Microsoft Chief: “Nobody Ever Buys Windows. They Buy Windows PCs.”

Earlier today ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley published another installment in what appears to be an orgy of access, this time with outgoing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Regarding its executive changes, Microsoft today reported that it will not announce its new leader until 2014, cooling speculation that the new CEO would land before the end of this year.

Ballmer’s remarks are worth reading, of course, but two segments stand out.

For one, his framing of Microsoft’s soul after its shift towards devices and services instead of software proper is interesting, given that if the board agrees, his views could be similar to the strategic rubric the company is looking for in their next chief:

Are we a productivity company or are we a software company? Well, what we are is a company that knows how to create great software for productivity and serious fun, but the expression will be through services, and through devices increasingly. And maybe it always has been. Nobody ever buys Windows. They buy Windows PCs.

That’s mostly true, even though enthusiasts do, in fact, buy Windows as a stand-alone product. But Ballmer is correct in saying people buy Windows PCs more than they buy the operating system itself. Even more, they buy ‘computers’ more than they buy Windows PCs, but that is a quibble.

Secondly, Ballmer reflected on Surface as an internal project, in relation to its Xbox efforts. Xbox, of course, was a key moment in Microsoft’s becoming a hardware-capable company. In Ballmer’s view, Surface was “in a way… a tougher bet” than Xbox.

Microsoft’s Windows platform needs OEM partners to make tens of millions of PCs each month. Its decision to hem in on their space was heavily frictional. When the Nokia purchase closes, however, Microsoft will manufacture hardware across every major Windows form factor: Tablets and PCs through Surface, smartphones via Lumia, and televisions through Xbox. It can now create hardware consumer experiences for every screen Windows wants to land on. That gives the company increased flexibility to reach consumers, and set the discussion.

The new Microsoft’s strategy is well on its way to execution. The question now becomes who will see it through.