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'Productive' PCs head Ballmer's list of what Microsoft must do right

Mark Hachman | Sept. 23, 2013
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer talked candidly about what he and Microsoft need to achieve before he steps down next year. And a key, he said, is understanding the changing role of the PC.

1.) Office 365 and Azure must succeed: Specifically, they need to be a "touchdown," Ballmer said. Microsoft chief financial officer Amy Hood spent almost the bulk of her presentation, talking about how the new subscription services built into Office 365 compelled consumers and businesses to pay an annual fee, rather than buying Office products every five to seven years.

"It's quite clear to me by this time next year, we will overwhelmingly have the most popular paid service in the enterprise, bar none," Ballmer said.

2.) Windows PCs need to remain viable: Ballmer's "productivity PC" mantra must be heard loud and clear. "We have to make absolutely clear to people what the value proposition is and, by the way, how they can get some of those same high-value services on non-Windows devices, iPads, iPhones, Android devices, et cetera," Ballmer said.

The underlying message is that Microsoft hopes to bundle its services with its own devices, as well as push those services onto as many platforms as possible.

3.) Windows Phone must climb out of the cellar: "We have almost no share," Ballmer said. "I don't know whether to say that with enthusiasm or a kind of uncomfortable tension. But I'm an optimistic guy. Anything we have low market share sounds like upside opportunity to me."

The key here is Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia, and its focus on devices and services in general. Knowing how consumers use devices and the services within them helps Microsoft at all stages of the game.

4.) Selling cloud and hybrid services: Consumers likely shouldn't care about whether or not Microsoft's sales staff rings up a sale at Ford or Unilever. But managing a company's data is like you turning over your data to SkyDrive or Office 365: after a while, you just budget in the expense of Microsoft managing your data for you.

The next big thing: bringing it all together
Ballmer said that Microsoft is putting all the pieces together in preparation for the next big thing—which, he said, he doesn't quite know.

"But I think that the next big thing that will create value in this industry will probably require companies that have certain capabilities," Ballmer said. "They'll have to understand natural user interface and hardware. Hardware and software will need to kind of evolve together," meshing together machine learning, cloud infrastructure, plus a consumer and enterprise focus, he said.

And after Microsoft? Google, maybe. Or Apple, Ballmer said. After that, it drops off fast.

Ballmer's speech was at times nostalgic, pugnacious, contemplative, and eventually gave way to a small panel where he, Hood, and chief operating officer Kevin Turner all answered questions from analysts, mostly going over ground that they had covered previously.

Still, one couldn't help think that the baton was being passed. But to who exactly? And what will that mean for the future? As of now, those were questions that Microsoft executives couldn't—or wouldn't—answer.


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