Did Windows 8, RT cause Ballmer’s downfall?

Last year, some analysts predicted that Windows 8 would be a defining moment from Microsoft Corp. CEO Steve Ballmer.Today, the company’s touch-focused operating systems or its failure to attract enough user interest is being blamed for Ballmer’s imminent departure.

Last Friday, Microsoft announced that Ballmer was ready to retire in the next 12 months. A statement released by the software giant that is currently undergoing a transformation into a device and services company, quoted the executive as saying: “There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time.”

At least one analyst however, said that company misfortunes associated with Windows 8 and its RT tablet device are the reasons behind Ballmer’s departure.


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“Windows 8 is primarily the reason why he’s retiring, specifically Windows RT,” said Patrick Moorhead of tech industry analyst firm, Moor Insights & Strategy.

This is hardly the first time that Microsoft had suffered from a lack of public support for its operating system. Its Windows Vista was hardly the darling of many computer users and Microsoft had had to quickly release Windows 7 to win over customers.

By some metrics Windows 8 has scored even lower with consumers, but it was Ballmer’s overly optimistic predictions about the operating system that worked against him in the end, according to Moorhead.

In promoting Windows 8, he said that with Windows 8 and the merging tablet market could see a “lot of growth and vitality and explosion in the PC market.” Ballmer even gave his guarantee that software developers would see “hundreds of millions” of new machines that would be the potential for “billions and billions of new applications sold.”

Unfortunately, Ballmer released his forecast at a time when PC shipments were sinking. In fact by April this year, many analysts were partly blaming the lackluster sales performance of Windows 8 for the slump in PC sales.

Three months later the kicker came. Microsoft announced in July that it was taking a $900 million charge due to the disappointing sales of its Surface RT tablet.

Microsoft failed read the changing tablet market landscape, said Moorhead, but more importantly, the Windows 8 and Surface RT problems highlighted the company’s inability to rapidly react accordingly and correct to the situation.

Other accounts, however, view that among the tops reason’s Ballmer had to go was Ballmer himself.

For instance, a recent article in the online business publication Forbes.com cited several character traits of Ballmer which could have done the CEO in.

Ballmer was described as having a “temper” and being “curt with subordinates who are insubordinate.” This resulted in forcing out some of the best talents and limiting the possibility of grooming from within a successful successor to Ballmer.

He is also seen as an executive who fostered a “culture of internecine warfare” within Microsoft. For instance, according to Forbes, Microsoft’s compensation system was designed so that “an employee was better off torpedoing someone else’s project” rather than completing his or her own.

Ballmer also failed to take advantage of Microsoft’s advantages over competitors. For years the company had a virtual monopoly of the software market. This could have allowed the company to invest heavily on long-term projects and technology that would have secured that lead.

However, in the 13 years of his leadership, Ballmer made only “one good bet,” this was the Server and Tool divisions which became a large revenue and profit maker comparable to Windows and Office.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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