Chart: Microsoft's performance under Gates vs. Ballmer

Microsoft has been treading water for a decade, but here is a chart that provides a great visual of how the company's value skyrocketed under Bill Gates and then flattened when Steve Ballmer took over.

Honestly, it's surprising that Steve Ballmer hasn't come under more fire during the past decade for Microsoft's lack of innovation, dearth of new hit products, and a stock price that has continued to tread water.

However, those issues and Ballmer's plan to keep milking Windows and Office rather than push forward and look for the next big advances in personal computing may finally be catching up with him.

The graphic below (created by Erik Pukinskis) charts the market value of Microsoft during the past two decades, comparing the CEO reigns of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. You have to be a little bit careful with this chart. It's not completely to scale. Notice that the areas between 0 and 5 and 5 and 20 are much larger than the ones between 20 and 40 (and even this between 40 and 60). This gives a little bit of an exaggerated sense of how much Microsoft grew under Gates.

Nevertheless, it's pretty amazing how all of the growth happened while Gates was CEO and then things stagnated as soon as Ballmer grabbed the reigns. Of course, it's also important to keep in mind that the Gates-Ballmer hand-off coincided with Microsoft's big antitrust case with the U.S. government. However, even after the dust settled from that, Microsoft has continued to struggle.

To read about the criticism of Ballmer that is starting to bubble up, take a look at these recent posts:

ZDNet's Ed Bott has also penned a rebuttal of this line of thinking in his article, A closer look at Microsoft's 'lost decade.'

Is this criticism of Ballmer over-blown or long overdue? Jump in the discussion below to let us know your take.