The Most Bizarre Steve Ballmerism Ever is a Doozy

| Editorial

Steve Ballmer

A Ballmerism Gone Mad

Every once in awhile, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer outdoes himself with a doozy of what I call a Ballmerism. That's when he makes a statement that departs so far from known facts that we just shake our head and wonder who buys the nonsense.

Recently, as reported by CNET, Steve Ballmer made a pitch for "2-in-1" devices at the Microsoft Build Conference. These are hybrid devices, both a tablet and a PC. The idea is that you only need one device, with its keyboard, like the Microsoft Surface. This is in contrast to Apple's philosophy: a tablet is a whole new animal.

Here is Mr. Ballmer's statement:

How many of us have gone to a meeting with somebody who brought a tablet and then when it comes time to actually take notes, writes them down on pencil and paper. Or can't get at the spreadsheet...or try to use it in terminal emulator mode...or take [a long time] to set up and turn their tablet into something that approximates a PC."

The answer is, actually, not many. The reason is that tablet customers are a lot smarter about how to use their devices than Mr. Ballmer would like his own customers to believe. If he can get them to buy into the idea that tablets are just too hard to use in meetings, perhaps the Surface, which runs Windows and MS Office, will sell better.

This is a classic, zany Ballmerism: say something that makes you look incredibly stupid to the opposing camp, and say it in earnest, and maybe some of the people in your own camp, out of sheer contrariness, will have something to seize upon and believe.

The Possible Origin of Ballmerisms

I think Ballmerisms may originate in the sayings of Steve Jobs. Mr. Jobs made us feel smart. His acerbic observations of the computer industry were spot on, and they helped us understand the essence of a technical facet of our lives. And they polarized. Apple customers woud eat them up and Microsoft customers would moan.

A Ballmerism is the other side of the coin. Apple and probably Google fans groan [Editor's note: I laugh. Out loud. - Editor]. Microsoft customers and partners have a sound bite to hang their hat on. The only problem is that Steve Ballmer is no Steve Jobs, and his apparent understanding of the industry is so misguided and agenda-driven that there is grave concern, in smart circles, about his fitness to lead.

iPad Customers Are Smart

When your goal is to perpetuate MS Office, and Office runs in Windows, your tablets are going to look like notebooks with keyboards. But that's not what the tablet revolution, the Post-PC era, is all about.

Over 120 million iPad customers have found, amongst the hundreds of thousands of native iPad apps, tools that meet their needs for business. Few are frustrated with their iPad in a business meeting and reach for pen and paper. Peter Tamte, developer of Projectbook (now Notesuite) for iOS has thousands of customers who are pressing that app into the very kind of service Mr. Ballmer says is difficult on a tablet. And few lament that they don't have MS Excel before them in a meeting. That train has left the station.

This was a truly bizarre Ballmerism because we know that it's driven by an agenda that has already failed. It was a beating-a-dead-horse Ballmerism, the very worst kind.

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TJ Lambert

As much as I agree with your observation that Mr. Ballmer’s quotes are often quite bazaar, as a journalist, you should actually make the counter-point to his supposed miss-observation of the meeting and note-taking habits of actual tablet owners; If they are not doing as he says, what actually are they doing?
Otherwise, your point of view can be seen by “the other side” as just as hollow as his.


My favorite Ballmerism - ‘We love to be First!’



As for Mr. Ballmer’s comments, who in their right mind uses a tablet in terminal emulation mode??? Kind of defeats the purpose of a touch-enabled device, no?


Since I’ve had an iPad, my notebook has been rendered useless, and my desktop is barely used.

I take it to meetings, and with the iWork apps, PhatPad, PDF Expert and Drafts, all my needs are met. I can even record voice, if ever needed. Often, I’ll have Drafts open in my iPhone, while I’m working on another app on my iPad. Never pen and paper.

Just wanted you to know what I do!

John Martellaro

Mr. Lambert.  That’s why I took pains to mention the Peter Tamte’s Projectbook/Notesuite app. (  We had a long conversation recently about how his thousands of customers use that app.


I think the Samsung Apex will destroy tablets and laptops.


