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Ballmer to Chat Up Silicon Valley

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer
Source: Microsoft
Wither Windows 7? What's Microsoft's next move against Google? Is Yahoo still in play?

These and other questions are likely to be raised to the CEO of world's biggest software company tonight at an event in Silicon Valley hosted by the Churchill Club.

Steve Ballmer will face a relatively friendly inquisitor, long-time tech investor and Bill Gates confidante Ann Winblad. Winblad is co-founder and managing director of Hummer Winblad Venture Partners.

But Winblad is a sharp, opinionated mind who has seen many a hot technology trend come and go, and is likely to push Ballmer to explain the critical reception of Vista and the failed effort to acquire Yahoo -- among other topics. These events typically have an audience Q&A portion as well.

Longtime technology forecaster Paul Saffo thinks Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has plenty of challenges to keep Ballmer busy. If and when the company ships Windows 7, for example -- thought to ship in June 2009 -- it will likely be at a time of more competitive pressure than ever.

"A year ago, as they were bringing out Vista, Microsoft's big preoccupation was the Mac OS," Saffo told InternetNews.com. "With Windows 7, they'll be going into a much less certain world, with Google making all sorts of moves with Chrome and Android, or perhaps even something else that hasn't appeared yet.

"So [Microsoft] will be selling into an environment of not really knowing the competition," he added. "With each passing month, the world becomes less OS-centric. Microsoft had made its business off the OS and Google has made its off the Web while backfilling into the OS space."

Saffo acknowledges Microsoft's footprint on the consumer and IT space remains impressive, but he sees pitfalls ahead. "Microsoft's not going away. The question is: Can it live up to its potential?

"It's solid but not exciting," he said. "Apple is exciting but riskier in the long run. But I also wonder if Microsoft suffers from a vision problem. Ballmer is a fabulous executive, but the company needs a chief vision officer. Where's Ray Ozzie been?"

Ozzie serves as chief software architect at Microsoft, having taken over the position from Gates during the iconic co-founder's winding-down from day-to-day operations.