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Meanwhile Ballmer looks to pump shareholders up with a letter emphasizing Microsoft's success

When a more mature Steve Jobs came back to Apple, Inc. (AAPL), he revitalized the company he co-founded as a rebellious youth.  Millions of iPods, iPhones, and iPhones later, Apple is the world's most valuable company in terms of market cap.  Meanwhile, Apple's perennial rival Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) is struggle not for want of user, but for a faltering brand image.  Some say that Bill Gates -- the man who founded Microsoft and drove it to its initial success -- should return.

I. Bill Gates: No Comeback for me

But at his keynote at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2012 -- a leadership conference -- Bill Gates all but ruled out a return, saying his focus was on his philanthropic work, and it would remain that way.  He said:

Steve Jobs did a phenomenal piece of work. Apple, most people would have expected, were on their way going out of business. He had run Apple since it was a tiny company and then he came back in and made incredibly valuable. It’s a phenomenal business story and I thought Walter Isaacson did a good job catching that in the book. Steve and I were friends, competitors – we were a lot of different things. It was amazing what he did.

I’m now committed full time to my foundation work and I give about 15% of my time as Chairman of Microsoft. Microsoft is moving ahead with Windows 8 that combines the best of tablet with PC. This month the very first hardware based on that idea including Microsoft’s own Surface will ship. So there’s a lot of exciting stuff ahead in software and I didn’t retire from Microsoft because I thought things were getting boring. In fact a lot of best ideas- the vision of artificial intelligence and robots are still ahead but i did decide the philanthropic world was where my contribution would be more unique and so thats what I’ll work on full time for the rest of my life.

Bill Gates
Bill Gates says "no" to a Microsoft comeback. [Image Source: Flickr/Bill Gates]

Some people will be disappointed that Mr. Gates is resisting a comeback.

II. Steve Ballmer: Microsoft is Strong

But Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is convinced no comeback is necessary.  He insists that the image that Microsoft lacks creativity is badly out of date.  In a letter to shareholders, he brags that 1.3 billion people worldwide use Windows and that there are 8 million active Windows app developers.

The boisterous chief executive is bullish on Windows 8 tablets and Windows Phone 8, bringing a unified Windows experience across mobile and traditional computing devices.  

Microsoft has skeptics aplenty, particularly when it comes to Windows 8.  But as Mr. Ballmer puts it:

For fiscal year 2012, revenue grew to a record $73.7 billion. We also maintained strong cost discipline resulting in cash flow from operations of $31.6 billion, an increase of 17 percent from the prior year. In addition, we returned $10.7 billion to shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends.

In other words financially Microsoft shows little sign of being a "dying" brand as some opinion pieces have claims.

Windows 8 is a huge risk.  But Steve Ballmer is convinced it will pay off, even as Bill Gates watches -- permanently -- from the sidelines.

Sources: T-Break, Microsoft

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RE: Fire Balmer
By TakinYourPoints on 10/10/2012 4:26:15 PM , Rating: 2
Only you would call the single greatest individual act of philanthropy "white guilt". Ugly.

As for the stock chart, it doesn't tell the whole story. Yes the stock has flatlined under Ballmer, but under Gates it was also during a period when techs were highly overvalued. In 1999, at the height of the dot-com bubble, Microsoft had a price-to-earnings multiple of 72. Nowhere near the current loony valuation of Amazon at 300, but still loony. Right now it carries a price multiple of 14.5, similar to other mature techs like IBM and AAPL.

It is normal for a large cap tech.

Microsoft eased into a fair market value given its earnings, end of story. It is why its stock price has remained flat while it has grown revenue. This is more about MSFT having been grossly overvalued ten years ago.

RE: Fire Balmer
By Reclaimer77 on 10/10/12, Rating: 0
RE: Fire Balmer
By TakinYourPoints on 10/10/2012 5:01:33 PM , Rating: 2
Melinda Gates is probably the biggest motivator for his philanthropy, Warren Buffet being second.