Ballmer probably looks at the iPad and sees that it doesn’t have a (physical) keyboard, or even a stylus, and so thinks that there is no input mechanism. I imagine he hasn’t yet grasped the concept of a virtual (and thus adaptable) keyboard…


I was at a Worldwide sales get together in Phoenix a couple of decades ago where Bomber actually sat down with us for dinner. This was before Gates drooled all over himself and promoted Bomber to CEO…. HUGE MISTAKE .....

But he was more asinine then than he is today… AND that’s going a LONG way based on things he says now… The guy is a loose cannon and he’ll be the reason Microsoft collapses… Folks that work there react the same way you did but they have to live with the customer fallout the next day…. Unparalleled lunacy….


Mr. Martellaro,

Consider that you are opining within an echo-chamber. TMO is likely to be attended primarily by technically savvy users who instincively adopt Apple-centric perspectives. So, with all due respect, In response to Mr. Ballmer’s question, your answer is ill-informed, of not flat wrong.

Tablets have penetrated the market of hapless, unskilled masses (who, by the way, FAR outnumber us erudite, diligent technofetishist, we followers of TMO, we band of bothers… ahem.). That means THEY are the ones who reach for pens because they don’t want to look like orangutans finger painting on iPads that persist without active styli (or cavemen with charred stick capacitive styli).  They don’t want to waste time screwing with software programs. We all know damn well they ultimately need MS Office products to mail via Outlook or upload to Sharepoint.

This is DOD. DHS. State. Hundreds of meetings a year. Ballmer’s implication is spot on.

Mr. Ballmer might benefit from some philosophical realignment. But OneNote, Sharepoint and an active stylus is the combination to eliminate paper+pen. The iPad is kludgy, at best, by comparison.


The Surface is cool, face it Apple has nothing like it. If Apple invented it you guys would spin in a second. Do I like WIndows? Heck no, but it “shows something” that Apple is lacking lately. Making fun of the Ballmer is almost pathetic, don’t you think? I mean he does a good job by himself so to me it’s a l’il wimpy that John and Bryan have to drop smack on him so much.  After all, the PC did Win The Computer Wars, it’s still dominant - and as such the windbag deserves some respect.  Or not.
  Is there something in the crystal ball that says it wouldn’t be a GREAT idea to have a functional 2 in 1???  One example: tablets are useless to graphic artists that merely want to bring and show files from point A to B - something that should be “insanely” easy, but no.
  And this “iPad users are smart”  is a joke, right?
  Every time I see an iPad in public it’s being used for games or social junk, the same as the Android majority. I don’t think either camp is using these things for anything meaningful, at least anything that a smart phone can’t do.
Is there a definitive survey anywhere with a sampling of thousands split by age groups that shows exactly What Apps are being used at what percentages of “On Time” ??  I fear it’s 99% of all online tabs are playing Angry Birds.


Steve Baldmer is the least visionary leader of all the top tech CEO’s. He makes stupid emotional statements that shows his lack of understanding of what people want. He’s running Microsoft into the ground and I would bet there would be no difference if he was in the office or golfing fulltime. It’s these kinds of people that get in the way of progress. His short-sightedness is pushing a tablet and phone design that no one is buying and hardware sales are at record lows, and still he thinks he’s right. He would have been fired long ago if MS wasn’t already entrenched in the enterprise and siting on a fortune because of Gates. The reason why everyone either has an Ipad or Android tablet is because they’re decent products. His jealousy is so obvious he can’t string a coherent sentence together.
So the point being, consistently stupid quotes equates to consistently stupid thinking. Why would anyone want that kind of person running a company?


Let’s see, doctors, lawyers, dentists, restaurants, hotels, and countless other businesses are using iPads as their main input system for data.

Yet, I guess that only social media and gamers buy iPads.

That’s why the account for 82% of portable web traffic.

That’s why I use it to connect to our hotel reservation system and make group blocks and reservations.

Did I forget to mention plumbers, electricians, and, oh yeah, IT professionals.

And for the non-professionals…shopping. Yeah. You know, the consumer side of our economy. That is also dominated by the iPad.

Back to the article…
Ballmer has always been an enigma. I suppose he’s actually kind of bright.
But he sure does hide it well.

