Beginning in the 1980s, and cemented in the 1990s, Microsoft became the dominant tech player in the computer industry, largely thanks to its Windows and Office platforms. Central to that strategy was its co-founder, Bill Gates, who continually pushed the notion of PCs running Microsoft’s software being the dominant market in the industry, both personal and corporate.
But with the advent of mobile computing and online services spearheaded by the likes of Apple and Google, Microsoft is finding itself in a precarious position and finding it difficult to adapt, particularly in the consumer sphere. Despite Bill Gates retiring as CEO in 2000 and giving up his daily activities in 2008, he still has enormous influence over the direction of the company. He is still chairman and the go-to guy for advice.
This is clearly seen in the company’s continual focus on the traditional PC market, despite their attempts to become more mobile with Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Is it time that Gates move on so Microsoft can truly change its philosophy and adapt to the new mobile environment?
Current Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer recently announced he would be stepping down within a year. The hunt is now on for a new CEO, but no clear choices are apparent. What is certain is that whoever takes the reins at Microsoft needs a certain level of autonomy to make some hard decisions, and to let go of the past. The tech giant’s recent forays with its Surface and Windows Phone devices have shown that it simply hasn’t been able to make an impact on a growth market of personal technology dominated by Apple and Google products.
On the other side, PC sales in that same personal technology market are waning; they may still be healthy now, but the trend is not going up. Small and large business may still need to use “trucks” as Steve Jobs famously coined, but more and more individual users are opting for tablets and smartphones as their go to computing device.
For Microsoft to stay relevant, it has to find a way to stay relevant in this area, otherwise it risks becoming IBM. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it will lose its image as a potential innovator and no longer be making news in the tech sphere like it once did. And they clearly want to be seen as this otherwise they wouldn’t be wasting time trying to replicate their competitor’s business models, particularly Apple with its vertically integrated products and Google with its online services.
Bill Gates made Microsoft the behemoth that it is and deserves credit for that. However, times have changed and the tech giant needs to move on from its pre-ordained notions of the computing market and embrace new ideas. A new, correctly chosen CEO will be able to do that, but not with Gates looking over his or her shoulder still influencing the direction of the company.