I posted something here a while back about badmouthing the competition. Ballmer didn't say anything exceptionally bad about Apple, but there was a contemptuous laugh that conveyed disrespect.
In the past, executives were careful with their words, but would often convey additional or contrary messages through non-verbal clues. Thanks to YouTube, this kind of non-verbal behaviour can now be widely disseminated and discussed.
In a post entitled love thy competitor, Garr Reynolds sees this kind of laughter as poor presentation style.
"Frankly, Ballmer reacted pretty much like I expected him to. ... I would have been flat-out blown away and quite impressed indeed if he had been complimentary of Apple. ... But it is the reaction to Ballmer's comments that I find so fascinating. It is the big response to Steve Ballmer's little comments got me thinking: Should you say "nice things" about competitors?"
Tom Peters made a similar point recently - Love Thine "Enemy"! It's Good Business!
Perhaps the real question for the IT industry is whether competition is a zero-sum game. And that depends where we are in the product lifecycle. For a new or emerging class of product, it makes sense for a vendor to collaborate with its competitors to encourage adoption and grow the market. For a mature product, on the other hand, the incentives for collaboration are smaller, and the vendor's strategy may be to gain the maximum market share or the most profitable niche, at the expense of its competitors.
But this is where it gets difficult for the relationship between two major vendors, such as Apple and Microsoft. There are many different product areas in which they compete - from operating systems (OS-X versus Windows) to MP3 players (iPod versus Zune) - as well as some in which they cooperate - and these are at different points in the product life cycle.
If Ballmer were a devious hypocrite, he would have spoken neutrally or even positively about the iPhone and then paid other people privately to dish the dirt. Perhaps we should be thankful that he doesn't try to conceal his true feelings about his competitors.