<IT WORLD> Ballmer tries out 'reimagining'
By Martin J Young
HUA HIN, Thailand - Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer is on top of the
latest buzzwords even as his company is looking increasingly passe in the world
of smartphones and other mobile gadgets. In particular, it is struggling to
re-kindle interest in a PC market beset by growing popularity of smaller
computers from laptops to phones and tablets.
Ballmer, at the company's conference this week for independent software
developers, said Microsoft itself was in the process of being "re-imagined", as
is Windows 8, the next version of what is still the world's most popular
operating system. He gave reassurances that Windows is still Microsoft's
and that version 8 will be the largest overhaul of the software since Windows
Windows 8 has been designed to run on devices that boot up faster, are more
power efficient, and have touch-screen interfaces, Apple has already cornered
this market with the iPad it released in 2009, and the company claims to have
already sold 28 million tablets.
Conversely Microsoft has sold almost 450 million copies of Windows 7, which it
is still promoting, since 2009. The current version of Windows has just
surpassed the decade-old Windows XP which was the most widely used version of
the operating system.
This week's conference also included the most extensive demonstration of
Windows 8 to date; Microsoft gave away 5,000 Samsung tablets running a
preliminary version of the operating system. It also made a preview version of
Windows 8 available for download for anyone wanting to test drive it; by
Wednesday morning over half a million copies had been downloaded.
Windows 8 will also break the traditional mould by being more
hardware-compatible and by running on both x86 Intel and ARM processor
architecture, the latter being very popular for mobile devices for their power
Several other company ventures were touted at the conference including the new
cloud platform, Azure, Office 365, which also works in the cloud, and Bing
integration with other products such as the Xbox.
A rather strange twist was the announcement that Internet Explorer 10, which
will come bundled with Windows 8, will not support browser plug-ins including
Adobe Flash. There will be two versions of the browser, a Metro edition, which
will use the tile-based platform found on Windows Phone 7, and a traditional
It is the Metro style IE that will not support Flash. A company executive
stated "Running Metro style IE plug-in free improves battery life as well as
security, reliability, and privacy for consumers,".
It is widely known that Adobe Flash plug-ins are very buggy and often cause
browser crashes. This was reasoning behind Apple's decision last year to ban
the software from its products.
Ballmer also boasted that "there is no phone, tablet, operating system on the
planet that will ship 350 million units of anything other than Windows."
Despite the hype, the stock market has painted a different picture in recent
Since Google went public in 2004, its stock has increased more than six-fold;
in the same period Microsoft shares have dropped. Apple shares have tripled in
value since the first iPhone was sold in 2007 and it now easily surpasses
Microsoft as the world's most valuable technology company. After the
conference, Microsoft shares closed up 46 cents at US$26.50 - though they have
still lost 5.1% of their value this year.
Further developments have occurred in the patent wars this week as Google
acquired over 1,000 of them from IBM in an effort to strengthen its portfolio
against litigation. The patent arsenal that Google is building is designed to
counter a hostile, organized campaign by rival companies such as Apple against
its Android mobile platform.
Google did not reveal any details as to the price or specifications of its
1,023 new patents, although the company blog re-emphasized its stance on patent
acquisition: "The tech world has recently seen an explosion in patent
litigation, often involving low-quality software patents, which threatens to
BlackBerry maker Research In Motion has had a rough week. Its third-quarter
earnings came in below expectations, helping to drive the company's stock down
almost 20%, or as much as US$5.75, in Thursday's extended trading to $29.54.
The shares have shed 49% in value this year.
As the company failed to keep up with rivals Apple, revenue tumbled 10% from a
year earlier to US$4.17 billion, far short of analysts' estimate of $4.47
billion. Apple's iPad outsold RIM's Playbook by 46 to 1 during the period, and
the recently launched array of new touch-screen Blackberry handsets have yet to
sway consumers to ditch their Apple or Android devices.
According to research firm Gartner, RIM's share of the global smart-phone
market fell to 12% in the second quarter from 19% the previous year. In the
same period, Apple climbed to 18% from 14%, and Google's Android surged to a
commanding 43% market share.
Martin J Young is an Asia Times Online correspondent based in Thailand.