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Microsoft-Bill=?

Bill Gates retired last week, though he remains Microsoft's chairman. Some chairmen have a soft touch, are more figurehead than figure. I expect Bill will be different, that he'll err on the side of being a strong rather than a weak chairman.

Over the years, I've been asked many times what Microsoft would be like without Gates. My theory was that Microsoft wasn't so much focused on a single product as it was on building an integrated system, like a quilt. Each piece didn't have to be better or as good as the competition's; it just had to fit better.

I also believed that Microsoft was a bit like the Pentagon: It had plans for nearly every contingency. My conclusion? Gates could leave and Microsoft would be fine for the next five years. It just has to keep making more quilt pieces.

To some degree, that's still true. Desktop OSes and Office suites are still rich clients, and servers by and large are big hunks of IT-managed software. But the world is changing, and services are taking hold. Microsoft has to be agile and make faster and, sometimes, radical decisions.

So Microsoft will be different without Gates full-time. Steve Ballmer will be more free to be Steve (that'll be fun to watch!), and it'll be put-up-or-shut-up time for Ray Ozzie. Speaking of whom, if you want the real inside dope on Ozzie's challenge, read Redmond Editor Ed Scannell's recent cover story, "Cloud Man," here.

Do you care about cloud computing? Share your insight by writing dbarney@redmondmag.com.

Posted by Doug Barney on July 02, 2008 at 11:52 AM