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Ballmer ducks UK press as verdict hits

Another scheduling triumph - but he's still in the country

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Updated Steve Ballmer was due to meet the pressin London today, but just as Judge Jackson announced that he'd deliver his final verdict at 3pm Eastern yesterday, into our mailbox came the cancellation. And we can't help feeling that some supernatural power must have guided whoever thought up the title of the event that isn't going to happen any more: "Unfortunately we have to tell you that the Microsoft 'Choices of the Future' event planned for tomorrow afternoon has been cancelled."

Steve apparently has "other urgent business commitments," as well he might. But after we published the original version of this story yesterday (we guessed, wrongly, that Stevie has haring back to Redmond) we got an appeal from the Microsoft press office. Apparently they've been getting bombarded by calls from the people who're attending all the other Ballmer events today. The ones we didn't know about.

So we're happy to announce that the rest of you are still urgent business commitments, and you still get to see Steve. Ask him our question (see below) if you do, will you?

Yesterday Steve was in Oslo, and was able to announce that a break-up of Microsoft would hurt consumers and slow up innovation. Which of course is the same old song.

But this isn't: "But we'll be fine either way. We'll move on." That's new, isn't it? The official Microsoft line has been approximately that all of the government's proposed measures would be bad for the company, the industry, the consumer, America, but that as Microsoft is utterly confident that it will overturn any measures taken on appeal, that's OK, and it's business as usual.

Obviously, the official line is nonsense. Even if Microsoft does manage to escape the bulk of the remedies on appeal, it's going to be a long, hard road before it gets to that point. It might be able to stall breakup while the appeals go ahead, but it'd be very lucky if it contrived to avoid the imposition of restrictions that would effectively stop it developing a whole stack of products the way it wants to develop them.*

While the company's in the legal mess, business as usual just plain isn't possible. So it must have a series of contingency plans - rejigs of how it develops NGWS (and maybe X-Box), and in the (slightly) longer term a scheme for how it lives with breakup. Ballmer seems to be suggesting that the company has such plans.

*In another curious case of serendipity, the organisers for the Choices of the Future event requested the press to come up with some questions in advance, seeing as how they didn't want to waste time on duplicated questions. Ever willing to oblige, The Register came up with something that we felt, while tricky to answer properly, went to the nub of the matter, and would in fact benefit from Steve being able to consider it a little before the event. We think it was probably the judge who made him cancel, not us, but we still think it's a corker, and it'd be nice if he'd try to answer it one day. Here it is:

"Although you haven't yet formally given details of NGWS, you've spoken about it and related matters enough over the past year for us to have a reasonable idea of where you're going with it. More recently you postponed your NGWS announcement because, you said, you didn't want it being overshadowed or obscured by your little legal matter.

"But as I see it, NGWS will continue to be overshadowed by the trial until such time as you can overturn the verdict. This isn't just going to be a matter of a three week postponement - you and your customers are going to be unsure of your ability to legally deliver NGWS for months, maybe years, if you develop it the way you want to develop it.

"This goes for numerous other Microsoft products - probably the majority of them. So your development is either stalled for the duration of the appeals process, or you have contingency plans - do you? If so, could you maybe talk around them a little?" ®

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