When it comes to quotable CEOs, Steve Ballmer may not be the best in the business, but he has managed come up with some zingers.
As he prepares to make his transition from top dog at Microsoft, we thought it would be a good time to survey some of the most memorable Ballmerisms of past years, and see how they worked out in practice. Some are prescient, others scary – and in some cases he's flat out wrong.
10. "Fucking Eric Schmidt is a fucking pussy. I'm going to fucking bury that guy, I have done it before, and I will do it again. I'm going to fucking kill Google."
This one goes in at number 10 because it's not rock-solid attributable – but it's too good not to use.
According to court documents, Ballmer flew off the handle in 2005 when Microsoft staffer Mark Lucovsky told him of his plans to move to Google. Lucovsky claims in a sworn statement that Ballmer also picked up a chair and threw it across the room in a fit of rage during the meeting.
Ballmer described the account as a "gross exaggeration," and said that he's made a commitment not to swear, but you can't help feeling that there might be a grain of truth in it. Ballmer is well known to have an explosive temper and is prone to throwing his weight around in meetings.
The thought of an enraged 6ft 5in. Ballmer screaming abuse "haunts my nightmares," one Redmond employee told this hack after more than a few drinks. I can see her point.
9. "All in, baby! We are winning, winning, winning, winning."
This is a comparatively recent one from Ballmer, a 2011 quote from the Web 2.0 conference on Microsoft's cloud policy.
Certainly Microsoft is more heavily invested in cloud services than some might have thought, and might have been even further advanced if Ray Ozzie hadn't been encouraged to leave the company by office politics. But winning? Amazon might have something to say about that; Salesforce.com too, and even Larry "I invented cloud" Ellison might quibble.
The quote also borrows from Ballmer's love of poker. He and Bill Gates bonded over late-night poker sessions at Harvard, and the language of the game is something he uses frequently.
8. "I've got my kids brainwashed: You don't use Google, and you don't use an iPod."
Another thing Gates and Ballmer agree on is that their kids must use Microsoft kit. Both men have said that their various offspring aren't allowed iPods and iPhones, but you have to wonder how the children got on with homework if they had to eschew Google.
It's got to be frustrating being in that family. Sure, daddy's one of the richest man on the planet, but what use is that to a teenager in school who's stuck using a duff phone because their father wants to make a point?
Ballmer is, however, missing a trick with this one. It's natural and normal for kids to rebel against their parents. With his luck, and this upbringing, Ballmer's brood will end up working for Cupertino or Mountain View or worse, amateur dramatics.
7. "Apple gained about one point, but now I think the tide has really turned back the other direction."
No, this isn't the iPhone quote – that comes later. This one refers to Apple's laptop business, and came at a 2009 tech conference.
Ballmer said that the global recession would cut into Apple's laptop market share because people were paying $500 more for Apple laptops with very little to justify the expenditure other than brand value. With less money in people's pockets, he reasoned, Apple was in trouble.
Apple certainly doesn't seem to have noticed this, and sales of its laptops have grown rather nicely over the last four years. Sure, there are dips and troughs in demand, but there's no sign that penny-pinching consumers are showing disdain for the prices Apple charges.
6. "DRM is the future"
Steve Ballmer is a big fan of digital rights management; it "puts food on the table" as he says.
The problem is that end users aren't particularly keen on DRM if it decreases the quality of their computing life. When it's done well, DRM can be perfectly acceptable to many people, but the problem is that it's seldom done well – and that holds particularly true for Microsoft.
It could be argued that the focus on DRM is one of the main factors behind the failure of Microsoft Media Center, besides the fact it didn't work very well. Windows 8 is the first operating system since Media Center started not to ship with the software (although it is available as an add-on) and it is being quietly shuffled under the carpet to let Xbox take over.
DRM will always be with us, but more and more people in the industry are looking to eliminating it and maintaining an acceptable level of piracy. You can understand why Ballmer likes DRM, but the future looks a lot more open than he suggested.
The big fella's bête noire
5. "I don't really know that anybody's proven that a random collection of people doing their own thing actually creates value."
