Steve Ballmer admits mobile failures, but asserts 'we look forward to competing'

Earlier today, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spoke candidly with guru tech columnist Walt Mossberg at the D8 Conference. I found Ballmer's candor to be refreshing and it reaffirms my contention that he is the right man to lead Microsoft's mobile business.

"We were ahead of this game, in terms of software for phones," Ballmer told Mossberg. "We are not ahead of this game. We haven't fallen off the face of the planet, but we were ahead of this game and now we find ourselves at No. 5 in the market."

Ballmer acknowledged that Microsoft had missed a design and release cycle, and he took personal responsibility for the failure. "I chose to make a set of leadership changes in the team of people building and executing on our Windows Phone software," he said.

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Ballmer's stature, clarity and candor juxtaposed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In his D8 appearance, Zuckberg seemingly dodged every question, while Ballmer gave straight rather than the pat, deflecting answers common of media-trained chief executives. Many Ballmer critics slam him for Microsoft's stock performance over the past decade. As Ed Bott observed on May 31st:

If you invested $1,000 in Microsoft stock on January 2, 2001, and reinvested all your dividends, you have roughly $1,468 today, or a 47 percent return over nearly 10 years. By contrast, $1,000 in Apple stock purchased on the same day is now worth $34,526.88, for a return of more than 3300 percent.

Bott and I agree about another measure of Ballmer's performance. Bott writes:

It's easy to pick on Ballmer's performance and especially easy to identify the big mistakes and the missed opportunities. But it's hard to argue credibly that he has failed at his number-one job, which has been to keep making a profit on Microsoft's enormous core businesses of Windows and Office.

Of course, the biggest mistake is loosing mobile market share and mindshare to upstarts Apple and Google or failing to close on Research in Motion. Microsoft chased RIM in enterprise push-mail, while the BlackBerry gained elsewhere. Ballmer told Mossberg that RIM's volumes are "60-70 percent consumer. There's still this old myth that they're primarily an enterprise company, which is just not the case anymore."

Ballmer seems to understand the dynamics of the mobile market and the challenges facing Microsoft. For the people still asking for Ballmer's head, shut up. Give him a chance to succeed or fail in mobile. If he fails, then ask for his head.

[Videos courtesy of All Things Digital]

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