[caption id="attachment_107" align="alignleft" width="240"] Steve Balmer in 2012. (Official Microsoft Press Photo)[/caption]
The announcement that Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer is to retire is another pointer to the end of an era in the growth of personal computing. Bill Gates and Steve Balmer were at the heart of the Microsoft dream of having a PC in every home. More than a billion people on earth run the Windows operating system today, a huge number run Microsoft Office and vast numbers of businesses depend on Microsoft.
I have been reading a lot of journalistic comment on Steve Balmer's career at Microsoft. At lot of Wall Street seems to be pleased he is retiring. The tech community seems to hold him responsible for all the decisions Microsoft got wrong over the last 13 years but don't seem to credit him with making lots of money for Microsoft. Some people seem to hold Microsoft to a higher level of loathing than any other tech company. Apple, Google, Yahoo and almost everyone else has a more generous reception than Microsoft. Some journalists seem to enjoy putting the words Balmer and disaster in the same sentence. More than 90% of the world's PCs run on Windows and only 7% run on all the versions of Apple OS X put together yet people regard the current version of Windows as a disaster. An army of hacks writing about technology heap praise on Apple and Google while simultaneously cast Microsoft in the role of the 'dark side' of corporate power in the IT industry.
While Balmer was CEO, Microsoft did not make compelling products for digital music, did not address the emergence of consumption devices like the iPad, spent too long in operating system development cycles, missed out on the mobile computing revolution and came late to the new opportunities of the Internet. We all now 'google' things on the Internet rather than 'bing' stuff. On the enterprise field the area of virtualisation was something that was neglected for a long time.
Steve Balmer did oversee the success of the Xbox and the dominance of Microsoft Office as standard business productivity tool. Microsoft servers and enterprise tools are the backbone of most businesses. Microsoft is a multi-billion dollar business without needing to address consumer products at all.
Unfortunately people expect more than this from Microsoft. Microsoft absolutely dominated computing in the 1990s and the bar was set very high. Labelling Balmer as a failure is wrong. I think a CEO that has more than a billion people using a key product for over 10 years has done a good job. Even if you regard Microsoft as some great satan in the IT world the numbers speak for themselves.
So is the real Steve Balmer the failed CEO of legend or something else? My own view is that Balmer did a good job of the non-sexy bread and butter products like servers, office and operating systems. Microsoft failed to be cool or be loved. Ultimately those emotional responses to Microsoft products are not there and it seems that this promotes the hostility to Microsoft.