Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) would not comment last week in the aftermath of Google’s announcement that it would launch a PC operating system by mid-2010—but CEO Steve Ballmer was more than happy to talk about it at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference in New Orleans Tuesday. “First of all, I will be respectful,” he said. “Who knows what this thing is. To me, the Chrome OS thing is highly interesting (in) that it wont happen for a year and a half and they already announced an operating system.”
He went on to say that he did not understand why Google (NSDQ: GOOG) needed two operating systems—Android and Chrome OS. “I don’t really know what’s up at Google,” he said. (Google has said that unlike Android, Chrome OS is designed specifically for people who spend most of their time on the web).
As for Microsoft’s own plans, Ballmer said the company did not see a need for a web-only operating system, noting that 50 percent of the time that people spend on their PCs is not spent in the browser. “The model of the future brings together the best of todays rich client Windows-style applications and some of the things that people consider the best of the web,” he said. “We dont need a new operating system, what we need to do is to continue to evolve Windows, Windows applications, (Internet Explorer), the way IE works in totality with Windows and how we build applications like Office.” Of course, any statement to the contrary would contradict what has practically become Microsoft’s motto—that people will want to supplement desktop software, not replace it, via the internet.
Other highlights from Ballmer’s on stage interview with Fortune editor-at-large Geoffrey Colvin:
—European Commission antitrust inquiry: Microsoft has said it will ship Windows without Internet Explorer in Europe in an attempt to placate European antitrust officials who are investigating whether Microsoft violated antitrust law by bundling the two products together. “Removing IE was the thing that was most consistent with European law,” Ballmer said. “We’ll move forward on that basis.”
—“I’m A PC” ads: Ballmer said that the ads had worked—and the company doesn’t plan to stop running them.
—Pep talk: Ballmer is known for his bursts of enthusiasm and he did not disappoint, ending the interview by walking around the stage while swinging his arms and telling the audience of Microsoft partners that “Despite the economy, we can really get out there and pump (up) the volume.”
By Joseph Tartakoff