Well, it wasn’t a keynote, strictly speaking. It was a real conversation between two interesting guys who are passionate about what they do. And as soon as you can go watch it on the MIX08 site. Because it’s worth watching if you’re interested in the Web at all.
Guy Kawasaki (who, you must bear in mind, spent much of his professional career evangelising Macintosh computers and software) asked Steve Ballmer the questions we’d all like to ask him. Not once did I feel like Steve spun his way out of a jam – he challenged Guy, the audience and our collective perceptions like a man who is just really confident in his product and his business.
One could understand people attributing credit to Kawasaki for his humour, facilitation skills and poignant questioning for the incredible energy and vibe the 2,500 conference delegates clearly enjoyed but they’d be wrong. The credit for the (apparent early) success of this highlight of the MIX08 event must go to Microsoft themselves. This is not the arrogant, monolithic, boring Microsoft of old. This is a company with an entrepreneurial attitude, not afraid to be put on the spot, a desire to compete in spaces that are currently being dominated by competitors and all the intention, drive and resource to do so. This discussion would have also changed many perceptions about who Steve Ballmer is. It may still have been a show, but if it was, it was a good show. He’s not so much the quintessential boomer I’d always imagined.
Ballmer highlighted four spaces Microsoft wants to play in. The first they own – the desktop. Secondly, they want to improve their enterprise offerings and solidify their status as a significant player in this space. Thirdly, consumer entertainment devices. Most kids today (significantly) only know a Microsoft that makes cool things like Zunes, Xbox’s and Halo. They know nothing of antitrust lawsuits or the OS wars – this is a huge advantage for Microsoft – the emerging buying market thinks they’re sexy. Lastly, Microsoft want to be a significant player online. This is about gaining market share in search, advertising and who knows what else (we wait with bated breath).
Duncan Riley also live-blogged the discussion, though you may just prefer to watch the video :)
Kudos to Microsoft for what I thought was a huge success. They didn’t need to make big announcements or pull off huge demos because they had a good conversation. Nothing like a good conversation.