Chris Alexander

On Engineering

Ballmer at #uktechdays: Smart Devices + The Cloud

5th October, 2010

Today’s #uktechdays coverage is sponsored by Mobile Phone Checker, helping you find the best mobile phone contract deals online.

This morning Steve Ballmer kicked off the UK Tech Days special event with a keynote address. He started off by saying he wanted to talk about some special opportunities and exciting products and services. While Ballmer’s presentations are notoriously hard to follow, he made some excellent points and I can now see Microsoft’s product strategy for the past 12 and coming 12 months making a lot more sense.

You’re developers - my favourite people. Ballmer

Ballmer mentioned that initially it was expected that mobile device and cloud interaction would take the form of “stupid” mobile devices acting like thin clients to the cloud. But consumers demanded more and more powerful mobile devices, and we got to where we are approaching today - ridiculously powerful devices (1GHz+ processors, 256MB+ RAM, 32GB+ storage) with always-on connections to the cloud.

People want more intelligent clients, but tied to the power of the cloud. This is the idea behind IE9. Ballmer

Where before we had Software + Services, we now have Cloud + Devices. To Ballmer, this also extends to IE9. Where Cloud Services are there to enhance the experience on mobile devices, IE 9 is a portal to web applications to enhance the desktop. This is evidenced by the tight integration between IE9 and Windows 7 (more on that later).

We learnt a lot about the cloud when writing Bing. We have hundreds of thousands of servers behind it. We want to let you use those tools. Ballmer

The usual Ballmer keynote features were in there. The shouting (“I LOVE PHONES” and “Developers! Developers! Developers!”‘ less catchy cousin “SharePoint! SharePoint! SharePoint”), Google bashing (“Unlike Google, if you write an app for Windows Phone 7, it will work on all Windows Phone 7 phones”) and so on. We also managed to get some awkward questions in - @serialseb asked why Microsoft essentially continuously screws over the open-source .NET community by creating then open-sourcing competitors to existing projects (Answer: “Is that a question?”. In his defence he did write it down immediately). I also asked what Microsoft had been doing to work with other browser vendors to ensure a great HTML 5 development experience cross-browser for web devs, to which he replied that they had been working mostly with the W3C, and then recalled Microsoft’s contributions to tests for HTML 5 browsers.

I came away from Ballmer’s presentation actually quite impressed. His enthusiasm, commitment and vision have never been doubted. But I was extremely impressed by the accuracy, competence and general deep understanding he displayed when asked questions on a wide variety of subjects. From mine on the development of IE 9 to Sebastian’s about open-souce policy, right through to a BPOS question and Xbox Live discussions, his answers were always concise, to the point, and entirely accurate.