After describing Surface as a "design point" to "prime the pump" and "sell a few million," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is describing the company's tablets as a "real business" this week. In a brief interview with MIT technology Review, Ballmer avoids answering Surface sales questions, but says he's "super-glad" Microsoft did the Surface as it's important for the Windows ecosystem. "Surface is a real business," says Ballmer. "In an environment in which there’s 350 million PCs sold, I don’t think Surface is going to dominate volume, but it’s a real business."

Microsoft wants to push pen computing with the Surface Pro

On the challenge of making consumer products, Ballmer picks out PCs, Office suites, and Xbox sales as key consumer wins, but he admits Microsoft has done a better job at monetizing the enterprise over the consumer. Interestingly, Ballmer says Microsoft has "been talking about pen computing for years," but that "it was hard to do that with OEMs who were not equally incentivized." Ballmer says Microsoft is now "trying to lead a little" with the Surface Pro, which includes a Wacom pen display.

Execution is key, and Ballmer admits it could have been better in some cases, but the company's broader vision of software "in kind of an integrated form" is supported by Windows 8. Ballmer has previously alluded to a devices-and-services company as Microsoft transitions away from its traditional licensing models of the past. There's no mention of Microsoft's Windows Blue upgrade, but recent evidence suggests the company is readying a fairly significant update to Windows 8 this year.