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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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RE: Not Windows 8
By StevoLincolnite on 8/25/2013 12:48:25 AM , Rating: 5
To be fair to Vista though, it was released at a time where people were driving "clunkers" with anywhere from 512Mb to 1024Mb of Ram.
Which conversely worked great for the decade+ old Windows XP, just not Vista.

That was compounded by the fact that at launch and even a year or so after launch, OEM's were still selling PC's with 512Mb of Ram, that's just not going to be a pretty user experience, even worse with a laptop's 5400rpm as Vista/7 would page to the hard drive pretty hard.

Lets not forget that manufacturers such as nVidia lagged in the driver updates, heck I recall nVidia being the main culprit for a large percentage of blue screens...

No wonder it copped allot of flack!

Fortunately for Microsoft however and thanks to Vista, Windows 7 was a smoother transition, if Microsoft skipped Vista, Windows 7 would have probably had the exact same teething issues on it's launch.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Breakfast Susej on 8/25/2013 4:07:04 PM , Rating: 2
I worked as a computer tech at the time Vista was released. And I still remember the first Acer laptops we got with Vista. I had been using Vista on my own pc since the release candidate and thought it was fine.

But the OEM's were highly responsible for the negative image that Vista recieved. These Acers took close to three hours to run through the set up on first boot, the bundled acer crapware gave compatibility warnings and in some cases wouldn't even run. It was as if they tried their hardest to make the worst experience possible.

And then there were the problems with Nvidia drivers, that's a whole other ball of wax.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Souka on 8/26/2013 2:09:25 AM , Rating: 3
Drivers and old hardware peripherals that people ran were a massive issue. People were pretty PO'd that their $300 inkjet or scanner won't work with Vista


RE: Not Windows 8
By spamreader1 on 8/26/2013 9:47:01 AM , Rating: 2
Everyone forget ME? It never had it's driver issues fixed for peripherals.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Samus on 8/27/2013 3:05:26 AM , Rating: 2
I think Vista's problems were mostly performance related. Yes, early on drivers were an issue, but it was a disk thrasher through its lifetime, and horrendously slow on laptops with 5400RPM drives.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Piiman on 8/31/2013 12:52:35 PM , Rating: 2
The reason for the driver issues was that Vista changed the driver model and venders uses it as a way to force consumers to upgrade and thus many didn't upgrade the drivers.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Manch on 8/26/2013 5:41:49 PM , Rating: 2
That was largely the manufacturers attempt to force you to buy "New" hardware. Remember the crap Creative Labs pulled with the sound cards, or HP pulled with the printers. Several vendors tried this crap and got busted for it.

MS didnt help matters when they refused to release Direct X 10 for XP and force an upgrade to Vista to play Halo. Crap like that will not earn you any good will.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Breakfast Susej on 8/27/2013 9:30:06 AM , Rating: 2
See this in my opinion is Microsofts current problem. I think they are still operating under the same mentality that they were when they were able to force people to do whatever they wanted because of their market position. Vista was just the first time they got slapped down on this and they didn't learn from it.

Now admittedly, a lot of the things they were forcing in Vista were good changes, but not all, and likewise with Windows 8. There's a lot of really good things about Windows 8 that I really like. Unfortunately they have grafted this tablet interface on in their attempt to force it's adoption by abusing their market leader position in the PC os space. And While I can disable the metro stuff and have, and never even see it, It of course begs the question, if everyone disables it with third party apps, and noone is buying your tablets, isn't it becoming clear yet?

Then we have the Xbox One. This was such an unbelievable and clear "You'll take what we give you because we've got you locked in now" move on their part, at least to me, that it was just stunning to watch it all unfold. But surprise surprise, there's strong competition in that space, and they played Microsoft like a fiddle. Much like the way it was done with Vista being systematically destroyed by Apples smear campaign combined with all the other factors such as poor OEM performance and third party driver support. And of course flat out greed and willingness to abuse the market lead position.


RE: Not Windows 8
By marvdmartian on 8/26/2013 8:11:33 AM , Rating: 2
Part of it, too, was that Microsoft released ridiculously low "minimum" requirements for Vista, which made it the clunker it started out to be. It wasn't until everyone realized what a resource hog Vista OS was, and the OEM's started upgrading their systems to match the requirements, that many people got anything approaching an enjoyable experience out of it.

I worked on one system (belonging to the friend of a friend), that was a Compaq system, running an Athlon 1.3 GHz cpu, with 512mb of PC133 ram....and Windows Vista Home Premium. That poor thing was so overwhelmed, between the OS and the fact that the operator believed that EVERY program had to have an icon on his task bar (which also ties up resources), that it took nearly 10 minutes to get to a stable desktop configuration, after start up!

I advised him to save anything important, re-install windows, and give the computer away, or sell it, then go out and buy a decent system. NO WAY should Compaq have sold him a system with those specs.


RE: Not Windows 8
By Cheesew1z69 on 8/27/2013 3:14:50 PM , Rating: 2
Huh? I don't even believe PC133 was being SOLD when Vista came out... DDR was out around 2003 and Vista in 2006. What model PC was this?


RE: Not Windows 8
By robinthakur on 8/27/2013 5:23:46 AM , Rating: 2
A lot of people are (unbelievably) still running Vista. My other half has a laptop he occasionally uses that takes 10 mins to boot and be usable due to the amount of paging to a slow hd. I switched my main machines to OSX after Vista, though I still use Windows for work on SharePoint development in a VM.

Have to say I admire MS for what they were trying to achieve in 8, and for shaking up the status quo and it will be interesting to see what OSX Mavericks looks like as a consequence. I think MS should have made the changes more gradual and had an option to go back to the old way, to keep people happy. If they had confidence that the Modern UI was great then what's to lose!


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