by Shane O'Neill

Microsoft’s WPC Smack Talk: Inspiration or Desperation?

Jul 15, 2010
Data Center

Microsoft COO Kevin Turner took some clever potshots at enemies. But is Microsoft just trying to shout its way out of a corner?

At its Worldwide Partner Conference this week in Washington, D.C. the smack talk was running wild from the mouth of Microsoft COO and resident pit bull Kevin Turner.

And he’s OK with that.

As he should be. There’s nothing wrong with talkin’ a little trash. From Ali and Frazier to Rosie O’Donnell and Donald Trump, America is always up for a good war of words. In the ultra-competitive tech world where Microsoft competes with…well…everybody, it’s almost a moral necessity to publicly disparage the enemy. And the high-energy Turner, as he outlined Microsoft’s consumer and commercial cloud strategies, was not afraid to lay on some snark.

After defending Microsoft’s mobile strategy and hyping the upcoming Windows Phone 7, Turner mocked Apple’s much-maligned iPhone 4 antenna and reception problems:

“You will be able to use Windows Phone 7 and not have to worry about how you hold it. It looks like iPhone 4 might be their [Apple’s] Vista. And I’m OK with that.”

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That is a far cry from the months before the Windows 7 launch when Microsoft wouldn’t dare utter a negative word about the embattled Windows Vista. Now it appears they are comfortable admitting that Vista was a failure. I guess time does heal all wounds.

This was still good smack talk and shows that Microsoft can laugh at itself, but an iPhone 4 hardware glitch is very unlikely to cause the kind of long-term reputation damage that Vista caused Microsoft.

Turner did not stop at Apple. He turned up the volume for that pesky Web company Google.

After touting Bing’s market share increases, Turner made some “Big Brother” insinuations:

“We don’t read your email and invade your privacy. We’re not soliciting vans to drive your neighborhoods and spy on you and snoop your Wi-Fi. That’s not what we’re doing. That’s not what Microsoft’s about. We don’t have a mission statement that reminds us not to do evil.”

You could argue that Microsoft doesn’t need a mission statement to do evil. But Turner’s quip was an unsubtle reminder that Google is a search engine company at heart that relies on data about you to score advertisers. That’s the message that I’ve personally heard repeatedly from Microsoft: We serve businesses, Google serves advertisers. It’s not a bad message.

Turner also went after Google Apps, Google’s Web-based productivity suite that has miniscule market share compared to Microsoft Office yet remains a growing threat. “They’re coming after us . Guns a blazing. They’ve won customers,” he said. Next he pointed out an ad on the back of Bloomberg Businessweek about Jaguar going Google. “Wow. Hurts to look at that,” he said. But Turner then peeled off a layer and showed reader responses to the ad from Jaguar employees who moan and groan about the poor quality of Google Apps.

Ok, just as many Jaguar employees may love Google Apps, but it was pretty effective smack talk. Turner went on the mention companies like Datatune, Vinci and Serena that moved to Google Apps and then came back to Office.

“We don’t want some of them back,” he said assertively, pointing a finger at the audience. “We want all of the customers for productivity software. And you can quote me on that.”

Consider yourself quoted, sir.

Microsoft’s COO also dropped a few dirt bombs on VMware (“What’s this VMware tax all about?”) and Oracle (quotes from CIOs who claim they are locked in to expensive Oracle licensing agreements.)

Turner is certainly a vigorous and inspiring speaker, pacing around the stage like a boxer. But is all this just Microsoft trying to brag its way out of a corner, an exercise in trash talking competitors that have moved ahead of Microsoft or are rapidly gaining?

Yes, there is an element of hollow boasting to these proceedings where Microsoft protects its turf in areas it still dominates (productivity software and operating systems) and in weaker markets like cloud, mobile and virtualization it declares itself an underdog that you’d be crazy to count out.

But despite lots of Microsoft noise, it’s not all shouting over substance. Turner highlighted various market share gains and sales numbers for products such as Windows 7, Office and Bing and highlighted a united cloud services front including everything from Hotmail to Xbox Live to Windows Azure that shows undeniable momentum for the company.

Microsoft has gone to great lengths to get all its products under one roof, or should I say one cloud. And they really, really want to talk about it. And sometimes smack talk about it.

Will businesses and consumers listen?

Shane O’Neill is a senior writer at Follow him on Twitter at Follow everything from on Twitter at