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“Four years ago, you know, I can remember statistically when we would have looked far more like the overdog in everything,” he says. “Now we’ve got battles where we’re big and strong and powerful, and we’ve got battles where other guys are moving, and it’s fun to work both from the front of the pack and from the back of the pack sometimes. They’re different kinds of competition, but they both drive you, push you.”
Apple’s enjoying its moment, and so is Google, which Ballmer says now plays the role of monopoly power. “I’ve been there, done that, understand that it may not be true, but it’s actually a discontinuous positive moment. And then you get a moment where something doesn’t go right. It will happen there.” Ballmer also remains stubborn when discussing areas such as smartphones where Microsoft has obviously fallen behind rivals. “It wasn’t because they knew about something we didn’t know about,” he says, noting that Microsoft has made phone software for about a decade. He points to a story in Isaacson’s biography of Jobs that details how Apple picked low-power ARM chips instead of Intel’s (INTC) power-hungry chips for its mobile devices. As a result, Apple produced sleeker products that had longer battery lives. “One decision, and they would have been on a completely different path,” he says. That may be true, but the point is that Apple made the right decision—and kept making them.