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Originally published October 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 24, 2007 at 9:58 AM

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Ballmer plays to business crowd

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, speaking to thousands in the wireless industry Tuesday, encouraged them to keep innovation moving...

Seattle Times technology reporter

SAN FRANCISCO — Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer, speaking to thousands in the wireless industry Tuesday, encouraged them to keep innovation moving at a healthy pace and gave a healthy boost to his company's wireless products for businesses.

The keynote was on the opening day of CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment show in San Francisco, where about 15,000 have gathered to get a glimpse of what's to come.

Ballmer's presentation included the announcement of a new server from Microsoft aimed at helping corporations manage the devices given employees.

Noticeably lacking was a consumer element from Microsoft: something shiny, pretty and fun to use.

The hope among many was that Ballmer would surprise the audience and pull out a phone from his suit jacket that would rival Apple's iPhone. It never materialized.

To be sure, Microsoft does have some consumer-focused wireless products. The presentation included a demonstration of sending a camera-phone photo to the Internet.

It also showed how users can look up movie times on a cellphone by using their voice to enter a search term.

Microsoft also announced the availability of the new version of the Samsung BlackJack II by AT&T, a phone that uses the Windows Mobile operating system.

But Ballmer mostly discussed how corporate information-technology administrators can now manage phones and PCs on one screen.

In one demonstration, an assistant showed how the Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager can allow IT administrators to authorize a device on the network quickly — a very technical subject for even a tech crowd.

CTIA chief Steve Largent even picked up on the missing element, asking Ballmer at the end of his presentation whether Microsoft can succeed in the mobile consumer business when its only really noticeable consumer success to date has been the Xbox.

"Microsoft is a company that distinguishes itself in two ways," Ballmer said. "Number one, we are willing to do things we haven't done before in a business model sense, and most companies in our industry are good at something and stay good at it."

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He said a company like Apple never moved into the enterprise business and a company such as IBM never moved into the consumer world.

"We are trying to stay in both," he said.

Ballmer pointed to another characteristic of Microsoft: "We are very persistent.... It's funny you call us an enterprise company because for the first ... 15 years, from 1987 to 2002, we were working on the enterprise, and most of our enterprise customers said, 'You aren't enterprise.

"It took us 15 years, but we have a great $10 billion business. Hopefully it won't take us 15 years to be recognized as world-class consumer guys, but you can count on us to stay at it."

Bill Hughes, a wireless analyst with In-Stat, said Microsoft is taking a more logical path toward the consumer business."It's not glamorous, or sexy, but it's profitable."

Hughes said 90 percent of a wireless carrier's profit comes from people who use their phone for business, whether or not their company pays for it. Gaining ground in one sector could lead to adoption in another, he said.

Microsoft did the same thing in the computer business, where people may first have experienced the operating system at work. But once they grew comfortable with it, they started using it at home.

"It's not going to be out of the question that people will be carrying two Windows Mobile devices [one for work, one for their personal life]," Hughes said.

In addition to announcing the mobile server, Microsoft said it invested in a company called Enterprise Mobile, which will help corporations deploy Windows Mobile devices to thousands of workers.

The Watertown, Mass.-based company will make it easier for a large company to buy many devices from different handset vendors and carriers, while integrating the new server technology.

Enterprise Mobile CEO Mort Rosenthal said Tuesday's announcements are critical to selling more Windows Mobile devices to companies.

"It's very important. I think customers and enterprises want to move forward with mobility, but a device that is in an employee's pocket is much harder to manage and less secure than something on a desktop ... ," Rosenthal said.

In a lunch event after Ballmer's keynote, a Microsoft executive said one shouldn't assume the company isn't doing anything consumer-focused because it made enterprise-oriented announcements.

"With the resources we have, we can have multiple things running in parallel," said Scott Horn, general manager of Microsoft's mobile communications business.

"Are we going to do more and more in the consumer space? You bet. We have a few announcements that will surprise and delight people, so stay tuned."

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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