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Ballmer: Microsoft and Apple are “two trick ponies”

By Sean Mitchell, 06 May 2014
FYI, this story is more than a year old

“I’m nervous,” stuttered Steve Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO now in unfamiliar territory.

Standing in front of students at the Oxford Union, Redmond’s former leader looked uncharacteristically reserved as he offered his thoughts on the future of Microsoft.

“This is the first speech I’ll give — and maybe the last, too, if it doesn’t go well — as something other than a Microsoft employee,” he told the audience.

After stepping down from his role in February, Ballmer is now the company’s biggest shareholder, and given evidence of this speech, still one the Microsoft’s biggest supporters.

When asked about Microsoft’s success, both past and present, Ballmer referred to the tech giant as a “two-trick pony”.

Arguing that successful companies such as Coca-Cola are “one-trick ponies” in that they do one thing superbly well, Ballmer branded the soda maker’s success as “basically a 100-year-old trick.”

“There are no 100-year tricks in the technology business,” he added. “In a lot of businesses, you are forced to do a second trick or you die.”

Alluding to the modern PC as Redmond’s first trick, Microsoft’s second was working closely with IBM to incorporate microprocessors into the way businesses work.

“We’re an amazing company because we did two tricks,” he added, before also branding Apple as a “two-trick pony” too.

“They’re an amazing company because they did two tricks,” he said, referring to the Macintosh and low-power touch computing such as the iPod.

“We’ve done two tricks and those will go for a lot of years. But in our industry, you have to do a third trick.”

The third trick? Somewhere in the cloud services and hardware devices space.

“How do I get a virtual digital assistant that’s with me always, that knows about me, that knows about the world and can act in my behalf?” he questioned, before telling students the importance of passion in the workplace.

“Too many people don’t really get revved up, fired up, consumed — heart, body and soul — by what they do, and yet I find that sort of really sad,” he said.

“You really want to do something you can fall in love with, particularly coming right after college.”

What next for Microsoft?

Facebook and Whatsapp…

Software open for all…

Which other companies are “two-trick ponies”?

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