On August 23rd, Microsoft announced that CEO Steve Ballmer will be retiring from Microsoft within the next twelve months. Shares of Microsoft closed at $34.75, up 7.29% on the day. This is just one indicator that, by and large, Mr. Ballmer’s leaving is seen as a good thing for Microsoft. But while Microsoft hasn’t exactly been a Wall Street darling during Mr. Ballmer’s tenure, for the consumer, it hasn’t all been bad. I know that this makes me a contrarion in light of the media coverage of his impending departure.
Don’t get me wrong. Since he became Microsoft’s CEO in 2000, there have been epic fails. Think Zune, Kin phones, Windows Mobile OS and, arguably the Mothers of All Fails, Windows Vista. Microsoft also clearly missed the smartphone boat when Mr. Ballmer proclaimed that the iPhone would be a huge failure. He, and Microsoft, just didn’t get it.
That being said, Microsoft has delivered some quality products, particularly in the gaming arena, since Bill Gates stepped down as CEO. People generally scoffed at the idea that Microsoft was going to compete with Sony and Nintendo in the gaming arena. But Microsoft has sold over 100 million Xbox consoles. Its current system, the Xbox 360, continues to be wildly popular. Xbox Live, their social gaming network, has over 46 million paying subscribers.
Besides its gaming successes, Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista, was hailed as a quality OS, just as good as Vista was bad. Also, Microsoft is beginning to see some moderate success in the mobile phone market, although their Windows Surface tablets have not been successful.
Its newest operating system, Windows 8, has played to mixed reviews for its effort to meld a standard desktop OS with a mobile, touchscreen OS. The latest version of its gaming system, Xbox One, has met with significant resistance for some of the restrictions that were announced and then ultimately rescinded. Its ultimate success is yet to be determined.
But for all of its hits and misses in the OS and hardware arena, Microsoft has remained a major player in the corporate world throughout Mr. Ballmer’s tenure, thanks to the Microsoft Office suite of applications. As Microsoft moved toward a cloud environment, its Outlook.com, SkyDrive and Office 365 products have proven to be successful.
So, while I concur that it may be time for Mr. Ballmer to step down as Microsoft’s CEO and that there have been some significant product failures along the way, for the average consumer, it hasn’t all been bad. Although, particularly in the smartphone and tablet arenas, Microsoft was late to the game.