Posted by David Price 18 October 2013
The 7 most embarrassing Steve Ballmer outbursts
Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's whooping, bellowing, inspirational and erratic CEO, is expected to retire from the role by next summer. Here are the finest outbursts and embarrassing moments from a 33-year career.
Illustration by Louis Roskosch
Silicon Valley shall never see his like again. Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's whooping, bellowing, inspirational and erratic CEO, has hosted his last company meeting, sweated through his last pale blue shirt, and is expected to retire from the role by next summer. Redmond will be a quieter place without him.
To celebrate, mourn and commemorate Ballmer's final months in charge, we've put together a list of what he will probably be remembered for: his gaffes. (This is almost certainly unfair, given the undoubted qualities required to last as long, and achieve so much.)
Here, then, are the finest outbursts and embarrassing moments from a 33-year career. Feel free to suggest your own favourite Ballmerisms.
1. Steve's advert for Windows 1.0 (1985)
One thing you'll see throughout these clips and quotes is Ballmer's total lack of self-consciousness. He is quite prepared to make himself look like a clown if he thinks it will benefit the company. That's admirable, of course, but it doesn't stop us enjoying this early example of him 'taking one for the team': an advert for Windows 1.0 in which Ballmer plays the role of a pushy TV salesman to perfection. Painful to watch, with the reference to 'Miami Vice' and accompanying actions a cringey highlight.
2. "I. Love. This. Company!" (AKA The Monkey Dance, 2000)
Ballmer hit the stage at Microsoft's 25th anniversary conference like a cross between Roger Daltrey and an injured baboon. We actually love the shameless enthusiasm - note that the audience sound like they're loving it. But be warned that his voice in this clip gets so high that dogs should be kept out of the room.
Also notable for the first known use of the phrase "Give it up for me."
3. "Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches" (2001)
Ballmer dropped this bombshell in an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times back in the summer of 2001; it probably looks worse out of context (earlier in the same answer he said of Linux: "It's good competition. It will force us to be innovative. It will force us to justify the prices and value that we deliver. And that's only healthy.") but illustrates his verbal tendency to turn everything into a war.
4. "The most common format of music on an iPod is 'stolen'" (2004)
Classic Steve: sort of funny, but also sort of ridiculous and shortsighted in retrospect. Trumpeting the DRM on Windows (and ignoring the DRM in Apple products), Ballmer put the blame for music piracy squarely on Apple's shoulders. The iTunes Store would go on to pretty much save the music industry and get people paying for music again, while Microsoft's Zune music player... didn't do any of those things.
5. "Developers, developers, developers..." (circa 2005)
The original and best. Again, a sound sentiment mangled by Ballmer's characteristic bull-in-a-china-shop alpha-male falsetto.
Indeed, one of the areas where Microsoft suffers these days is persuading third parties to develop apps for Windows Mobile, with both iOS and Android a higher priority - but that went wrong because Microsoft was so slow to embrace mobile, not because it failed to shriek its love for the developer community. That side of things was covered by this brutal piece of performance art from the Ballmer portfolio.
6. "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance" (2007)
Back in 2007 Ballmer made what in retrospect seems a spectacularly misjudged take on the prospects of Apple's smartphone, viewing it as some kind of boutique niche-interest product that would struggle to pick up more than 2% to 3% of the market. Of course, as Microsoft CEO it was his job to take the most optimistic view for his company, but his bullish statements ("Would I trade 96% of the market for 4% of the market?") seem almost poignant, given the later travails of Windows Mobile, which languishes at a similar share to the one he forecast for Apple.
On the other hand, there is a grain of truth in his views - the iPhone strategy isn't just about share, and has given up a majority of the market to Android while making far more money on each handset sold, as he (sort of) predicted. Still a shocking call, mind you.
For a visual accompaniment to his words, here's Ballmer actually laughing at the iPhone's chances.
7. "You don't need to be a computer scientist to use a Windows phone, and you do to use an Android phone" (2011)
Not content with writing off one mega-successful smartphone platform, Steve goes for Android. "Pretty inconsistent, don't look alike..." are criticisms that we sometimes level at Android, but the obvious alternative is iOS, not Windows Mobile. Needless to say, Android had the last laugh.
Let's finish up with one that's a bit more positive: Ballmer at his best, delivering his farewell address to Microsoft employees. I defy you to watch this without welling up a bit. Shine on you crazy diamond.
For balance: gaffes and outbursts by other tech bosses
Steve Jobs: You're holding it wrong
Jobs - who said almost as many ridiculous things as Steve Ballmer, but usually got away with it - reportedly said this to an Apple customer who was struggling with the iPhone 4's antenna.
Apple would later acknowledge 'Antennagate' - sort of - and offer customers free bumpers to fix the problem.
BlackBerry execs: That karaoke video
BlackBerry's equivalent of the "Developers, developers, developers" video was less aggressive but a lot cheesier. They did a cover of REO Speedwagon's 'Keep On Loving You' with the lyrics changed to be about the BlackBerry 10 operating system.
BlackBerry is now struggling to keep its head above water, which gives this last plea for third-party loyalty a rather sad flavour. The video's since been taken down, so the best we can do is this clip by an audience member, which cuts out right before the chorus.
Eric Schmidt: Privacy, schmivacy
Google's boss left viewers in no doubt about his views on privacy with this calmly delivered slice of Orwellian nastiness: "If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place."
If you want a vision of the future, imagine a Google Doodle stamping on a human face - forever.