Steve Ballmer Speech Transcript – CeBIT 2002

Remarks by Steve Ballmer
CeBIT 2002 Keynote
Hannover, Germany
March 12, 2002

STEVE BALLMER: Dear Mr. Chancellor, dear Mr. President Gabriel, dear Lord Mayer Schmalstieg, Excellencies, dear Mr. Jung, and dear colleagues.

That was something. I have to admit, at Microsoft I hear a lot of people, visionary ideas, places they want to see our industry go, our customers go, our company go, but I have never heard one of them sing
“Transformation! Mother Nature, talk to me!”
But it sure seems appropriate, and if I learn nothing else, at this, my first CeBIT, it will be the lyrics of that song, and maybe at our next Microsoft company meeting, we will try to get everybody to sing it. So I thank Miss Rumpf for that incredible contribution.

This is my first CeBIT. In a way I can tell you I feel about as silly and delinquent for never having been here before as I could possibly. The biggest IT trade show in the world, a place where you can get your hands quickly on the pulse of whats going on, not just whats going on technologically, but really what customers are thinking, feeling, seeing. I couldnt be more honored to be here, and I couldnt be more honored to be addressing you tonight as keynote.

I do have to say, when we received the request to come speak, I was very enthused. And I was immediately told two things which I had to deal with. Number one, there was a request for no PowerPoint slides. Saying that to somebody from Microsoft, its almost like taking away Coca-Cola from my 10-year-old son, I suppose. And I was also told, no demonstrations. To which I said, well thats OK, I have a hard time concentrating and demonstrating all of this stuff anyway. But I said this is really going to put some pressure on me to think through carefully what might be of appropriate interest for this august audience.

What I decided I really wanted to talk about was, first of all, my optimism for our industry. Its easy for people to get caught up, and people always do in the depression or the euphoria of the moment. And I thought Mr. Jungs comments were very appropriate.

At our company, we take the view that in the short run, everybodys always wrong. And in the long run, there is always more potential, there is always more opportunity to positively impact the world through information technology than anybody would envision. I think I get the privilege of working with truly one of the worlds most visionary people, Bill Gates, and yet if I were to share with you privately, or publicly I suppose in this setting, his and my projections for how many computers the world might ever buy, you would be probably embarrassed for us, that we thought that this would be such a small opportunity. But at least we always kept in mind that the chance to change the world is truly great.

The thing Id ask you to think about just before I really get started is what the world will be like 10 years from today. Ten years from today, what will the world be like, and what will be the role of the information technology industry in the world? Will it be substantially the same, or substantially different than it is today? If you had asked me 10 years ago where our industry would be by the year 2002, I never would have predicted this. Over half a billion computers around the world. All connected, all able to share information in amazing ways. Over a billion wireless devices, where you can walk anywhere in the world and share a phone conversation with anybody. And so I bring mostly a sense of optimism. I actually believe we will do more as an industry to positively impact the world in the next 10 years than we did in the last 10 years.

When I joined Microsoft a little over 20 years ago, I was dropping out of school, actually, and I had to explain to my mother and father what I was doing. And I told them I was going to leave school to join a company that made software for personal computers. My parents were both bright people, my father had a nice job working for Ford Motor Company. He asked the first question:
“Whats software?”
Nobody asks that question anymore. My mother asked perhaps the more interesting question.
“Why would a person ever need a computer?”
Unfathomable today.

Yet since that time, over the last 22 years, I can tell you that Ive lived through three true revolutions in computers. The rise of the personal computer, the move of computers from being hard to use to pretty, nice screens that most people can get comfortable with, to the world of the Internet, where literally these computers talk in unbelievable ways. I think that if you look at what is constant across those revolutions, its what our industry does for our customers, and if I was to say it very succinctly, I think were an industry that helps people and businesses realize their full potential.

The mind, intelligence, knowledge. Those are the core assets we are all given in order to improve ourselves, and improve our society. The information technology industry has a very unique opportunity to extend what people can do with their fine minds. When were recruiting people to come to Microsoft, there are people that might not be thinking about careers in computers. I look at them and say, “Where else can you really say, what other industry can you really say, ‘I can change the world?'” Not just ‘I can work on a business. I can make money for a shareholder. I can have a permanent job. I can change the world.’

And I feel as excited about that today as I ever, ever have.

