Steve Ballmer should no longer be misunderstood

I'd mulled over my post on Steve Ballmer being misunderstood for a long time before I actually posted it. I wanted it to be known that he is in fact one of the most intelligent human beings on the planet, and I Steve Ballmer screaming Web Developersfelt that way for more than just personal reasons. I think the giant crowd that is here at MIX'08 got a glimpse of the Steve Ballmer that I have known, and I believe in. Guy Kawasaki interviewed Ballmer (video) in front of several thousand people live, and several thousand more watching online.

Ballmer is not the technical powerhouse of Microsoft - in fact he acknowledged that when Guy asked him about Bill Gates' plans come June this year. But the articulate, concise, amiable, humorous and yet PR-friendly way in which Ballmer answered all of Guy's questions was just plain freaking amazing. He even took questions from a technical audience and answered each and every one of them brilliantly and most importantly, factually (which is Ballmer's way of handling any question - factually). Did you notice how he was quoting market share and revenue numbers off the top of his head? Guy took several several jabs at Ballmer, he knew he was in a position to do so, that this was his chance to say whatever he wanted. But Ballmer maintained his cool and didn't take the bait once.

I was sitting next to Dave McClure watching the interview for a while, and McClure posted this tweet :

"listening to Guy Kawasaki kiss Ballmer's ass about MSFT in Silicon Valley... i smell an MS-dependent startup in Guy's portfolio."

I think McClure is an awesome and intelligent guy who speaks and writes extremely well. But this tweet was a classic example of needless negativity. Up till the point when Guy made this comment about how he loves working with Dan'l Lewin's team and Microsoft in the Silicon Valley (ahem ahem ;), Guy had taken numerous numerous jabs at Ballmer and Microsoft. In fact, in the beginning, every other comment was a shot at Ballmer, like, "don't throw your chair at me", "dont go monkey on me" etc. Guy makes *one* pro comment... I get that Dave wasn't taking a shot at MS or Ballmer but more-so at Guy but it's funny how even a positive comment can get construed negatively.

For the most part of the interview, I was standing next next to Walid Abu-Hadba, our new corp vice-president. I couldn't contain the excitement and I needed to talk to someone about what I was seeing. Here are some more reasons why I think this Ballmer-propoganda that floats around can come to an end :

  • from Ballmer skewered at Mix : "Apple does a pretty good job," Ballmer said. "I'm not going to take anything away from them. "At the end of the day, we have a much bigger footprint." That is a HUGE statement by Ballmer. People are so quick to point out negatives, but Ballmer realizes and calls out greatness when he sees it. And he did. Apple does a pretty good job.
  • An audience member asked Ballmer about the iPhone-Exchange announcement that happened earlier today. Ballmer is the head of one of the biggest companies in the world. He looks over a ridiculously large number of products. He sleeps for maybe 3 or 4 hours a night. He spends almost all his time with customers. In spite of that, being this busy guy, Ballmer was already up on Apple's iPhone announcement. In fact he even quoted some facts about the announcement. And the facts were on the nose.
  • Ballmer did an impromptu "monkey dance" (watch the video here : I knew he didn't care what other people thought. But to be ok with being called the "monkey boy" and screaming out "web developers! web developers!" just because some attendee asked him to do - that is mind-blowing!
  • Ballmer openly shares his email address. He's done it in the past, and he did it again today. Arguably one of the most powerful people on the planet is ok with people sending him email directly. And he also publicly stated today that he has no email assistants and he manages his own email.

I heart Ballmer.