Gates steps down as Microsoft CEO

Moving the boss and his tantrums aside is a positive sign, surely


Comment The timing of the resignation of Bill Gates as Microsoft CEO is not a coincidence, since it had apparently been discussed "several months ago" with members of Microsoft's board.

Gates did not complete 25 years as CEO of Microsoft, as he would probably would have liked history to record, since Micro-Soft (as it was then called) was founded with Paul Allen in an Albuquerque hotel room in July 1975. This leads to the inevitable conclusion that any settlement of the DoJ case was most unlikely with Gates as CEO.

Gates' arrogance and intransigence during the 1994 consent decree negotiations made striking that (very soft) deal difficult, and today would almost certainly have made a settlement impossible.

Speaking on CNBC, Gates said that "We are not a mutual fund; we're not a portfolio company" that could easily be carved up. "It makes no sense for consumers, it makes no sense for shareholders. I'm surprised that people can keep a straight face when they say that [break-up of Microsoft] would be a proper thing to do".

President Clinton was one of the first to endorse the move towards the sainthood of Bill.

Also speaking on CNBC, he said "I think it's a very interesting move by him. Ballmer's obviously a very able man and Gates is a genius with technology". He applauded the Gates charitable contributions, and then went on to make an extraordinary statement about the trial: "The record has been made. The judge's opinion is there and they have to argue about the remedy, which as everyone knows in an antitrust case is completely different from a finding whether somebody violated laws or not.

"I hope they'll do what's best for the American economy and American consumers, in the short run and over the long run."

Clinton is wrong. The simple facts are that Microsoft has violated laws, and that it is not the American economy that should be considered: it is a just and effective solution to illegal monopolisation that is needed. The timing has allowed Steve Ballmer, now CEO as well as president, to assert his tough bargaining position about breaking up Microsoft, but he is at heart (some assumptions here) a pragmatist who in the last resort would rather deal than see Microsoft broken judicially.

Gates is now less likely to intervene in any settlement talks, and it would not be surprising for him and his wife to embark on a world tour visiting organisations receiving money from the Gates foundation.

Just by chance a sizeable delegation from the Foundation is off to Africa, and it would not be surprising if Gates joined them to play the humanitarian role while Ballmer played the tough guy in the negotiations.

Gates does not like the legal issues and has never had a good relationship with Bill Neukom, Microsoft's head lawyer (he did not invite him to his wedding, for example). Furthermore, Gates' performance in the video depositions destroyed his credibility as far as Judge Jackson is concerned, so ruling out any high-profile role for him in his remaining posts, chairman and chief software architect.

The practical outcome so far as technical development work at Microsoft is concerned is the announcement of Next Generation Windows Services. We can't really speculate what this might be as there is clearly only a hastily thought-up and strangely unmemorable name so far.

The slideware will not apparently be ready until Ballmer's "major strategy day this Spring" when the heralds will sound and Gates will present the vision. Gates said yesterday that "I might be threatening to write code. That's something I haven't been able to do in three or four years." We can't wait: but can we hope that Bill will start this new phase of his career by debugging Windows 2000? Meanwhile, at the press conference where his elevation was announced, Ballmer bellowed without a microphone his list of targets for Microsoft's aggression in the coming months: so watch out Sun, IBM, Linux and AOL-Time.

It's business as usual at Microsoft. ®

See also: DoJ to propose MS breakup next week DoJ will demand breakup of Microsoft - report


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