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What Should I Ask Steve Ballmer?

By - October 09, 2007

Ballmer-1Steve Ballmer has been much in the news this year, taking potshots at Google (remember the one trick pony quote?), calling Facebook a fad (but considering another investment, reportedly), projecting massive growth in Microsoft’s advertising business, you name it. It seems Steve knows one thing for sure – if you are going to win in these markets, you must to be in front of them. Literally.

That’s good for us, because on the morning of Day Two of Web 2, we’ll wake up to a conversation with Steve Ballmer. This will be his first appearance at the event, and I think it marks a new era at Microsoft, an era of engaging with the Web industry more directly. In the past few years of visiting and doing business with Microsoft, I’ve found folks at the company welcoming, willing to admit mistakes, and eager to learn.

And as I have done with Mark Zuckerberg and Chris DeWolfe/Rupert Murdoch, I’d love your help on what to ask him.

A few things come to mind:

- Microsoft and Facebook, happy partnership or headed for trouble? Do you plan to invest more, or is Facebook a fad? How is the ad deal you did with them working out?

- The question I will also ask Brian McAndrews: You declared recently that 25% of MSFT’s revenues would be advertising in the future. That’d make Microsoft a media giant, one of the largest in the world. But is being a media company, well, in your DNA? If you are serious about this, how do you do it? Is a major acquisition (AOL? Yahoo?) in the works?

- Office Live: How does it win against Google Apps, Yahoo Zimbra, Sun OpenOffice, etc?

- Google: Is it still a one trick pony? What do you make of the company?

- Silverlight vs Flash vs…

- Search: You talk it up and have come a long way, but…why keep tilting at it? Why not just work with Yahoo and call it a

- Who do you wish you owned that you don’t? Was aQuantive the last big acquisition for a while?

- What do you make of Apple’s recent surge?

- The rap on Microsoft is often that the company is a bit sclerotic – slow to move, stuck in its ways. True?

- In the past five years, your stock has vacillated in a narrow range of 22 to 28 or so, but it’s on the rise lately (to 30). How do you get your stock out of what seems to be a permanent flatline?

- What technology are you stoked about?

I’d also love to do the one word game with Steve. He strikes me as a guy who has a quick wit and a very good sense of humor, and he’s not afraid to say whatever is on his mind. Words I’d toss out include:

o Google

o Facebook

o Privacy

o MySpace

o eBay

o Zimbra

o ATT

o Net Neutrality

o Halo

o Nintendo

o Department of justice

o Doubleclick

o AOL

o Steve Jobs

Microsoft is so vast, so important, I know I’ve missed a ton of stuff. So help me out here – what would you ask Steve Ballmer?

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24 thoughts on “What Should I Ask Steve Ballmer?

  1. Ludlow says:

    What the internet really needs is a new operating system; backwards compatible with all existing formats; sleek, fast, and low on bandwidth use; easy to use and program; and able to move seamlessly from desk, to net, to phone. Do you have a department at Microsoft working on such a beast?

  2. Phil says:

    When will he step down and stop embarassing Microsoft?

  3. Justin Watt says:

    John, this should be on top of your word list: Ubuntu.

  4. Ross says:

    Bah, Phil beat me to it. Still, I don’t suppose you’ll ask when he’s going?

  5. nmw says:

    “I am just a new boy, stranger in this town…” — oops! am I on?!? Oh, yeah, OK… well, I read and listened to the links — all neat-o and all that jazz… — what was the question? Oh, yeah: What to ask Steve. Apart from the ingenious questions above, I might ask:

    1. are you feelin’ OK? ;P

    2. we all know that Google is supposed to be not evil, and Ask is supposed to be very evil — how will the “search” provided by Microsoft differentiate itself from it’s competitors? Note that I am *not* talking about the present situation — I want to know what the difference will be in 1 year, in 2 years, etc.

    3. apart from Microsoft, Google, and other similar “online” companies, how do you expect the business *environment* will play a role in the coming years? Do you feel there will be any momentous decisions ahead WRT copyright and/or other intellectual property law, business law, the media and/or advertising industries, etc.? How might these affect the online market? What do you think will be the single most important change in the next 2 years? the next 5 years? …?