Back to Ballmer's bête noire; Google. In 2007 when speaking to a collection of Stanford students, he derided Google's 20 per cent policy, which allowed staffers to work on their own projects, and called its hiring policy "insane".
The "arrive early/leave late" ethos at Microsoft has been ingrained from the start – Bill Gates once had a screaming row with cofounder Paul Allen because the latter skipped work for a day to go and watch the first shuttle launch. Ballmer has fully supported the policy, and it is certainly noticed if you're not putting the hours in on campus.
Google has reportedly been pulling back on the 20 per cent time system (a claim the company denies), but it's difficult to argue it hasn't had its successes. So far it has spawned Google Reader, AdSense, the driverless car program much beloved of Sergey Brin, and the regular transparency reports Google introduced to the industry.
Not all of these have paid off – yet – but there's more than a few of them that have had a real benefit to Google's bottom line and image within the industry.
This 2004 comment to British hacks was technically right at the time. Not all of the music on iPods was illegally downloaded, but this was a time when the music industry was trying to tell consumers that simply ripping the CDs you'd bought was theft.
But the quote is telling in that it showed quite how little Ballmer understood the consumer market, which has become something of a theme during his tenure as CEO. Yes, Apple's DRM systems weren't as tight as Microsoft's, but that's one of the reasons Apple was so popular – rights management interfering with and irritating buyers.
You also don't win people over by calling them names, something other people in the industry should bear in mind (we're talking to you, Mr. Schmidt).
3. "Linux is not in the public domain. Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches. That's the way that the license works."
Back in the dotcom bust period of 2001, Steve Ballmer went on something of a rant about the licensing terms of open-source software and created this memorable gem.
The fact is, open source has never been so popular, and far from being a cancer it has spawned a whole host of useful code and has left companies like Red Hat with very healthy balance sheets. What Ballmer should have added is that Linux is cancer to Microsoft's business plan.
That attitude led to the long and fruitless fight against Linux in a proxy war using litigation by SCO, which was at least partially funded by Microsoft. With SCO now in the dustbin of history after countless millions were wasted in legal fees, the whole affair looks like a colossal waste of time.
Redmond is still remarkably resistant to open source but appears to be coming around on the issue. Some things are too big to ignore – Apache springs to mind – and Microsoft could have benefitted from taking a little more time to work with the open-source community rather than fighting a Canute-like battle against it.
2. "$500, fully subsidized, with a plan! That is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn't appeal to business customers because it doesn't have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine."
This quote, from a TV interview shortly after the iPhone was announced, shows just how badly Ballmer didn't get the mobile market.
Ballmer was scathing about the device, pointing out that Microsoft was selling millions of phones and suggesting that Steve Jobs had made a very big mistake with the iPhone. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ballmer took personal control of the Windows Phone team in 2009 after the operating system became an industry byword for how not to do a mobile OS in the face of the polished performance of iOS and Android's popularity. The results have been mixed, to say the least.
While Windows Phone 7 did win some adherents, and Phone 8 looks likely to wrest third place in the market from the struggling BlackBerry, we're still talking about a tiny percentage of the entire smartphone market. Microsoft's attempts to extend its position from the desktop to the handset are continuing, but there's no way it's going to seriously challenge Android or Apple any time soon.
1. "Developers, developers, developers, developers."
This is the quote for which Ballmer is best known after he put in a disturbing performance at Microsoft's 25th anniversary celebrations in 2000.
A shiny-faced Ballmer leapt around the stage clapping his hands and chanting the words "developers" to illustrate where Microsoft should be putting its attention. Ballmer was praised by some for his enthusiasm but the sight of him screaming at the audience with huge sweat stains in his shirt spawned the "Monkey Boy" meme that still haunts him to this day.
He carried on doing similar presentations for a while, shifting the chant to "web developers" at one stage, but has now retired from such antics, telling the Web 2.0 conference in 2011 that at his age it was just getting too tiring.
Nevertheless, the internet never forgets, and there have been some truly inspired remixes of Ballmer's chant which El Reg suspects will be around longer than he is. ®
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