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Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Microsoft photo)
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Microsoft photo)

Steve Ballmer’s retirement news today certainly grabbed the attention of the tech industry. (The top 13 stories on TechMeme are devoted to the announcement). I guess that’s what happens when a 33-year veteran of a company — a once dominant titan that still commands a market value of $289 billion — decides to hang up the cleats.

The decision certainly has sparked a wide variety of reactions, with wide speculation about successors (Tony Bates, Reed Hastings, Ray Ozzie, etc.) and discussion of the odd timing of the announcement (shortly after the Ballmer-led reorganization).

As of 4:30 p.m., 53 percent of voters in our GeekWire poll had said that Ballmer’s departure is the best thing that could have happened to the company. Just three percent said they wish he’d have chosen to stick around longer.

“This announcement comes as a surprise given that the company had just recently announced their new strategy towards devices and services. From the press release, it also appears that the next CEO will pretty much have to buy into this new strategy. But the biggest question is who becomes the next CEO? The company is considering both internal and external candidates but, as you know, Microsoft has very few outsiders that have done well. An internal candidate that has been a part of shaping the new strategy might make the most sense if the Board wants continuity in the strategic direction. As to why they didn’t have someone already lined up – I think partly because they are going to look externally.”—Sid Parakh, senior vice president at Seattle investment management firm McAdams Wright Ragen.

Microsoft's Steve Ballmer and Skype's Tony Bates. Have lessons been learned from aQuantive?
Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and Skype’s Tony Bates.

“My leading pick … would be (Skype’s) Tony Bates.” —Mary Jo Foley, a longtime Microsoft watcher and reporter speculating on the CEO.

“It’s clearly not a very pretty legacy, mostly due to larger external trends that were impossible to resist, and stubborn management by Ballmer that tried too hard to resist them. In fact, Ballmer was famous for discounting pretty much all of the products that have defined the recent computing age.”—Ina Fried of All Things D talking about Ballmer’s legacy.

Madrona's Matt McIlwain
Madrona’s Matt McIlwain

“Microsoft is critical to the innovation economy worldwide, so having someone who can see the emerging trends and align Microsoft resources around those opportunities will allow the company to continue its leadership role in the software-driven world.  Who is most likely?  There are a couple strong internal candidates.  However, it is always a good idea to consider external candidates in a search of this magnitude.  So, we are pleased that the board has created a search committee and a thoughtful process for identifying the third CEO in the history of Microsoft…. There are really two macro challenges – deciding what businesses Microsoft can win in (and which they should not try to win in) and secondly deciding how to efficiently and effectively operate one of the largest and most complex companies in the world.  The recent reorganization has put in place a structure to help with the second question above, but the first is a more strategic question that needs to be looked at with a fresh perspective.” —Matt McIlwain, managing director at Seattle venture capital firm Madrona Venture Group.

“The timing of the departure is odd. After announcing a massive company-wide reorganization last month, Ballmer outlined a “One Microsoft” approach and shifted leadership within the company to focus on devices, software, and services. He’s tried to crack hardware before, with the Kin, Zune and Surface, but the whole company is now betting on the promise that Microsoft can finally deliver unified software and devices. Ballmer is handing off this vision and risky bet to a new CEO. Instead of departing midway through the process, Ballmer is signaling a true changing of the guard at Microsoft by stepping aside to let someone else take the reins. Microsoft hasn’t named a new CEO yet, but it’s clear there’s no immediate and obvious successor internally. If there were, Microsoft would have named that person today.”—Tom Warren of the Verge.

“This is a great opportunity to end the era of a single monolithic Microsoft. Rather than finding one uber-CEO, why not break up the company into more readily managed units, each with the best-aligned leader in that area?”—Mike Koss, a former Microsoft employee, offering his take in the comments of GeekWire.

“Presuming that Ballmer’s successor is competent, he or she will be inheriting a firm in transition, but one with a future that is quite interesting. And it hasn’t been too long that we’ve been able to say that about Microsoft.”— TechCrunch’s Alex Wilhelm in a post titled “Steve Ballmer’s classy exit.” 

ballmer“What has gone wrong? For starters, Ballmer proved to be the anti-Steve Jobs. He missed every major trend in technology. His innovations alienated people. When he tried something new, like Windows Vista, the public lined up around the block to trade it in. Microsoft missed social networking. It completely misjudged the iPhone and the iPad. It embraced complexity in product design just as everyone was turning toward simplicity. It entered growing markets too late. When was the last time you used Bing? In 2000, Microsoft made most of its money selling Microsoft Office and Microsoft Windows. Today, it still makes its money that way. Ballmer’s reign has done more to defang Microsoft than the Justice Department could ever have hoped to do.”—Nicholas Thompson in The New Yorker’s piece “Why Steve Ballmer Failed.”

Meanwhile, here’s what Todd Bishop and I had to say about the Ballmer news on a special edition of the GeekWire podcast.

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