During a Microsoft event in San Francisco today, Sept. 29, Steve Ballmer seemed to suggest that those businesses determined to stick with Windows XP as “good enough” may find themselves outpaced sooner rather than later.

Of course, Ballmer has a vested interest in having all businesses, regardless of their size or capability, eventually upgrade their IT infrastructure to Windows 7: Microsoft needs a huge tech refresh on the part of the enterprise and small and midsize businesses, coupled with widespread adoption of its latest operating system, to help reverse its recent revenue declines.

In response to a question about whether “good enough” had become the dominant discussion point in business, “You will get pushed to be efficient,” Ballmer said.

“You’ll need to take costs out of what you’re doing today to do innovative things tomorrow,” he added. “The business isn’t going to stop; you’re going to have to innovate.”

Given that the entire event up to that point was Microsoft explaining how the combination of Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2 and Exchange Server 2010 would supposedly help businesses embrace a “new efficiency,” the subtext of Ballmer’s comments seemed pretty clear: Leave Windows XP behind, or get left behind yourself.

This opens some interesting lines of discussion. It’s hard to dispute that, for shops running Microsoft, an upgrade to new software platforms will translate into tangible workflow benefits (once the inevitable adoption kinks are worked out) — at the very least, workers on the road will have the ability to, say, use DirectAccess to remotely download documents from their companies’ internal networks with what Microsoft claims is a high degree of safety; and Windows 7 itself will likely offer upgrades in efficiency, not to mention some nifty wallpaper options.

But the big question looming for Microsoft is whether companies will have the cash in their IT budgets to upgrade when Windows 7 hits the street on Oct. 22.

Ballmer may be a little worried about that last point. In response to another question, he said, “At least 60 percent of getting business support for Windows 7 must be with Microsoft … we have to work with you to make that case.”

And he reiterated, “We have to help you make that business case. IT and Microsoft have to work together.”

Will businesses develop a wait-and-see attitude toward Windows 7, sticking with their old systems in the meantime, or rush to adopt the new operating system? Studies over the summer — including ones from Deutsche Bank and ScriptLogic – have suggested radically different answers to that question.

Certainly some businesses, either feeling burned by their Vista experience or simply lacking the cash, will decline to upgrade — at least immediately. Others, feeling their systems demand a refresh, will start their upgrade process before the end of the year.

Ballmer seems to be doing everything in his power to ensure that a larger percentage of businesses fall into the latter category.

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