Why the cloud was scary to Steve Ballmer

Published: July 12th, 2011

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft CEO, was more subdued during his keynote address at the Worldwide Partner Conference in LA. In previous years Ballmer’s excitement and energy level hit extreme highs.

When you compare CEOs in high tech, Ballmer’s energy and enthusiasm are real assets for Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) and a gave the company a competitive advantage over other vendors with more stoic or even stodgy chief executives.

But at this year’s WPC in LA Ballmer strolled onstage and walked around a bit and then told the audience that he was “beyond excited” and that he “loves channel partners.”

His body language failed him in my opinion. There was no running around. No shouting. No high fives. No big smile on his face. No funny shots at competitors, and no giving out of his email address.

During his keynote he told about 12,000 channel partners at the Staples Center that he was scared about the cloud last year when several partners told him they weren’t investing in the cloud. “It’s a disrupter and it is hard to process. It’s so scary because we are all in on the cloud; 100 per cent and we need partners to come with us,” he said.

It was at this time in his keynote that his audible level raised significantly as he said to partners “you need to decide to come with us.”

Ballmer added that he was “nervous” when some channel partners said to him they couldn’t be all in on the cloud. But he was pleased to report that 41,000 channel partners did back Microsoft and now call themselves cloud partners.

One of the key factors for both Microsoft and its market positioning is that they are still holding to investment in new technology for both on-premise and cloud. Many channel partners have told me that while they are building cloud services the majority of customers are still looking for on-premise solutions today.

Ballmer also addressed Microsoft’s Phone business and newly acquired Skype business.

“Our approach is for small screens, big screens and middle-sized screens; thats phones, PCs, TVs and slates. So we will move forward with this platform for intelligent devices,” he said.

However, Ballmer admitted that Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 business went from very small marketshare to very small marketshare, which really means they haven’t moved the needle. I do agree with him that it was a heck of a year for Windows Phone 7 considering where the company was a year ago.

Windows Phone 7 has made many inroads, but again there are many channel partners out there who have remained loyal to the older mobile versions because of customer requests. Those partners still need to be supported or at least have Win7 compatible with Win6.5.

As for Skype, Ballmer was brave enough to talk about it during the middle of the regulatory process, to say they acquired Skype to enable the enterprise. Skype and Lync will be connected to enable more collaboration on active directory. “This strategy will allow us to further the consumerization of IT with vim and vigor,” he said.

This means more digital meetings and whiteboarding collaboration in a combined Lync/Skype experience.

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