13 votes

Did Bill Gates stepping down as Microsoft CEO in 1999 have much of an impact on the company as it is today?

I was thinking about the Ballmer era of Microsoft, how they missed the smartphone revolution and the repercussions of that on the company. How it all can be traced back to one man's actions, namely Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his invention of the web. Because of that, Netscape came to exist. Because of Netscape and Gates' subsequent pivoting of his company around it, Microsoft was hit with the antitrust lawsuit, which then resulted in Gates stepping down and handing the reins over to Ballmer. Ballmer mentions in an interview how he clashed with Gates when it came to mobile, and his comments about the original iPhone are immortalised.

10 comments

  1. [2]
    skybrian
    Link
    Counterfactual reasoning is difficult. I expect you could write all sorts of plausible alternative histories, but it doesn’t prove much other than things could have been different. It’s easy to...

    Counterfactual reasoning is difficult. I expect you could write all sorts of plausible alternative histories, but it doesn’t prove much other than things could have been different.

    It’s easy to forget how much history depends on randomness.

    11 votes
    1. MonkeyPants
      Link Parent
      Microsoft stock went from suppressed valuation under Balmer to optimistic valuations under the new CEO. Microsoft was not a cool stock, nor was it a cool company to work for under Balmer. So it...

      Microsoft stock went from suppressed valuation under Balmer to optimistic valuations under the new CEO. Microsoft was not a cool stock, nor was it a cool company to work for under Balmer. So it seems reasonable to say Bill Gates stepping down and handing the reigns to Balmer did have an impact.

      4 votes
  2. Akir
    Link
    Honestly, Microsoft would have probably been in a better place if he stepped down earlier. He had some absolutely terrible ideas about how computers should be operated and it was pretty clear that...

    Honestly, Microsoft would have probably been in a better place if he stepped down earlier. He had some absolutely terrible ideas about how computers should be operated and it was pretty clear that he didn't care much for security in general. Windows at the time was like a child who had never been told not to touch things just because they are shiny, and it was constantly being burned because of it.

    Do you remember when Sony's CD releases had rootkits that would automatically install when you inserted them into your computer? That was only possible because the operating system wanted to be convenient for you and run any software that might be on the CD you just inserted, just assuming it was all good.

    Do you remember a time when the internet was full of good people and there weren't any scammers? I certainly don't. But Windows thought that everyone would want to replace their desktop with a webpage.

    6 votes
  3. [7]
    knocklessmonster
    Link
    This is all obviously speculation, but here's my take: I think Ballmer taking over may have affected the company, so yes. His tactics towards market domination were aggressive. Ballmer has a...

    This is all obviously speculation, but here's my take:

    I think Ballmer taking over may have affected the company, so yes. His tactics towards market domination were aggressive. Ballmer has a reputation of being a firebrand, with a passionate hatred of products that weren't Microsoft, so he sought to out-compete and eliminate them.

    Ironically, without Ballmer, Microsoft would probably not be the company it is today, with a seeming ambivalence towards open source technologies (Linux, Blink, open licenses for stuff like Terminal, VSCode, .NET), and a de-emphasis of operating systems and a focus on services. Ballmer's actions have also led to a lot of distrust in this new market.

    I don't think Gates would have been as aggressive, but there wouldn't have been a backswing like we're seeing today, either.

    3 votes
    1. [4]
      Akir
      Link Parent
      I disagree with this part. Their current stance is only possible because Ballmer is gone; basically every step Microsoft has taken to adapt to open-source happened after he left. Yes, Ballmer lead...

      Ironically, without Ballmer, Microsoft would probably not be the company it is today, with a seeming ambivalence towards open source technologies (Linux, Blink, open licenses for stuff like Terminal, VSCode, .NET)....

      I disagree with this part. Their current stance is only possible because Ballmer is gone; basically every step Microsoft has taken to adapt to open-source happened after he left.

