As he travels around the world to headline various product-launch events, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer often finds himself confronted with questions that have little to do with the task at hand. And today, in South Korea, he found that an answer to a question about the economic recovery has overshadowed a meeting with government officials and business partners to tout Windows 7.

Ballmer was asked about whether IT spending would return to pre-downturn levels. He said, once again, that it would not.

"The economy went through a set of changes on a global basis over the course of the last year which are, I think is fair to say, once in a lifetime," Ballmer said, echoing comments he's made at least a dozen times this year so far. "While we will see growth, we will not see recovery."

Ballmer noted that PC and server sales were down about 15 percent globally this year, largely because "CEOs have much more tightly constrained IT budgets."

He continued, "There is going to be pressure in businesses to drive for a new level of efficiency. With capital more scarce, we know IT budgets are more scarce. So it's important that we're not saying we just had a crisis and we are going to have a recovery. We are going to live in what we like to call the new normal. The new normal will be a more scarce environment than we saw a year, two years, three years ago."

Windows 7, he added, getting back on message, was part of the solution: The goal is to "do more with less," another Microsoft marketing slogan that has taken on new meaning in these days of economic decline. Windows 7 will make users more efficient on the desktop, he said, while technologies such as cloud computing and virtualization will make server computing more efficient by requiring less hardware and using less electricity.

During Ballmer's trip to South Korea, Samsung announced that it's upgrading its corporate PCs worldwide to Windows 7. The company is also working with Microsoft on designs for more energy-efficient PCs.