And he epitomizes the Peter Principle at its finest.


I once did a job for a law firm. You know, the one with the name of Microsoft’s founder in it, because it was Bill’s father. After they got their wired network going, they had to configure their WiFi, because ALL of their lawyers needed to get connected with their iPads.

TJ Lambert

I need to fix my earlier comment, and I cannot find how to edit or respond directly to a comment….

I don’t know how I missed the reference to - Very sorry for that, as that pretty much scuttles my entire comment. Thank you for setting me straight!


John Martellaro

Mr. Lambert.  We haven’t yet reintroduced the ability edit a comment. But you can always enter a new comment and elaborate. As you just did.


CudaBoy, as always, I have no idea what you are smoking, but would love to try it sometime.

“The Surface is cool, face it Apple has nothing like it.” - Nothing like it?!?!?  How about a tablet (THE tablet, actually) called the iPad, with probably 200 accessories that enable the same keyboard capability as the Surface.  Nothing like it?  Really?

“If Apple invented it you guys would spin in a second.” - Funny thing is, Apple would not have invented it - Apple focuses on the product itself, in this case the iPad, and lets others develop cool and amazing accessories for it.  So, we would never have to spin it as it would never happen.

“After all, the PC did Win The Computer Wars, it’s still dominant - and as such the windbag deserves some respect.”  Did you actually just give Ballmer credit for maintaining windoze dominance?!?!?  Really?

Tiger has already addressed the “82% of portable web traffic” part of your Angry Birds comment.

Wow, you are ‘out there’, that’s for sure!!  But, humorous reading for sure.


...or take [a long time] to set up and turn their tablet into something that approximates a PC


Therein lies the problem, in my view, with MS’ take on tablets, or tablet-like solutions. When I want to use a tablet, I’m not looking for a PC or a PC surrogate. I want, and intend, to use a tablet. If I wanted to use a PC in that instance, I’d have one and do so. MS, rather, appear to think, as articulated at least by their CEO, that I actually want to use a PC even when I’m working from a tablet.

If I were sitting in a room full of their top brass, I’d interrupt right there and ask, as one of my senior professors back in medical school used to do with the students on rounds (quite disconcerting, that) and usually when a student made a cognitive leap and was about to land badly, “Now, why would you think that?”. It’s a perfectly valid question, which aims to get its author to reexamine the sequence of thoughts that led them to this conclusion and identity the point where they veered off course. This is particularly useful when we have empirical data to guide correct inference and interpret our observations in ways that are plausible.

Mind you, I do not, for one moment, think that Ballmer believes every word that issues from his mouth regarding competitors’ products, especially Apple’s. Without doubt, he’s wearing his salesman’s hat, and doing his uttermost to dissuade his user base (not Apple clients; they’re already and hopelessly lost) from one choice and persuade them of another. That’s his job, and I have no problem with that.

What I do have a problem with is this reasoning, encapsulated in Ballmer’s quote above, and which seems to have affected product development. People want a PC, and if not a PC, then a device that can act like a PC - even when they claim that they want to use something else, specifically an iPad - like tablet. A device built around Office and featuring a keyboard is, effectively, a PC. It ignores the overwhelming evidence - available data - about how and when (under what circumstances) people are using their iPads in the workplace. If I were trying to protect my hegemony in the workplace by expanding my share of the mobile device sector, I would want to know those data cold. More importantly, I would want to address that need and move two steps beyond what anyone else has. What I would not want to do is attempt to convince my user base that they do not want to do what they clearly want to do, simply because my core strength does not take me there - at least not if I want to sell them my device. Time to develop new strengths, or alter my business strategy (e.g., support the iPad).

Responding to observed niches is exactly why Apple developed the iPad Mini. Not Apple’s original plan, this was a concession. I don’t see this informing MS’ business strategy, indeed, I don’t see them drawing from empirical data to reach evidence-based solutions for client needs. The reasons for their failure to do so are far, far less relevant than the fact that such failure occurs amidst a wealth of helpful information, which they appear hell-bent on ignoring. It is that observation, in my view, that does not bode well for their future in mobile tech.

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