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Steve Ballmer has delivered a mea culpa to Microsoft's partners for its slip-ups against Apple and Google on tablets and smart phones.

Ballmer told Microsoft's annual Worldwide Partner Conference that Windows Mobile missed a "whole generation of users" and promised Windows Phone 7 will set things right.

On tablets, Ballmer said Microsoft had to "really push" tablets from a Microsoft perspective and committed to a range of devices from partners Asus, Dell, Sony and Samsung in the "next few months". These will run Windows 7 and will be dockable and come with and without keyboards.

"One of the most important things we will do in smart devices is push forward with Windows 7 based slates and Windows 7 based phones," Ballmer said.

The Holy Grail is the consumer, seduced by must-have gadgetry that they'll bring into work and that their company's IT departments then have to run and support.

"We will give you a set of Windows-based devices that people will be proud to carry at home and will fit the kinds of scenarios enterprise IT's trying to make happen with the phone form factor," Ballmer told the opening of the WPC event in Washington DC.

"We are going to reach out to work vigorously with you to drive enterprise IT and consumers... they got to come into IT and say I want a Windows 7 slate and I want an Windows 7 phone."

Microsoft will push into Windows Phone 7 and slates with "energy and vigor" Ballmer promised.

Ballmer is, of course, the CEO who laughed off the iPhone that robbed Windows Mobile of market share several years back and was caught in the headlights by the iPad.

The last time Microsoft was so badly caught out was when it decided there was no future in continuing to develop the browser and wound down work on Internet Explorer. In 2006 as it was releasing the IE 7 second beta, and with Firefox eating up IE market share, Bill Gates delivered what he called a mea culpa "saying we waited too long for a browser release."

On the cloud, meanwhile, Ballmer was less apologetic.

According to Ballmer, Microsoft's a cloud company and he's got no time for partners worried about the change to their business models or the prospect that they'll end up competing with Microsoft. "If you don't want to move to the cloud, we are not your folks," he said.

It was a WPC performance during which Ballmer hit partners with the cloud message full bore: cloud is not a virtualized server infrastructure using Hyper-V but includes hosted Microsoft applications and services, Bing, System Center and Windows Server.

The message follows a major re-organization of Microsoft's $14bn Server and Tools business unit, home to Windows Azure and Windows Server, to specifically communicate a consistent cloud message spanning different Microsoft products.

Ballmer stressed the new responsibilities incumbent on partners getting into cloud - reliability, security, privacy and operational excellence. ®

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