Newsweek expects Ballmer to get the axe


— 5:37 PM on January 11, 2010

Microsoft will oust Steve Ballmer as CEO—so says the ninth item in Newsweek's list of 10 tech predictions for this year. Newsweek doesn't have much to go on beside pure speculation, but it makes a pretty strong case for the CEO's potential departure.

As the magazine notes, Microsoft has seen its stock fall by almost 50% since Ballmer took over in January 2000. That's worse than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which has now gone back to within a thousand points of its 11,700 peak from ten years back. Ballmer doesn't have a very impressive track record of steering Microsoft into new tech trends, either:

Distracted by the Windows Vista fiasco, Ballmer has missed every big new tech market of the past decade. Google won the race for Internet search and keyword advertising. Apple won in MP3 players and online music sales, and now holds the high ground in mobile phones, while Windows Mobile fades away. Microsoft's Zune music player is a dud. Bing, Microsoft's search engine, will never catch Google.

Ballmer also flubbed his Yahoo acquisition bid last year, although Microsoft and Yahoo did eventually strike a major search partnership.

Microsoft's CEO seat may be tough to fill with somebody else, of course. Newsweek notes that Ballmer is Bill Gates' old college pal, and it says there is "no heir apparent on the management team." Nevertheless, Ballmer's lackluster leadership could precipitate his exit—and the fact that he's become an online laughing stock for his over-enthusiasm or odd promotional methods probably doesn't help.

A look at last week's CES keynote highlights part of the problem. The New York Times hinted at an Apple-upstaging tablet device launch the night before, but the audience mostly had to sit through awkwardly scripted demonstrations of existing products. A power cut postponed the show itself by about half an hour and took out one of the showpieces, too. At the end, Ballmer provided an equally awkward three-minute glimpse at three prototype tablets running Windows 7, mentioning few details and giving even fewer compelling reasons to look forward to them.

   
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