The news hit the wires like a bomb when Steve Ballmer,the CEO of Microsoft, one of the world’s largest software companies and the eight hundred pound gorilla in the operating systems market has announced that he will be stepping down within the next twelve months. While many investors and stockholders in Microsoft greeted this announcement with solid ground of Hallelujahs and praises, the announcement does raise several questions. Like him or hate him, Steve Ballmer formed a link to Microsoft’s glory days. He is one of the few inside people that truly knew the choreography and the script that Microsoft was following. However, during his term, Microsoft had some stumbles along the way like the Zune which was really disastrous and the Windows phone didn’t go anywhere. In fact, while rival Apple hit home run after home run with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and transformed hardware Microsoft was pretty much sidelined. Its only notable hit during Steve Ballmer’s term from 2000 to 2013 was the Xbox and we all know that the first version of it was pretty laughable. Be that as it may, Microsoft persisted and hit the ball out of the park with the release of Xbox 360. This begs the question “Who is to blame for Microsoft’s lost decade?”
Bill Gates in the Shadows
You have to remember that when Bill Gates, the public face of Microsoft and the convicted monopolist, stepped down in the year 2000 a lot of analysts were saying that this was a strategic move. The court has found Microsoft guilty of unfairly using its dominant position to lock out competitors and the very public face of this type of business practice was Bill Gates. It was not surprising to people when he stepped down in 2000 but remained the chairman of Microsoft because the result of this is that his hand was still on the levers of power that is why it’s not completely fair to lay all the blame for Microsoft’s missteps on Steve Ballmer. For all we know, Bill Gates was still pretty much very active in the mix. Why is this a big deal? Well it is a big deal if you’re a shareholder of Microsoft. If you bought Microsoft in 2000 the chances are you didn’t really make much money off the stock for thirteen years but if you have invested that money in Cisco, Apple or better yet Google you would make quite a bit of money now. Your money basically went to sleep for close to a decade and a half- that’s bad news! This also is a big deal for people who are concerned for future generation of Microsoft. If Bill Gates is partly to blame for Microsoft’s decade and a half of missteps then this shows that the old monopolist and central market flare mentality of Microsoft hasn’t fully been overthrown. The last thing any company needs when it comes to trying to adopt to a completely changed business landscape is a sense of entitlement and living in the past.
The Real Solution
If Microsoft really wants to become relevant in the future of technology, it has to cut its ties with the past. Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer were relevant in the age of fully local software and they were great during the days of floppy disks and CD ROMs. The world has changed and the world has moved on. If Microsoft wants to be a serious player in the next decade or beyond, it has to completely turn its back on the mentalities of the past.