Few CEOs have been more maligned over the past decade than Microsoft's Steve Ballmer. It's a thankless job to follow an industry legend and in his 14 years as Microsoft CEO, Ballmer never managed to step out of the shadow of Bill Gates.
Here are four quick takeaways on the Ballmer era at Microsoft:
1. The industry didn't embrace his vision
Wall Street and the tech industry didn't embrace Ballmer primarily because his product vision never inspired enough confidence that Microsoft would be a winner in the future.
2. Microsoft stumbled in the mobile revolution
Under Ballmer's watch, Microsof whiffed on the mobile revolution, blowing its lead in smartphones and tablets. In 2007, Ballmer said, "There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." By the beginning of 2012, the iPhone was generating more revenue for Apple than all of Microsoft's businesses combined.
3. Ballmer built an enterprise powerhouse
Ballmer quietly turned Microsoft into an enterprise powerhouse, building Microsoft's server and services businesses and making the company a trusted partner with many of the world's largest companies, organizations, and governments.
4. Ballmer invested in the cloud.
While Bing has been much maligned, it's a solid product and the data it gathers makes it invaluable to the future of Microsoft. Plus, there's the growing Azure juggernaut, which has a chance to be one of the big winners of the future of the cloud.
All in all, history may end up being kinder to Steve Ballmer than Wall Street and the tech industry ever were, especially if Microsoft's lucrative investments in the enterprise and the cloud turn out to be the future of the company.
You can find a lot more perspective on this issue in the links below, including Mary Jo Foley's exclusive exit interview with Ballmer over on ZDNet. Also, jump in the discussion in the comments to add your perspective on how history will judge Steve Ballmer and how you think the future of Microsoft will look.
- Steve Ballmer: The Exit Interview (ZDNet)
- Roundup: What's next for Microsoft? Tech executives speak out
- How Munich rejected Steve Ballmer and kicked Microsoft out of the city
- Acer and Microsoft: A tale of mutual decline
- What Steve Ballmer got right (and wrong): in quotes (ZDNet)
- An emotional Ballmer bids farewell to Microsoft troops (ZDNet)
- Is Ballmer right? Is consumer and enterprise one industry, indivisible? (ZDNet)
- Microsoft CEO Ballmer to retire in the next 12 months (ZDNet)
- 'Execudus' in Redmond: Top Microsoft Execs Get Out (Redmond Magazine)
Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.