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Originally published Wednesday, May 19, 2010 at 7:24 PM

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Ballmer is pitchman, philosopher at CEO Summit

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer talked about his business philosophy and pitched Microsoft products at the company's CEO summit in Redmond.

Seattle Times technology reporter

When Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer gathered more than a hundred CEOs at the company's 14th annual CEO Summit on Wednesday, he said the discussion in the room isn't what people would expect.

They weren't talking about return on investment, equity or the "bleh bleh bleh bleh bleh," a phrase Ballmer regularly drops into his speeches.

He said most of the talk is about business basics. "How do you get your product right? How do you help the customer? How do you be patient?"

The rest of his speech was what many would expect for a roomful of corporate titans — shout-outs to CEOs in the room, espousals of business philosophy and pitches for Microsoft products, especially cloud computing.

While his speech was broadcast online, the summit was closed to the public and the media.

The attendees at the Microsoft executive-briefing center included Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Queen of Jordan Rania Al Abdullah and Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett.

While he wasn't bullish on the economy, Ballmer was more lighthearted about it than in the past. Last year he called it a "reset." This year he said the economy is "going loopty loop. I don't know where it's going."

Ballmer said he tracks the health of Microsoft by several measures, including success in recruiting, balanced investment, investing in innovation and maximizing work low. He was candid about where Microsoft fell short, such as spending too many years building the Windows Vista operating system.

"We tried too big a task and in the process wound up losing thousands of man hours of innovation," he said. He also trumpeted success with the Xbox video-game system.

He mused on the time frame for research and development. "What is the right window for innovation? Six months? Ten years? Three years? We have bet on things that are too far in the future," but he did not specify which products they were.

Some observers say Microsoft's investment in the tablet PC years ago was too early, while Apple's launch of the iPad this year was right on time.

Ballmer closed with how Microsoft is betting the future of software is cloud computing.

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"It's a place where we will all work," is how Ballmer explained the cloud. Where "all of your IT people will work to fuse the best of what we think of as the PC today, the phone, the TV, the Internet and the corporate-data center."

In cloud computing, software and content are stored online rather than on a local PC, and they can be accessed from a variety of devices — a computer, phone, tablet or television. Millions of consumers are already using cloud-computing services such as on-demand movies, Facebook and iPhone apps.

Ballmer acknowledged that many businesses are hesitating.

"Many of you say 'I'm not willing to trust my business yet,' " he said.

Ballmer ended with a pitch for the CEOs to upgrade their companies to Windows 7 and Office 2010.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

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