Ballmer Busts Out the Bullishness

This just in: Microsoft's CEO is unsurprisingly enthusiastic about the company's future.
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CEO Steve Ballmer is getting tired of the company's analyst day.

Despite his first time in 17 years as leadoff speaker, Ballmer's message at the annual event in Redmond, Wash., was largely the same as previous years: Not surprisingly, Ballmer is bullish about Microsoft's prospects for innovation and growth.

But in perhaps an acknowledgment that the introductory speech is the same spiel as past years, Ballmer literally digressed into a series of verbal "blah, blah, blahs" as he talked about how the company's "innovation portfolio" -- in such areas as work flow, collaboration, antispam and search -- will drive its fundamental expansion. Those "blahs" came even as Ballmer touted these as "all areas in which the company is doing its best work."

On the other hand, perhaps the "blahs" were simply a nod to what Ballmer called the breadth of areas Microsoft is trying to move into.

"Let there be no doubt Microsoft is trying to innovate and is innovating against a broader spectrum of human endeavor ...

more than any other company in the information technology industry," he said boldly. For instance, Microsoft develops software for a broad range of devices, from PCs to televisions to telephones. "This is not a set of unconnected experiences," he said.

How does that translate to sales and income? It could become evident in the coming months, as Microsoft releases new versions of its software for mobile phones, Windows and Microsoft TV. "In the next year our product pipeline will double that of the last three years," Ballmer said. "We are committed to keeping up with the changing world."

And never one to shy away from hyperbole, Ballmer added, "The opportunity we have for growth is phenomenal."

While short on concrete details, Ballmer did offer some hints at how the company is viewing its much-anticipated and delayed new release of Windows, recently renamed Vista from its prior codename Longhorn.

Similar to how Microsoft's Windows XP Professional edition drove billions of dollars of revenue growth beyond the home edition, Microsoft plans to release an enterprise edition of Windows Vista when it becomes generally available at the end of next year, Ballmer said. Microsoft plans to do the same with the next version of Office, due out the same time as Vista.

Ballmer didn't go into any details about what it would contain -- that could come from a later presentation from Will Poole, senior vice president of Windows Client.

But Ballmer did say, "I think of it

Vista as the next generation of products from Microsoft."

Similarly, Ballmer seemingly tried to assuage concerns about Microsoft playing second fiddle to


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on the Internet.

"We are very, very, very, very committed about driving our presence with that community vs. any and all competitors in the marketplace," he said, referring to the billions of Internet users around the world.

"We have won in the desktop," Ballmer said. "Now we're really going to win in the Web. We'll expand our services so we're the No. 1 place to advertise."

And although analysts have generally disregarded Microsoft's smaller divisions such as mobile that have yet to generate profit, Ballmer declared: "They are really poised to take off."

The one area where it's most evident that Microsoft is becoming more aggressive is acquisitions. Ballmer said the company is still unlikely to go forward with any blockbuster deals but has "dialed up the pace" of acquisitions in the $100 million to $500 million range to bring total acquisitions to $1 billion to $2 billion a year, Ballmer said.

And perhaps most interestingly, Ballmer added, the company is a big buyer of its own stock, with plans to buy back more than 10% of the company's value.

Shares of Microsoft recently inched up 8 cents, or 0.3%, to $25.80.