CARLSBAD, Calif. – I’m attending the All Things D conference this week in Carlsbad, Calif., north of San Diego. It’s as close as a conference gets to being the Who’s Who of the technology industry. How do I know? When I walked in the door Tuesday evening at the lush Four Seasons Aviara hotel, I immediately spotted IAC (IACI) CEO Barry Diller chatting in the hallway with Howard Stringer, CEO of Sony (SNE). That was after flying down on the same plane as Yahoo (YHOO) President Sue Decker and David Eun, Google’s (GOOG) vice-president for content partnerships. (Decker sat in the first row of the plane; Eun sat in the last; I was in between.) On my way to the room I bumped into a trio of Facebook execs: CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and PR poo-bah Elliot Schrage. On my way to the elevator I traded hellos with Yusuf Mehdi, Microsoft’s senior vice-president for strategic partnerships.
Not impressed yet with the firepower here? Okay, consider the plain folks in the cheap seats around me for the main event of the evening, a joint interview with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. A row behind me investment banker Frank Quattrone and VCs Jim Breyer of Accel Partners and Redpoint’s Geoff Yang sat together like three boys in the back of the class. AOL founder Steve case sat a few rows in front of them, just in front of Slide’s Max Levchin. Intuit founder Scott Cook was just behind me.
Oh, yes, there was that interview with Gates and Ballmer. They didn’t say a whole lot, actually. They do a nice buddy act, with Gates playing the Gracie to Ballmer’s Allen. A few highlights … Gates said he remains Microsoft’s (MSFT) largest shareholder. Ballmer is the third largest, with an institution between them. (It is Capital Research.) Ballmer claims not to be frustrated that Microsoft’s bid to buy Yahoo didn’t work out and essentially confirmed there are ongoing talks between the two companies about a partnership that falls short of a merger. Gates was surprisingly candid about the disappointing launch of Vista, Microsoft’s latest operating system. And as I said, other than a handful of yucks, there wasn’t much more to report.
Oh, as I was heading for bed, News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch was checking into the hotel. Should be an interesting couple days.