Ballmer jabs at Google in forum

SAN FRANCISCO - Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer seemed to intentionally avoid uttering the "G-word" Thursday but spared no punches in blasting archrival Google Inc.

During an animated discussion at the Web 2.0 Summit here moderated by organizer John Battelle, Ballmer took a paternal tone, comparing Google - which went public in 2004 but already is the second-

most valuable company in Silicon Valley - to a precocious toddler.

"You're just 3 years old, and we've got you in there playing basketball with a 12-year-old," Ballmer gushed and gesticulated, nearly popping out of his seat. "You're growing up quick and getting better every day, and you've got all the potential in world, and it may take you 'til you're 7, 8, 9 or 10, but you're gonna dunk and you're gonna dunk on the other guy some day, Johnny."

The sold-out crowd of hundreds erupted in laughter - then guffawed when Battelle, a journalist and author of a popular tome on Google, made a similar parallel, comparing Microsoft's widely panned digital music player with Apple Inc.'s top-selling iPod media player.

"Wait, I think we were talking about the Zune," Battelle quipped.

Earlier this year at Stanford University - where both Google founders met during graduate studies - Ballmer characterized the search leader as a "one-trick pony" and described Mountain View-based Google's growth plans as "insane."

On Thursday, he said he meant the one-trick comment "in a very specific way."

"They started in one area, they get really good in that area and then fill out around core," he said between sips of his iced vente Starbucks drink.

"Microsoft is unique in that we've already got two areas. We started out as a desktop computing company and now we've got a huge enterprise business. We're trying to do devices and entertainment, and advertising and the Web. We're trying to be a three- or four-trick pony."