Gates: Reports of Retirement Greatly Exaggerated
May 28, 2008
Dan Farber, a sharp fellow whose articles I track, has a good discussion here of Microsoft’s Bill Gates’s decision to spend 20 percent of his retirement time working on Microsoft. Mr. Farber brought a smile to my face when he wrote:
Gates, who will remain chairman of Microsoft, said he will spend two to three days at Microsoft, where he will have an office, and two to three times that amount of time writing, thinking and working on a variety of pet projects, including the next generation Microsoft Office, natural interfaces (such voice and handwriting) and search.
Now that’s good writing!
The point that jumped out at me–aside from the two or three days at Microsoft translating to 20 percent of Mr. Gates’s time–is the direct reference to search. Man, that’s a subject that Microsoft cannot put to rest. When I read Mr. Farber’s story and scanned some of the other comments about the news, several thoughts went through my mind. Keep in mind that Mr. Farber helped me get in the mood to think these thoughts; he’s not party to my thoughts:
- Maybe search is the reason that Mr. Gates can’t retire. The Fast Search & Transfer acquisition, the dismal performance relative to Google of MSN and Live.com search, and the land-office business companies selling an alternative to SharePoint search put a hitch in the get-along
- Could this “20 percent” be the first signal that the leadership of Mr. Ballmer does not have the desired batting average this year? Not only is there the turmoil in search, Microsoft has ankle-biting Europeans grousing about certain business practices. There’s the wacky Yahoo deal. There’s the Vista excitement.
- Ah, the Google. Wall Street sees the GOOG as an ad company that does something called search. Somewhat more flexible thinkers see Google as a threat to the Microsoft business model. If true, Microsoft can deliver shareholder value when broken into three or more parts. An $85 billion company that is a value stock with a management team unable to respond to a bunch of mathematicians in Mounting View, California, is not going to deliver the much-needed cash investment bankers and shareholders demand.
You can find a very good run down of other views of this “development” on the path to the retirement home on Techmeme and Megite. Every day Microsoft takes an action that helps keep me smiling inwardly. I called this situation in my 2005 study The Google Legacy. It does feel good to know that the work I did in 2003 and 2004 was dead on. No kicking back ahead for Mr. Gates. I also believe life will become more exciting for the Microsoft senior management team. I can hear everyone saying, “Great news. Bill’s back.”
Stephen Arnold, May 28, 2008