by Thomas Wailgum

Microsoft CEO Ballmer Gets Egged — How Fitting

May 22, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

The hits just keep on coming for Microsoft. Literally.

In a recent speech at a Hungarian university, a protester and obvious Microsoft-hater threw eggs (three by my count) at Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who was trying to give a speech. None of the eggs appeared to hit the intended target, but see for yourself below. (For sure, the protester won’t be getting a call from a major league baseball team anytime soon.)

It would be way too easy to ruminate about all of the strange and surreal symbolism that the 74-second video clip offers…but let’s do it anyway.

Microsoft is under siege right now. And the main attacker is the Web and the established and emerging Microsoft competitors that are using the Internet in ways that Microsoft is slowly realizing are critical for its future. (Microsoft’s recent launch of an on-demand CRM application is just one piece of evidence. For more on this, see “Microsoft Launches On-Demand CRM Software into a Crowded Market.”)

Just recently, Microsoft’s failed attempts at acquiring Yahoo and its subsequent plans for new Internet search tactics (rebates for using Microsoft Live Search) are embarrassing and must be tough to swallow. (For my strategic advice, see “Just Forget About Yahoo, Microsoft, and Go After SAP.”) And, of course, Vista hasn’t been warmly embraced, to say the least.

There just seems to be a pervasive, snowball-rolling-down-a-ski-slope amount of public and corporate rancor aimed at Microsoft these days. Perhaps it’s because of Microsoft’s huge success; like Wal-Mart, it’s such a big target.

Naturally everyone loves to root for the underdog in sports and business and life, which, ironically, was how Chairman Bill Gates recently referred to Microsoft and its Web search efforts. “I have to say, it’s kind of fun to be the underdog,” Gates said. (I seriously doubt people will start rallying around Microsoft’s underdog status.)

The egging incident just typifies the duress and pressure that Microsoft executives—Ballmer, in particular—has been feeling lately. Crouching behind the desk to avoid being hit by the eggs, as Ballmer did during the incident, is deliciously metaphoric. (Full disclosure: In my younger days, I threw eggs at people and cars and have had eggs thrown at me. The former is more fun than the latter.)

So, will Microsoft recover?

If Ballmer’s initial response to the Hungarian egging is any indication, the world’s top-selling software maker and its CEO will keep fighting, perhaps with a sly smile on the face as well as a look of bewilderment at the anger on display. Ballmer, who’s known for his nasty competitive streak, laughed off the egg tossing after the gentlemen escorted himself out of the room. (Was there any security there? Ballmer is the CEO of a $51 billion company. Hello?)

“It was a friendly discussion!” Ballmer quipped with a smile, regaining his composure.

“Oh,” he then added, “that broke my train of thought!”

Yeah, that’s been happening a lot lately.