Ballmer Bites Back, Disses the iPad

Ballmer responds to Steve Jobs' PC-knocking remarks, likening his Apple counterpart's vision of tech to an elitist fantasy

Ladies and gentlemen, step up to the ring: We've got a good old-fashioned Microsoft-Apple battle a-brewin'.

In one corner, you have Steve Jobs, the turtleneck-loving, porn-hating Apple CEO who says the "post-PC era" is upon us.

In the other, you have Steve Ballmer, the "developers!"-chanting, fancy-dancing Microsoft boss who likens Jobs' vision of technology to an elitist fantasy.

This week, the two forces indirectly clashed onstage at The Wall Street Journal's D8 conference in Southern California. And, suffice it to say, some colorful comments ensued -- comments that, depending upon whose side you believe, could foreshadow some interesting things for the future of business computing. After all, as conventional wisdom goes, Apple has a legacy of downplaying the business market that Microsoft has courted for 30 years.

Steve vs. Steve: PCs, iPads, and the Future of Computing

First, the background: The Microsoft-Apple argument started when Jobs took the stage at D8 on Tuesday. Speaking with the Journal's Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Jobs delivered the sure-to-be-eternally-quoted line: "PCs are going to be like trucks."

(It's safe to say he didn't mean they'd be powerful and reliable -- you know, "like a rock.")

Jobs went on to elaborate, suggesting that PCs would always be around but would eventually be used only by "one out of 'x' people" -- leaving it up to you to fill in the ominous variable.

"This transformation's going to make some people uneasy," Jobs said. "People from the PC world."

(Side note: Woohoo! Steve Jobs just mentioned PCWorld. Well, OK -- sort of.)

Ballmer's D8 Rebuttal

Fast-forward to Thursday, when Steve Ballmer got his turn up on the D8 stage. Ballmer contradicted Jobs' remarks, declaring that the age of the PC was anything but over.

"I think people are going to be using PCs in greater and greater numbers for many years to come," he said. "There may be a reason why they call them 'Mack Trucks,' but Windows machines are not going to be trucks -- they're not."

Ballmer went on to knock the idea of owning a different device for every purpose -- say, an iPad for the road, an iPhone for the pocket, and an iMac for the home -- suggesting that such a concept might seem realistic within the "bubble" of a tech conference but would never prove feasible for the majority of consumers.

"I think there will exist a general purpose device that does everything you want, because I don't think the whole world's going to be able to afford five devices per person," Ballmer said.

Finally, Microsoft's main man directly dissed the iPad, saying the famed tablet itself was merely a "different form factor of PC" -- and proceeding to take a jab at its practical uses.

"A guy tried to take notes on one in a meeting with me yesterday. That was fun," Ballmer quipped. "The meeting didn't go real fast."

The Battle in the Business World

When it comes to mobile tech and business, both Ballmer and Jobs may soon be battling a common enemy. Apple's iPad is sure to face stiff competition from the soon-to-hit onslaught of Android-based tablets, which will offer corporate decision-makers far more options in terms of both hardware and carriers (not to mention far fewer restrictions in terms of content and applications). The iPad, after all, is more geared for consuming than creating content. A true mobile road warrior needs a device that's built for the latter.

For Microsoft, with its thus-far-tablet-free shelves, the bigger threat may be Google's upcoming Chrome OS. The operating system, set to debut sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, will bring a lightweight, open source alternative to netbooks and potentially desktop PCs as well. And if Google's able to get businesses on-board with its cloud-driven vision, Microsoft may be in for another serious fight.

For now, though, it looks like it's tech's oldest feud that's taking center stage yet again. Ah, nostalgia.

JR Raphael is a PCWorld contributing editor and the co-founder of eSarcasm. He's on Facebook: facebook.com/The.JR.Raphael

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JR Raphael

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