Ballmer touts Microsoft's mobile future

In his keynote appearance Tuesday morning at the CTIA Wireless I.T. and Entertainment event in San Francisco, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer championed a computing future hinging on the convergence of the mobile, desktop, enterprise and online worlds. "There has never been a better time to be working on mobile scenarios--there are incredible opportunities for applications developers, content developers and operators," Ballmer said.

Much has changed in the six years since Ballmer last headlined CTIA, he noted--at that time, Microsoft had only one mobile handset in release, and just one operator partnership in one market. Now Microsoft boasts deals with 160 operators in over 55 countries, with some 140 different device form factors. Ballmer said the next step is bringing together a converged platform that spans both the entertainment and enterprise worlds: "People shouldn't have to pick," Ballmer said. "The notion of having four text accounts and five e-mail accounts, that's yesterday's idea--we have to meld these computing models into one, [and] weave together business models in a way that works for [everyone]."

According to Ballmer, Microsoft is investing heavily in both the mobile device itself and the services platform around it, touting the software giant's support for rich applications development, thin client-style applications, and rich APIs for web services. "They're all available for third-party innovation," he said "The key thing is to provide consistent platforms across all phones and to leverage the knowledge that comes from writing for PCs. The notion of Windows Mobile as a platform is most important of all--we're bringing together the best of the phone, PC, enterprise and online worlds."

Of course, there were also the usual demonstrations, mostly spotlighting Microsoft's new System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008, a suite of enterprise management tools Ballmer said will enable a IT department to "manage the phone like it would manage mission-critical data on a PC…we're bringing devices into the world of enterprise computing." He also showed off Samsung's new Blackjack 2 device, which arrives ready-to-run with the Mobile Device Manager suite.

"If hardware makers want to put our software in hundreds of millions of devices, mobile will be a great business for us," Ballmer concluded. "We can't serve our customers' broad desire if we ignore the mobile area--it's a necessary strategic ingredient." -Jason