“The word ‘intense’ was invented for [Microsoft CEO Steve] Ballmer, who met with us in a green room that had a paper sign with his name taped to the door. While he was at first warm and engaging, a question about security features shifted his mood. His eyes, soft when he smiles, grew dark. The usually boisterous Ballmer became unexpectedly quiet and soon exited the room without saying goodbye. Still, he had a lot to say… before he did,” Dyan Machan reports for SmartMoney Magazine.

A few choice snippets:

Machan: Steve Jobs’s iPhone announcement stole the thunder from Bill Gates’s keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show. Do you wish you had the iPhone?
Ballmer: No. Apple has put its brand into a new category. That doesn’t mean it’s a good product. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of our partners came out with a device that looks exactly the same at a lower price in six or seven months [near the time when iPhones will ship]. There’s a notion that there’s magic with Apple. iPod is a hot brand — not Apple.

Machan: But Apple is in the home, winning in the very place Microsoft has identified as important to its strategy — that is, entertainment.
Ballmer: It’s a romantic notion that Apple has the lead. People who build overpriced, underpowered equipment and then market it in an edgy way do not have a formula for broad success. In the home there are PCs; Apple has no presence. There are videogame machines; Apple has no presence. TVs: Apple has no presence; Microsoft has some presence. Music: Apple has a very large presence [via the iPod]; Microsoft has an interesting presence in the high-end market.

Machan: You mean the Zune? Please.
Ballmer: We don’t kid ourselves. We won’t come out our first Christmas and take over. There will be a phase two and three. But at the end of the day, entertainment devices will be a very good business for us.

Machan: People complain about feature bloat. Most of us use 5 to 10% of features. People won’t buy for features.
Ballmer: No. They will buy for features. People use more of these products than they think. Maybe you couldn’t write [a great PowerPoint presentation]. But now you can read it. The user interface is sexier. Sex sells.

Machan: What part of Bill Gates’s job stretches you the most?
Ballmer: There’s no replacing Bill Gates. I gotta go.

More in the full interview, including the security questions, here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Dave” for the heads up.]
Apple StoreCertainly, any Microsoft shareholder with a brain would concur with Ballmer’s last sentence. Selfishly, we hope he stays long enough to ride the ship all the way down to its well-deserved watery grave. Microsoft has an interesting presence in the high-end music market? Please, indeed. Kudos to Dyan Machan for going at Ballmer hard. The Zune is a joke. Vista is a bloated, messy joke with an interface that even the most-delusional know is trying to look like Apple’s Mac OS X. Hey, “sex sells,” right? Ballmer’s hope to compete with iPhone is the same old, same old Microsoft business-as-usual: make it “look” like an Apple product to fool the ignorant. What’s really interesting about this is Ballmer’s Gates-like hasty exit: even they seem to be so tired of hearing their own B.S. that there’s no point of continuing their charades. For their shareholders, Microsoft really ought to keep Ballmer and Gates off the interview circuit until they get their Apple envy under control.

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