Steve Ballmer Made Me Wear a Tie
Today I had the great pleasure of presenting a session on Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 at MIX08 Italy in Milan. I was there as a guest of our strategic partner in Italy and Germany, Reply. The day was kicked off with a keynote by Microsofy CEO, Steve Ballmer (see videos here). There are other posts about his comments on Yahoo! So I thought I would just share some of my thoughts on the other parts of his talk (and the follow-up Q&A).
Content + Community + Commerce was the mantra for the talk. This seems to be there way of recognizing that software is not the main driver in IT any longer. Now it is all about getting people what they want (content) in a social experience of their choosing (community) and, of course figuring out how to monetize that (commerce) so you can stay in business. The one thing that struck me from the talk was that the only monetization model he talked about was advertising. While I’m sure they are considering service subscription models as well, he didn’t mention it. During Q&A the theme came up again when he said the reason they were after Yahoo! was that they were a advertising and marketing platform that was already at “critical mass.”
Software + Services is the solutions theme for Microsoft. This is there take on how they will help us serve the C+C+C from above. Despite Ray Ozzie’s release of Live Mesh and some observations that MS finally sees that software is dead, Steve stressed the continued importance of software. He described how software will evolve in an environment that wisely balances desktop, Web, enterprise, and devices. Seems to me the “software vs. services” debate is semantic posturing. In either case we will still need engineers writing code that moves bits.
“Consumer, consumers, consumers.” That quote and his discussion of consumers was the only part Steve’s talk that made me cringe and think they still don’t get it. In this day and age, no business should look at their users/customers as consumers. I agree with Matt Jones’s definition of consumers. The people who use our products are our partners, not mindless consumers. Empowering people to partner with us to make our products better is at the heart of Web 2.0. If Microsoft does not get this, they are going to have a tough row to hoe.
Looking foward five years. Finally, perhaps the most animated and interesting part of his talk were his visions of the future of computing. They really were about services (supported by software) that reflected the pending convergence in media and technology. To paraphrase badly, he told a brief story envisioning a future when he is golf watching “TV” and shouts “Hey Bill, did you see Tiger sink that putt”. His intelligent “TV” would recognize that Steve wanted to say that to Bill Gates and would instantly find if Bill Gates was available for Steve. Bill’s “cell phone” would let Bill (sitting on a beach somewhere) know that there was a message from Steve and play the audio of Steve’s comment as well as the video of Tiger’s putt. Steve would respond, “that was nice – what kind of ball is he using?” Steve would rewind the video, zoom in on the ball, click it and get instant information about it and a link to buy it. He would tell Bill the brand and order two boxes for them. This was just one example of his crystal ball gazing – he also discussed ePaper and projectable surfaces.
Overall, his talk was interesting but didn’t break any new earth. But it did make me wear a tie. I try to avoid wearing a tie like I try to avoid root canal surgery. When I asked my Reply hosts if a tie was required for my presentation, the response was something along the lines of, “we know Americans don’t really wear ties – let’s wait and see what Steve does…” So, I was counting on Steve to go tieless. Wisely, he chose to show respect for the host culture and he wore a tie. So, I followed suite. The most difficult part of the whole day was remembering how to tie my tie…
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