Ballmer – Forced Out or Retired?

There are a number of credible rumors running round the internets on Steve Ballmer’s announced retirement.


Steve Ballmer announced that he was retiring as Microsoft’s CEO last week. This is surprising and not so surprising at the same time.  As soon as the announcement hit, though, many people started speculating on what had happened.  Ballmer had mentioned retirement before, but not until 2018 or so.

There are two credible rumors that caused Ballmer’s ouster that I want to concentrate on with this column. Both are related, but in many ways have their own lives – the $900M Surface RT write down and Ballmer losing Bill’s support. I’m going to hit these briefly, because, quite honestly, there’s a great deal to ramble on about here…

$900M Surface RT Write-Off
The write off is old news; but very likely the cause that brought Ballmer down. I don’t care who you are, or what company you work for. If you’re the captain of the ship and get hit by that photon torpedo, either you or the ship is going down (or both, depending on the company). Thankfully, Microsoft can weather the storm, but it’s clear, they’re going to get a new captain.

Please remember that the RT hardware isn’t bad. I think both Surface tablets are decent, but it’s the tablet/desktop convergence that is the problem. It has confused and confounded users from the beginning. Microsoft is having issues shedding its traditional computing model, and that contributed to the write off and Ballmer’s downfall,

I’m not surprised, though. Ballmer has NEVER understood mobile computing. It’s the major reason why they continued to come behind RIMM (now Blackberry) back in the early to mid PocketPC/Windows Mobile days, and why Windows Phone, while considered by many to be a superior mobile platform, doesn’t have any real market share to speak of.

Interestingly enough, I wrote to Steve Ballmer 13 years ago and offered my services to him and Microsoft.  I got a letter back from his office saying, “thanks but Steve’s got this.” I am in no way saying I could have prevented this from happening, but either Ballmer wouldn’t listen to mobile strategists or they were afraid to stand up to him and tell him he was wrong. It’s too bad; and hopefully the new Microsoft and now new CEO will change the culture.

I’ve been calling for Ballmer’s ouster for years. It’s too bad it took a $1.0B finance hit to make it happen.

Ballmer Lost Bill’s Support
The other big rumor going around is that Steve lost Bill’s support at the Board level. Up to now, Steve’s had it. Bill – though not part of the day-to-day at Microsoft any longer – handpicked Ballmer to succeed him and has supported him throughout his tenure as CEO – until now.

It’s sad that it took nearly $1B US reasons for Bill to withdraw his support, but I honestly think it’s overdue.  As I mentioned, Ballmer has never understood Mobility or Mobile Computing. If he did, it’s clear that Windows Phone would have had a different product development path. Windows CE/Windows Mobile wouldn’t have hung around so long, and received such lack-luster internal support. Changes to Microsoft’s standard, PC platform would have come earlier than as part of Windows 8; and most certainly, Windows XP would have had a much different life cycle than it did.

Now, there’s a lot in that last paragraph that doesn’t necessarily deal directly with mobile computing, but a different mobile strategy would have effected a LOT more than just mobile OS and mobile devices at Microsoft.

At the End of the Day
I hope the new Microsoft CEO comes from outside the organization and brings a new point of view and mobile computing outlook to the organization. I hope that they understand what the consumer wants, what the enterprise will accept and isn’t afraid to put both chocolate and peanut butter together. While mobility isn’t ALL about CoIT at this time, it’s too much of a consideration not to have someone at the helm that doesn’t understand it.

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this Microsoft development in the comments, below.

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