Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates at the company's recent annual meeting, second from right, as CEO Steve Ballmer spoke.

[Update: In comments to AllThingsD and CNet News, a spokesman for Gates says the Microsoft chairman is not considering coming back full-time to the company.]

The Fortune reporter who wrote this thinly sourced story today floating the possibility of Bill Gates returning to Microsoft probably wasn’t in attendance at the company’s most recent annual meeting of shareholders. The Microsoft chairman sat quietly on the stage with his head down for almost the entire meeting — speaking only when directly asked a question by a shareholder, as has become his tradition at these things nowadays.

A relaxed and happy Bill Gates speaking on the Microsoft campus about philanthropy this year.

Presumably Gates was reviewing notes, but he could have been reading the Steve Jobs biography for all we could tell from the audience.

Bottom line, unless he has a fantastic poker face (or bridge face, I guess), this was not the picture of a co-founder plotting his triumphant return.

And Gates has told us as much, repeatedly making it clear that he has moved on from full-time work at Microsoft, not only in practice but in mindset. The Bill Gates who spoke to students recently at the University of Washington was a man comfortable in his role with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and his status as a sort of geeky global statesman.

On the other hand, the question of whether Microsoft needs someone filling Gates’ former role of chief technology officer is a valid one, which I explored in detail in a piece this summer. In short, my contention is yes.

Microsoft and Gates’ representatives aren’t commenting on the Fortune report, but that’s standard practice with these things. As Jay Greene of CNet points out today, Fortune itself reported last year that Microsoft “almost seems like an afterthought nowadays” for Gates.

Of course, stranger things have happened. And a Gates comeback would be an epic story. But to take this seriously, we’re going to need better verification than a “prominent chief executive” telling Fortune “he’d heard from someone close to Gates that he might be considering such a move.”


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  • Bob

    Those speculating on the accuracy of this story strike me as missing the larger point. What’s important isn’t whether Bill is coming back or not. He isn’t, at least not willingly. It’s that MS’s numerous failures over a decade, combined with the recent high profile and mega stakes losses in mobile and tablets (two markets MS pioneered for a decade), has taken the half-decade old, mostly subjective argument that Ballmer wasn’t leading MS correctly and turned it into readily observable facts.

  • Guest

    My money’s on Paul Maritz as the next CEO, after being acquired by MS.

    It’s hard to imagine a scenario where Bill would return.

    • Guest

      Not if Bill has anything to say about it. It would also be very expensive. But I can’t think of a better candidate.

      • guest

        very expensive and EMC probably not willing to part with it

  • Another Guest

    Although I did hear from a squirrel today that Andy Grove is headed back to Intel and Steve Jobs is returning to Apple.  Or maybe I misheard the last part because the squirrel had nuts in his cheeks.


    • Guest

      Was it your garden variety squirrel or one “close to” Grove or Jobs? That really makes all the difference in how credible it is ;-) 

      Just read “Competition and collaboration in the innovation race”. Very impressive.

      Interested in what you think the answer for MS is? Assuming we all agree Gates isn’t coming back, can Steve really be left in charge?

  • Guest

    I find Bill’s stance both strange and irresponsible. The company is clearly being disrupted and has fallen way behind in multiple markets that are critical to its future growth. If he isn’t prepared to come back and run it, which is understandable, at least carry out his obligation as chairman and make a CEO change. Otherwise, step down and remove the main obstacle stopping others from doing so.

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