Channel Watch

Ballmer's Annual Partner Pep Talk Isn't About Specifics

Steve Ballmer gave his annual keynote at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in New Orleans last month, and he didn't break much news.

The heavy-hitting news mostly came in other keynotes. Worldwide Partner Group Corporate Vice President Allison Watson talked about the substantial changes to Microsoft's channel program with the Microsoft Partner Network, and Microsoft Business Division President Stephen Elop revealed the pricing for Microsoft Azure. For more about both of those, see our online WPC coverage at and tune in next month for a lot more context.

There were a few headlines from the keynote about Ballmer's mild dissing of the Google Chrome operating system, which went one better than Chairman Bill Gates' recent "no comment" at a conference with Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt standing at his shoulder. A few outlets concentrated on Ballmer's WPC comments on the economy, in which he restated previously expressed views that the current situation is a "resetting" of the economy with less leverage, rather than a recession or depression.

In fact, like the resetting comment, Ballmer's speech was mostly comprised of recycled elements, many of which came from WPC keynotes of years past.

"I say the same thing every year, and I think it's important for me to say a couple of things every year. Maybe a little bit different-different tone, different style, different body English-but the most important thing I think I'll do in my entire time with you today is have a chance to say, 'Thank you,'" Ballmer began.

He also trotted out a familiar example for partners uneasy about Microsoft's moves into online services that compete with some of the things partners currently do. Ballmer talked once again about how much partners relied on writing TCP/IP stacks in the early 1990s. That business is long gone, but there are more partners now than ever.

More important than the specifics of what Ballmer said is the fact that the CEO of the company is taking time out of his schedule to be in front of partners. When Ballmer doesn't make a WPC, then it's time to worry.

Ballmer said the conference recharges his batteries: "It charges me up, it excites me, it fires me up to come here to talk to you, to hear your feedback, to hear what's on your mind, your concerns, your criticisms, your input, your feedback."

Partners share that feeling. I spoke with Dave Sobel, CEO of Evolve Technologies, about the advantages of covering the keynotes from the press room, where the media can stay connected and file stories immediately. Sobel mentioned that it would be nice to be connected even during the keynotes, but then paused and said he'd still want to be in the hall for Ballmer's keynote to absorb the energy coming off the stage.

Is Ballmer's routine a little corny? You bet. But you've got to admit there's something magical about Steve stalking around the stage, shadow boxing, yelling "boom" as he punches the air and listening to his voice rise in pitch and decibels as he fires himself-and the room-up.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.