Ruby on Rails Creator Disses Ballmer, Microsoft

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-06-08

Adding to the recent chatter comparing Microsoft to Apple in terms of market cap and industry love, Ruby on Rails creator David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH) has written a scathing post dissing Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and calling for co-founder and former CEO Bill Gates to return to the company.

In a June 4 post entitled "You couldn't pay me to work for Ballmer," Hansson notes that he has never been a Microsoft fan, "Not even when I was using Windows (that I begrudgingly moved to after the Amiga)," he added. "But at least you used to have some awe and respect for the gorilla that was Microsoft. Bill Gates might have been an evil genius, but at least he was a genius."

Apparently Hansson wishes for a more formidable opponent for the continually growing band of Web developers that have formed around his creation. He calls Ballmer pitiable and pathetic.

As opposed to Gates, Hansson said: "Now contrast this to Steve Ballmer. Who's certainly no genius and calling him evil is to belittle evil. He has turned the gorilla into a buffoon. And frankly, it's sad. Gone are the feelings of rage (except when they patent troll people for being Web apps) and left is pity."

Hansson then includes video clips of both Ballmer and Apple's Steve Jobs speaking at the recent D8 conference. In his comparison, Hansson says, "Jobs is lucid and reasoned. Ballmer is... Hell, I don't even know how to describe it. He's all over the place. No clear definitions, just randomly running his mouth. Compared to Jobs, I think it's charitable to call him pathetic."

Pathetic is not a word to describe Steve Ballmer. And Hansson's charts comparing Gates' years versus Ballmer's versus Jobs' is misleading. The Gates versus Ballmer eras cover different periods in the industry and different economic times. And while Jobs has done a great job with Apple since his return, honestly, the company had nowhere to go but up, as one commenter pointed out.

Indeed, the comments themselves are telling in how many in the industry view Ballmer and Microsoft. Yet, one must consider the source, as folks who follow DHH are not as likely to be fans of Microsoft in the first place.

However, one commenter who identified himself as "TechBoy" and says he is a Microsoft employee, correctly notes that Ballmer is quite intelligent. Said TechBoy:

"Ballmer is very smart, IQ wise. But that hasn't helped him become an effective CEO who could steer MS into the next era. He is good at riling up the troops and inspiring them. But the inspiration fades quickly because execution is poor. MS is always playing catch-up, even in the glory days (with a few minor exceptions). He talks about innovation endlessly but either he doesn't understand the meaning of the word or he thinks he's fooling everyone because MS doesn't have a track record of innovation like other well known companies."

The man has a degree in economics and math from Harvard and he attended the Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He is surely not pathetic. Microsoft's shareholders and board of directors have put their confidence in Ballmer. And despite missteps in certain areas such as mobile and others, he continues to deliver based on Microsoft's longstanding flagship products.

TechBoy sums Ballmer up pretty well, saying:

"At heart he's a business/numbers kind of guy. His sweet spot is turning a few knobs and switches on the internal sales machine and making it hum. During MS's rise in the 90's, he lead the build up of the internal sales force and built MS into a credible enterprise class company. And he thought that would be enough. He couldn't foresee technological trends soon enough and so MS is playing catch up in so many areas. And he's also risk averse."

Meanwhile, several commenters said they would like to see Ray Ozzie at the helm of Microsoft. That is just not going to happen. Primarily because it is not clear that he even wants the job. And, if he did, it's not clear if he has enough supporters in the company to propel him to the position. A more likely candidate would be another "business/numbers guy," like Kevin Turner, the Wizard of Wal-Mart, who is Microsoft's chief operating officer. But I don't want this to turn into a list of who might succeed Ballmer.

Hansson is slated to take the stage at RailsConf 2010 in Baltimore, the annual event for Ruby on Rails developers, to deliver a keynote on June 8. We shall see if he uses that platform to take more shots at Ballmer. Whatever he says, DHH never fails to entertain as well as inform.

Meanwhile, Hansson ended his Ballmer post with: "It matters who's at the top. It sets the company tone. Microsoft is undoubtedly full of very smart people, but as long as they are being run by Steve Ballmer, they're going to be shackled by his ineptitude. I wish Microsoft had their evil genius back."


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