Apple 2.0

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Steve Ballmer's Microsoft years: What the critics are saying

August 25, 2013: 5:52 AM ET

It's taken a couple of days for the import of Ballmer's retirement to sink in.

Ballmer. Photo: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

Ballmer. Photo: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters

FORTUNE -- For a time in the mid 1980s, Steve Ballmer used to stop by my cubby hole at Time Magazine on his visits to New York. I was a struggling staff writer and he was Bill Gates' oversized salesman, but he didn't impress me as a man with a vision or deep knowledge of computers, and he did nothing during his 13 and a half years as Microsoft's (MSFT) CEO to persuade me otherwise.

Much has been written about the difference between Microsoft's Ballmer and Apple's (AAPL) Steve Jobs since Ballmer's announcement Friday that he is stepping down. But as Gates' hand-picked successor, the apt comparison is not to Jobs, but to Tim Cook.

On the question of whether Cook can do a better job succeeding Apple's co-founder than Ballmer did Microsoft's, the jury is still out. But with the notable exception of The Street's Rocco ("Is Tim Cook certifiably inane?") Pendola, nobody is saying the kinds of things about Jobs' successor that they're saying this weekend about Gates'.

A sampling:

MacDailyNews. Steve Ballmer to retire within 12 months. The luckiest dorm assignment in the history of the universe has finally run out of luck.

Nicholas Thompson, The New Yorker: Why Steve Ballmer failed. "Ballmer proved to be the anti-Steve Jobs. He missed every major trend in technology. His innovations alienated people. When he tried something new, like Windows Vista, the public lined up around the block to trade it in... Ballmer's reign has done more to defang Microsoft than the Justice Department could ever have hoped to do."

Julia Kirby, Harvard Business ReviewSteve Ballmer's Big Lesson for the Rest of Us "So the big lesson other CEOs should take away from this public trial is a cautionary one: this is how you, too, will be judged... Innovation is the name of the game now.

Ina Fried, All Things DFor Ballmer, Resistance Was Futile. "Ballmer is leaving whoever will eventually take over for him with a substantially weaker and less influential company... It's clearly not a very pretty legacy, mostly due to larger external trends that were impossible to resist, and stubborn management by Ballmer who tried too hard to resist them."

David Pogue, New York Times: How Ballmer Missed the Tidal Shifts in Tech. "It would have taken an exceptional thinker, an out-of-the-box visionary, to admit that the company's foundation was crumbling. Mr. Ballmer wasn't that guy."

John Gruber, Daring Fireball: Why Steve Ballmer should have been shitcanned no later than 2009. "Under his watch Windows has been supplanted by Apple's iOS and Google's Android. Mobile is the industry's growth area, and Microsoft is barely a player. Here's the hitch though: Ballmer has chased all potential successors out of the company — Ray Ozzie, Robbie Bach, J Allard, and most recently, Steven Sinofsky."

Guy English, Kickingbear: Ballmer's Straight Jacket. "Ballmer has completely shaken up the way that Microsoft has always worked. Now they don't only need to find a new CEO who believes they can lead Microsoft out of the hole they've dug themselves but one who believes that the last decision that Steve Ballmer made, a company wide reorganization, is the way they, as the new leadership, want to run the company."

John Paczkowski, All Things DBeyond Monkey Boy: It's a Steve Ballmer Quote-Tacular"While Ballmer has had a rocky tenure as CEO... it has been enormously entertaining to watch, largely due to his bombastic personality, relentless salesmanship and endless quotability. Here's a collection of some of the more memorable remarks Ballmer has made over the years."

Michael Helft, Fortune: The $16 billion drag on Microsoft. "Is it too late for Microsoft? Fortune asked that question more than two years ago in a story that detailed the disappointments of the Ballmer era. While Microsoft remains strong in enterprise sales and has a hit consumer product in the Xbox, the list of disappointments has only grown longer, and the question is more poignant than ever."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this item misquoted a headline. It's "Is Tim Cook certifiably inane?" -- not "insane."

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Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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