Ten years of Steve Ballmer

Steve Ballmer

Exactly 10 years ago this week, Bill Gates stepped down as chief executive of Microsoft, installing Steve Ballmer in his place.

That decade hasn't been kind to Microsoft. In the past 10 years, Microsoft's stock has dived 53 per cent a slide that would have seen many other chief execs knocked from the position pretty quickly.

All the damage can't be blamed on Ballmer, as until two years ago Gates was still acting chairman, and clearly offering a lot of leadership to the firm he founded.

And it's impossible to ignore the affects of the dot com bubble bursting and the recession of the past year on the computing industry's biggest firm, nor the impact of the rise of Google and the reinvention of Apple.

Still, even with those factors, his reign can hardly be called a success some have even called for Microsoft to ditch him.

To celebrate Ballmer's tenth anniversary at the helm, we look back at some of the best and worst moments of the decade.

The dancing and the chanting

There's nowhere else to start, really. Sure, acting like a lunatic on stage hardly explains a 53 per cent stock prices spiral (one assumes, though maybe it does) but it's hard to escape that one of the most enduring images of Ballmer is the big bald sweaty man hoarsely chanting "developers, developers, developers."

Or there's the time, to mark Microsoft's 25th anniversary, that he danced like a monkey across a stage for 45 full seconds (and looking like he pulls something halfway through it). Nearly a minute, as a monkey this from the head honcho at one of the biggest, best known firms in the world.

If nothing else, Ballmer has proved one heck of a lot more entertaining than Gates, and even if he's not announcing anything as shiny as Apple's Steve Jobs tends to at his shows, at least you can hope for an amusing performance.

His attitude for lack of a better description seems to be filtering down to the rest of the company, or at least the marketing department. Microsoft ran a series of increasingly bizarre adverts this year, showing a sense of humour and a bit of personality not unlike Ballmer himself.

Failed launches

While dancing across stage like a monkey is one way to get attention, launching good products is probably the preferred method.

In the past 10 years, Microsoft has launched a lot of products, some good, some not so good.

Much of the software has continued to dominate the business sector, even when like Windows Vista it really kind of sucks.

But Microsoft's moves into other areas have been less successful. Consider the Zune it hardly made a dent in Apple's iPod fortunes. It wasn't even ever released in the UK.

The Xbox may be the console of choice for many gamers, but the red ring of death and other faults at its launch lead to a lot of the consoles needing to be replaced, at a rumoured cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.

And don't forget Surface. With the exceptionally expensive table, Microsoft proved it could create a beautiful touchscreen experience. But who needs a touchscreen table worth 10,000?

Aging tech in other areas

On top of this, Internet Explorer has continued to lose ground to new and more innovative browsers. Sure, IE is still the most used browser in the world, but Mozilla's Firefox has knocked a big dent in its market share. And the new EU browser ballot deal, which will see Microsoft advertise alternative browsers, looks to even out share even more.

And consider Windows Mobile. Smartphones have been the big story of the past few years, propping up sales in that sector as Microsoft's rivals Apple and Google get in the game.

Compared to Android and Apple's iPhone, WiMo is losing market share, and with good reason it's seriously dated. Windows Mobile 6.5 took ages to come out, and we're still awaiting Windows Mobile/Phone 7 it's expected to arrive sometime this/next year. It's going to have to be absolutely stellar to pull Apple and Google and even Symbian back to earth.

Considering just those two areas browsers and mobile OSes and Ballmer-era Microsoft has lost out in two major markets. Whoops.

Vista and Windows 7

The pair of operating systems will likely be seen as the low point and high point of Ballmer's tenure. Vista can only be considered a failure. Microsoft liked to point to sales figures showing takeup of the much-maligned operating system wasn't actually that bad, but it's reviled by many. And with good reason.

Indeed, in comparison, Windows 7 was a breath of fresh, useful, non-irritating air.

Ballmer can only be happy with how the Windows 7 launch went, with solid reviews coming in from nearly all corners, and some saying it could mark a come-back of sorts for the company.

But with other high profile launches due such as Windows Mobile 7 and Office 2010 it remains to be seen whether the success of Windows 7 was an anomaly or not.

Searching for some web market share

The big tech story of the past decade has been Google. There's simply no denying it. And there's no denying that Microsoft has failed to prevent Google's rise.

It certainly tried controlling things in the browser space. While that has led to Microsoft winning for the time being that market, it's also led to some whopping fines from EU regulators.

Microsoft has failed to turn that control into any sort of dominance online. While the launch of the surprisingly decent Bing search engine is at least less embarrassing than previous efforts, Microsoft is still far behind Google when it comes to the web.

And that attempt by Ballmer to buy some web love with a $44 billion offer to Yahoo? The best news from that deal is that it failed what tech leader would pay that sort of cash for has-been Yahoo?

Microsoft has never really gotten the web, and Ballmer certainly hasn't done much to change that, falling behind on web apps and more.

Will have time to catch up over the next decade, or as some predict, is this the last year for Ballmer? Only time will tell, but either way, we'll miss the stage performances, if nothing else.