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He discusses his biggest accomplishment, regrets and what's next

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announced this week that he plans to retire sometime over the next year. This is pretty big, considering he's been with the company for 33 years and saw it through many stages of technological growth. So how would he sum up three decades of working with one of the largest tech players in the industry?

ZDNet's Mary Jo Foley was able to talk with Ballmer after the announcement of his retirement, and asked him to reflect on his time with Microsoft as well as what he thinks the future of the company holds. 

Over the course of his career, Ballmer said his biggest accomplishment at Microsoft has been contributing to the rise of personal computing, from PCs to smartphones/tablets and everything in between. 

"I'm proud of being I would say a significant part even of the birth of intelligent personal computing, the notion that people use computing technologies, whether that's phones, PCs," sid Ballmer. "I mean, we kind of birthed that over the course of the '80s and the '90s, and that's had such an unbelievable impact on people's lives. I would say a billion plus people and now more with phones, even if they're not all our phones, I'm very proud of what we've accomplished there.

"If I had to sort of couple it, I'm very proud that we were able to make this incredible impact on the planet and at the same time do a good job for our shareholders."

However, Ballmer's biggest regret over the course of his career was the operating system that many users despised: Windows Vista. 

"Oh, you know, I've actually had a chance to make a lot of mistakes, and probably because, you know, people all want to focus in on period A, period B, but I would say probably the thing I regret most is the, what shall I call it, the loopedy-loo that we did that was sort of Longhorn to Vista," said Ballmer. "I would say that's probably the thing I regret most. And, you know, there are side effects of that when you tie up a big team to do something that doesn't prove out to be as valuable."

Ballmer said he has been thinking about retiring for awhile now, but started taking the idea more seriously over the last few months. The official decision was made only two days ago, he said. 

Over the next year -- leading up to Ballmer's retirement -- Microsoft's board will talk about the company's needs and determine who the next CEO should be. Ballmer didn't give any clues as to who the successor may be, but said that the search could take less than a year.

As for Ballmer's future, he doesn't have any set plans right now. 

"I haven't spent a lot of time -- I don't have time to spend actually even thinking about what comes next. I'm not going to have time to do that until the board gets a successor in place," said Ballmer. "My whole life has been about my family and about Microsoft. And I do relish the idea that I'll have another chapter, a chapter two, if you will, of my life where I'll get to sort of experience other sides of life, learn more about myself, all of that, but it's not like I leave with a specific plan in mind."

Ballmer joined Microsoft on June 11, 1980 as the company's 30th employee and the first business manager hired by Microsoft Chairman and Co-Founder Bill Gates. Even though Ballmer has been a public figure for Microsoft for many years, some believe the company is in need of an executive shake-up -- including a new leader. Mobile technology, such as smartphones and tablets, are taking over as the PC market continues to decline. But Microsoft has had a difficult time stirring up enthusiasm for Windows Phone against competitors like Apple and Samsung, and the Windows maker was late to the tablet game -- releasing its Surface tablet in October 2012 after the iPad had already been out for over two years. To make matters worse, Microsoft's Surface was initially released with the Windows RT operating system (the full Windows 8 Pro-powered Surface wasn't released until February 2013) and it was a major flop. Many say RT isn't a full Windows 8 experience, lacking the ability to run legacy apps.

Microsoft also slipped up recently with its Xbox One announcement. The new console, which is expected to be released this fall, initially had a used games ban and a new "always-on" digital rights management (DRM) system, which posed a problem for many people who are either in rural areas with slow Internet connections, travelling or tend to experience Internet issues with providers. Microsoft later retracted these features after major complaints, but the fiasco still didn't sit well with gamers.

The situation was made worse when its top competitor -- Sony's upcoming PlayStation 4 -- was announced without any used game bans or a DRM system, and is also faster and less expensive (by $100) than the Xbox One. 

Perhaps a new CEO and executive shake-up will help Microsoft along. Nevertheless, Ballmer has been an important figure at Microsoft for years and helped make it what it is today.

Source: ZDNet

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Why Vista
By BillyBatson on 8/24/2013 10:11:17 PM , Rating: 5
When Windows ME was so much worse.

RE: Why Vista
By Shawn on 8/25/2013 2:29:19 AM , Rating: 3
Seriously!!! Vista wasn't a bad OS at all, it just had poor driver support at launch and people were trying to use it on antiquated hardware. It worked fine for me since the beta days and I used it for Media Center.

Windows ME or the other hand was complete garbage. I would constantly get blue screens and illegal operations that would hang the whole OS. Not to mention the fact that they completely removed all DOS access, even though it was still running on DOS. Completely broke backwards compatibility on old games for no reason.

At least when I moved to Win2k I got a completely stable OS which was worth losing the dos compatibility for. The only reason I used ME at all was because there were hardly any drivers for win2k at launch. Once I got sound and modem drivers I switched and never looked back.

RE: Why Vista
By Donkey2008 on 8/25/2013 11:33:49 PM , Rating: 3
ME was definitely a disaster. Sometimes I think Microsoft let ME be that way for a reason. It pushed many technical users to finally adopt NT as their primary, day-to-day OS (first 2k, then XP).

RE: Why Vista
By TSS on 8/25/2013 7:22:25 AM , Rating: 2

We don't speak of It-which-shall-not-be-named anymore....

RE: Why Vista
By inighthawki on 8/25/2013 3:18:55 PM , Rating: 2
Ballmer probably didn't have much role in Windows ME. It was released not too long after he was appointed CEO, so the direction and featureset was almost certainly decided long before that, and as CEO he doesn't have much control over how well of a job his developers do.

RE: Why Vista
By Loki726 on 8/25/2013 8:09:03 PM , Rating: 3
I don't think that he was talking about the public reception of Vista.

I think that he was talking about internal Longhorn->Vista software development project.
Longhorn started out as a very ambitious project to write the entire OS using managed code,
an idea that had been gaining popularity in the research community and as well as the developer
community with the rise of Java. I think that they got about 90-95% of the code written before
realizing that there were serious technical issues with the approach (i.e. that it is really
difficult/impossible to write the low level details of the OS kernel and HAL with managed code).
After they realized this very late in the game, they had to back pedal. They deleted the whole
project and started over from almost nothing. This delayed the project, pissed off engineers by
abandoning their hard work, and likely resulted in the rough edges with Vista that took time to
iron out. I really wish that they would talk about the issues that they ran into in more detail.
Maybe they could be addressed with more time and research, but instead they are probably going
to get burried.

I don't think that a lot of consumers really understand how management at large corporations view
projects like this. Their main experience with a product is during its development. They are
much less involved when it is released to market, and end-users probably have more experience with
it at that point. They use indirect metrics to judge its success. They would probably see Vista as
a success if the internal development went smoothly and it didn't tank revenue or the stock price,
even if the actual product was buggy and difficult to use.

"Can anyone tell me what MobileMe is supposed to do?... So why the f*** doesn't it do that?" -- Steve Jobs

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