Today's the launch of Microsoft Office 2010 here in Singapore, and coincidentally (or not) it's the 20th anniversary of when Microsoft Singapore first started with only 3 employees. These days, Microsoft employs 750 personnel here, and as you know, is one of the biggest players in the local and regional IT industry. Most of the computers used today are running Windows, and this also extends to the enterprise and corporate sector where they a have strong presence and an even bigger ecosystem of Microsoft software and services used.
Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, was here today in Singapore to officiate the launch of Microsoft Office. If you think about how broad the adoption is of the Office suite from consumers all the way up to through the various corporate organization levels, it's little wonder why the CEO of the biggest software company in the world is personally here to kick-start the new chapter of this productivity software (which unfortunately is often the unsung hero). While the keynote was pretty much about the features of Microsoft 2010 and working in the cloud, we did manage to get the busy CEO answering some questions during a 30 minutes interview session. Here's what he had to say on some of the topics we probed:-
Office 2010 offers among other things, free web apps that you can use, but that's doesn't mean Microsoft has no plans to make money from this service. Instead the web apps will work on a freemium model, i.e. the basics are free, but you will have to pay for more advanced features. Likewise, business users will have the options for other features that will obviously cost more.
Surprisingly, Ballmer thinks that Google's a good competitor, slightly ahead in Search, but he did assure us that they are working hard on Bing. In fact, he said that Bing is aimed at helping users make decisions, to the point where fewer decisions may help the user make decisions better/faster. (We don't agree, but that's his opinion). Also, he doesn't think that the reason Google is withdrawing from China is because of security. Bad guys are everywhere, he says, so you can't just blame them.
He also adds that censorship is everywhere and that there are various levels of censorships depending on the country. And while Microsoft makes the effort to comply with censorship take-down notices to protect their employees in China from being jailed, they will put a notice that the information has been taken down to alert users. Microsoft believes that they can do more by staying in the country to promote free speech as opposed to Google's choice to leave.
"In the consumer side of the market, I would agree with you, Google's a good competitor. We're a little ahead in the email side in terms of customer and base, they're a little ahead on the search side and we're working hard with Bing...On the business side, Google has a pretty weak offer today. If you really look at the capabilities in their cloud applications for a corporate account, what it lets you do, the capabilities, the security, I think we are quite a bit up front."
When asked about the canceled Courier and upcoming tablet devices, Ballmer didn't hesitate one bit. He firstly mentioned different type of tablets, with and without keyboards, like the Lenovo X200t, and that these devices will be better at productivity aspects compared to the competition. He even cracked a few jokes as we were using an iPad to take notes of the interview.
"Some of them (tablets) may or may not look like competition, but will be better at some of the productivity aspects than perhaps competition. I see you working on a tough keyboard to type on (points at our iPad), with respect, I'd be happy to get you a PC; your job would be easier right now (laughs)! I'm just having a little fun."
On the iPad, he also gives another example - it weighs 1.6 pounds, and holding it up to watch a movie can be tiring, while a heavier notebook at 2.6 pounds resting on your lap makes for a better device to watch movies with.
Lastly, there will be new designs for tablets featuring new chips, which are in the making. When queried on the possibility of Windows Phone 7 devices, Ballmer says that right now, he just wants to ship Windows Phone 7 mobile phones, and we agree. We can't wait for the new phones to come out too.
Well, we only had 30 minutes during the interview session, but it didn't feel that long - much, much shorter in fact. Steve Ballmer's a busy man, so that was certainly an interesting interview. Stay tuned for more updates to follow-up this special session, which possibly includes a video too.