    That’s all (then I would turn to the crowd and say “Hey, you… — is there anybody out there?” ;)

    ps — highly recommended: http://www.mediadis.com/music/detail.asp?id=168669 ;D

  6. John says:

    A few years ago, Microsoft was considering expanding its Mountain View/Silicon Valley presence, but decided to invest in Redmond instead. With Silicon Valley increasingly becoming the “center of the universe” with Web 2.0, with Google, Google/YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo!, eBay, etc… has Microsoft reconsidered a larger presence in Silicon Valley?

  7. SorenG says:

    I think bringing up Apple and Google, he will have some set answers that will not likely be that interesting, unless you frame them in unique way. Also, silverlight/Flash is way too early to say.

    My sense is that the energy is around this transition MS is in and how they will be a software company, ad company, game developer, and all the other things they do. Who are they now? Do they just follow the wind or does something connect all these?

    Talking about Google and Apple will need to have a fresh approach, something where his set answers do not work, and opens up a possibility for a creative response. Otherwise, it is just more the same, and he or his people have already figured out what to say — unless there is a twist that sparks an interest. Maybe “If he was graduating form college today, and had offers at Google and Apple but not MS, which one would he choose and why?”

  8. JC says:

    How is it going with Ray Ozzie? With Groove Networks, he was innovating in online apps. How much is he changing Microsoft and how much is Microsoft changing him? When will Microsoft offer its productivity suite completely online? If it is never, why not? Does Microsoft have a new paradigm for online apps? Or will it rely on catching up, as it did with web browser and silverlight?

  9. What are your predictions for Web 3.0? What strategies if any are in place in Microsoft to innovate in that area?

  10. MWW says:

    Whatever happened to the MsDewey.com search experiment? It appeared to give a little insight into Microsoft’s ideas of media convergence and search,however, it proved to be a half baked idea that didn’t reach it’s full potential.

    What else is Microsoft doing along these lines of innovation with relatively low investment?

    What is Microsoft working on that consumers would be surprised or shocked by?

  11. Dear Mr. Ballmer,

    Have you noticed the Google strategy lately? They have hugh traffic on Orkut, are thinking of replacing windows as an operating system on mobile, bought Jaiku to extend presence iinto social networks, have a unique advantage in RSS with Google Reader, Feedburner, and Jaiki (Mobile RSS),seem to be working on a Google PC, are buikding up fast in Asia (the place where payed mobile services actually work!) and oh they have the most used search engine in the world. Forget Windows Vista, it will be Google Everywhere as the new social operating system. What will you do about that?
    http://vanelsas.wordpress.com/2007/10/09/facebook-will-be-no-match-for-google/

  12. Rob Phillips says:

    How about asking him when/if he feels Google will lose its lustre and become viewed by the population as a Microsoft-like business. Even though it may be unpopular to say it i do see a lot of syncronicity between the two companies with regard to popular opinion. MS are just further along the cycle.

    When does ‘cool’ become ‘evil’?

  13. G says:

    John – how about one word quizzes starting with AMAZON – Amazon with its S3 and data services all of which will compete with MSFT’s soon to be public Astoria (data services), etc. – or on a lighter note, AMZN entrance into music services with MP3s.

  14. Hi John,

    I was at a conference in the UK last year where Steve was very excited about improvements in multiword searches, basically he said search got worse the more you tried to refine it with longer keyword combinations and that Microsoft were working hard on this…

    A year is up and I have tried all sorts of variations and live is IMHO the worst of the big 3.

    In essense i guess I would ask why they have spent so much resource making an advertising platform rather than developing platforms which users are going to be interested in and then worry about commercial side once that is fixed!?

    Facebook could of course help fix that…

    Richard

  15. Mike says:

    Why is Vista such a memory hog? And why did MS spend all this time programming the most annoying OS on the face of this planet? Rhetorical questions aside, how much does bad PR like this or this affect employee morale at Microsoft? And what do you make of the Microsoft Orchestra? Did you enjoy its most recent performance?

  16. John Battelle says:

    These are great guys thanks so much keep em coming if you can!

  17. Lee says:

    Great idea, the word game, but at least throw out words that aren’t so obvious; that aren’t essentially duplications of questions that you’ll already be asking him. Try words deeper in the sub-conscious. The point of the game is to stir up the mud a bit.