I was with a group of investors not long ago, and they were telling me the future is over for Microsoft. I said, please, please help me understand why. And they said,
“Well, most people in the world have a personal computer, and eventually theyll never upgrade them. Youre done.”
And I looked at them — and I have to admit I wasnt prepared for the question — and I made up an answer that I now love. I said
“How many hours a day do you use a computer?”
A person said, two hours, three hours, I dont remember what it was. And I said, “Our industry has the potential to be helping you 16 hours a day. I want you using computers 16 hours a day, and I want us providing incredible value every hour.
“The gentleman looked back at me and said,”
Sixteen hours a day? I sleep eight.
“I was kind of counting on that, because I, too, like to sleep eight, and I said,”
Look, when you come to a meeting, you bring a computer. Can you write on it? Are we all in a room like this, part of an instant community in cyberspace? If you see a colleague down in the floor here, can you quickly tell them Ill meet you afterwards for coffee? When you leave a meeting like this, can you leave with the recording, with the notes, with the slides, all together?” My voice is being recorded. It could be broadcast over a wireless network in a room like this to a device that you are holding. You could take it home if you want for your colleagues. Or you may not want, since its my voice, but your choice.

Yet were not helping people in meetings. Were not helping people when they go to read a book. My grandchildren when they grow up — some people will find this sad, some people will find this happy, but I think we need to see both sides — my grandchildren will not grow up with books in the house. Theyll grow up with little tablet devices. The sad news is, I think books are lovely and beautiful and wonderful. The good news is, every book ever written, in any language in any way in the world, will be available to them at any time on that device. Theres so much opportunity to realize potential for people. I dont care if we are talking about business, government, education, healthcare or the consumer market, we can help people realize their potential. We did a video tape about ten years ago for the COMDEX trade show, what I now know to be the junior IT trade show in the world. And in this video, we did a scene where a doctor in an ambulance could immediately, with a portable device, check a patients healthcare information, record information and use it to administer the best care. Today, actually, were working with partners on systems like that with the Dresden fire brigade. A partner here in Germany is doing the work, Wenk Systems. Its amazing whats possible.

I was a math student when I grew up. I always had a hard time with geometry. I was pretty good with arithmetic, trigonometry, calculus — hard time with geometry. I wasnt good at picturing how things work. I saw some work that a teacher had done the other day. Just a teacher. Not a trained, skilled IT professional teacher. A teacher. The teacher had done a simulation all on their own, where students could literally drag triangles around and see what happens to the intersection points of lines in the middle. I struggled with this as a student many, many, many hours. And the visualization, the capability, the power, to help the teacher, to help the students, to help the doctor realize their potential.

Citizens often times have a hard time really engaging with government. How do you really get involved, how do you help that process? I know in the city of Hamburg, theyre working on a project that they call the East Senate Project, to really do more to collect and publish and collect comment and feedback and input on a variety of legislative initiatives that are important there locally in that city. And these kinds of examples can be seen literally around the world.

In business today, 50 percent of the capital spending of the world goes into information technology, and thats growing. Why? Because information technology helps businesses realize their potential. More and more companies will tell you that people and knowledge are their real product and asset. We can help those businesses realize their potential. If you look really today in the world economy, I think a large percentage of the improvements in productivity that people see are attributed to investment in information technology. Certainly, that was the statement made by Alan Greenspan, who runs the Federal Reserve Bank in the United States.

The digital divide. People worry about those who have technology and those who do not. The poorer, poorer countries, rural towns, rural areas. All the amazing things going on in our industry, all have the promise of only being cheaper and better and more available. Here in Germany we had a chance to partner with Deutsche Telekom on a project to put computers with Internet connections I guess in literally now every one of the German schools, 31,000 schools. The digital divide can be conquered, and we can help children of all forms, people of all types, realize their potential.

And for the consumer at home, Im not sure we should call it realizing your potential, but a lot of people like to just relax. Be closer to friends, to colleagues. When we go home, my wife and I, we have a lot of pictures of our small children. Once every year and a half, we remember to change them. I wish they were stored electronically and would rotate automatically. It would bring me joy. When Im watching the Masters golf match, here in about two weeks, Id like to be able to turn to my television set and let out with a
“Bill, did you see Tiger make that putt?”
And I want the television to recognize my voice:
“Bill, he probably means Bill Gates”
. And there in Bills house on his TV:
“Hey, Bill, did you see that putt?”

OK, maybe not so important to help me realize my potential, but to bring a little bit more community, a little bit more humanity, a little bit more connectedness to all of our lives. Thats the thing that we get a chance all to do.

I also think we get a chance to participate in helping the economy broadly realize its potential. Today in the United States, the three largest sectors of employment are electronics, automotive and information technology. Those are the professions that are in demand. Estimates Ive seen said that there will be something like 1. 8 million people working broadly in the information technology field here in Germany by the year 2005. And its growing. Its growing quite dramatically.

Software, hardware, installation skills are all necessary and needed. And as we help people in business realize their potential, we are also a part of being a growth engine for the economy. Selling software people will pay for, systems that bring value, all of that is what this industry is really and truly about.

I certainly know nothing about the immigration issues that you were talking about, but as I spoke to Mr. Gabriel briefly before I came up on stage, I wish everybody good luck, because I know there will be a shortage of skills around the world in IT over the next several years. And we all have to do what we can to stimulate people to get interested and create good jobs in our industry.

