Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Steve Ballmer speak to two audiences, first at Microsoft’s Partner Briefing on transitioning to the cloud (#pbbcloud) and then at the UK TechDays Special Event on the future of cloud development (#uktechdays).
I’m sorry I didn’t catch the name of the guy who asked Mr Ballmer a question about Windows tablets in the TechDays question and answer session, but I was certainly very interested to hear the Microsoft CEO’s reaction:
Question: “We haven’t had a Windows tablet come out yet [...] we do see the prototypes coming out all the time but I do remember you saying that it’s going to run full Windows 7. [...] are we going to have like a tablet version of Windows Phone 7 or a tablet of Windows Embedded 7 coming out? [...] To me, although [Windows 7] is touch enabled, I don’t think it’s great for a small 7″, 9″ device.”
Mr Ballmer’s response: “Yeah, what you’ll see over the course of the next year is us doing more and more work with our hardware partners creating hardware-software optimisations with Windows 7 and with Windows 7 Media Center [...] Media Center is big and, when people say ‘hey, we could optimise more for clients’ I think what they generally mean is ‘Big Buttons’. Big Buttons that’s, I think, a codeword for Big Buttons and Media Center is Big Buttons not Little Buttons. I’m not trying to trivialise that – it’s a real issue.
We’re not going to do a revamp of Windows 7 over the course of the next year for that purpose. Whether we should, or we shouldn’t, we’ve put all our energy around doing a great job on that and other issues in the next version of Windows so we will do optimisations to have devices that look really good, that run Windows, that are very good for touch applications which we will encourage people to write. We will do things that improve – it turns out that if we just optimise settings and the configuration of Windows it can be a lot more usable through touch, even on today’s systems – we’re doing that work with the OEMs. We’re doing work with the OEMs to make sure that they treat ink also as a first class citizen. None of our competitors products actually do a very good [job]. I saw a poor guy in a speech I did out down the hall, he had one of our competitors’ devices and he was sitting there crouched over with this thing on his knees, bent and there’s no keyboard – and he was in torture using that poor non-Windows slate device [audience laughs].
And for some of you, [you] do the same but I think we can make life a little simpler for people, if we do the right job. Can we do better by optimising – yep – guy’s got one at the back – you can bend over too, I’ll tell ya! [audience laughs]
The truth of the matter is the laptop weighs less – you can set it on your lap, it doesn’t weigh anything at that point and then you can type. I’m not trying to say there’s not a place for touch-optimised slate-based devices, obviously we have shown enthusiasm about that before but you’ll see some optimisations coming in the course of the next year and some of the devices that convert, that have a keyboard, that flip around – I think some of those will be also pretty useful for people in the course of the next year.”
[I've tried to get the text word-perfect here but I was at the back of the room and the audio recording was not fantastic... this is certainly what it sounds like to me].
The thing is, I was that “non-Windows slate device” user down the hall (and I was the guy at the back of the room when he said this) and the only reason I was in “torture” (which, of course, was a slight overdramatisation for comedy effect) was that I was squashed into a row of seats between two other guys and I was bending forward so that we weren’t sitting there with shoulders pressed together like sardines in a tin can. I was also juggling a camera (on my Nokia phone), a voice recorder (on my iPhone) and taking notes/tweeting on the iPad whilst listening to Mr Ballmer. Ironically, the reason I took my iPad to the event was that my Windows devices are so bad for portability (to be honest, so is my MacBook – this is not about Windows but about the device form factor). My netbook has to be coaxed through the day with Wi-Fi switched off in order to get more than a few hours out of the battery; my 15″ laptop only goes 2-3 hours between charges (newer models may be better, but I can’t change laptops at the drop of a hat); meanwhile, I find the iPad easy enough to type on in landscape mode, it turns on/off instantly and, after 8 hours taking notes and tweeting yesterday, it still had an indicated battery charge of 55%. If Microsoft produced a slate that did that, I would have been using it but they don’t and, based on what Ballmer had to say yesterday, it may be some time before they finally “get it” (I wrote last month about what I think Microsoft needs to do to keep Windows relevant in the mobile computing space).
As Mary Jo Foley wrote yesterday, this year’s Windows 7 slates won’t be under my Christmas tree.