  18. Jeff Dalton says:

    What is Microsoft doing to become more agile? There has been a lot of growth by acquisition, but perhaps less ‘internal entrepreneurship’. What is MS doing to provide incentives and opportunities for employees to pursue their big ideas inside of the company instead of leaving to found startups?

    Where does MS see the biggest room for improvement in advertising technology / software? What are the big opportunities that MS sees for revenue growth? Yahoo is focused on ‘behavioral targeting’ as the future, is this true for MS as well?

    I would ask about Microsoft’s new “HealthVault” for consumer medical records and hosting sensitive user data. Why should I trust MS with my most sensitive information? Especially in light of MS’s advertising business plans.

    What does he think the role of natural language processing (i.e. Powerset) and structured information (as illustrated with Google Base) in next generation search? What is Microsoft doing in this area. Possibly leading into his thoughts on the next generation ‘data web’.

    I really like Richard’s question about search queries: When will I be able to enter a sentence or paragraph and get more relevant search results?

    What is Microsoft’s position on the 700 mhz spectrum auction and Google/Apple’s possible bid for bandwidth? Is Microsoft planning a bid? What opportunities are here for MS?

    New location based services (like Jaiku and DodgeBall) use GPS in hand-held devices to provide geographical and temporal context. What services is Microsoft working on that are mobile and location based? What does he think about the privacy implications of services knowing where everyone is and what they are doing?

    What does Steve think of “Universal Search”?

    What online services does he use that he couldn’t live without?

    What is Steve’s vision for Microsoft in 5 years, 10 years? What opportunities excite him?

    What is Microsoft doing to help adoption of Windows and Technology in developing countries? Some countries in Asia and South America are going Linux to avoid high software costs. Is Microsoft losing out on the opportunity for market growth in those parts of the world?

    That’s all for now :-).

  19. Marl Balou says:

    The Microsoft Shareholder has not seen any growth in the stock since mid 2001. In any other company if the shareholder has not seen stock growth for 6 years, the pressure would be on the board to change the top management. Is he being subjected to this pressure/scrutiny?

    The highly publicized “Integrated Innovation” strategy has not paid off and has resulted in product delays, bureaucracy as well as stifling innovation. Has he thought about fundamentally restructuring the company? ie Creating a holding company with six separate companies for each business that have their own tracking stocks – the assets could be split as follows: Windows/Office, Server business (Exchange/SQL etc), Business Solutions/CRM, MSN/Live, XBOX & Mobile

  20. Nick says:

    What do you think of the “co-opitition” movement, and have you heard of the book Blue Ocean Strategy? What do you make of companies that have succeeded with this strategy?

    When an innovative web 2.0 company pops up, we often see MS executives say things like “we could have built that in a week.” However, what is quite obvious to MS outsiders is the the Microsoft DNA could not have thought of it. Why even bother to try to be in product and service markets just because you have the technological know how but not the innovation/startup spirit?

    One of the key components of the open source movement is to allow really brilliant minds to tinker with code, to challenge assumptions, push the envelope. With the recent announcement that .Net is “open source,” but really, a look-but-don’t-touch the code PR move, do you think you might now be keeping even more great programmers from giving .Net a chance?

    If Apple, Google, Yahoo, and Sony all of the sudden started started offering a new, currently non-existent service or product that was not a core competency of any of them, would MS feel the need to compete, or is there a point where you just say, “offering service/product X just does not make sense for us”?

  21. Nick says:

    And for the word game: co-opitition.

  22. Neil says:

    Ask him what his favorite ice cream flavor is.

  23. nmw says:

    re potshots (Google reads email)

    Bob Parsons said (63 min into most recent GoDaddyLive Podcast [10/10/2007] ):

    Is email safer in the hands of Microsoft than Google? No: It’s safer with Godaddy!

  24. Brian Hayashi says:

    MSFT has been quietly working on home automation technology since 1993 and at the recent CEDIA show they showed off wireline and wireless versions of the “wired home” vision. Do they see apps incubated online, on the XBOX, etc., finding a home in, say, the refrigerator of tomorrow?