For us, the technology community, to really help our customers reach potential, we have to realize the potentials in the technologies that we work on. I thought hard about talking about blah, blah, blah technology and blih, blih, blih, I love to get detailed. And I said no, no, no, maybe tonight at CeBIT we keep it simple. Theres four things we have to do. Make things simpler, more flexible, more connected and integrated, and faster. Thats all. Now if you think about it, in a way if you think about it, why would those improvements really change anything? 5 percent more fast, 5 percent this, 10 percent, no that wouldnt make the world change.

But our industry operates on orders of magnitude, quantum leaps forward. And if we can make things in quantum leaps simpler with new technologies that let me speak to the computer, for example, and have it know what to do. That will make a huge difference in the accessibility of the systems. If we can make an order of magnitude leap forward in how flexible it is to access data from your pocket, from your television set, if we can make the big machines that people still use, big, expensive machines, to run the backbone of the businesses of the world much cheaper, more flexible. We put that power in the hands of the small, the medium-sized company. The consumer. The person on the go. If we can make the world much more integrated, you really do, in a quantum leap way, you make people more productive.

Ill tell you a dirty little secret about me. I dont spend many hours a day surfing the Web. I dont. Im busy. Im sure many of you are also busy. What do we really need? I want tools and services that automatically filter whats out on the Web, based upon rules that Ive been able to express, and gathers the information and presents it to me in some integrated way, that puts the two most mission critical applications in my life right in front of me — my schedule, and my wifes schedule — in a way where I can conveniently compare the two. We dont have this kind of integration today, but thats the kind of quantum leap improvement that the new XML standards that we and many, many, many companies — IBM — and our industry are all so very excited about. And if we can make this stuff faster, people will use it.

I was talking with Ron Sommer. I mentioned to him, I happen to live in a part of Seattle, Washington, where I cannot get broadband access to the Internet. Its very painful to use a slow connection. And I certainly applaud the work that Deutsche Telekom has done here in Germany. This is the most DSL/broadband-oriented country in the world, with the small exception of Korea, which has done also an amazing job. In the United States, its a little bit more chaotic. But really, the kinds of price that you pay in Germany to get broadband access to the Internet really makes me jealous. And I bet if I lived in a nice neighborhood outside Munich, Id have a broadband connection to the Internet.

Faster, integrated, flexible, simpler. User interface, new form factors, XML, processor and bandwidth. Thats it. And if we do all of that in the right way, the brilliant users, the brilliant software developers of the world will create the amazing new applications that let people live and work in a very, very different way. We get to build the infrastructure. We even get to build some of the applications. But if we take that quantum step forward, the year 2012 will look nothing like the year today.

In order for this to happen though, we have to do one more thing. We have to help our industry realize its potential to be trustworthy to our customers. The more dependency the world gets on information technology, the more customers demand to trust what we do. They have to trust that these systems will be available. They have to trust the integrity of their information. They have to trust the privacy of their information. That is very critical. Our company certainly does not have a perfect record on this front. But if you were to ask us what we think we need to do and our industry needs to do, we need to commit to this concept of trustworthy computing as really a job-1 priority. Bill Gates certainly has given this as an edict to all of our people. And part of it is getting our own individual houses in order. And part of it is giving the tools to the other software developers of the world so they can build applications to run the banks, to run the manufacturing companies, to manage my personal information, that are really and truly trustworthy applications. I thought that there might be one of these here.

One other topic I want to touch, because its a little bit more Microsoft-centered, but I think also important. Ive been with Microsoft 22 years, and theres never been a time for us quite like the last five. And I think what weve had a chance to realize over the last five years is, we, too, as a company need to learn to realize our potential to be a responsible leader for the industry. You know, we grew up like everybody in this industry, working hard, scrapping, scrapping, scrapping every day. And I think its really only the last several years that its really become clear to us that we have somehow today a different and unique role in our industry. We need to be a responsible leader. One very engaged with our industry in all ways. With the many millions of people who work with information technology every day, the many partner companies who are represented here today. We have got to be a great partner. Were going to have some competitors, and we have to be a respectful and appropriate and open, where appropriate, competitor.

With government we have to be far more involved, and really recognize that there are many, many more policy issues that involve our industry and government , and that we as an industry leader have a new and different role to step up to, and we need good and positive relationships with government, which we are working hard now to really go out and build, and put some of the issues that have existed, behind us. I say to our people, we need to be a trustworthy Microsoft in a world of trustworthy computing, being a good industry partner, a terrific innovator, but a responsible leader for this industry.

Im optimistic. Im enthusiastic. I see opportunity everywhere we look. I dont want you or we to lose faith because of the short-term ups and the short-term downs. Keep going; go on smoothly, evenly, incrementally. Never too much, never too little. Keep ramping up those investments in innovation. And if we as an industry really do that, we have a chance to help the world in all walks of life realize a set of potential that it never knew it had.

Thank you very much, and enjoy CeBIT 2002. Thank you.