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Ballmer: Win8 'certainly surpasses' Win95 in importance

And that rumour of a $199 Surface? Fuggedaboutit

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Acording to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, 2012 is "the most epic year in Microsoft history," and the launch of Windows 8 is a bigger deal to Redmond than the launch of Windows 95.

"Windows 95 was certainly the biggest thing in the last 20 years until now," Ballmer told The Seattle Times. "I think Windows 8 certainly surpasses it."

His opinion of Windows 8's import is, indeed, epic. "We're trying to really re-imagine the world from the ground up with Windows 8," he said.

Ballmer also tossed cold water on rumors that Microsoft's tablet-with-a-keyboard Surface would be offered at a low price point – say, $199 to lure the same audience that snatched up Amazon's original Kindle Fire last holiday season.

"I think most people would tell you that the iPad is not a superexpensive device," he said. "[When] people offer cheaper, they do less. They look less good, they're chintzier, they're cheaper.

"If you say to somebody, would you use one of the 7-inch tablets, would somebody ever use a Kindle to do their homework?" he asked rhetorically. "The answer is no; you never would. It's just not a good enough product. It doesn't mean you might not read a book on it."

Although he said that "We haven't announced pricing" for the Surface, he offered some specifics that put its prices more in line with those of the not-superexpensive iPad. "If you look at the bulk of the PC market," he said, "it would run between, say, probably $300 to about $700 or $800. That's the sweet spot."

Prices for Apple's most recent fondleslab run from between $499 to $829, although Cupertino still offers the 18-month-old, Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 for $399, and the Wi-Fi-plus-3G version for $529.

In the interview, Ballmer also slipped in a wee dig at Google. When asked if it was difficult for Microsoft to compete for "young, top talent" with companies such as Facebook and Google, which the interviewer described as being "perceived as fresher, more dynamic places to work," he sniffed, "I'm not sure you're right about that. I think Google is just another big company at this stage."

He immediately qualified that comment, however. "I'm not saying they're bad," he explained. "They're a good competitor for talent but it's not like they're some small startup."

Whatever you may think about Ballmer's pronouncements, this year is, indeed, of epic importance to Microsoft. Should the launches of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 be met with a tepid response, the year could indeed be a memorable one for the Microsoft CEO – but for a much different reason.

But Ballmer insists on presenting a confident mien. When asked what Redmond's plans were should the launch of Windows 8 come a cropper, he insisted that "Windows 8 is going to do great" – but really, what else could he be expected to say?

Does he have any doubts about its success? "I'm not paid to have doubts," he said, laughing. "I don't have any." ®

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