CS and the City Sean Lynch

Bill Gates starts his slow walk away from Microsoft

Bill Gates, founder and chief software architect at Microsoft, has annonced he will be leaving the company to concentrate on his work with the charity he founded, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  Bill will take two years to phase out his day to day role at the company. 

<!--more-->Gates stepped down as Microsoft CEO in 2000 to concentrate more on the product development.  It was quite apparent that Gate’s frustration with the company’s legal woes and its “Evil Corporation” image drove him to concentrate on his passion: Product vision.  And rightfully so. Gate’s vision grew Microsoft’s two man operation in the 1970s into a multi-national corporation employing tens of thousands with software that runs the majority of the world’s computers. Microsoft’s growth also made Gates the world’s richest man in the process.

In 2001, Microsoft released Windows XP, an all accounts success for the company.  At the same time, Microsoft also attempted to diversify their product line releasing the XBox and more recently, the XBox 360, which found success in the US but continues to struggle in the important Japan market.  Microsoft was slow to move on the digital music market place, however, and lost it to Apple’s iPod. A mistake that allowed the pearly-white company to dominate the digital music market and begin a renaissance of innovation.  Microsoft is only now attempting a proper challenge of the iPod’s dominance.

Even Microsoft’s core software market, Windows and Office, has struggled.  Office 2003 had a slow adoption rate as business customers resisted pressure to upgrade because Office 2003 was seen as a minor change from older versions. Though, the upcoming Office 2007 has been thoroughly redesigned and boasts a number of positive pre-release reviews, it has been pushed back to be released close to the released of Microsoft’s next version of Windows: Vista.  Vista has be plauged with two years worth of delays and continues to garner lack luster reactions from pundits. 

Additionally, continual pressure from more agile competitors in Apple and Google as well as the open source community has caused Microsoft to become defensive as it plays the “catch up” game in a number of important markets.  

These delays and botched products were bound to frustrate Gates at some point.   And an innovator of his caliber is not one to enjoy playing catch up by copying rather than creating.

Though Microsoft has virtually unlimited resources, it has shown time and time again that it is unable to compete with more innovative competitors, even under the Gate’s guidance. Gates announced his replacement will be Ray Ozzie, an innovator in his own right, but only time will tell if the masses of Microsoft will rally behind their new leader. Without a strong and iconic captain like Gates, Microsoft is bound to become more over extended and disorganized.  Some may argue that they have already reached this point.  Gates’ departure may be a good indication.