What if Bill Gates held Microsoft back, and not Steve Ballmer?

Steve-ballmer-bill-gatesWhat if Bill Gates held Microsoft back, and not Steve Ballmer? Steve Ballmer was constantly ragged on for not doing enough for the stock price, for not focusing on mobile, and for not getting ahead. It could have been Gates, not Ballmer.

When Steve Ballmer became the CEO, Bill Gates was still the chairman of the board and became the “chief software architect”, a position he created for himself so he could retain an abundance of power. At that position, he also controlled the technological vision of the company. Microsoft with Ballmer/Gates was virtually nothing but Windows and PCs, PCs, PCs.

When Bill Gates stopped working at Microsoft full time 2006 (and then all day to day operations all together in 2008), Ballmer gained much more autonomy. In the time where Ballmer had more power (as Gates turned over his position of chief software architect immediately), Microsoft took new paths. Under Ballmer alone (referring to Microsoft after Gates as full time), Microsoft released Azure, it’s cloud computing platform soon after Gates left. The Microsoft Stores were born, again, very soon after Gates was gone.

After Gates was gone from Microsoft full time, Microsoft bought Skype. It started focusing more on integration and the cloud with it’s services such as Outlook.com, OneDrive (SkyDrive), and OneNote. Microsoft wasn’t just Windows any more. Under Ballmer alone, Bing truly flourished to become what it has become today. And take a guess when Live Search, Bing’s predecessor, was born? Office has become much more than standalone programs. Instead, it collaborates with the cloud to make sure all of your documents are wherever you are, not where your PC is. Under Ballmer alone, Microsoft has reinvented itself, and it’s logo to go along with it, and has become connected and unified. That can’t be said when Gates was there full time. microsoft-old-new-logo2

Ballmer has been heavily criticized for not getting ahead in the mobile computing space. However, the first development for a next gen successor to Windows Mobile (Windows Phone) started in 2004, but was scrapped by Gates as chief software architect. After Gates left full time and left his position as chief software architect, development started back up almost immediately.

Probably the most criticized aspect of Ballmer’s tenure as CEO was Microsoft’s stock price. The initial drop when he took over as CEO was due the court cases and legal fights that Microsoft was facing. They were inherited and not his fault. Up until Gates left day to day, the stock price was stagnant. However, after he left in 2006, Microsoft’s stock price went steadily upward, until it was knocked down hard by the conditions of the US economy in 08. After that, the price rose even more steadily after Gates fully left day to day, with Ballmer in more complete control of the company. This could easily be explained by the innovation from Microsoft during that time, instead of sticking to Windows and PCs.

Why would Gates be the explanation for this? Why would Gates possibly have more power than Ballmer when Ballmer was higher up? Gates was the founder. He was Microsoft’s God. He clearly had a great deal of pull in Redmond. Gates was the chief software engineer who controlled the technological vision of the company. He created the entirely new (and powerful) position for himself so he could increase his power to more than just the chairman.

If you have listened to the both of them talk, they have had completely different tones. Their presentations just FEEL different. Ballmer has had a history of talking about innovating and moving forward, and has received a lot of criticism for not doing so. People saw it as just a lot of fluff and buzz. Gates played a role in that turning into fluff. Gates would often be talking most about Windows and PCs, which prevented Microsoft from moving forward.

Under Ballmer Alone, Microsoft has created the Surface, which helped shape the way for all sorts of innovative PC form factors that helped drive Windows forward. Possibly, if Microsoft was able to focus on the unifications earlier, Windows 8 could have been a larger success. Under Ballmer alone, he has put more focus into the Xbox platform and has helped take it to new levels with accessories like Kinect. Microsoft has not been just PCs, PCs, PCs, and that innovation and vision has certainly played a role in the stock price.

Microsoft-Updates-Its-Look-Unveils-New-Logo-560x315Why would products such as an early Windows Phone cancelled and products like tablet PC’s never pushed? Because they were seen as a threat to Microsoft’s bread and butter…Windows. Gates would never allow it. It was his baby. Maybe the thought was that something like Windows Phone would develop into taking the place of full blown Windows in tablets and mobile devices (which it has) and that would threaten the traditional Windows machine and OS. It seemed like Gates scrapped that and didn’t want to embrace it (or even think about it) like it should have been. It doesn’t appear that Ballmer would have.

Microsoft under Ballmer alone has been pushing Windows Phone quite heavily, and the purchase of Nokia’s devices division shows that dedication. It was Microsoft’s (Gates’) attitude that got them behind. Because they didn’t focus on the mobile space, cloud, and integration. They were too concerned about Windows, and killed anything that would threaten the PC. Ballmer has worked hard to fix that, and make everything work with the PC, and not worry about what would threaten it. The PC has changed form factors dramatically under Ballmer alone, which helped unify Microsoft and their OS’s

Ballmer has created a Microsoft that is connected and that works seamlessly together. The focus has shifted from just Windows to services as well as mobile solutions that compliment Windows and the PC. Gates must have seen these as threatening to Windows, and scrapped them. It can’t be all a coincidence that Microsoft really started to innovate once he was gone. Bill Gates wanted to focus on Windows as it was known in the past; Steve Ballmer wanted to move forward.

NOTE: I have no inside information and this article is solely based on the observations and opinions of me. I have a great amount of respect for Bill Gates and have nothing against him, though this is how I see it, and this article is written as if that was the case. And I’m sure no matter what his (and Ballmer’s) decisions were since Ballmer’s tenure as CEO, I am certain they were what they thought were the best for the company.