Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has declared his company’s Surface tablet marks a new era in which the computer software giant will leave no "stone unturned" in its innovation battle against Apple.
In an exclusive interview, Ballmer admitted to CRN Microsoft and its partners had in the past "ceded some of the boundary between hardware and software innovation" to Apple, but that was about to change.
"We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple," said an exuberant Ballmer following the company's annual Worldwide Partner Conference in Toronto.
“We have our advantages in productivity,” he said. “We have our advantages in terms of enterprise management, manageability. We have got our advantages in terms of when you plug into server infrastructure in the enterprise."
He said Apple would not get ahead of Microsoft on consumer cloud or hardware software innovation 'on his watch'.
"We do feel empowered to innovate everywhere and bring our partners with us," Ballmer said. "We’re not going to leave any stone unturned, so to speak, as we pursue that."
Ballmer did not discount the possibility that Microsoft’s innovation offensive could include its own smartphone to compete against Apple’s wildly popular iPhone.
He said currently the Surface tablet was Microsoft's focus but strong partnerships with the likes of Nokia and HTC meant it was a possibility.
The software giant shook up the industry by unveiling plans for a pair of tablet computers dubbed "Surface" last month, in a bold move that thrust the world's largest software company into uncharted hardware waters.
Its partners, however, have been left out Microsoft's Surface tablet strategy. Ballmer told CRN if partners want to sell the new Surface tablet, they can buy it from Microsoft.com.
"They can’t order from their normal distribution," he said. "They can order it off Microsoft.com. And they can do what they want off Microsoft.com. But we are not setting up what I would call a typical distribution chain. What our partners choose to do is up to our partners."
The Surface marks the first time ever that Microsoft has tried Apple's long-successful strategy of tightly integrating its own hardware and software together in sleek products.
Microsoft is introducing two tablet products: Surface for Windows RT, a consumer tablet running Windows 8 on ARM microprocessors that Microsoft expects to be used in the workplace, and Surface for Windows 8 Pro, an Intel Core-based tablet that runs the edition of the upcoming Windows 8 operating system for business professionals.