CES: Microsoft’s Robbie Bach speaks

January 8, 2009

Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft’s Entertainment and Devices Division, sat down to talk to Reuters at CES in Las Vegas, ahead of the big keynote address by CEO Steve Ballmer. Topics discussed ranged from the Windows 7 beta and eventual launch, Microsoft’s mobile search deal with Verizon, and how the tough economic environment is affecting the company.

What is the status of Windows 7? Is it still on track for its launch debut?
It’s absolutely on track for the debut that we won’t tell you the date of. Three years from the last one. (Vista shipped in the fall of 2006 to businesses, and early 2007 to consumers). The date has some range in it for that reason. It’s a very good product.

What have you learned from the ups and downs of the Vista launch?
We learned that people’s early experience with the product when it ships is important. Initially when it shipped, we didn’t have as much compatibility as we would like. And that frustrated some people early on. That’s all gone now. But certainly with Windows 7 we want to get that right from the start.

How has the economy’s problems affected Microsoft plans?
The economy is going through a reset. There is no question about that. In the short term that means that every business is having some impact. Our general approach is to say that this is a reset, we are going to manage through that and come out the other end of that reset a much stronger company with a great product lineup. And you are going to see us continue to invest in technologies. But (we have) tremendous optimism about where the market is going and what the opportunities are over the next 5 years.

There are rumors out there about job cuts at Microsoft. What can you say about that?
We are not gong to comment about rumors. We will see how that plays out. You will see how that plays out in the market.

Netbooks are big at CES this year. Are netbooks (many run on Linux) hurting your Windows business at all?

In the economy, people are going to be more value driven, and we understand that. But over time you are going to see us invest in Windows both from a netbook all the way up to highest-end server that you can imagine. That’s sort of how our business model works. You are going to see us continue to do it. That will create some fluctuations, plus or minus, in different parts of the business. But it’s important to have the full range of products. Netbooks in the marketplace today, about 85 percent of them are running Windows.

Tell about your mobile advertising and search deal with Verizon.

This is a deal where we will be providing search and advertising services for all of their search capable mobile phones, not just Windows mobile phones, across their spectrum of phones. Search and mobile is in a very early stage and we think it has a huge potential, but we also don’t think it is going to be like search on the desktop. This is an opportunity for both Verizon and Microsoft to really build a great search experience in he mobile space.

Does this displace Google in any way?
Today they do their advertising with a variety of people. I certainly think that Google would have been the competition for that business. I think that’s a safe assumption. It gives us a pole position in mobile search.

Does the Verizon deal mean you are gunning for Google?
It’s not a big secret that Google and Microsoft are going to compete in the market place in a lot of different places.

But this is a big win, right?
Yes, it’s an important win. The reality is that because we are so early in the mobile area of search, to me, the success of this deal is not about us versus Google. That’s not why it is important to us. The reason it is important to us is to work with somebody like Verizon to really build out what the search experience on a phone is like and that fundamental work can lay the foundation for a whole new business for us and for Verizon. Neither one of us has a big business there today, in fact nobody has a big business on mobile search today.

(Photo: Robbie Bach at CES 2008)

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