There's an interesting contrast in style in a Forbes article this week: Steve Ballmer looks to the past, insisting there is still life in the PC. Jeff Bezos continually looks to new opportunities, such as the Kindle Fire and cloud computing. Maybe we should start referring to Microsoft.toast.
The interesting thing is that Ballmer isn't that different from Gates in his latter days at Microsoft. In the late 1990s I asked him if the internet might start displacing the PC model, and he tried his usual tactic of sarcastic argument through belittlement. "Oh, sure, I mean, the internet can do everything!" He went on to say, "Do you think the demand for software is going to go away? I mean ,if that's true, then Microsoft is in trouble!"
There's still demand for software, just not Microsoft's software. The problem is that Microsoft always looked to the past. Gates always emphasized compatibility. It's how he took over the PC software market. Every IBM-style PC was compatible with the others and backwards compatible with previous generations (to an extent.) It kept everyone locked in to DOS, then Windows. Nobody else could gain a foothold, except Apple, which gained only a toehold when measured by volume sales.
Microsoft never evolved beyond that strategy. The need now is for software that can run mobile phones, tablet computers and other new devices. Gates -- and now Ballmer -- made the same mistake. They want to cram Windows into the small portable devices and maintain some level of compatibility. But they should have learned from IBM. You can take a small computer operating system and make it bigger, more powerful as the machines themselves get more powerful, but you can't trim a piece of bloated software down to make it fit in a smaller device with weaker processors.
That strategy hasn't worked for a decade. They should get over it. If you've got a good OS, software companies will develop for it. Relying on your locked-in installed base shows a lack of faith in your own ability to design new software.
Meanwhile, back in the Republic of Chad...
Another Forbes article shows Bill Gates is tackling his post-Microsoft role as the bringer of medicine to poor countries. He's forward-thinking here, creating new models to get pharma companies to develop vaccines, and making sure the drugs get to the right people. He always planned on being a philanthropist after Microsoft, and seems to be doing it well.