And only you would call wiping out polio in India a bad thing. The man has more money than anyone, using that cash to help billions is bad? Ok, sure thing John Galt.

As for incompetence, innovating on new products has never been Microsoft's strength. The Zune came out under Gates' watch a month only before the iPhone was announced, that is a VERY late reaction to the iPod that came out six years prior.

Leveraging their position of existing market dominance has always been Microsoft's strength, and they've made more off the back of Windows and Office in the last few years than they have before. Profit growth isn't what it used to be, but the market for those products are much closer to a ceiling than other areas like smartphones and tablets. This doesn't mean that they still haven't grown in revenue year after year, they absolutely have.

The bottom line is that the stock price has flatlined while profits have increased, not decreased or been stagnant. Bringing out a stock chart, if you know what you're supposed to be looking at, mainly shows that Microsoft was grossly overvalued during its peak. You bringing it out in an argument shows that you have only the most superficial understanding of how to interpret these things.

RE: Fire Balmer
By OoklaTheMok on 10/10/2012 5:34:34 PM , Rating: 2
Do you have any idea what company has the most philanthropic employees? I'll give you a hint... It's the one that Bill Gates started. It's not really something a person at Microsoft just wakes up to one day. It's something that has existed since it's inception.

So just because you would feel at home playing the part of Scrooge with a billion dollars doesn't mean that someone else would.

With your anger directed at the notion of doing something noble and personally satisfying, maybe it's time to take an honest look at the type of life you want to lead.

RE: Fire Balmer
By TakinYourPoints on 10/10/2012 7:49:15 PM , Rating: 2
The funny thing is that aside from being greedy, he has no grasp of financial concepts. His grasp on finance is about as bad as his grasp on tech. Greedy and stupid, amazing combo.

RE: Fire Balmer
By nikon133 on 10/11/2012 4:54:16 PM , Rating: 2
Zune was released in 2006. Gates retired in 2008.

By the time Balmer took over, it was already obvious that Zune is dead end. iPods were the Windows of music player market, and even they were scheduled for decline as smartphones were taking over.

To continue trying to keep Zune afloat would be as effective as trying to revive a week old cadaver found in the middle of nuclear blast zone; not only that it would not help the cadaver, it would hurt MS instead.

The real question was, why didn't MS have Zune and underlying services, say, back in 2002-ish?

iPhone was released in 2007. That was still under Gates' watch. Balmer was the one to ditch old WinMo and have Microsoft mobile solution to be redone from the scratch, also expanding it to tablets with Windows 8 RT. Gates' tablet vision was always about desktop OS on keyboardless laptop, and I wouldn't be surprised if his next step for smartphones - has he stayed on top of MS - wouldn't be something like Windows 7 on Atom based smartphone.

I'm working in IT from early '90. However you turn it, it is my strong belief that Gates last years at MS were marked by stall and tired, uninspiring products, while Balmer's first years are marked by invigorated, fresh and original products in pretty much every sphere of their existence.

RE: Fire Balmer
By TakinYourPoints on 10/11/2012 5:18:56 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with this. Gates is the greatest individual philanthropist in history and was a ruthless businessman who won the market partly through active coercion, but he was not a product guy or a technologist. Gates being back wouldn't really be any better than Ballmer, he didn't bring any market dominating products to the party outside of the already incumbent Windows and Office. Windows and Office are still the core of Microsoft's business, they pay for money losing ventures like Bing and XBox. How would things magically be any different under Gates?

As you said, under Ballmer's watch there has at least been actual shake-up and an attempt to try to integrate mobile and desktop. In the final years of Gates you had consumer products that were way too late to the punch. Even Samsung was all over copying the iPhone, why the hell was Microsoft six years late releasing the Zune?

Its no wonder why Gates left the company when he did, his time in tech was over. It is far better now that he's devoted to philanthropy, he has way more to contribute there than he does to technology.

"There's no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance." -- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer

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