Every since I spoke with the Seattle P-I for a Bill's leaving Microsoft story, I've been thinking about what to write. My comment to the reporter was, "It's the end of an era." And it is. Whatever Microsoft does in the next thirty years I suspect its style and impact is going to be very different than it was under billg.
Since I've been in the business for 34 years I've watched Microsoft appear on the scene (no, I didn't notice it at first), seeing it first when the NCC (the National Computer Conference for those of you too young to remember) first allowed PC's to exhibit in the late 70's. I've been to dozens of Microsoft announcements and conferences (remember the medieval fair for Windows 95?, the eerie announcement in a locked-down New York City just after 9-11?), and done some consulting from time to time. Like most of us who follow the computer industry Microsoft has never been far from my thoughts and has often been dead center.
It's hard to separate Microsoft, the company, from Bill Gates outsized personality and grand vision. Of course, Microsoft will have a second act; there are plenty of smart, skilled people in place -- and Bill isn't exactly leaving his biggest investment. On the other hand, the world is changing, not just Microsoft's management, and taken in context that means that inevitabily Microsoft's next stage will be different.
How? With such a big company that is hard to predict. They have too many options. Should they go upscale and focus more on enterprise-level products and services? Down to the consumer market? Out to the emerging markets in China, India, and South America? I'm pretty sure of one thing. Even a company as big and as successful as Microsoft needs some focus. It's hard to do everything at once and do it well. (That's why, for example, IBM bowed out of first the consumer business and then the PC business. Even very big companies need to focus.)
In any case, I recommend the fabulous detail and great reporting the Seattle P-I did for this historic occasion. I think you'll particularly enjoy the timeline with photos, emails and other tidbits they put together. It reminds me how far we've all come and how many things we've shared. I don't miss MS-DOS or Windows 1.0 but it's fun to think about when things happened and how we got here, particularly as a jumping-off point to where Microsoft -- and the rest of us -- might head next.