In a highly surprising turn of events, Steve Ballmer appears to have returned from his sabbatical and promptly tendered his resignation, effective immediately. Suffice to say, this behavior is quite startling given Ballmer’s long tenure with Microsoft (since 1980), and as chief executive officer of Microsoft (since January 2000).
What I find really puzzling is this announcement comes after Ballmer’s long-running, public, and quite negative behavior towards Google. Case in point: “In 2005, Mark Lucovsky alleged in a sworn statement to a Washington state court that Ballmer became highly enraged upon hearing that Lucovsky was about to leave Microsoft for Google, picked up his chair and threw it across his office.” (source: wiki).
Industry analysis and insiders seem just as surprised as myself. Mary Jo Foley, who’s covered the tech industry for the past 20 years, and has insight I value, earlier today offered this statement: “Speculation continues to swirl…”. My take: Understatement indeed, Mary Jo.
Also today, a posting on Raymond Chen’s blog discussed another awfully peculiar connection: “A few years ago, there was a vacancy in a small business park a very short walk from the main Microsoft campus…”. Raymond goes on to discuss “Building 7”, which he describes as “This nonexistent building…” Now, I do trust Raymond, and he’s been with Microsoft since, well I don’t know when. But… come on, really? Steve is going to work for Google, from a building that’s basically on the Microsoft campus? It may sound outlandish, but it won’t be the first time Microsoft has partnered with strange bedfellows. (Actually this does locate Ballmer perfectly to recruit the brightest minds away from Microsoft).
If you step back and look what insiders are blogging, two things become very clear: 1) Nobody knows what’s really going on. 2) Steve has picked the worst possible time to just ship. Or, just maybe… it’s actually the best time.
Think about this. You are Steve Ballmer, and you’ve ascended to numero uno honcho at Microsoft. You have a generous collection of stock options, prestige, clout and power. You’re been driving the world’s leading software company. But, you were never able to shake your faithful competitor, Apple. In fact, when Bill Gates turned over the reigns as CEO in 2000, Apple fortunes mysteriously started to… improve. Rapidly. Consider: iPods, iMacs, iBooks, iPhones, iMovie, the list goes on and on.
I’m not saying Ballmer has been cavorting with the competition, or that he’s been sabotaging Microsoft. I’m also not saying he’s been sowing buttons on ice cream, nor incessantly practicing sweaty dance moves (ok, maybe just a little). What I do think is this: He finally counted his cards and realized if he can’t defeat his old nemesis (Apple), then he needs to become one with new enemy (Google) to beat the old one. Odd indeed. Dark too.
By remaining on campus (possibly in Building 7??), he could snoop, spy and inject subterfuge for the benefit of Google. Wow! But, that’s where this house of cards falls apart. Because, I just cannot see Eric and Sergey-And-Larry being involved with anything so underhanded and nefarious. Which makes me really glad it’s April 1st and there’s still hope for humanity.