It’s a tough time to leave school and start a business, but Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer did his best on May 6 to make a hall full of Stanford University students feel better about their future, Reuters reports. Funding is in short supply, he acknowledged, but there’s still money out there for startups with smart ideas. "I don’t think the contraction will be strong enough that really big ideas aren’t going to get funding," Ballmer said. But he had to admit that things are grim. "It really is a tough, tough, tough environment, there’s no question about it," he said, addressing about 1,200 students, mostly engineers, as part of a class in entrepreneurship. Yet Microsoft and Apple were both started during recessionary times, he said. He also repeated his usual mantra that there is a lot more innovation to do in software. His top technology trends for the moment: multicore processors, "screens everywhere" (PCs, smart phones, and TVs), natural user interfaces, and all content going digital. And he drew an unintended laugh when he said software companies have to keep evolving their products. "A product like software is only as good as the last release … or two," he said quickly, remembering that Vista hasn’t been a huge success. "Yes, thank you," he said to laughter. "Moving right along…"

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