Rumours have been circulating that Microsoft could well ditch its CEO, Steve Ballmer, at some stage in 2010, but some have been quick to criticise that prediction.
It seems that Ballmer has been in slowly heating water since the launch of Microsoft’s by now egregious last operating system, Windows Vista, which managed put a company Microsoft’s size in a very awkward position indeed. It had been estimated that if Windows 7 had stumbled in the same way as Vista, Microsoft might well not have survived it, but fortunately enough, here we are, with Windows 7 a roaring success.
Still, as the All About Microsoft blog points out though, the Windows Vista debacle wasn’t the only pronounced error during Ballmer’s tenure. The Zune managed to grab a decent, if smaller than hoped, market for itself, and the launch of the Zune HD managed to broaden that appeal, and might have done so more, if not for the fact that the devices still haven’t launched outside the US, meaning that the market is fairly limited. Moreover, the decision seems to have been made now not to develop any more Zune hardware and to move into Zune services, just as that hardware seemed really to be gaining some momentum and appeal.
Similarly, the success of the Xbox 360 was largely offset by the cost of extending warranties to cover the infamous “Red Ring of Death” (RRoD), which has plagued the console almost since its launch. The cost of that particular slip is said to run into the billions. The cost of customer service on that kind of scale is truly vast, and while we imagine it hasn’t wiped out the profits from Microsoft’s games division, it’s likely not doing any favours.
The question is whether all of this will be brought against the good Mr. Ballmer or seen as the failings of his predecessor as he left, and that’s a pretty big question. The fact is that Steve Ballmer has been in control of Microsoft for almost ten years now, and in that ten years, things haven’t gone nearly as well as might be expected, given the quality of Microsoft products out there at the moment.
The other big question really must be, “If not Steve, then who else?” Much as anyone can dislike Steve Ballmer’s practically manic love for his own products and his apparent hatred for competitors, the fact is that he’s recognisable, has a bit of charisma to him and seems to be a solid leader… in those respects he’s hard to fault.