[This Q&A with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is running in the print edition of The Seattle Times Sept. 16, 2012.]
This fall, Microsoft is embarking on one of its biggest series of launches ever, with new versions or updates of nearly all its products and services, from Windows to Windows Phone, Office to Windows Server.
On top of that, the company is debuting its first branded computing devices: the Surface tablets.
Microsoft Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer, who has called this year “the most epic year in Microsoft history,” sat down for an interview with The Seattle Times last week to talk about the new products and services, the state of the company and the future.
Here is the interview, edited for length:
Q: You’ve talked about this year being the most epic. Is there another year in Microsoft’s history you could compare this to? Maybe the launch of Windows 95?
A: You know, Windows 95 was certainly the biggest thing in the last 20 years until now. I think Windows 8 certainly surpasses it. It’s a little hard to compare things like the founding (of the company) and the introduction of the first popular PC and the system that popularized it, but it’s at that scale.
Q: Almost every major product and service is launching a new version or an update this year. Is that by design or coincidence?
A: I would say by deliberate coincidence. We didn’t say everybody’s got to ship at exactly the same time. We said: “Here are some principles.”
We’re trying to really re-imagine the world from the ground up with Windows 8. … And then people orient their development schedules around Windows 8 and its new properties and attributes.
Q: What is Microsoft’s plan if Windows 8 doesn’t take off?
A: You know, Windows 8 is going to do great.
Q: No doubt at all?
A: I’m not paid to have doubts. (Laughs.) I don’t have any. It’s a fantastic product. …
People talk about: “How healthy is the PC market?” There’s going to be close to 400 million PCs sold in the next year, which makes it a big market. And whether it’s 405 (million) or 395 (million), it’s a big market, and Windows 8 will propel that volume.
It also brings us into this world of much more mobile computing and more mobile form factors. I think it’s going to be hard to tell what’s a tablet and what is a PC.
Q: Microsoft has had successes with Xbox and Kinect and failures with Kin and the aQuantive acquisition. Do you see common patterns among those successes and those failures? What have you learned from them?
A: I think if you look at the pattern of success, it usually is a powerful, innovative idea formed and driven by a powerful sort of team with great innovators and great executors … followed up by an incredible kind of — I won’t say marketing because it’s really more about how you tell your story than just how loudly you tell it.
Screaming loudly doesn’t work very well in our industry. It really matters whether the product fundamentally captures people’s imagination, and then you tell the story well around that.
I certainly see Skype sort of on that path. … We’ll have to see whether Surface is a success or not because we haven’t shipped any yet. But it certainly has the elements of success.
[Continue reading the Q&A here.]