Steve Ballmer: hits and misses from the Microsoft chairman

Aug 20, 2014

Microsoft's former CEO and chairman will be remembered as much for his failures as his successes

Adam Berry/Getty Images

Microsoft's outgoing chairman Steve Ballmer once famously declared "I love this company". But as he departs the software giant, the question is, did Microsoft love him?

The enthusiastic tech billionaire, renowned for his rousing speeches that earned him the internal nickname Mr Monkey Boy, leaves the company significantly diminished from its 1990s heyday, yet in an improving financial situation and with its digital fingers still in many pies.

So should Ballmer's 14-year reign be seen as a success or a failure? And what will Bill Gates' successor's legacy be, as he takes up a new life as head of the US basketball franchise the Los Angeles Clippers?

The various hits and misses from Ballmer's time at the top could end up defining his legacy.

Miss – Smartphones

In 2007, when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' unveiled the iPhone, Ballmer dismissed the new device as being "not a very good email machine", which would never do for business customers, because it lacked a physical keyboard, the BBC reports. Apple ended up cornering the exploding smartphone market while the  Windows Phone, launched in 2010, had to make do with a small slice of the pie.

Hit – Gaming consoles

Ballmer is widely credited with helping the growth of Xbox, one of Microsoft's biggest success stories of the past two decades and the jewel in the crown of the company's entertainment and devices division. Since its launch in 1996, Xbox has grown to be one of the main competitors in the console wars, holding its own against products from Sony and Nintendo.

Miss – Tablets

Launched in October 2012 with a "belated attempt" to take on the market-leading iPad, the ill-fated Surface tablet failed to find much of an audience. Despite a huge advertising campaign, Microsoft was forced to write off nearly $1bn a year after it was released, ComputerWorld notes. Website Hothardware claims the device has cost the company $1.7bn in less than two years.

Hit - Windows XP

At its peak, Windows XP was the operating system used on more than 80 per cent of PCs, CNN notes. The popular software has shown "surprising staying power" and in 2013, 12 years after its launch, it could still be found on 39 per cent of the world's desktop computers.

Miss – Internet Explorer 6

In the early days of the world wide web, after seeing off competition from Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer had a near total stranglehold on all online browsing, with a market share of 96 per cent in 2002. Nine years later, Forbes' technology writer Mark Gibbs wrote an impassioned piece entitled "Internet Explorer must die". The article branded Microsoft's sixth incarnation of their browser as an "epic failure". Gibbs wrote: "The security and standards compliance of this browser were simply terrible and various fixes were generated and released by Microsoft at a pace that seemed glacial given how crucial IE was to both users and Microsoft’s market presence and ambitions online". In 2014 IE's market share is put somewhere around 50 per cent, and is on the wane.

Ballmer worked at Microsoft for 34 years, during which time the company’s astronomical growth turned him into a billionaire. His shares in Microsoft now exceed those of Bill Gates and amount to 3.99 per cent of the company – which makes him worth more than $15bn.

Sign up for our daily newsletter