Asked what business customers like about Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system, CEO Steve Ballmer had a simple answer: "Touch! Touch! Touch!"
Even with Windows 8's touchscreen-friendly user interface, though, he conceded that business customers are "going to be slow adopters," he said in an interview with LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman at a Churchill Club event in Silicon Valley Wednesday night.
But he says that IT people—who still make the call on what technology gets installed in most workplaces—"are some of most intense users of computers around." And they love the touch interface, according to Ballmer.
The problem is the vast majority of Microsoft's installed base of PCs—some 670 million—don't have a touch interface.
Ballmer obviously wants people to go out and buy Windows 8. He really needs to sell a lot of copies of Windows 8 to convince Windows developers that they should write cool software for it. That will, in turn, convince people to buy more Windows 8 devices. And t he fastest way to make Windows 8 successful is to get a good chunk of existing Windows users to upgrade.
So why should they upgrade if they can't touch, touch, touch?
Ballmer found himself in the odd position of bashing a Microsoft product.
"Windows 8 is just better than Windows 7," Ballmer said. "It boots faster, takes less memory."
"Is there some adjustment because of user interface?" Ballmer asked rhetorically. "Yes."
But it's worth it, he argued, for better security and a new start screen that shows live, updated information—not just from Facebook or Twitter but reports from in-house business apps, turning a Windows 8 PC into a corporate dashboard.
That last feature proved a selling point to a bank executive, who signed up for a companywide deployment, Ballmer said.
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