So, Steve Ballmer has finally been deposed as CEO of the world’s best-loved technology company – most likely by the man that put him there and covered his backside for 13 increasingly long years, company co-founder and celebrity knitwear lover Bill Gates.
It is truly the end of an era, like the sad death of Rod Hull. Given his aim earlier in the summer to stay until 2018, he was clearly pushed, or persuaded to jump. But while Ballmer might soon be gone, his wit and wisdom will be with us forever unlike, thankfully, Windows Vista, which even Bill Gates refused to defend.
We've spent many happy hours since hearing the news poring over articles and watching YouTube clips instead of doing real work in order to bring you Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s all-time top 10 quotes, together with our insightful analysis.
1) “There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance.”
2) “$500? Fully subsidised? With a plan? That is the most expensive phone in the world and it doesn’t appeal to business customers because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine.”
It’s always hard to know where Ballmer the visionary meets Ballmer the bear-faced marketeer, but when the two collide the resulting comment is invariably insightfully wrong...
3) “We don’t happen to have any Apple products [in our household]. My sons know that if they want to use their own money, they can do whatever they want. But if they want to use MY money...”
The resolute refusal to try competing products means Ballmer probably did not even know what Microsoft was competing against and why rival products might be popular.
4) “DRM is the future”
5) “Apple’s skillset is really in devices. Consumer devices.”
6) Apple Macbook-toting Guy Kawasaki: “DVDs are passé”
Ballmer [laughing]: “Tell that to your kids on a long flight!”
Another example of how Ballmer didn’t quite get how mobile internet, and small and smart non-PC devices were changing the technology industry, and how consumerisation – not business – in many cases is driving the shift. No wonder Bing, Zune and Microsoft’s other terribly named online services and devices tanked under Ballmer.
7) “Windows will continue to be the mass populariser of a variety of things that people want to do with information.”
Ballmer failed to understand that while no one is throwing away their Windows PCs right now, they are spending more of their time on alternative computing devices, choosing to spend more money on them than on their PC.
8) “We will probably license around 20 million Windows Mobile devices this year, which is quite dramatic for smartphone systems... Google has a press release [about Android] and we have many, many millions of customers and great software.”
Interestingly, not only was Windows Mobile second-place to Symbian in terms of smartphone sales back then, but it doesn’t even shift 20 million Windows Phone smartphones today, when the smartphone is more popular worldwide than feature phones.
9) “Vista’s been very popular in the consumer world. I’m not saying that there aren’t things that customers haven’t commented on.”
Vista was very popular with IT businesses offering basic support – but no one else.
10) “I’m a PC and I love this company.”
And I’m a teapot, short and stout...
What many of Ballmer’s top quotes reveal (however unfairly we’ve ripped them out of context) is a business leader in an era of change who not only lacked the ability to see where technology might be heading, but also the cognisance to appreciate that his views might be out of touch, and his vision faulty.
That was compounded by Ballmer’s use of “stack ranking”, which pitted employees against each other, rewarding aggressive politickers (people like Ballmer, perhaps) over team players and thoughtful technologists.
If the list of potential internal candidates for the post of CEO looks short, that’ll probably be the reason – Ballmer’s management has chased them all off.
But to all those who sneer condescendingly at the great man, there’s one riposte we won’t have any comeback to: he’s worth a cool $15.7bn, and could spend the rest of his retirement counting his fortune, one dollar at a time, while the rest of labour on into our seventies, typing our fingers to the bone, for want of a half-decent pension.