Ballmer's folly: Businesses will love Windows 8 touchscreens

In his world, Windows 8 storms the enterprise, Windows Phone answers carriers' dreams, and Microsoft loves PC makers again

Maybe Steve Ballmer knows something no one else does. Or maybe he's putting us on. But when Microsoft's CEO said last week that enterprise IT is embracing Windows 8 because of "Touch! Touch! Touch!" you have to wonder if he's simply delusional.

Ballmer made that claim during a speaking appearance before Silicon Valley's Churchill Club, a public affairs group. Because I've been so critical of Ballmer lately, it seemed fair to hear what the man himself has to say. Frankly, I was hoping for evidence that I'm wrong. I've never been a Microsoft basher, and the software giant's health is critical to the huge ecosystem of computer companies, developers, and component makers that surround it.

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I didn't hear what I'd hoped. Touch? Really? Tablets with a touch interface certainly have a place in the enterprise, but when we're talking about a PC, I find it impossible to believe that touch is something the enterprise needs or wants. In fact, survey after survey indicates that Windows 8 adoption in the enterprise is going to be very slow.

Windows 8 in the enterprise? Not so fast
Indeed, according to Forrester analyst David Johnson, only 5 percent of firms have specific plans to migrate to Windows 8 in the next 12 months, versus 10 percent for Windows 7 in 2009.

One reason, of course, is the high overhead to retrain a workforce that has grown up with the familiar interface and Start button that debuted with Windows 95. You'd think that Ballmer would address that in an hour-long conversation or mention that many businesses are just now upgrading to Windows 7. He didn't, at least not seriously. "Is there some adjustment because of user interface?" Ballmer asked rhetorically. "Yes," he replied to himself.

That's not to say there aren't some enterprise goodies in Windows 8 -- better security, for one -- and (for the Enterprise Edition only) the ability to install from a bootable USB stick, a trick known as Windows to Go. But few businesses seem to think those additions amount to a compelling enough reason to upgrade.

Rather than outline a convincing case for a Microsoft resurgence in mobile -- where the industry action and customer growth is -- Ballmer made like Goldilocks, saying that Apple's app store strategy is too controlled, Google's is "a little bit wild," and Microsoft's will be just right. "That's kind of the best of both worlds, and that's available to us," he said.

Sinofsky who?
If nothing else, Ballmer is always entertaining. He's one of those men who entered middle age rather early, then stopped looking much older. He doesn't appear very different than he did 20 or so years ago when he'd slap a table and bellow "NT, NT, NT!" or when he did one of his his weird, sweat-soaked monkey boy dances chanting, "Developers! Developers! Developers!" He still fills a banquet room with energy, and he continues to punctuate his points with exuberant shouts and big grins.

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