Then he travelled to Zurich to give a speech in front of some 350 people brought together by the Internet Briefing club (an entrepreneurs/technologists club). Here my running notes.
"Microsoft was founded in the view that software was a great enabler/tool when coupled with the microprocessor", Ballmer says.
He focuses on the user interface (up on screen: a picture of the Starbucks coffee cup, of a digital watch, of the Aeron chair) and stresses how MS has brought in designers to work on its tech platforms, tools, experiences, and marketing. And it's trying to "combine great design and great code". He says that MS is "growing beyond Windows and Office" and goes quickly through a series of tools (Microsoft Expression Studio, Silverlight, etc).
He then brings up on stage Damir Tomicic, director of Axinom, a German company who used MS' Silverlight rich-display plugin technology for a project for the Premiere pay-TV channel, specializing in Hollywood blockbusters and sports, with 3.5 million viewers. "Today if you watch Premiere, you get an exciting experience; but if you went to their website, you wouldn't". He proceeds to show the website they are building for Premiere, clicks on a link, and ... "are you missing something?". Yep, there is no loading delay (the Silverlight download is very small), the video quality is great.
Ballmer mentions Seadragon and PhotoSynth (fabulous visualization software -- read previous posts and watch this video from TED2007), then calls up Mark Bolger, MS' director of marketing, to give a demo of Microsoft Surface, which is not available in Europe yet but "will be in every home in a couple of years, although I acknowledge that it's still to expensive -- 10'000 dollars". Although, he adds, "I know that this country adopts technology like no other".
Microsoft Surface is an ordinary tabletop turned into a natural user-interface display (the kind of multitouch interface à la Jeff Han, watch this demo). "Surface computing", Bolger calls it. It is built on Windows Vista and has alot of built-in features, and it's really amazing technology. Bolger takes out a digital camera, snaps a picture of Ballmer, places the camera on the Surface, and the picture spills out onto the table screen (and in a game of mirrors, I snapped a picture of that moment and posted it here at right). He puts a cellphone on the Surface and drags a file with some information to it, and just like that it gets uploaded to the phone (which is of course running on Windows, too). Really cool (here a short video about it). Not sure what tech they use to make the camera and the phone communicate with the Surface, possibly NFC.
Someone in the audience asks Ballmer how he sees the future for MS if a world that is increasingly about applications running on browsers (like GoogleApps). "The future is a mix of the two", Ballmer answers, "you can't do certain things if all you have is a browser". Relating this to what he said before about Silverlight however, the impression is different: If MS is investing so much in spreading things like Silverlight -- a small, free program -- it may be with the view that controlling the browser is no longer the battlefield: the real next challenge will be about controlling the way rich content displays on it and how people interact with it. Or: from the browser wars to the user experience wars.