One year after Bill Gates' 'retirement': What's different?

It was just a year ago (June 27 was the actual date) that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates relinquished his day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft. Has much changed as a result?

It was just a year ago (June 27 was the actual date) that Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates relinquished his day-to-day responsibilities at Microsoft. Has much changed as a result?

It's a tricky question. Would Gates have pushed through the same kind of cost-cutting measures as CEO Steve Ballmer has? Would Microsoft have settled as many lawsuits as it did over the past year if Gates were more than a figurehead? Would Gates have been any more forthright about the company's Azure plans/strategy? Would he have OK'd the Apple-targeted Laptop Hunter ad campaign (given his reticence for publicly acknowledging the competition)?

In the past year, we've seen a number of FOBs (Friends of Bill) hang up their Microsoft hats. We've seen Microsoft spend a lot of money and energy into trying to establish itself as a consumer brand, not just an enterprise- and/or a developer-centric one. Microsoft seems like a very polarized workplace right now, with employees in its newer businesses (search, advertising, Xbox, Zune) pitting themselves against those in the established money-making units (Windows, Office, tools).

Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie has made a handful of public appearances in the past year, but hasn't emerged as a Gates-like barometer for the tech industry. (If you've heard one Ozzie speech, you've pretty much heard them all. He's made it clear he believes in an interoperable cross-platform, Web-centric world, but isn't willing to share much of anything concrete about what Microsoft is planning to do to make this a reality. A number of Softies say Ozzie is doing a lot behind the scenes to get the Microsoft ship to turn. But to some company insiders and many outsiders, Ozzie remains an enigma.

Over the next few months, the Redmondians are about to embark on "the biggest launch wave in Microsoft history," according to the company. New versions of Windows, Office, Windows Mobile and Visual Studio are coming, as are the Zune HD, the Natal Xbox controller and the "final" Azure cloud operating environment. It seems Gates' day-to-day absence hasn't put the brakes on the Microsoft new-product train.

Would Microsoft be seen as a more formidable, stronger company if Gates were still its primary talking head and Chief Software Architect? Or was it time for Gates to move on to other things, notably, his foundation, making way for new ideas and new blood?

I'm undecided on this one. What about you? Do you think Microsoft is any stronger or weaker one year after Gates' retirement? Or is it just business as usual?

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