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Quit Laughing, Steve Ballmer

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Does Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) CEO Steve Ballmer think Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) is kidding? He seems to be laughing off the supposed threat that the new Chrome OS presents to Windows.

"I will be respectful," Ballmer said, tacitly disrespecting Chrome in a speech to Mr. Softy's technology partners. "Who knows what this thing is? To me, the Chrome OS thing is highly interesting."

Ballmer isn't the only skeptic. The majority of comments we received to a poll asking Fools whether Chrome OS could be a contender frowned on Google's plan.

"Google is a search company," wrote Foolish reader kpinvest, one of our better CAPS investors. "They have as much of a chance of success as if they go after the smartphone market. Android vs. iPhone? Sorry Google, just another very bad idea."

But Ballmer's definitely leading the chorus. His faint praise of "interesting" seems like Microspeak for "a minor annoyance that doesn't terribly concern us."

I don't believe you, Ballmer. And not just because these sorts of backhanded compliments have left you egg-faced in years past. Remember what you said about Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone in a 2007 interview with USA Today? Here, let me refresh your memory:

There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It's a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I'd prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get. [Emphasis added.]

Hoo-boy. That went well, eh?

Playing devil's advocate
To be fair, there are good reasons to be skeptical of Chrome. We have yet to see anything of the OS but a press release. Chrome faces entrenched competition not just from Microsoft and Apple, but also from Ubuntu and Red Hat (NYSE: RHT  ) . Android, Google's other operating system, needs its own version of American Idol to kickstart developer interest. And of course, there's The Big G's very long list of high-profile failures. Here are just a few.

But credibility is only part of Ballmer's problem. The other, bigger issue is what Microsoft is doing. Yesterday, the House of Gates unveiled pricing for Azure, a cloud-computing platform that will allow users to rent software, storage space, and processing power in a manner similar to what (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) offers with its EC2 and S3 cloud computing services.

Ballmer is interested in Chrome, all right. Once released, Chrome could be to the cloud what Gmail has been to email. That's why his marketing team is plugging pricing for Azure -- its own cloud computing experiment -- just days after Google's cloudy OS captured headlines. Coincidence? Puh-leeze..

A nervous laugh doesn't befit you, Ballmer.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy is, shockingly, out of things to say.

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Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 15, 2009, at 2:09 PM, marv08 wrote:

    There are certainly many possible reasons for Google to make such an early announcement, e.g. stop OEMs from devoting too much time and money to make Android run on netbooks while something more suitable is in the works. It is also a bit of a MS tactic, make an early vaporware announcement to stop other parties from making exclusive long-term commitments or maybe even trying to work on an own "me too" Linux distribution.

    Ballmer's predictions have always been wrong, and that is likely the only ability he has learned from Gates – whatever he envisioned never materialized either (Internet not important? Tablet PCs the "next big thing"? Yep, Gates and Ballmer make Nostradamus look like Einstein)...

    Joking about the need for "more than one OS"? Only need "one good one"? Hilarious! Why exactly do we have 12 Vista editions plus the servers and media centers, plus the 10th extension of XP support, plus several active versions of Windows Mobile and CE? Yeah, because good companies only need one. What does this tell us about MS then?

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