Home' Technology Review : March April 2013 Contents 50 DISRUPTIVE COMPANIES 2013
MIT TECHNOLOGY REVIEW
Seeing the same graphical user inter-
face across platforms is a wondrous
thing, but it’s also a little like seeing a
bear on a bike. Why do it at all?
Increasingly, people access the same
content and services from multiple
devices or use more than one device at
a time. [Having] the same look and feel
shortens the learning curve and creates
a more seamless user experience.
In order to demonstrate to customers
and original equipment manufactur-
ers (OEMs) the possibilities of the new
interface, Microsoft was compelled to
develop its first computer, the Surface
tablet. Are you pleased with the sales
I’m super-glad we did Surface. I think
it is important—and not just for
Microsoft but for the entire Windows
ecosystem—to see integrated hardware
Does that mean that Surface is a real
business, and that you intend to be a
manufacturing company in a meaning-
Surface is a real business. In an
environment in which there’s 350
million PCs sold, I don’t think Surface
is going to dominate volume, but it’s a
Do you think Microsoft has gotten bet-
ter at figuring out what the user wants?
You won’t deny that you’ve experienced
a few challenges in making consumer
Oh, I don’t know. Our number-one
thing is supplying products to con-
sumers. That’s kind of what we do.
Sixty-five percent of all PCs go to the
consumer, not to the enterprise. Sev-
enty percent of all Office suites go to
the consumer, not the enterprise. One
hundred percent of all Xboxes go to
the consumer, not the enterprise. Now,
we’ve monetized the enterprise better
than the consumer, there’s no question
about that. And there’s no question that
there are things that we have done for
both the consumer and the enterprise
that we would like to improve. So I’m
not trying to push back. I’m merely try-
ing to highlight that we really are very
involved in both. We’re building new
capabilities to give the consumer what
the consumer wants. Take pen comput-
ing [the use of a stylus on a tablet]: I
think it’s fair to say we’ve been talking
about pen computing for years, but it
was hard to do that with OEMs who
were not equally incentivized. Now
we’re trying to lead a little bit with
So is there a lack of understanding,
or in some cases do I wish our execu-
tion had been better? I would say the
latter. In cases where we’ve embraced
end-user needs and really sort of dived
in, like the things that we’ve done with
Kinect and the Xbox, I think we’ve done
I understand Google’s vision for the
future of computing. I know what Apple
stands for. I used to understand what
Microsoft stood for. I no longer know.
What’s your vision for the company?
I would simply say we’re about defin-
ing the future of productivity, entertain-
ment, and communication—in the new
world [where] software is going to have
to come in kind of an integrated form.
Or at least a well-designed form that
includes cloud services and devices.
And is that why Windows 8 is important?
Because, for the first time, Microsoft is
delivering an “integrated” experience
across all important devices with soft-
ware delivered from the cloud?
If you want to do productivity, com-
munications, and entertainment, you’re
going to do it on multiple devices, and
you have to do it in a coherent and con-
sistent way for the user. You’ve got to
support the different input modalities.
The living room is different from the
phone, and productivity at the desk is
different from productivity on the go.
So, yes, Win8 and the Win8 family of
devices are super-important for sup-
porting our broad vision.
Windows 8 is radically different from any previous version of
the Windows operating system. Designed to run on smart-
phones, tablet computers, laptops, servers, and even super-
computers, Windows 8 presents its users with virtually the
same interface on any device. The response to this approach
has been mixed: some critics have praised the operating system’s gorgeous
graphic design and daring indifference to Microsoft’s past; others are baffled
(see our own review on page 76). Jason Pontin, MIT Technology Review’s edi-
tor in chief, spoke to Microsoft’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer, about what
Windows 8 means for his company.
The Microsoft CEO explains the strategy behind his company’s
most ambitious and strangest major product.
2/5/13 1:18 PM
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