Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss?

FRAMINGHAM (01/31/2000) - In a surprising move, Bill Gates, who has been Microsoft Corp.'s only CEO, recently handed the title to Steve Ballmer, who has served as president since July 1998. Gates will remain chairman and become chief software architect. The new role, he said, will allow him to return to "what I love most -- focusing on technologies for the future."

Does anyone really believe that installing Ballmer as CEO will actually change anything that happens in Redmond?

Ballmer has been president and chief operating officer for two years -- essentially handling the day-to-day operations of the company and enforcing policy as laid down by the Chairman of the Board -- Gates. Simply making Ballmer CEO doesn't change that.

All major decisions will still be made by the Chairman of the Board, and that's still Gates. Even the much ballyhooed reorganization that Ballmer announced after his coronation was -- you can be sure -- signed off on by Gates.

It wasn't the business responsibilities of CEO Gates that kept him from "focusing on technologies for the future," but his constant gallivanting from trade shows to government offices and every media circus in between. How many prime ministers will clear their schedules for Ballmer, and how many will insist that only the richest man in the world can get their attention?

And if Gates wasn't "focusing on technologies for the future," who was? Can it be true that Microsoft was limping along from day to day, with no strategic vision? Could that be how this whole antitrust thing happened -- no one in Redmond was aware of (never mind planning for) Microsoft becoming a monopoly in the operating system arena?

Make no mistake about it, there's only one reason for all the changes happening at Microsoft. They're all intended to make splitting up the company as difficult as possible in the hope that the Department of Justice will settle for a fine and an agreement to "go forth and sin no more." By the time Gates and Ballmer are finished, and Judge Jackson is ready to rule, Microsoft's applications and operating systems will be hopelessly intertwined.

The Justice Department should be thinking of injunctive relief before that can happen.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at

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