Microsoft admits that it is copying Apple -

After years of being accused of copying Apple, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has said that his new business plan is to, er, copy Apple.

Ballmer has indicated that Microsoft's cash cows of operating systems and office software are fading and he is taking the company into hardware and online services.

In his annual letter to shareholders, Ballmer suggested that Microsoft may eventually make its own phones to build on its Surface tablet PC and the Xbox.

Ballmer said that there will be times when Microsoft builds specific devices for specific purposes.

The idea appears to mimic Apple where integration of software and hardware worked when coupled with excessive marketing and free advertising in mainstream media.

But Microsoft is not Apple and Ballmer will have his work cut out to prove that the company is "cool" or remotely targeted towards consumers.

He said that Microsoft would continue to work with its traditional hardware partners, such as Dell, Samsung and HTC, but Vole's role in the so-called 'ecosystem' was changing.

Ballmer said that this change in philosophy impacts how the company was run, how it developed "new experiences", and how it takes products to market for consumers and businesses.

Vole already makes cash from providing services online, such as access to servers to enable cloud computing, or web versions of its Office applications, but Ballmer suggests a move away from its traditional business model of selling installed software.

Microsoft now sees itself as a devices and services company, Ballmer wrote.

Ballmer has to do something. He had just received a lower bonus than he did last year, because Windows sales were flat and Microsoft did not make sure that it provided a choice of browser to some European customers.

He 'only' banked a bonus of $620,000 for Microsoft's 2012 fiscal year, which ended in June, down nine percent from the year before. While this is more than many make in a lifetime, it marks the third year in a row that Ballmer has not earned his maximum bonus, set at twice his salary.