Steve Ballmer You've got to hand it to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. He may be wrong a lot of the time, like in 2007 when he laughed off the iPhone, or defended Vista before an irate user. But Ballmer is always entertaining. His latest target? Google Chrome OS, of course.

According to Reuters, Ballmer today attempted to shrug off Google's web-centric operating system while addressing a Microsoft technology partners' conference in New Orleans.

"Who knows what this thing is? To me, the Chrome OS thing is highly interesting," said Ballmer.

While promising to be "respectful" and not outright trash the mysterious Chrome OS, Ballmer did point out that Google's desktop operating system won't ship for a year and a half, a fact that relegates it to the 'vapourware' category for now.

Ballmer also knocked Google for developing two client operating systems: Android, which is gaining traction as an OS for smartphones and maybe other mobile devices; and Chrome OS, which will debut on netbooks and - market willing - migrate to notebooks and desktops to challenge Windows 7 across the PC spectrum.

'I don't know what the problem is over there'

Ballmer implied Google's OS efforts lack focus.

"I don't know if they can't make up their mind or what the problem is over there, but the last time I checked, you don't need two client operating systems," said Ballmer. "It's good to have one."

While Ballmer loves to trash-talk the competition, there's little doubt that Microsoft isn't scoffing at Chrome OS, vapourware or not. Android's initial success has proved to the tech industry that Google is serious about being a player in the mobile and desktop operating system markets.

Meanwhile, Microsoft, with its (sort of) new Bing site, is doing all it can to steal market share and advertising revenue from Google's search engine and cash cow.

With its exceptionally deep pockets, Google is the strongest competitor to challenge Microsoft's Windows empire in a very long time. And all joking aside, it wouldn't be surprising if the Chrome OS is causing Ballmer & Co to have more than a few sleepless nights.

See also:

Gates and Ballmer bash Google Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS FAQ

Is Chrome OS the future of computing? I hope not

Does the world really need another operating system?

Google Chrome OS: First impressions

PC World