In 7 Days, Bill Gates Leaves Microsoft in Flux. What’s Next?

Bill Gates in 1983

Farewell, Bill Gates. Your 25 years at Microsoft have nurtured it from obscurity into a megalith. Now, it’s something in between.

One thing is certain. Microsoft was built around the figurehead of Bill Gates. This Friday, Gates is bidding farewell, depriving Microsoft of its key symbolic element: himself. He’ll stay as a chairman, hovering in the periphery, trying to stop bad deals in the making (Yahoo, anyone?). But Gates-free Microsoft just won’t wield the might it used to.

According to an article in today’s India Times,

Gates’s bespectacled nerdish visage is an integral part of Microsoft’s image and his departure is symbolic, according to analysts. “The challenge Microsoft has when the founder departs is remembering its heart,” said analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group in Silicon Valley. “At some point the firm has to take the essence of what made Bill Gates successful and make sure that is preserved. Whether it is a company or a person, once you’ve lost your heart there isn’t much left but a shell.”

After founding Microsoft in 1975, Gates claims to have put in steady ten-hour days at work. Now he’ll focus his workaholism on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which assists developing nations with health and education concerns. The foundations boasted about $44.7 million net assets in 2007.

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Meanwhile, Microsoft continues to flounder. Desktop software, formerly the company’s key strength, has become a weakness. The Vista operating system is a flop with customers (for good reason, I might add). Macs, meanwhile, now comprise more than 5% of the world’s computers. Google’s free online programs make MS Office less essential than it used to be. Most recently, Microsoft failed in its recent bid to take over Yahoo.

“Microsoft has to leverage its strengths; right now it is thrashing a bit,” Enderle said. “The company is on its own. The training wheels are off. It needs a way to point itself in the right direction and peddle like hell. You could see Microsoft struggling after Bill Gates stepped out of day-to-day roles.”

“A founder takes such a larger-than-life role and directs a company in very subtle ways that are often forgotten when a founder leaves. That gap, for a lot of companies, has been almost terminal.”

What’s next for the company? Its strengths remain relegated to servers and tools. (The Xbox hasn’t yet made a profit.) Back in March, Time Magazine interview with Gates indicated that he was optimistic, but his ideas all sounded familiar.

The real question remains: what will Microsoft without Gates look like?

Will it ever be scary again?

  • Drea,

    Microsoft hasn’t been scary for a while. Gates had the entire PC marketplace figured out back in 1989, but seems to have gotten stuck in that “own the platform” mindset and Microsoft hasn’t been the same since.


  • Saudi Arabia has already boosted its production by 300,000 barrels a day, or about 3 percent, to 9.45 million barrels a day last month. But that has had little impact on soaring prices. Oil futures in New York have gained more than 40 percent this year. They rose 2 percent to $134.62 a barrel before the meeting on Friday.

    very interesting: Will the market implode or rally??

  • Ray

    Correction – The foundation boasts $44.7 Billion in assets

  • Drea: The problem isn’t limited to Microsoft. Any company that has an iconic founder/leader – Apple, Berkshire Hathaway, Virgin – is going to have a difficult time replacing the leader. Remember when Steve Jobs was kicked out of Apple in the 90s? Steve Ballmer is no Bill Gates, and I fear that that won’t be good for Microsoft.

  • William Bingham

    Additional correction. If the picture caption is correct, then Gates has been with Microsoft atleast 25 Years.. (or he’s gone already..)

  • Drea

    Mike–Good point. I would argue that others perceived M$ as scary well into the early 2000s, whether it was objectively scary or not. For example, I remember Google’s Eric Schmidt making several references to wanting to take MS down around 2003.

    William–Good catch. I think he was official CEO for 22 years…but definitely with MS before that.

    Ray–I couldn’t find any information stating that the foundation currently has that amount in assets. Thus, I used the numbers listed at the end of 2007.

    Greg–I wonder what they’re going to do? A new, charismatic exec might not be a bad idea…

  • Maybe a breath of fresh air is what Microsoft will need. It will be interesting to see what happens with the stock in the days surrounding.

  • Evolving some Windows O/S flavors that have an improved security architecture is clearly in eveyones long-term best interests. Discontinuing availability of a mainstream workhorse flavor like Windows XP is a huge disservice to the computing community. Just when many SMB’s are starting to experiment with server & desktop virtualization, forcing everyone to try to get their legacy apps to run on Vista & Server 2008 is annoyingly opportunistic. Making analysts quarterly forecasts by coercive marketing tactics is, in the long run, going to cause many CIO’s to explore open source options that they might have preferred not to even consider awhile ago. Bad will, like good will, is cumulative…

  • triyono Budi santoso

    I love Bill Gates and owe him a I think I am sending this message speacially for him and hopefully he can access this message soon. Anyway this business is not bad for me. I am doing this too. Windows are needed eventhough Linux has come to us…. Thanks a lot….

  • tarusjulius

    thanks mr Gates your teaching impress me, your character and advise, may God bless you

  • Azubuike Nwankuba Valentine

    Bill Gates! You are hallowed for ingenuity and your contribution in the development of microchips etc. Those who do not know you, tell your story. You are a mile stone. Bravo!

  • juliet bembere

    This kind of wisdom, that BILL GATES has is incarcerated and considered as one coming from the Divinity the creator of heavens and earth, the ALFAR AND OMEGA. However, to metalize this wisdom only the one Who created him knows what is inside that mentality capacity refers to technological capability wisdomatic representation of righteous miscellaneous, tell me, what can we say believe me.

  • robin

    he looks gay

  • Alan McRae

    It is the summer of 2010 and I recently participated in two massive Fortune 1000 hardware refreshes. Guess what? Both involved continuing with good old reliable Windows XP Professional for the next few years. So, what I have observed is that M$ continues to force new versions of Windows into the marketplace via its OEM hardware partners, like HP, Toshiba, Dell, etc, but the enterprise market continues to cling to old, reliable Windows XP Pro for a variety of very conservative and sensible reasons. MS Office continues to bloat in size with a ton of features that very few users need or want, standard O/S components like Outlook Express get changed for the sake of change, and others are moved around into newly named categories for the sake of creating help desk tickets. For those of us IT professionals who are tasked with support & maintaining user productivity, all of this eye candy and money generating change is a huge waste of capital expenditures and profitless high tech labor. Look, IT is a cost center that simply needs to work reliably and cheaply – companies need to focus on making & selling products & services; their actual line of business. IT is evolving into a massive money pit and labor distraction that saps productivity with non-business related web surfing, funny or touching emails that are infected with malware, and an endless flood of help desk tickets that are caused by the latest patches, new incompatibilities and security problems. Client/Server computing is far less secure and less reliable than mainframe computing, but it has become the defacto global standard for managing critical business information. Every end user is overly empowered with local admin rights on their plethora of personal network connected devices, and IT departments are busily pissing away precious working capital trying to keep the whole bloated mess running and secure. Meanwhile, our real economy is floundering, manufacturing is fleeing overseas, our CEO’s are turning into lying, predatory lounge lizards, and our children are becoming addicted to texting, surfing porn and playing video games. We are computing while Rome is burning down around us. But this is now considered “business as usual”. Not exactly “business at the speed of thought” though, is it?

  • he looks so not cool.
    he needs to make a modern photo of him now and the new computers!

  • samay vivira

    Additional correction. If the picture caption is correct, then Gates has been with Microsoft atleast 25 Years.. (or he’s gone already..)

  • Balasaheb

    Bill Gets is Empire of microsoft.

  • tc

    fake he is not leaving

  • Justin

    Bill gates was nice. Oh no. Here is THE WEIRD STEVE BALLMER!