Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce Ballmer and the downward spiral of Microsoft

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In Ballmer's first year as CEO, the company lost half its value. It was the time of the tech wreck so one, perhaps, cannot lay all the blame at Monkey Boy's feet. Perhaps Gates saw the writing on the wall and decided to vacate the post.

Eichenwald writes of crazy initiatives at Microsoft to save money - like removing towels from the bathrooms where employees showered. There were worse things - a cut-down health insurance plan, a lack of office supplies.

Even though Microsoft was never first to market with many things in its first two decades, it was always able to catch up and pass the ones who were first to market. Marketshare helped to pull back the leaders in any field.

But in the noughties, that didn't happen because the company was far too late to react. In the case of the iPod, it took five years for a Microsoft product (with the dumb name Zune) to hit the market after Apple made its debut. By then the market had voted with its dollars and moved on.

It has been the same with music, mobiles and tablets. Ballmer laughed at the iPhone and the iPad when they launched. This is but the latest indication of how out of touch the man is with the industry he is in.

When tech companies fall behind in one field, they try to catch up with the rest by buying technology. Microsoft has bought numerous companies in its 37 years. At least one of its buys has proved costly - last quarter it took a loss for the first time since it went public in 1986 due to the writedown of Aquantive, an online advertising company that it bought in order to compete with Google.

But buying technology does not always work out. Sometimes plans go awry due to the mismatch of cultures in the buyer and the bought. At others, the business plan fails - Oracle bought Sun to make money off Java but its bid to do so, by suing Google over Android's virtual machine, claiming it was a ripoff from Java, failed. Another Microsoft buy, Skype, is yet to turn a profit.

For Microsoft, one final fling is now on the cards. The meal on the table is Windows 8, Windows 7 phones, Windows Server 2012, Windows Surface, and Xbox 720. Ballmer has made his final bets.

If he fails, the air will go slowly out of Microsoft. IBM was once the big noise in technology; today it still makes billions but is hardly spoken of. Ballmer plans to stay on until 2018 but that is doubtful; he will be out in a few years unless there is a dramatic improvement in the company's fortunes.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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