Ballmer tries to defend Microsoft from cynical students

Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, tried to defend his company at a university lecture where it was heavily criticised for failing to succeed in a multitude of markets.

The chair of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington, Ed Lazowska, slated Microsoft for its failure to deliver some of its technological developments, such as tablet computers, interactive TV, and digital music players in a viable way despite rivals like Apple using the same products to revitalise their businesses.

Ballmer attempted to defend Microsoft’s track record, saying: “There are plenty of areas where we’ve been first and have had clear success.”

Under continuing pressure from critical students of the University he admitted that there were some lessons to learn, but he stopped shy of literally saying that Microsoft made any mistakes.

“Probably the lesson or reminder is in a sense success in a commercial sense or in an adoption sense requires doing a lot of things right,” he said. “The innovation, delivery model, hardware, software, services, branding and timing all must be right in order to be successful. There are cases where that went brilliantly and cases that we’re working on.”

Ballmer struggled to explain the difficulty in developing a new product and how it’s hard to predict how a market will react – or how much investment is needed.

“Everything’s a set of judgements. I wouldn’t say we have 100 percent fluidity to switch things around on a dime. We have to decide when to build new expertise and what expertise to build. There’s not a science to it. There’s no formula that says spend x percent on y.”

One student asked Ballmer about a perceived recruiting problem Microsoft faced, in comparison to some other companies who are seen to be making more progress. Ballmer vehemently denied that Microsoft was experiencing recruiting difficulties, saying: “we’re right up there with anyone on the planet.”

Lazowska backed Ballmer up on this by saying that Microsoft hires more Computer Science graduates from the University of Washington, around 30 per year, than any other company.

While Ballmer may be keen to defend Microsoft’s track record, there’s also his own track record of verbal blunders he needs to constantly answer for.