Steve Ballmer Sees the Light Through the Clouds

Steve BallmerAfter laying off thousands yesterday, Microsoft (s MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer visited Stanford today in high spirits, telling students that his company is hiring and that he can’t think of a better time to start a business. “These are tough economic times, but these are times that are rich in opportunity,” was his message. “I don’t think the contraction is dramatic enough that we’re not going to see strong ideas come through.”

Well I guess the task at hand was an inspirational speech, so you can’t blame Ballmer for trying to deliver, but this wasn’t the kind that resulted in wet eyes and standing ovations. Not that he isn’t charismatic, it was just a little hollow in light of the economy.

In addition to general entrepreneurial optimism, Ballmer spoke of specific opportunities for “software-powered experiences.” He said Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing platform, is a core project because it’s the future of Microsoft’s Windows Server and SQL businesses. But even while Ballmer pumped up the cloud and clients, he wasn’t willing to sign over existing businesses. He defended the ongoing opportunity for smartphones and other smart clients “because this stuff is just so darn cheap.”

Ballmer also alluded to the opportunity to team up with Yahoo (s YHOO) in search to address more customers and deliver better advertising. “Google’s (s GOOG) a very big company in search,” Ballmer said. “We’re sort of like a startup. We can’t invest in everything the market leader can.”