THIRTEEN years after he succeeded Bill Gates as Microsoft’s chief executive, Steve Ballmer has announced his departure. The software company said on August 23rd that Mr Ballmer had “decided to retire” within 12 months. Microsoft’s board has appointed a committee, which includes Mr Gates (these days, the chairman) to choose a successor.Mr Ballmer has had plenty of critics over the years, but had shown no inclination to bow to them. Originally, he writes, he had intended to step down “in the middle of our transformation to a devices and services company”—a plan that he laid out, along with a reshuffle of Microsoft’s senior managers, only in July. However, a week later the company reported disappointing results for the fourth quarter. Its share price fell by 11% (see chart).
Those results pointed up why transformation is needed. Microsoft has not yet adjusted to the ending of the Wintel era: sales of personal computers, running its Windows operating system and powered by Intel chips, have been plummeting, as people prefer to buy smartphones and tablets. The software giant has made a late, stumbling entrance onto the mobile stage. In the last quarter it wrote off $900m to reflect the poor sales of its Surface RT tablet. Windows 8, the newest version of its operating system, which runs on tablets, PCs and hybrids of the two, has not caught on since its launch last autumn: a revised version is due in October. And although Windows smartphones, almost all of them made by Nokia, are now more popular than BlackBerrys, that is a small triumph.Microsoft is not exactly on its last legs. It enjoys a market capitalisation of more than $260 billion and sits on a cash pile of $77 billion. Mr Ballmer can point to successes, such as the Xbox entertainment centre. But Microsoft might have done so much better, and faster. Activist investors, who have been stalking several tech companies lately, seem to think so. Others agree: the share price jumped on news of the chief executive’s departure. As Mr Ballmer himself implies, he will leave a lot of work undone.
Reading between the lines
Money talks: Aug 26th 2013:
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