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Microsoft's Steve Ballmer: 'We Are Not Going to Leave Any Space Uncovered to Apple'

App stores, Microsoft stores and self-made tablets: a lot of Microsoft's recent moves sure seem to follow Apple's blueprint, don't they? As it turns out, there's a reason for that. In a post-Worldwide Partner Conference interview yesterday, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said that his company won't cede a single front to its counterpart from Cupertino.

"We are trying to make absolutely clear we are not going to leave any space uncovered to Apple," Ballmer declared in an interview with trade publication CRN. "Not the consumer cloud. Not hardware software innovation. We are not leaving any of that to Apple by itself. Not going to happen. Not on our watch."

Ballmer went on to say that while Microsoft holds substantial advantages over Apple in business-friendly features such as productivity and enterprise management, the company won't paint itself into a corporate-focused corner; instead, it will "innovate everywhere and bring our partners with us."

Microsoft's Surface tablet is one example of the company's willingness to both "innovate anywhere" and stymy Apple, but it also highlights a possible schism between Microsoft and its OEM partners. Several manufacturers were said to be highly miffed in the wake of the tablet's surprise release. LG announced it was withdrawing from the tablet market that very day, while HP later confirmed that it was slamming the brakes on its own Windows 8 RT tablet, although HP still plans on releasing an x86-based Windows 8 tablet. Both companies said the decisions had nothing to do with Surface, but the timing of the announcements were suspicious, to say the least.

Ballmer didn't rule out taking the battle directly to Apple on the smartphone front either, even though a senior Microsoft executive recently said that the company had no plans to make a handset of its own. "Look, we’ll see what happens," Ballmer said when pushed. However, he did say that the company is happy with its smartphone partners and is focusing all of its attention on the Surface tablet right now.