Leadership

Will Microsoft lose direction when Bill Gates retires?

In July Bill Gates will step away from his full time duties at Microsoft. Some would say that this is when Microsoft needs Gates the most. Others would argue that Microsoft needs to get beyond Gates. Hear two valuable perspectives from Dan Farber and Mary Jo Foley.

The retirement of Bill Gates is imminent. In July he will step away from his full time duties at Microsoft and devote his time to charity work at the Gates Foundation. However, he will continue to be the chairman of Microsoft, which has seemingly left the door open for a future return.

The timing couldn't be worse, or better, depending on who you talk to. Microsoft -- although still insanely profitable -- is in a fight for the future of the personal technology platform. We are moving toward a post-PC world. Microsoft is still the king of the PC, and is stuck in the innovator's dilemma in trying to move beyond it.

Gates successfully led Microsoft through previous challenges and transitions, including the move to graphical user interfaces and the arrival of the Internet as the PC's greatest killer app. However, the current transition is much deeper and more fundamental and it has the potential to marginalize Microsoft in the technology industry's next great wave of innovation, which will be centered around the Internet as a platform and not just an application.

Some would say that this is when Microsoft needs Gates the most. Others would argue that Microsoft needs to get beyond Gates -- the PC's greatest champion -- if it wants to continue to be a leader in the technology world.

Take the poll: Is the retirement of Bill Gates a good thing or a bad thing for Microsoft?

CNET's Dan Farber, who has deftly covered the technology revolution for the past two decades, has a detailed and fairly optimistic assessment of the Gates transition. On Wednesday, Farber interviewed ZDNet columnist Mary Jo Foley, who has a more dour opinion of the post-Gates Microsoft and has recently published a new book, Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft Plans to Stay Relevant in the Post-Gates Era.

In her book Foley wrote that "a Gates-less Microsoft is going to be a directionless Microsoft--at least for the near term. The existing set of to managers is too mired in old thinking and old ways to turn the Redmond ship quickly."

Check out the interview between Farber and Foley:

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About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

6 comments
michael
michael

Yes, and hopefully, for the good of the Rest of the World. the break-up of Microsoft will not be long delayed.

ChrisGaeth
ChrisGaeth

What they need to do is keep Bill and fire Balmer.

mek804
mek804

I think it's a little late to be asking this. Haven't you tried to deploy Vista yet? hahaha

alameh
alameh

I would suggest that Microsoft has never been directed but has only responded to the whims of the day. MS was put in business by the malfeasance and incompetence of IBM executives that GAVE Gates the license rights to tMS-DOS after he modified an existing operating system for 8088 processor systems under contract to IBM. MS was further propelled into the Windows product line due to the malfeasance and incompetence of IBM executives who first worked with MS on OS/2 and the ceded the desktop field to MS. Move into current history: We see new MS office products that consist mostly of moving menus around and including functions that most will never use. We see new MS operating systems (Vista) that run slower, require more resources, and simply repackage what is already available in the current release. Compare this to what Apple has been doing (Ipods, Iphones, user-friendly, low effort operating systems, MS compatibility, etc). The stuff that Gates claims as innovative advancements in the enterprise operating and database environments were released in the products of IBM and others 20 years ago. I say, MS without Gates won't be much different than what has transpired to-date.

CometSr
CometSr

My son worked at Microsoft during the '95, then '98 OS developments. I visited and actually had a long informal talk with Gates and Ballmer in the cafeteria of Bldg 1. At that time, they were not 'hot' on the internet. It was only after someone saw the profit in it, did their interest grow. In fact, my son, who had argued long and hard about the true potential, and was well received and listened to by several groups, finally left to help another company develop what we now know as the internet experience. I don't believe Bill was so much insightful, as a brilliant person who could, and would, listen, even to an ex-IBMer field tech like myself. I think he will have to hold onto the reins a bit longer.

jck
jck

I think MS has done nothing innovative. In fact, Gates really isn't the "brain child" of Microsoft and never has been. Paul Allen and others were really the technical masterminds and innovators. Gates was always considered the "businessman" of the original group who could bargain deals and get what they needed (including the original $50k he got from his dad to buy their first main OS code). Also, you're right about the internet. They never took an interest until it became fully commercialized and they saw big profits. Of course then, they put IE in as a freebie to lure people to their way and ran Netscape into the ground. Netscape was really the big forerunner in browser tech. I remember paying for Netscape Gold 3.0. Now, I use firefox (except at work, which is an MS software house). I don't see Microsoft changing, unless one thing happens: Steve Jobs (or someone like him) comes in and moves the company in a new, fresh direction...like Jobs did with Apple. Of course, that will never happen until Gates gives up control. He can't stand to be made to look inferior, from what I hear.