AUSTRALIA, 7 JUNE 2010 - Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has had to grin and bear it while Apple overtook Microsoft as the world's largest tech company and its founder Steve Jobs sounded the death knell for PCs, but he didn't hold back when given the opportunity to return fire.
In an interview at the D: All Things Digital conference in California this week, Ballmer dumped on the iPad and Jobs' analogy that PCs were like "trucks" in agrarian times.
Referring to Jobs' brimming enthusiasm for his "magical" iPad, Ballmer said the iPad was just a new PC form factor and not a revolutionary new category. He panned it with an analogy about how difficult it was to take notes with the device in a meeting.
They have been using tablets for years on Star Trek, and Microsoft has been peddling them for the better part of a decade, so what's the big deal about Apple's new iPad?
"To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail," Ballmer said.
Ballmer famously panned the iPhone when it was first launched, only to watch as it decimated Microsoft's Windows Mobile in the consumer market and gained a solid corporate following.
Earlier this week at the same conference, Jobs predicted an inexorable shift from desktop personal computers to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, which he dubbed a "post-PC era". Presumably, he was referring to Macs just as much as Windows-based computers.
"When we were an agrarian nation, all cars were trucks because that's what you needed on the farm ... As people started moving away from the farm, the car started taking over," Jobs said.
"PCs are going to be like trucks. Less people will need them… This transformation is going to make some people uneasy. The PC has taken us a long way.
Ballmer rejected this assessment, saying he believed PCs would be around for a long time to come. And anyway, Microsoft's Windows operating system, used in the vast majority of desktop and laptop PCs worldwide, was now getting a new lease of life in a new breed of touchscreen tablet devices.
"There may be a reason they call them 'Mack trucks' but Windows machines won't be trucks," Ballmer said.
"I think people are going to be using PCs in greater and greater numbers for years to come.
"Our cars will get bigger and sleeker and faster and better... but they're still cars."
At the Computex trade show in Taiwan, Asus and MSI showed off new tablet computers based around Windows. They will compete with the iPad and a range of Google Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which the company announced on its Twitter feed yesterday.
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