      Yes, Ballmer lead them to change their strategy away from software as products to software as services, but it could also be argued that most of them came to market too late, letting others take the lead. For instance, Both Google and Microsoft offer online word processors for 'free', but Google's offering gets far more use in spite of Microsoft previously being a market leader and currently offering a much better product (IMHO). And in the later half Ballmer's reign there were a lot of high profile failures like the Zune and the music store behind it, their purchase and failure to capitalize on Danger Inc (Microsoft Kin), and the all-encompassing failure of Windows Phone and their acquisition of Nokia.

      On the other hand, Nadella has taken Ballmer's plans to focus on services and turned those services into things that people actually want.

      3 votes
      1. babypuncher
        Link Parent
        I think knocklessmonster's point was that Ballmer's extremely aggressive attitude towards non-Microsoft products (and open source in particular) created an environment where the company had to...

        I think knocklessmonster's point was that Ballmer's extremely aggressive attitude towards non-Microsoft products (and open source in particular) created an environment where the company had to backtrack significantly on those stances to gain trust in these new markets when Nadella took over.

        3 votes
      2. [2]
        knocklessmonster
        Link Parent
        I think you've misunderstood what I'm saying. My point is that if it wasn't for Ballmer's stubbornness pushing Microsoft into the wrong direction, they possibly wouldn't have seen the need to...

        I think you've misunderstood what I'm saying.

        My point is that if it wasn't for Ballmer's stubbornness pushing Microsoft into the wrong direction, they possibly wouldn't have seen the need to pivot so strongly into open source software, or their current SAAS models. Nadella saw the hole left by Ballmer's policy, and is working to fill it, but if that hole was smaller, it may have been ignored. By having a madman like Ballmer at the helm for as long as he was, he dug Microsoft into a technological hole they are now currently trying to dig themselves out of.

        On the other hand, Nadella has taken Ballmer's plans to focus on services and turned those services into things that people actually want.

        Largely because he isn't blinded by the same ideology Ballmer had. Ballmer seemed like he wanted to be the next Steve Jobs, and felt that he could force it to happen. Nadella seems to better understand Microsoft's position as a major player, and understands that as long as they consistently provide services and software people want while leveraging brand loyalty, or at least familiarity, Microsoft will be fine. A fair amount of their push for open source software also helps people stay on Windows, which is a plus for Microsoft.

        1 vote
        1. mahoukov
          Link Parent
          Agreed on that. I have a dev friend who switched back to Windows from Linux because he says the Linux subsystem on Windows is now good enough that it pretty much satisfies almost all the needs he...

          A fair amount of their push for open source software also helps people stay on Windows, which is a plus for Microsoft.

          Agreed on that. I have a dev friend who switched back to Windows from Linux because he says the Linux subsystem on Windows is now good enough that it pretty much satisfies almost all the needs he had on Linux.

          1 vote
    2. [2]
      MonkeyPants
      Link Parent
      This is a really interesting take. "The Innovators Dilemma" is a classic book that talks about how it is very hard for a company like Microsoft, built around the Operating System, to make the...

      This is a really interesting take.

      "The Innovators Dilemma" is a classic book that talks about how it is very hard for a company like Microsoft, built around the Operating System, to make the risky bet to move beyond that core technology.

      2 votes
      1. babypuncher
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        RCA is another textbook example of this. They spent almost two decades trying to come up with the "sequel to color television". For the first few decades of their existence, RCA were pioneers in...

        RCA is another textbook example of this. They spent almost two decades trying to come up with the "sequel to color television". For the first few decades of their existence, RCA were pioneers in radio, television, and color television, owning numerous patents on each of these technologies that made them incredibly wealthy.

        In the 1960's, hot off the heels of introducing and marketing color television, they correctly predicted that home video would be The Next Big Thing. Their attempts to create technologies to facilitate this floundered for 15 years, with numerous possible products competing with each-other and facing severe mismanagement.

        The end result was the CED Videodisc, a fragile vinyl record that could store two hours of video split across both sides. It might have been revolutionary if it launched on time in the early '70s. Instead it came out in 1981; a solid 3-4 years after VHS, LaserDisc, and Betamax had established themselves in the market.

        4 votes