Microsoft CEO -- IE 8 delays, Vista "painful" to customers, MacBook Air not up to snuff

At Microsoft's MIX08 conference in Las Vegas, an annual Microsoft conference for web developers and designers, many people were waiting in anticipation for Steve Ballmer to let loose.  Ballmer's keynote was co-hosted by a surprising guest -- early Apple employee and venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki. 

Kawasaki, instrumental in developing the original Mac computer, played the role of interviewing Ballmer and prodding him with tough questions.  The audience also did its best to get Ballmer going and get him to open up.  Ballmer did not fail to entertain, as well as inform.

Among the first questions fielded by Kawasaki were about the possible Yahoo-Microsoft merger.  Ballmer emphasized that he sees the hostile takeover as critical to online advertising, a key field in Ballmer's mind.  He said, "We have worked really hard to make it clear that we have real commitment, real aspiration and real tenacity about being a very serious player in the world of search and advertising.  Advertising on the Internet is a big thing and will be the next super big thing.  We've got a long way to go! And Yahoo seems to be a way to accelerate that because of the critical mass that's required to really compete."

Ballmer said that search was the "killer app" of the advertising industry.   When Kawasaki questioned Ballmer about rival Google, Ballmer at first refused to say the rival's name, almost repeating a previous answer.  After some ribbing from Kawasaki, Ballmer relented. "I can say 'Google'" he repeated.

On Apple Ballmer was less than praise-filled.  At one point, when asked questions about Windows Vista, Ballmer distracted Kawasaki by grabbing his MacBook Air.  He then held up the computer and pronounced, "You got Vista on that thing?  This is heavier than my PC. It's true! That thing is heavier than the Toshiba that I carry.  Where's your DVD drive?  We'll get rid of this. We'll get you a real machine, and then you can e-mail me your feedback."

Kawasaki inquired about Ballmer's dislike for Apple, stating, "When you wake up in the morning, what do you think about Apple? Is it this little Chihuahua that you kick away every time?"

A very energetic Ballmer proceeded to bark and howl like a dog, before responding in a concilliatory tone, "Apple does a pretty good job, I'm not going to take away from anything that Apple does. We also do a pretty good job, and we're going to drive hard.  Apple's taken away a little share."

On Windows Vista, Ballmer tried at first to avoid Kawasaki's question "What's the deal with Vista? Seriously", but eventually was compelled to respond.  Ballmer replied, first praising Vistas adoption, but then acknowledging, "we did make the choice to kind of hurt compatibility, and our customers have let us know that has been very painful."

Ballmer also talked a bit about Internet Explorer, which is one of the major attractions at the show.  Regarding the slow progress coming out with IE8, Ballmer stated, "Obviously, we can ship browsers separate from the operating system, but we were really thinking through that next-generation design."  Ballmer then acknowledged that the delay had been "painfully long for customers".

A tidbit about possible XBox 360 Blu-Ray was dropped when Ballmer answered an audience question on the topic.  He replied,  "We've already been working on, for example, in Windows, device driver support for Blu-ray drives and the like, and I think the world moves on. Toshiba has moved on. We've moved on, and we'll support Blu-ray in ways that make sense."

Despite the interesting somewhat more serious opinions of Ballmer, the highlight for many occurred during the Q&A session.  An audience member asked Ballmer to do a "web developers" dance to which Ballmer, obliged, as seen here.  After screaming like a madman, Ballmer returned to his seat, pumped up, quipping to the audience member, "If you just gave the guy behind you a dollar, I want fifty cents."

One issue decidely absent in Ballmer's interview -- any sort of progress update on Windows Home Server, which after heavy marketing remains dead in the water, crippled by growing data loss problems.

A full video of the keynote is found here.

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