Microsoft's Steve Ballmer announced today that he would be stepping down as Microsoft's CEO in the coming year.
The reasons are many but in short, things have not been going well for Microsoft when viewed through the lens of long term planning. I will direct the reader to something I wrote back in February of 2010:
How Microsoft Lost the Platform War
That very same month, here is what ZDNet's Ed Bott had to say:
Can Microsoft close the app gap with Apple's iPad?
Microsoft has been refining for the past decade, and I can confidently
predict that Apple will do a much better job of implementing those
features than any of Microsoft's partners have done so far.
Nearly eight years after its introduction, the Tablet and touch
technology in Windows is nothing short of spectacular, especially the
parts that recognize handwritten input. And yet it's still nearly impossible to assemble a full suite of Windows apps that were designed to work well on a touch-enabled PC.
In reading Mr. Bott's words, you get the sense that he sees the future back in 2010 as clearly as knowing the sun will rise the next day. But if you carefully read what Ed Bott wrote it is less about prophecy and more about observing a company not wanting to change the status quo, for in his opening statement he says:
I've owned a succession of Tablet PCs over the past roughly seven years, nearly as long as they've been around.
In other words, Microsoft was dabbling with new forms of computing for many years. It just never had the vision or the moxy to cannibalize its own products:
“If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will” -Steve Jobs
Moving to the present day, Dell this past week announced terrible earnings:
Dell Profit Falls 72% On Flat Revenue
Hewlett Packard noted that sales of PC continue to contract:
HP posts revenue decline as PC sales weaken further
And office supply retailer Staples did not have words of comfort for Microsoft's future in the consumer space:
Staples supplies bad news on PC sales
All of this bad news has been underscored by the extremely poor showing that was Microsoft's first direct attempt to compete with Apple in the tablet space:
Microsoft's $900 million Surface RT write-down: How did this happen?
So the news that Ballmer is stepping down is not completely shocking. Perhaps it is shocking in the general sense as many CEOs have sent his/her company into the grave (or on the path to it) before yielding. RIM anyone? When the iPhone was launched in 2007 Nokia's CEO likened Apple to a flea buzzing around its major market share. How times change.
Therefore I applaud Mr. Ballmer's decision for having the humility to accept change. It's simply time.