Well, Microsoft's press conferences are about to get a lot more low-key. The company's bombastic leader Steve Ballmer has announced he'll be retiring within a year.
The question is, did he choose to leave, or was he shown the exit?
Ballmer took over the CEO post from Bill Gates in 2000, inheriting the thriving PC market leader, which now -- 13 years later -- is struggling to find relevancy in a world dominated by mobility and software. (See: Ballmer: 'I Don't Think Everybody Wants a Tablet'.)
While it's still relatively early for Windows 8, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s operating system that was supposed to bridge the world of mobile and computing has yet to make a dent in a market dominated by Android and iOS. Its partners, especially flagship partner Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK), are all struggling to create this long-promised third ecosystem.
Against that backdrop, it's hard to tell whether Ballmer is really leaving willingly, as Microsoft suggests. In a letter to his employees, the CEO, known for his often-alarming enthusiasm, said he originally wanted to leave in the middle of Microsoft's "transformation to a devices and services company focused on empowering customers in the activities they value most," but the company now needs a CEO who's in it for the long run.
Microsoft will form a special committee to find Ballmer's successor, and he will step down once a new leader is chosen. AllThingsD has his full letter to employees here.
News of Ballmer's departure sent Microsoft's shares up 7 percent in early-morning trading. It should be noted that Ballmer still owns 333,252,990 shares of Microsoft, meaning that he made just over $10 billion at yesterday’s closing price of $32.39. I'm sure leaving the company he loves will be hard, but he does have a nice cushion to fall on.— Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, Light Reading