On Thursday during Microsoft's annual analysts meeting in Bellevue, Washington, current CEO Steve Ballmer admitted to analysts that's it's currently a little weird going to work knowing that he will be leaving within the next twelve or so months. His admittance confirms previous rumors from insiders that Ballmer no longer has a skip in his step, that he's not quite the pre-retirement "fists of steel" Ballmer everyone at Redmond enjoyed.
He said that around three years ago he told the board that his eventual retirement was on the horizon. The board responded by saying that Ballmer should get to know "all of the top people at our competitors" to scout out a CEO replacement. Ballmer admitted that he liked the individuals under Microsoft's roof better than the outsiders he actually considered.
"There is a lot of good talent out there but when I come home, I tell you, there is just an incredible group of talent at Microsoft that is competitive with everybody else in the industry, full stop, period," he said.
Ballmer also pointed out that once he steps down as CEO, he will only be a Microsoft investor. He also has no plans to sell his shares. "After I retire I'm just a guy that owns 4 percent of Microsoft and that's about 65, 70 percent of what I've ever owned," he said. "I think I've sold five times in my life and bought once and I hold on and treasure my Microsoft stock. 70 percent of what I own is in Microsoft."
During the session, Ballmer also admitted his regret about not jumping into the smartphone arena on time. Microsoft was so focused on perfecting the Windows platform in the early 2000s that the company wasn't able to redeploy resources to properly develop for the smartphone form factor. That failure has put Microsoft in third position behind Apple and Google, and eventually a reorganization within the company to focus on devices and services.
Ballmer also took a shot at Google during the executive Q&A, saying that the search engine giant is a monopoly, a term that was once used to define Microsoft, and that the government should step in and tame the Android beast. The comment came as he was discussing how a small number of companies have been able to really grow by offering cloud services to consumers. He said that out of all the markets Microsoft currently plays in, consumer cloud services is the toughest, partially thanks to Google, Android and the search engine game.
"This [search] is a scale game because the market for advertising is auction-based economics. So if we have exactly the same quality of algorithms but a lot less scale in search advertising we will get less revenue per search than Google does, which means they have more money to pay for distribution on Samsung devices or Apple. Rumor has it that they probably pay each of those guys $1 to $2 to $3 billion a year for distributing their search products. So we have to generate volume in order to step up."
"I do believe Google's practices are… [humorously long pause] worthy of discussion with competition authority, and we have certainly discussed them with competition authorities,"he said. "We've highlighted some of their practices in our advertising, in our discussions with regulators, the bundling they're doing with YouTube, Google Maps and some other things. Suffice to say, I think they need pressure from competition authority, pressure from the marketplace, with product, with investment, with scale. How do we get scale? On our own devices or on somebody with whom we're closely aligned."
That's a rather funny point-of-view given that the Department of Justice declared that bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows OS was a monopoly on the browser market, and violated anti-trust laws. Still, you have to wonder why Google gets away with bundling its own browser and other Google-focused services on Android.
Steve, we're really going to miss you.