Santa Clara, Calif. — That’s because his onstage interviewer wasted no time dealing with a lingering controversy, the sudden departure earlier this week of Windows President Steve Sinofsky.
LinkedIn chairman Reid Hoffman, the featured inteviewer for this marquee tech talk, made Sinofsky’s surprise exit his first question for Ballmer before a packed hall at a Churchill Club event at a local Marriott.
Ballmer seemed a bit taken aback at first, responding by first discussing “the spectacular start we’ve gotten off to with Windows 8.”
And then circling back to the question, he said it was Sinofsky’s decision to leave and wished him well.
Sounds like we'll have to see if Sinofsky writes a book or consents to interviews down the road to hear any more of what happened.
“He made one of the most amazing contributions anyone has made to any company,” said Ballmer.
And with that it was on to Windows 8, Surface tablets and other Microsoft-related issues.
Ballmer said Microsoft’s Surface tablet is offering the best of both worlds — tablet and notebook.
“You go on a trip, most people do some work and do some play. Do you want a device with no keyboard? Maybe, but we give you that option (a keyboard),” he said.
Asked about the value proposition versus Apple’s iPad, Ballmer noted the inclusion of Office and speaking more broadly about the various vendors offering Windows RT and Windows 8 tablets he noted there is a diversity of form factors and price points.
Convertible notebooks with touch screens running Windows are also gaining traction.
He said that while some people questions why you’d need a notebook with a touchscreen, those computers made by Asus and others, are the ones retailers are running out of stock.
Surface versus the world
Microsoft has faced criticism for its sudden decision to compete with its Windows 8 hardware partners by bringing out its own Surface line of tablets, but Ballmer said Microsoft saw an “innovation opportunity” that was too good to pass up.
“Do I anticipate that our partners will build the lion’s share of Windows devices over the next five years? I absolutely do,” he said.
Touch! Touch! Touch!
Asked what the biggest surprise has been in business customer’s reaction to Windows 8, Ballmer boomed with his characteristic flair: “Touch! Touch! Touch!” Emphasizing there’s been ready acceptance to Windows 8’s touch interface.
“I actually think a little feature in Windows 8 that IT loves is Windows to go,” he added. “You can put Windows on a USB stick and take it with you. The level of froth about that has been very gratifying.”
He also said later that Microsoft’s Live Tiles interface is distinct and a competitive advantage. “The UI is frankly very different,” said Ballmer. It’s alive with the things people care about, the information they care about.”