Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is retiring inside of the next 12 months, in a move that I personally see as yet another exit of the old guard of Microsoft. Ballmer has been the CEO of Microsoft since 2000, which was a very different time for both Microsoft and the computing industry as a whole.
In 2000, Windows dominated the desktop world and was strongly represented on servers. In 2013, Microsoft’s Windows is struggling in a desktop PC world that has gone off a cliff and a server world where Linux and open-source technology usage continues to grow in the new cloud era.
Ballmer is not the first Microsoft executive to see the writing on the wall that points to a less-than-stellar future for the company he helped build. Barely a year ago, Steve Sinofsky, leader of Microsoft’s Windows division and a 23-year-veteran of the company, left with little notice.
Two years ago, Bob Muglia, who had been running the Microsoft Server and Tools business, left the company. (Muglia has since moved on to lead software development at networking vendor Juniper.) His departure came a year after Microsoft’s Business Division President Stephen Elop as well as Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie left the company.
So to recap: In the past three years, the executives who ran the Windows, Server and Business divisions have left. Both Muglia and Sinofsky worked at Microsoft for decades shaping the strategy and culture that enabled the company to dominate in the desktop and server arenas. Both are gone, and now soon so is Ballmer.
The first time I ever saw Ballmer in person was at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in 2004. At the time, Microsoft partners were concerned about the impact of open source and Linux.
During his keynote at that event, Ballmer with his characteristic bombast shouted at the audience, “Who will stand up and stand behind open source?”
Eight years later, with Google standing behind open source for Android (and Microsoft’s mobile aspirations struggling for relevance), Red Hat passing $1 billion in revenue for Linux server support and an emerging cloud ecosystem the relies on open-source technologies, the market has answered Ballmer’s question.
Ballmer’s exit from Microsoft marks the end of an era for the company. In the span of three years, the company has lost many of its most well-known and respected leaders. No doubt a new generation of Microsoft leadership is now emerging, but it’s also clear that the generation that built Microsoft is soon to be no more.
Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.