Amidst the cheers on the trading room floor that sent Microsoft shares 9% higher on Friday, the tech world seems to have gotten its wish. Steve Ballmer will leave Microsoft's CEO chair within the next 12 months.
As one of the tech world's longest sitting CEO's and target for all things evil about Microsoft it's easy to misread today's news.
Yes, he's leaving and yes he's been the guiding hand of Microsoft through 3 major versions of windows, two game consoles and a cloud strategy. But Microsoft CEO's don't operate in a vacuum anymore and the company's reigns are firmly held in check by a board of which Bill Gates is still the chairman.
There have been calls for a younger, more hip CEO who will drive Microsoft's new devices and services strategy and put Microsoft on par with the Facebook's of the world.
The problem is, nobody relies on Facebook to run their business applications. Social networks are a just a tool in a larger business strategy. One that Microsoft has admittedly been slow to adopt just like its haphazard cloud strategy that was late to the game and confusing to its market.
Ballmer's evangelism for Microsoft often bordered on the fanatical even in the face of opposition from the market but he never acted alone. The departure of a number of Microsoft execs and the recent reorganization of the company's business units didn't happen without the board's blessing.
Microsoft may not be the lean, hip company it was back in the days of Gate's tenure but it really can't be. Most business runs at least in part on Microsoft products. That the company has been able to maintain itself as the standard by which all others (including open source) are judged is no accident.
If Ballmer can be blamed for anything it's an ever changing mixed message and desperate bid to monetize anything even remotely connected with Microsoft. In the grand scheme of things it doesn't matter who sits in the CEO chair.
Microsoft now is what IBM was in the 1980's. Decent products but not very sexy.
In a recent conversation with a friend of mine, he suggested a possible solution for Microsoft's stodgy, un-hip image.
Be like Toyota...
Toyota's Scion brand is specifically targeted at young hipsters with a lineup of products no Camry owner would be caught dead in. That's smart. The brand has successfully preserved the parent company's traditional market share while attracting a younger demographic they wouldn't have otherwise.
That's the direction Microsoft needs to move in. Let's face it, You aren't going to sell many Cadillac's to the twenty something demographic. Microsoft needs to separate itself from the consumer markets by placing its consumer strategy in an abstraction.
Only then can Microsoft concentrate on its core business customers while successfully engaging consumer markets. You can't have the same message for both but if you separate the businesses you can have your cake and eat it too.