The recent announcement that Bill Gates was giving up the day to day running of Microsoft was given more press attention than it deserved. There was nothing shocking about the succession. The handwriting has been on the wall since Gates first gave up the presidency last year. Although Gates is very much a technologist, Microsoft’s success came under his watch, so he must have done something right in managing, selling, and marketing. As chairman, Gates, the technologist, will get to devote more attention to The Road Ahead.
The Ballmer succession will mark a needed change of tone for the company. As Gartner Group analyst Michael Gartenberg put it, Ballmer will give Microsoft more of a human face. At the Gartner Group Symposium last fall, just about the only newsworthy event was when Ballmer promised to take as action item an audience request to loosen licensing restrictions on customers sharing beta release results for BackOffice and Exchange. Although trivial in the overall scheme of things, the episode indicates a new tone for the software giant. Expect more humility from Redmond, a quality that will become necessary when Windows 2000 makes its play for data centers. When that happens, Microsoft customers will need better hand holding than Redmond has ever delivered before.