Steve Ballmer, chief executive of Microsoft, on Thursday gave a spirited defence of the software company’s strategy and the future of its Windows operating system, following an assertion from Steve Jobs earlier in the week that personal computers that run it are in permanent decline.
Responding to the declaration made on Tuesday by the Apple founder, that the PC era was drawing to a close, Mr Ballmer admitted that the world of computers was changing rapidly, but said there would continue to be general purpose computers for many years: “They will continue to be the mass populariser of things people want to do with their information.
“The PC as we know it will continue to morph,” Mr Ballmer said during an on-stage interview.
“Some will have a keyboard, some won’t have a keyboard.”
Mr Ballmer’s comments at the D: All Things Digital conference outside Los Angeles were delivered on the same stage where Mr Jobs struck a responsive chord among those attending when he contended that the iPad tablet computer, powerful smartphones and other devices would far surpass desktop and laptop PCs.
Mr Ballmer, who also conceded that Microsoft had “missed a cycle” on mobile phones, sought to broaden the definition of a PC to include tablets. He added that Windows would be increasingly modified and optimised for various functions and different types of hardware.
“To a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail,” he said. “We have our hammer [with Windows],” while Apple had its own hammer with the iPhone operating system that it was expanding to support the iPad.
In fact, he argued that Apple’s push for that operating system meant that its own Mac computer would fade away.
“It’s not about Mac and PC any more, it will be about the thing that replaces the Mac,” he said. “The race is on.”
Mr Ballmer said he was disappointed that his company’s software was only the fifth most popular for smartphones, but said the rapid changes in leadership in that industry meant that Microsoft had a good opportunity to come back.
The next mobile version of Windows is to be released for the holiday season, and Mr Ballmer said last month he would assume direct supervision of the company’s phone and entertainment divisions.
Mr Ballmer also took a swing at Google’s dual efforts to expand in phones with its Android operating system, and to more powerful devices with the nascent Chrome operating system.
“Having two things is not an aid” to developers, he said. “Make a bet, tell people what you believe in and go do it.”