The Fate of Bill Gates

1billgatesReuters started the ball rolling earlier this week saying the 3 of the top 20 Microsoft shareholders raised the question of whether Bill Gates should be replaced as Chairman of Microsoft. Now Bill’s 5% holding of Microsoft stock is the largest but the 3 dissident  shareholders have a combined holding that is slightly larger. And because Bill Gates is selling a scheduled 80 million shares per year, his holding will go to zero in early 2018.

Then yesterday tech pundit Mike Elgan  followed up Preston Gralla’s Computerworld articleIs it time for Bill Gates to retire as Microsoft chairman? with his own Datamation  story that asked effectively the same question – Why Microsoft Should Fire Bill Gates, Too.

Mike’s essential argument is that Bill gates and Steve Ballmer have been closely entwined Chairman and CEO effectively. So the sins of one had the implicit approval of the other. And the sins cited by Mike for the 10 year static valuation of Microsoft stock form the basis for Mike’s argument that  Bill Gates  should not be continued as Chairman of Microsoft.
Needless to say this article provoked a torrent of comments on both Datamation and Google + [347 +’s, 185 comments, 65 shares on Google+ alone]. here is the crux of Mike’s indictment of Bill as Chairman for the last 10 years:

* Missing every Internet opportunity, until it was way too late, including search engines
* Failing to maintain the lead in browsers with Internet Explorer
* Failing with AutoPC, Microsoft’s play for the automotive market
* Pushing pen computing as a layer on top of bloated, expensive Windows
* Believing Microsoft Bob and Clippy were the solutions to Microsoft’s overly complex and confusing interfaces.
* Pushing OEM partners to embrace Origami, the Microsoft-led mobile initiative that failed catastrophically
* Making Steve Ballmer, Gates’ incompetent college pal, CEO
* Keeping Ballmer in charge even after years of obvious failure
* Shipping Windows Vista and not knowing it would harm the company
* Failing to understand how complex Windows versioning options hurt the brand
* Launching Zune, Windows Phone or Microsoft Surface RT years too late to make a difference

The fundamental problem that Microsoft is confronting with replacement of Steve Ballmer is Carpe Diem – the inability of the company to seize the day in major new markets. MS  despite early prototypes and key patents and purchases has failed to produce market leading devices or software for the past 10 years. This happened   despite substantial early leads on tablets, gaming devices, touch screens and pens, Internet dominance in the formative 2000-2005 era, phones merging onto media handhelds, etc. This is problem No 1.

It is  strange and revealing  that Redmond has not been able to produce one killer, “must-have”  app or game  exclusively for the Windows 8 Metro interface. Nor has it been able to integrate it well into the great Windows  Golden Goose – all those many  millions of X86 Windows programs.  Problem #2.

Problem #1 and Problem #2 define Problem #3. The Redmond programming troopers have become distinctly and clearly less agile. First and foremost, no killer Windows 8 apps from Redmond. As well,  Windows Phone 8.1 is way late. Windows 8.1 is distinctly less than what could be desired. IE is falling behind and is updated at 1/4 of the pace of Chrome and Firefox.  But more broadly pursuing innovative software ideas and approaches in Redmond  a) has to be sold to an  increasingly discordant group of programming troopers and b)has to fit into a proprietary framework which is the source of the power of the Microsoft proprietary API and extracting allegiance from outside stakeholders to the 1 Microsoft Way.

Given that Apple has been super successful being super-proprietary and Google is moving away from Open and towards ever more effectively proprietary technologies. Look at  Dart, Blink, Wopf, and the whole “works best in Chrome or only in Chrome web strategy” [ irony – this has been the Redmond’s motto for the proprietary Windows API]. In sum expect Microsoft to recruit a Proprietary Task Master to counter the competition. Besides Redmond’s turns with software visionaries like Ray Ozzie or Anders Hedberg have been very mixed.

So I am betting on a Stephen Elop-like clone as the next CEO for Microsoft working with Chairman Bill for the next 3-5 years.