Ballmer, Kawasaki go barb-for-barb on MacBook Air

Freewheeling interview offers shots and praise for Microsoft, Act II of developer rant

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer says he's much too fired up about software and the challenges it presents to trade it for sitting at home working on his golf game.

"I like good challenges and we have one," he said during a freewheeling, jovial interview with former Apple evangelist turned venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki.

The question-and-answer session, which took place at Microsoft's annual Mix conference for developers, featured Ballmer's somewhat corporate answers to questions about Yahoo, Google, social networking, Internet Explorer, mobile devices and the forthcoming departure of colleague Bill Gates.

But the highlight may have been the good-natured verbal sparring between Kawasaki and Ballmer over the MacBook Air, which Kawasaki had in an envelope on his lap.

"That thing is heavier than the Toshiba I carry," said Ballmer

When Kawasaki remarked that it was more powerful than Ballmer's Toshiba, he shot back, "that thing is missing half the features of a PC. Where is your DVD drive? Let me look for that."

Ballmer eventually held the MacBook and then slid out of his chair and fell to his knees faking that it was too heavy to hold up.

Kawasaki then remarked that DVDs were passe, to which Ballmer bellowed, "tell that to your kids on a long flight, pal."

Kawasaki, who now runs Garage Technology Ventures, laughed and told Ballmer, "I'm never going to invite you back to Mix."

In another light moment, an audience member asked Ballmer to show some love for Web developers like he had done in the past for developers as part of the famous "Monkey Boy" dance video that made the rounds on the Internet a few years back.

Ballmer, always the salesman, obliged, standing up and yelling "Web developers, Web developers, Web developers" to the delight of the crowd.

When Ballmer said Apple had punted on the opportunity to get into the services game, Kawasaki said, "Apple might say you punted on the OS."

Ballmer quickly added, "They'd be wrong. Everyday, statistically, they would be wrong. Last time I checked we had a very high market share."

"Especially in the EU," joked Kawasaki.

"No comment," Ballmer said with a smile.

But Kawasaki wasn't all biting barbs. He congratulated Ballmer on Microsoft's success with Xbox and with Exchange e-mail synchronization, saying he could not live without it on this mobile device. And Kawasaki saluted the company in general.

"For the past few years I have been working with Microsoft a lot and it is a different Microsoft," Kawasaki told Ballmer. "There is not the arrogance, the bullying aspect, these people are really smart, really hard working, they answer e-mail faster than other companies, and I want to give you a little bit of praise."

"Thanks, that is very nice," said Ballmer.

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John Fontana

Network World

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