"We're retooling all of what we do around the platforms we've shown you over the past two days," said Ballmer, speaking at the company's Build conference that runs through the end of the week. "Betting on us...will be an essential part of everything you do."

At the heart of his case was a defense of Windows. Apple has thrived in recent years by creating multiple operating systems and devices to address specific needs. Microsoft has been pitching an entirely different vision at Build, something it calls a "no compromise" solution. Windows will power PCs as well as tablets, giving users the ability to run complex business applications on the same device that they can sit back with and read a book on. It's the vision that will drive the development of every Microsoft product.

"We're pivoting them all with Windows at the center," Ballmer said.

Microsoft's often been criticized for that strategy, focusing on defending its old empire rather than embracing something new. But Ballmer believes that Windows, with its huge base of customers, offers continued opportunities for developers. And he noted that the preview of Windows 8, made available just last night, has been downloaded 500,000 times.

"It's really, really gratifying to see and hear," Ballmer said. "But we still have a lot of work to do." And then, he reprised a plea he's given in the past to developers, encouraging all of them to create their programs for Windows.

"It's the day and age of the developer, the Windows developer," Ballmer said. "Let's move forward together and let's seize the opportunity for developers, developers, developers."